Trip Report: Trophy Pike in Manitoba

Manitoba's best new pike lodge

Manitoba's best new pike lodge

By Anthony Licata I recently returned from four days of pike and walleye fishing at Dunlop's Fly-In Lodge in Northern Manitoba. Dunlop's is a new lodge run by Jerry Dunlop and Kip Merke and their families on Lake Waskaiowaka, north of Thompson, Manitoba. Dunlop (pictured above) and Merke are young but experienced guides, and we'd heard reports that a lot of big fish were being caught in their camp. We decided to find out for ourselves.Anthony Licata
Manitoba's best new pike lodge

Manitoba's best new pike lodge

I landed with a group of anglers in small charter plane on the camp's private air strip and hit the lake almost immediately. As Dunlop and I headed up a river feeding into the lake, he started telling me how many trophy pike the anglers in camp the week before had caught, but halfway through he let the story trail off. I could tell he was worried about sounding like a promoter trying to b.s. the magazine guy--"oh, you shoulda seen it last week.-¿ Better to let me find out about the fishing for myself, he figured. We didn't have to wait long. I caught a 38-incher on one of my first casts, but after that strong beginning we caught nothing in the shallow bay we started in. We cruised to another that looked just like the last and immediately Dunlop spotted a large fish in the clear, shallow water. I made a hurried cast and missed--about 6 feet behind the pike. We were quickly drifting away from the fish, and I started cranking the silver spinner back fast to make another cast. I never got the chance. Instead I watched the fish turn and speed to the lure and slam it, like a wolf running down a rabbit. After a hard fight, we had her in the cradle. The 45-inch trophy was the pike my life, and I was only an hour into my first afternoon on the water.Anthony Licata
Manitoba's best new pike lodge

Manitoba's best new pike lodge

Northern Manitoba is famous for its big pike. Any pike over 41-inches long qualifies as a trophy with the province and will get the angler a place in the yearly record book and a nifty badge. For most guys who come to this region to fish, catching one trophy in a week makes a trip to remember. Dunlop reminded me this when I caught this 44-incher (above) about 20 minutes after my first trophy. Then he caught his own 45-incher. It's a little uncouth to keep score on a fishing trip, but as we continued to nail big fish after big fish in this one small bay, it became clear that we were in the middle of an epic day. I decided I better write it down or no one would believe us. When the afternoon was over, we had landed 9 trophies between 42 and 46 inches. Even Dunlop, who has been guiding for trophy pike for 15 years, had to admit it was one of the best days he's ever had.Anthony Licata
Manitoba's best new pike lodge

Manitoba's best new pike lodge

Why is this lodge so good? Dunlop gives a lot of credit to Lake Waskaiowaka. "It's an incredible fishery. I can't pinpoint all the reasons, but it has that magic combination of great habitat and a ton of forage,-¿ he explains. The lake is huge and sprawling, and has countless bays, points, reefs, cabbage beds, and other great pike habitat. If you quit your job and spent all summer fishing it, you still wouldn't hit all the spots. Dunlop's is the only lodge on the lake. Before they took it over last year, the camp had been run down, repossessed, and lay inactive for two years. Jerry and his staff cleaned it up, invested in boats and equipment, and fixed up the cabins. The fishing, however, never faltered. You can opt for a self-guided trip, where the camp provides boats, gas, a map, some advice, and then turns you loose. Or you can go fully guided. I spent the week fishing with Dunlop. We caught fish from all the different types of water on the lake--shallow bays, points, rocky shores, cabbage beds, rivers, reefs. Any way you catch a pike as long as your leg is a great way, but the glory spots are the shallow bays, were you can sight fish in the clear water. There is something unsettling about watching these massive predators attack your lure. Even in deeper water where you couldn't sight fish, you'd often spot a pike at the last instant, rising up out of the depths and chasing your lure all the way to the boat. It's like getting surprised by a mugger, and I had to repress my first instinct to rip the lure away out of fear.Anthony Licata
Manitoba's best new pike lodge

Manitoba's best new pike lodge

Here is Dunlop fighting another trophy, a fat 45-incher which had a large scar on the side. Pike are cannibals, and many of the fish we caught, even the large ones, had old scars and fresh, red wounds. Another angler in camp, Ben Ware, of Cleveland, Miss., nearly landed a trophy when it struck the smaller pike he was playing. He got the large fish all the way to the boat before it spit out the hapless little guy.Anthony Licata
Manitoba's best new pike lodge

Manitoba's best new pike lodge

With fish this aggressive, you don't need to get too picky with your lures. Dunlop uses two lures almost exclusively: a Blue Fox Vibrax spinner (silver or gold; sixes 4 or 5) and a large Bomber. Other guys in camp were having great luck with five-of-diamonds color-pattern spoon, a classic Canadian pike lure. I caught most of my fish on a Vibrax, but I also caught fish with Bombers, Storm Swimshads, Johnson Silver Minnows, and Daredevles.Anthony Licata
Manitoba's best new pike lodge

Manitoba's best new pike lodge

These big pike are hard on tackle. Their razor-sharp teeth tear up lures. Wire leaders are a must. I had one come wire leader come apart when a big fish rolled like an alligator and wrapped the line around himself. Buy good ones. Baitcasting and spinning tackle both work, as long as the line is at least 20-pound test, the reels have smooth drags, and the rods have plenty of backbone. Dunlop says the number one mistake guys make up here is using tackle that is too light.Anthony Licata
Manitoba's best new pike lodge

Manitoba's best new pike lodge

We couldn't repeat our epic first day, of course, but every day was great day of fishing. We caught countless pike. Many small ones, a lot of medium-sized fish, quite a few bruisers, and several more trophies. Dunlop landed this 44-incher on our second day of fishing, out of a cabbage bed in about 8 feet of water along a shoreline.Anthony Licata
Manitoba's best new pike lodge

Manitoba's best new pike lodge

If the thought of not putting at least a few fish in a fry pan depresses you, don't worry: That's what walleyes are for. Lake Waskaiowaka is also a very good walleye fishery. Although not know for trophy walleye, we landed a few really nice ones, and the numbers are terrific. As Dunlop said "Walleye? You can catch as many as you want to.-¿ The lodge doesn't mind if you keep enough for shore lunch or dinner. Here Dunlop cooks walleye fillets and potatoes over an open fire.Anthony Licata
Manitoba's best new pike lodge

Manitoba's best new pike lodge

The shore lunch is one of the great North Country traditions. It's fish as fresh as it gets fried over a fire with potatoes and onions, a few cans of sides warmed in the coals, all seasoned with salt, pepper, and a little windblown lake sand. It's one of the best meals you'll ever eat.Anthony Licata
Manitoba's best new pike lodge

Manitoba's best new pike lodge

The land around the camp is boreal forest--typical Canadian bush. The trees are worthless for timber, so there are none of the roads or development that logging brings. It's home to black bears, eagles, moose, wolves, and above all else mosquitoes and black flies. The bugs weren't much of a problem along the windy shoreline of camp, but walk a few yards into the bush and you're swarmed. The area had been experiencing a hot, dry spring and summer, and lighting storms had ignited large forest fires. Government planes from Thompson checked on this fire on the West end of the lake daily.Anthony Licata
Manitoba's best new pike lodge

Manitoba's best new pike lodge

One of the main reasons for the number of trophy fish is the lodge's strict catch-and-release policy. Although it is difficult to determine the exact age of a mature pike, the best estimates are that a trophy can be 30 years old or older. These large fish are all females and essential to the reproductive health of the lake. It's very important that they not only are released but also handled in a way that doesn't harm them. Manitoba law dictates that all hooks be barbless. At Dunlop's, fish are landed by a cradle net. Manitoba uses length measurements for its trophy fish program so the fish aren't subjected to weighing, which can injure them.Anthony Licata
Manitoba's best new pike lodge

Manitoba's best new pike lodge

This 46 1/4-inch pike ended up being my largest of the trip. In four days of fishing, Dunlop and I landed 14 trophy pike and countless smaller fish. We also caught quite a few walleye, without even trying. But numbers can only tell some of the story. What they can't explain is the suck-in-your-breath moment that comes when a pike appears behind your lure, and the jolt that runs through your entire body when the fish tries to rip the rod from your hands. I couldn't get enough of it, and I'm already planning on going back for more.Anthony Licata
Manitoba's best new pike lodge

Manitoba's best new pike lodge

To book a trip with Dunlop's Fly-In Lodge, contact them at www.dunlopfishing.com, or 204-422-6809.Anthony Licata
Field & Stream Online Editors