The time had arrived for what I believe will become an annual trek up to Moak Lodge at Cedar Lake. Just North of the 53rd parallel, it is one of Manitoba's best drive-to fishing destinations and one of my favorite areas to ice fish. Large northern pike, walleye, burbot and whitefish are all found in this flooded reservoir and I had high expectations for getting on some bots.
Our story starts a day before heading north. We acquired a brand new Otter XT Lodge and spent from 4:30 PM to 11:30 PM putting it together, which turns out is quite a process. Pre-drilling holes, installing runners and brackets, bars and arms, fabric, bench and hitch took a lot of time. We also had to run 3 or 4 last minute errands in between said tasks. It was a handful and we agreed we may be leaving a little later than expected. Sleep did not come easy that night as I had been looking forward to our trip for months.
Day 1 involved some more strategic packing and we were on the road shortly before 9 AM with a roughly 5 1/2 hour drive ahead of us. We left the melting snow and flooding ditches in our rear views in eager anticipation of fresh snow in the North. With a stop or two for fuel and trailer checks we arrived at Moak Lodge and Campground by about 3:30 in the afternoon. We were greeted by the owner Chris and he let us know the fish were biting and that he was on his way to move his permies. We unloaded the sleds and vehicle of all our supplies, grabbed a quick snack and headed out to meet up with Chris.
He offered us the use of his heated (luxury) permie and we gladly obliged as it was sitting on some great grounds. He had it set up on the edge of the flooded forest along some rubble and rocks. It was ample fishy structure and with a few prospecting holes and a minor re-positioning of the shack we were on the fish. When we dropped the camera down below we were all very excited with what was directly beneath us on the screen. A spawning ball of burbot, 6 or 7 at least all swirling around in an embrace like I've never seen. These sights are rare I'm sure and with confidence Chris exclaimed we were about to light them up and boy did we ever. A flurry ensued with a handful of burbot landed right off the hop. Their mottled pattern and streamline body is a work of beauty and their ability to coil and curl back down the ice hole makes for an added challenge to land them. Every so often a pair or small pack of pike would emerge from the sunken forest like wolves, they too were almost always eager to bite the lure or the camera.
We were on the fish and had no intentions of heading in until we were out right exhausted. We started fishing at 5 pm and ended up staying until right around midnight and when it was to dark for the camera to work anymore, I switched over to the Humminbird 55. We were consistently marking fish but the bite was a little less aggressive then when the sun was up.
Northern lights danced across the sky from east to west after the darkness took hold and dozens of shooting stars flew by in the south. We had cracked the code for day and night burbot and location was definitely half the battle. I couldn't thank Chris enough for his generosity. Sleep came easy that night and dreams were filled with burbot TV.
Day 2 of the trip brought an early rise, quick breakfast and right off the hop,phenomenal fishing. We started right where we left off and it was on fire! Chris brought out a 30 inch TV for the camera and powered it with a battery and generator. It made for some of the most exciting fishing ever! This allowed Jay to use my Marcum camera and boy were we set. We were seeing tons of burbot and the occasional pike roaming through, when early on a big pike showed up on both our screens and without hesitation, smashed Jay's rattle bait. The fight was on and I reeled my line up quickly so as not to get tangled. After about 3 or 4 minutes of fight Chris exclaimed he was pretty sure it was mid 40's and after another 3 minutes of fight, we were absolutely positive it was. Alas, it wasn't meant to be and after one chance at landing it, she bit through the line and was gone.
That's how it goes some times and when you are up at Cedar there is always a chance at a 40 plus inch pike. The camera and water clarity often allow for a good oportunity to judge the size of the fish when close to the lure. Coincidentally we had 4 more chances at excessively large pike through the day all resulting in bite offs. It was a heart wrenching reality. Pictured above is the second tube I lost on the bottom of the lake to the same trophy pike. Her and a friend hung out near by and beneath us for over 10 minutes. We wouldn't see anymore pike over 40 inches on the camera this trip but one member of the group did get on some nice ones in a back bay over the weekend.
We pounded burbot with unbelievable action all day and as the evening approached a nasty white out storm rolled in. As the front of the storm flew over the permie, the wind picked up and the snow began. It was then that I hooked into and caught a nice burbot over 31 inches that made my day. Lucky for us I had our path back to camp plotted on my handheld GPS or we would have had to leave 30 minutes before the big girls came to play to avoid the storm. We again fished well into the night, catching and releasing plenty of burbot while keeping enough for a few meals. The ride back to camp was slow and steady through the winds and snow and by the end of the storm 7 cm of fresh snow had landed. This would make for a treacherous stretch of drive for the rest of the group coming up the next day, but smooth travel on the lake for sleds.
Day 3 had a solid morning of pike and burbot action however in the afternoon they seemed to shut down and had things to do and places to go. They were fairly tight lipped if we were lucky enough to have them inspect our lures. Our host had invited us for some moose burgers that evening so we decided against prospecting and called it a day in time to get back to camp by 630. The food was stellar and company top notch, jokes and stories were shared over the rest of the evening. Jay and I decided against heading back out to fish late so we could get up early and scout new grounds in pursuit of whatever would bite.
Day 4 our plan was to scout out new tree lines and rock piles. Our first spot wasn't too eventful with a few burbot and pike along with a single walleye. So after 40 minutes of fishing our group of four split into pairs and hunted out some new grounds. After a move of a few hundred yards and some more prospecting, Jay and I found an active area. Tom and Dave were off in search of big pike and whitefish about a mile away while we found some deep water adjacent to a winding treeline, lots of rubble and some mudflats. After catching a few fish we thought it best to finally try out our new Otter XT Lodge. The bite was on, camera set up and action consistent! We caught upwards of 40-50 burbot and a few pike with a 3 footer being the biggest.
VERY LARGE whitefish were seen cruising the bottom and circling our offerings. I'm talking like 2 foot plus humpbacked sharks! But getting them to bite would present its own challenges. Jay did hook into one on the trip but lost it on the bottom of the ice. They can be elusive on this lake but have been caught hook and line. There are only so many rods you can have handy when ice fishing for multi species, especially when you are repeatedly landing squirming burbot and the occasional pike over 30 inches. More often than not, by the time my whitefish lures were dropped, they were already gone and the burbot or pike returned.
There is a Part 4 of this adventure involving 4 species of trout. I will do my best to post when time allows some time.
***minor edit to answe a question for Mikeb from the teaser post***
The reservoir was built in the 60's I believe, for Hydro generation. They damned a stretch of the North Saskatchewan River that flows into the North Basin of Lake Winnipeg, flooding the surrounding hills and forests along with at least 3 lakes. It's BIG water with BIG fish. Basic map with minimal detail. We were fishing rubble and rock on the edge of sunken tree lines. There are countless spots like this throughout Cedar Lake. Throughout the trip we saw the burbot doing one of three things; Eating, Mating or Cruising. The best depth for finding concentrations or traveling burbot was in between 16 and 20 feet adjacent to shallow flats(resting and foraging?) and or deeper water (resting foraging?) and usually 2 to 3 miles from shore. Too deep or too shallow resulted in less fish seen on the camera or flasher/graph. Stomachs from ones we kept were usually crammed with crayfish and sometimes small fish.