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Swollen lakes, rivers make for swell fishing

Submitted photo
Jeff Gustafson holds a largemouth bass he caught in the Fishing League Worldwide tour in the U.S.

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Submitted photo Jeff Gustafson holds a largemouth bass he caught in the Fishing League Worldwide tour in the U.S.

Water, water everywhere and plenty of fish to catch.

Record high-water levels haven't hurt the fishing in Manitoba and northwestern Ontario. For the part-time or inexperienced angler, it has given access to fish of all species and sizes. High water keeps fish shallow for a number of reasons, including food, cover and colder temperatures.

Warmer temperatures of late haven't necessarily driven the fish deeper. If anything, the weather has helped weed growth, which in turn attracts forage and the bigger predators in pursuit.

Northern pike especially like this type of environment. With cooler water temperatures and plenty of shallow cover, it's a pike bonanza. Anglers fishing for bass are catching pike everywhere, especially when they throw on a flashy spinnerbait that calls these fish in from everywhere.

If you can get through the pike, there are plenty of shallow smallmouth bass to be caught as well. They are hitting pretty much anything that moves, including soft plastic and hard metal. For those in search of walleye, check out the weedlines developing in the three- to five-metre depth range. Tie on a bullet sinker rigged with a walleye spinner and night crawler, and there will be plenty of action. The bullet sinker allows you to slip through the weed stalks and leaves, leaving your big fat crawler in the strike zone.

Even the mighty lake trout has stayed relatively shallow given the conditions. Long-line trolling medium- and deep-diving crankbaits will put fish in the boat. If you want to fish a spoon, just add a drop weight so it gets down a bit.

One key in contacting fish in these kind of conditions is to be mobile. If you are fishing from a boat, cast to shoreline cover and keep moving until you find some fish. If you're looking for walleye along weed beds, troll along the edges until you get into fish. Even when you do, sometimes it's best to keep trolling, triggering bites from scattered fish. If you find a good concentration, throw out a marker buoy or hit your GPS and lay down a number.

If you are a shore angler, this is the year for you, as many fish in the lake are in shallow waters looking for food, well within range of your bait. When trying to catch these shallow fish, another thing to consider is their relation to structure and the bottom. Most will be cruising the shallows and not near the bottom, so in this case using a slip float with a bait suspended or swimming a jig will produce some great fishing.

When trolling with that walleye spinner, it also doesn't necessarily have to be that close to the bottom. Shallow fish are usually active fish, and given cloud cover, current flow and wave action, will be ready to bite.

High water also allows fish species to spawn successfully and the fry to survive. The young of will have plenty of places to hide, thus the survival rate will be a lot higher. Northern pike populations really explode in high water years, and the walleye also benefit from an increase in current flows that allow successful spawning.

All in all, despite its toll on shorelines and property, high water in the long run is usually beneficial to fish populations.

ANGLER'S NOTES: Northwestern Ontario angler Jeff Gustafson has been on quite a roll lately. He recently returned from the Fishing League Worldwide (FLW) tour in the United States, finishing in the money in his last two events. He even led after Day 1 of the Pickwick event, catching his biggest largemouth bass to date, a giant fish that weighed nearly 4.9 kilograms. He finished in 17th place.

When he returned home, he and his friend, Chris Savage, won a bass tournament on Shoal Lake. Jeff is currently competing in the Fort Frances Canadian Bass Championship on Rainy Lake, an event he won last year.

Jeff is a great angler. You can keep up to date on his travels at

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