Icy encounter shakes up mid-February day on Lake Winnipeg

ON LAKE WINNIPEG, Man. -- Most of the day had been beautiful for mid-February -- light wind, a temperature near freezing and just enough walleyes to keep things interesting.

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ON LAKE WINNIPEG, Man. -- Most of the day had been beautiful for mid-February -- light wind, a temperature near freezing and just enough walleyes to keep things interesting.

Things would get really interesting later in the afternoon.

I was here with Jim Stinson of Lockport, Man., and we'd traveled by snowmobile to a spot somewhere north and east of the mouth of the Red River in pursuit of "greenbacks," so-called for the iridescent bluish-green color unique to walleyes in Lake Winnipeg and the Manitoba portion of the Red.

I've known Stinson since 2003, when he served as guide for a group of us from Grand Forks, who'd made the trek north for the Fish Winnipeg Media/Corporate Challenge, an event held each summer on the Red in Winnipeg city limits to raise money for youth fishing programs.

The Grand Forks contingent won the media portion of the event that day, and I've kept in touch with Stinson, a retired Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer and emergency manager for the Rural Municipality of St. Clements (an RM is similar to a county here in the states) ever since; we fish together several times a year.


This was one of those times.

Massive Lake Winnipeg is rarely fished by open-water anglers. The big lake has a well-deserved reputation for its mean streak, and flat-calm waters can give way to 9-foot rollers seemingly in minutes.

Different story in winter, though. For the past half-dozen years, Lake Winnipeg has become a Mecca, of sorts, for ice fishing enthusiasts looking to catch big walleyes. In early January, I caught my first walleye of 2011 barely 10 minutes into the morning, and it stretched the tape at 28¼ inches.

That sets the bar pretty high for the rest of the year.

The patches of blue sky that had appeared throughout the morning had long since disappeared by mid-afternoon, and the southeasterly wind switched to the northwest.

As so often happens, the northwest wind packed plenty of punch. Light snow began to fall, and the stiff wind buffeted the hard-packed snow that covered the ice.

Within minutes, it seemed, we were enveloped in white.

Still, there was no danger -- just a bit of discomfort, enough to drive Stinson from his comfortable perch outside on the ice into the cozy confines of our heated pop-up ice fishing shelter. We'd had the foresight to stake down the shelter before the wind started blowing or the gale surely would have taken it for a ride.


The fish didn't seem to care about the wind, and the occasional marks that showed up on our depth finder screens usually could be coaxed into biting.

Shortly before the wind had driven him inside, Stinson lost a big fish he couldn't get steered up the hole. It

didn't run like a northern pike, and eelpout never get off the line after they're hooked, so that left only one logical conclusion:

Big walleye -- likely 10 pounds or more.

The wind continued to howl, and we were beginning to think about packing up for the snowmobile ride back to the truck. We wanted to make the trek while it was still daylight.

That's when it happened, a thunderous rumble that overpowered the sound of the wind. The ice below our feet literally shook, and the water in the holes bounced several inches for a minute or more.

I've encountered my share of rumbling ice over the years, but this was on a level I'd never experienced. Sitting atop nearly 4 feet of frozen water, we weren't in any danger, but the encounter still was unsettling.

The rumble might have been strong enough to register on the Richter scale used to measure earthquakes.


Years from now, chances are that neither one of us will remember much about the fishing that mid-February day on Lake Winnipeg. But we'll certainly remember the ice quake.

Once again, Lake Winnipeg had delivered in a big way. And getting back on solid ground, I'll have to admit, felt pretty darn good.

Dokken reports on outdoors. Reach him at (701) 780-1148; (800) 477-6572, ext. 148; or send e-mail to .

Brad Dokken joined the Herald company in November 1985 as a copy editor for Agweek magazine and has been the Grand Forks Herald's outdoors editor since 1998.

Besides his role as an outdoors writer, Dokken has an extensive background in northwest Minnesota and Canadian border issues and provides occasional coverage on those topics.

Reach him at, by phone at (701) 780-1148 or on Twitter at @gfhoutdoor.
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