Anyone who’s ever fished Lake Winnipeg through the ice knows how challenging and intimidating it can be for the do-it-yourself angler, especially novices to the big lake.
Few lakes within easy driving distance off a better shot at a trophy walleye than Lake Winnipeg — the walleyes are called “greenbacks” for their iridescent bluish-green color — but amenities are limited. There are a handful of access points to reach the lake by snowmobile or ATV, but anyone who travels in a vehicle should expect to be pushing and shoveling at least once during the day.
And if the wind comes up, look out.
In recent years, about a half-dozen outfitters have started guiding on Lake Winnipeg using tracked vehicles and portable shelters. But for anglers looking to fish in the comfort of a heated fish house such as those for rent on Lake of the Woods, Upper Red or Devils Lake, options have been limited.
That’s all changing this winter.
Two Manitoba entrepreneurs, Curtis Beyak and Terry Roth, have teamed up to offer five heated fish houses for rent this winter on the east side of Lake Winnipeg. The houses are set up in the Sunset Beach area, about 15 minutes north of the South Beach Resort and Casino on Provincial Highway 59 and an hour north of Winnipeg.
Lake Winnipeg Ice Fishing Shack Rentals had its grand opening Saturday.
“Terry, my business partner, and I have been avid fishermen for quite some time, but there wasn’t really any services out here for shacks,” Beyak said Thursday. “One of the concerns from local people was they wanted to have a place to go. It does get windy — it’s like a desert on the lake, and there are no trees for blocking the wind.”
Knowing there was interest, Beyak said he and Roth developed a business plan and gathered the necessary authorization from Manitoba fisheries and conservation officials to launch the venture.
They built five, 8-foot-by-8-foot rental houses this summer and set them up on the ice this week.
The six-hole shacks, which rent for $100 U.S. per day — total, not per person — are insulated and heated with propane and can accommodate four adults, Beyak said.
“We were out there on the ice (Wednesday), and I was sitting in my T-shirt and blue jeans,” he said. “It was 40 below (Celsius) outside, with the windchill, and a (30 mph) wind.”
Beyak said they cleared an ice pileup blocking access to the lake and will maintain a road to the shacks that will be accessible even to cars.
“Normally, there is a path with tire tracks, but since this is our first year, we thought we’d make it even better,” Beyak said. “We got a real big dump of snow, but we cleared it all out by excavator and have been out all week testing the ice.”
Lake Winnipeg had about 9 inches of ice as of midweek, and with the continuing cold snap, ice should be nearly a foot thick by this weekend, Beyak said, enough to accommodate cars and medium-sized trucks.
On the move
To start the season, Beyak says the shacks are set up about a quarter-mile from shore atop 7 to 8 feet of water and will be moved regularly throughout the winter.
Walleyes, after all, don’t stay in one place — especially on a body of water as massive as Lake Winnipeg.
“We’ve been fishing all week, and we’ve been doing really well,” Beyak said. “It depends on where the fish are. We want to try to follow that fish bite as best we can. As the weeks are progressing, we probably will have them a greater distance from shore and moving around daily to follow the fish.”
For anglers who rent the shacks, it’s as simple as walking in the door and wetting a line. The heat will be on, and the holes will be drilled. Rental begins at 8 a.m. and ends at 5 p.m. And since Lake Winnipeg isn’t known for its night fishing, that covers the prime fishing hours.
“We know the area well, and we know how the lake is with winds and ice conditions,” Beyak said.
Access is off 103 Road N., near the small town of Grand Marais, Man.
The winter season’s just getting started, but Beyak says he’s encouraged by the interest to date in the rental shacks. Advance bookings, including a $50 deposit, are preferred.
“Some Americans are booked already from different places,” he said. “The key is if you’re interested in coming up, call, pre-book and get a date locked in.”
Accommodations, including cabin rentals and motels, are available nearby.
For more information, check out the website at lakewinnipegicefishingshackrentals.ca; their Facebook page at facebook.com/lakewinnipegicefishingshackrentals; email at email@example.com; or call (204) 230-8805.