Winnipeg, Weather, Walleye- Why yes, please!

For most of the past decade, the men of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Hanover, MN have chosen one weekend in the winter to travel to a distant lake in the search of walleye and fellowship. Most of those years, the lake of choice was the famous Lake of the Woods. But this year was a year of change. St Paul’s saw the retirement of the long-time pastor, who loved the Lake of the Woods trip, and the hiring of a new pastor who has a lake passion of his own. The destination this year was set as Lake Winnipeg, to chase the fabled “green back” walleye.

               As a member of St. Paul’s and as an employee of Tuned Up Custom Rods, I knew that for this trip, with the chance of a once in a lifetime walleye, the guys were going to need a rod upgrade. Most of the men chose to get outfitted with the Tuned Up Custom Rods Commander, the perfect rod for “Big” walleye, which they paired with the Okuma Ceymar c-10 reel.

               With the trip on the books for months, all eyes were focused on that second weekend in February, when we’d be heading across the border. Rods were ordered, meetings were held, passports were renewed, and dreams were dreamt. Fueled on by reports from a separate trip that our pastor took in January that was out of this world.

               One week before departure, the weather patterns began to change, and the threat of big snow loomed. This was the worst-case scenario, as none of the crew had tracked vehicles and the lake has no plowed roads. Back up plans were discussed, and anxiety filled the group, until we finally received word from our guide, Donovan Pearase of Blackwater Cats Guide Service that he could get us onto the lake. The trip was on.

               But the green light, didn’t mean that there wouldn’t be drama. As the day of departure, Thursday the 7th drew near, the forecast called for extreme winds and snow for nearly the whole route to be traveled. My father and I were the last group to leave the Twin Cities and the typical 6.5-hour trip took a full 11.5 hours when all was said and done. Thankfully, we were greeted by the very comfortable and friendly Canalta Inn in Selkirk, Manitoba.

               Alarms began to go off at 6am the next morning, just enough time to enjoy the continental breakfast and load up the trucks. We traveled single file out on to the lake. One guide truck in front to blaze a trail, and one truck in the rear to make sure no one was left behind. We watched, from the comfort of our cabs as the rear truck raced forward time and again to pull the stuck front truck out of a hidden drift. The 11-mile journey over road, river and lake took over an hour and a half. I was amazed by the effort of the guides!

               Once in place, the fishing began with a bang, several nice eater sized walleyes were caught and then cheers erupted as the first monster was brought though the hole, a beautiful 29” personal best. In my shelter, my dad bested his personal record with a fat 28” green back. His smile and shaking hands were a testament to how special the experience was. Soon it was back to the hotel for a fish fry and fellowship.

               The second day dawned earlier and colder (-25 Fahrenheit by the thermometer in the truck I was in). The cold weather had hardened the snow, making travel easier, but it has also made harder the fishing. A few trophies were caught, but it was more challenging. Again, the efforts of the guides were amazing, and when my dad thanked the rugged “Big Mike” for putting him on the spot where he landed his personal best, the response from Big Mike and his genuine pleasure in helping his clients was palpable.

               In all the trip was a success. As a group of 16 men, 60 walleyes were kept, and 7 fish over 25” were caught. Fellowship was shared, and memories were made. I finally made it home Sunday night at 7pm, exhausted. But, that’s what a trip of a lifetime should be. Hurdles, adventures, hardships, successes, fellowship, and memories all rolled into an exhausting and exhilarating 3 days. I can’t wait for next year!

Tight lines and tight drag,

Dan Baker