“Road trip” means different things to different people. While the term might bring back memories of being packed into your parents’ station wagon and crossing several state lines to visit far-flung relatives (with not nearly enough rest stops along the way), with a little planning and intention, your 2022 road trip can be as much about the journey as the destination — especially if the destination is Manitoba, and involves a rod and reel in hand and fish on the end of your line.
With summer upon us and travel restrictions in the rear view mirror, it’s time to hit the road — and if you’re up for world class fishing and some northern hospitality, the waters of Manitoba are the perfect destination. And, chances are, Manitoba’s lodges are much more accessible than you think, with reasonable pricing and easily reachable by car.
Whether you’re looking to make memories as a family or reel in some big ones with friends, the lodges and fishing outfitters of Manitoba have you covered. Long gone are the days when “rustic” was just a nice way of saying “outdated.” These days, many of the lodges are as luxurious as they are remote (read: king size beds, Wi-Fi, and steakhouse-style meals, if that’s your thing), and you don’t have to charter a plane to get a “fly-in fishing trip” experience; you can just drive.
Manitoba’s 100,000+ lakes are home to dozens of different species of fish, but most set out for walleye, northern pike, and, depending on the lake, small mouth bass or lake trout. Still, depending on the location and time of year, Manitoba has top-notch channel catfish fishing and famed “Winnipeg goldeye” are a local delicacy. With some luck and a little planning, you could hit a few lakes and land all of the above in the course of a week or so.
Your itinerary will depend on whether you drive from home or fly in to the capital, Winnipeg, and start an abbreviated road trip via rental car — but either way, Selkirk and Lockport are a good first stop. Less than 30 minutes from Winnipeg, the communities are the province’s top spots for channel cats along the Red River.
If you want to reel in some massive bottom feeders, Donovan Pearase of Blackwater Cats is the local guide to call. He offers 4-, 6-, and 8-hour packages for groups of 1-5 anglers, in addition to a 3-hour “Catfish Quickie” with a 6 fish guarantee (if you don’t catch 6, he’ll throw in an extra hour of fishing at no extra charge — but Pearase says that “in the 2 or 3 years we’ve been running that [guarantee] I don’t think we’ve had to use it, ever.”). It is safe to expect landing channel cats in the 15-20 lb range. “It’s actually harder to catch a 10-pound fish than it is a 20 pounder,” Pearase says.
From Selkirk and Lockport, it is under an hour’s drive to Lac du Bonnet, which is a small town alongside the Winnipeg River with a large and easy-to-access public boat launch if you’re road tripping with your rig in tow and want to try a little DIY. But boat or not, you’ll make the most of your time by heading upriver to the beautiful Eagles Nest Lodge which offers a boat-to, fly-in fishing type of experience in the remote reaches of the river. If you want to spring for a true first-class fly-in fishing experience, hop on a floatplane on the Winnipeg River and head to Aikens Lake Wilderness Lodge. Aikens offers extremely high-end accommodations and top-notch guided fishing experiences in the Legendary Atikaki Provincial Park.
From there, make your way further into Manitoba’s Eastern Region, where the forest meets the Canadian shield in Whiteshell Provincial Park & Nopiming Provincial Park. There are dozens of lakes to explore and fish in this region, however, a local guide such as Matt Cornell of Bruin Outfitting will help steer you in the right direction.
It’s here in the Eastern part of the province that you’ll find both walleye and goldeye — which are two very different species, despite their similar “eye” names: Walleye can get quite large; like depths of anywhere between 5-20 feet; and are caught using a simple jig or so-called “pickerel rig”, while goldeye are relatively small and flat-bodied; hang out at shallow depths; and bite best when you’re using a bobber. Similarly, walleye make for a great fresh shore lunch (and are featured prominently on dinner menus of Winnipeg’s best restaurants), yet goldeye are better smoked. But of course, there’s far more under the surface than those two species, and Bruin Outfitting knows where to find them, whether you’re on the hunt for trout, smallies, sturgeon, pike, or more.
Next on the road-tripping list is a 7 or 8-hour drive into Manitoba’s Northern Region to the legendary lake trout waters of Lake Athapapuskow and Clearwater Lake. Those who make this northern swing are rewarded with year-round Northern Lights and a range of outdoors activity options in addition to excellent Northern Pike, walleye, smallmouth bass, and some of the best drive-to lake trout fishing on the planet.
Evergreen Resort at Clearwater Lake — one of the world’s 3 “true blue” lakes with crystal waters and natural white sand beaches — offers DIY boat-only rentals and BYO-boat fishing, in addition to more traditional guided packages and lodge accommodations. Bakers Narrows Lodge on Lake Athapapuskow (or “Athapap” for short) makes the trip worth the while with a range of fishing and experience packages, such as “fish, fish, explore and more” which includes kayaking, canoeing, and paddle boarding. While fishing is definitely the main focus at Bakers Narrows Lodge, they also offer a long list of family-friendly “adventure tours”, too, such as ATV, fat bike, and film/photo safari. Alternatively, Viking Lodge in nearby Cranberry-Portage features a campground with full hook-up RV sites as well simple cabins, a boat launch, boat rentals, and 52 miles of accessible lakes from their docks.
When it’s time to head home from the north country, Winnipeg is an easy fully paved journey back, with two U.S. border crossings as close as 1 and a half hours away from the capital city. So don’t let the drive times deter you: As you’ll see, fishing your way across Manitoba is less “are we there yet?” and more “can we do that again?”