I’m sure a few muskie fishermen out there aren’t going to be happy with me for giving out the Ontario hotspot for muskies that I’m about to share. Mind you, I do understand muskie men guard their favorite waters like mothers protect their young, but I’m sure they’ll come to grips with this in time.
I’m talking about a very strategically located portion of the famous Winnipeg River system near the tiny Northwestern Ontario town of Minaki. Its year-round population is about 130. That's how tiny.
Now, literally, all water flowing north over the continental divide from Lake of the Woods to Lake Winnipeg runs through this very special area of the Winnipeg River for multi-species anglers. The flow runs through five main lakes and many other smaller ones. They are Gunn Lake, Big Sand Lake, Little Sand Lake, Pistol Lake and Roughrock Lake.
In my opinion, this whole region is Ontario at its finest and represents the epitome Pre-Cambrian Shield fishing. The terrain is boulder-strewn with some of the oldest exposed granite on earth, mixed pine and hardwoods, and an endless watery maze when looked down upon from above.
Minaki’s area lakes are prized for great walleye, northern pike, smallmouth bass and, of course, muskie fishing, which is why a very special friend and I made the trip there to Reid’s Birch Island Resort. Located on a beautiful island that’s easy to get around on, our opening and closing impressions were of a spotless camp, excellent accommodations, and exceptional food. I found plenty of dock space, freshly remodeled everything, and fantastic hosts in Phil and Liz-Ann Reid, who I’d met years ago at a trophy pike lode they were operating at the time.
My fishing partner for the late September timing muskie hunt was Spence Petros—the man I consider my best friend from the fishing industry, my buddy, and my muskie fishing mentor. Among muskie fishermen, you might say he’s legendary within the fraternity. If anyone else on earth has spent more time perfecting the art of catching muskies, I don’t know who it would be. He’s taught seminars on the subject and written countless articles over his career as a full-time outdoor writer.
Now, ideally, we would have preferred to fish Minaki muskie a little later in October when the cold water period brings spawning baitfish shallow to spawn. Naturally, the big fish follow to feed and, when they do, it’s the most voracious feeding time of the year for big muskies.
After arriving, following days of rainy weather, we were unable to get out for even one cast on the first day. Heading out on the second, we knew the muskies would be in transition due to weather and the insect hatches going on that were keeping the muskies deep.
The types of areas we targeted included casting to rocky points and reefs—boulder-strewn cabbage beds, large weed beds in the back of sandy bays, as well as some current areas. By way of baits, we experimented a lot with bucktails, jerkbaits, shallow-running crankbaits, and topwaters for fishing these classic shallow water spots where the muskies should have been. For the most part, they were not.
Some call the muskie the 'fish of 10,000 casts,' which all good muskie fishermen know is not the case in Ontario during the best times of year. Summing it all up, we were only able to fish a full second day and a portion of the third. In that time, however, we were able to catch four muskies—three for Spence, and one for me. Spence got his first fairly small muskie casting a crank to a weedy, rocky point. His second was caught after an amazing follow and figure 8 with a red bucktail. We were able to film that 43-or-so inch muskie chasing the bait, which will be exciting to see in the upcoming “Good Fishing” episode resulting from this adventure. Spence’s last muskie came after pitching back to a follow I had.
My only muskie—the biggest of our time fishing together—came by tossing a Bucher Top Raider in loon color. The fish came up and just crushed it. Wham! Gosh that 45-inch muskie fought hard and even came up for a jump! Noticing she had two treble hooks well set, we took a little extra time watching her fight for the camera. In the end, both hooks popped free before we could technically land her, but I certainly counted that fish as a catch. Had we not messed around, we could have easily landed that fish.
For the conditions, we did very well at Reid’s Birch Island Resort, though typically we’d have seen three or four times the muskies we did. We had four bites, caught four fish and had another dozen follows—one of which was a big one that totally chased my bait throughout a three-lap figure 8. I thought for sure she would bite, but eventually that big cruiser just slid off and away.
Now comes the “you should have been there” story the day following our departure. Guides Kris Gaune and Phil Reid Jr. landed two monster muskies while fishing the same exact spots we’d been flinging baits at for a day and a half. See those pictured here if only to make you drool and speak for the muskie fishing anglers have to wait up in Ontario. We were one day late…just one day!
The Winnipeg River System and the bodies of water connecting it in the Minaki area of Northwestern Ontario offer fantastic fishing for not only muskie, but walleye, northern pike, smallmouth bass and more. So, for those of you looking for a new spot to capture the Ontario experience, I couldn’t recommend Reid’s Birch Island Resort and the tiny community of Minaki more highly. Beyond the fishing, you’ll find everything and everyone first rate!