There are many fish-rich waters in the wilderness between Fort Frances and Dryden. The Manitous, deep in the core of this wilderness, are one of the biggest and best. The Manitous, a system that includes the Manitou Straits, Lower Manitou Lake, The Manitou Stretch, and Upper Lake Manitou, together total about 13,000 hectares of water. The lakes are deep and clear and are a premier destination for avid lake trout anglers. But it’s also home to big muskies and northern pike, trophy walleye, and feisty smallmouth bass. It really is an angling paradise.
You can launch a boat from the access point on the south end of Esox Lake, about 30 km west of Highway 502 off the Cedar Narrows Road. But from there, it’s still a 60-plus-km boat ride just to get to the south end of Upper Manitou. There are three lodges here -- Green Island Lodge, Barker Bay Resort & Outposts and Manitou Weather Station Fishing Lodge -- and many anglers opt for a short fly-in from Fort Frances or Dryden.
I’ve fished this huge body of crystal-clear water, rimmed with rugged granite hills, sand beaches, and towering stands of red, white and jack pine, on two occasions. On both trips, we encountered lake trout anglers vigorously pumping lead head jigs in known hotspots, often in water approaching 100 feet, off a rocky point or a granite wall. We tried jigging, but had much better luck trolling spoons with our wire-line outfits. One afternoon, within sight of our cabin at Green Island Lodge, we had a great time catching and releasing lakers in the 6- to 12-pound range. On the fish finder, we could see clouds of baitfish suspended in 15 to 30 feet of water over a broad 60-foot flat. Large marks just below the baitfish turned out to be ravenous trout that really smacked our Lucky Strike Canoe baits.
On another day, we had fun fishing smallmouth. I took a couple of nice fish tossing poppers with my fly rod in shallow, relatively warm water at the mouths of feeder creeks. After, we drifted along rocky, boulder-strewn shorelines and cast jigs adorned with twister tails and maribou feathers. They were all nice smallies, up to about three pounds. On our first trip, though, we had lucked into several in the four- to five-pound range.
We tried for muskellunge, knowing behemoths of more than 50 pounds have been taken in the Manitous. Some of the spots we fished, like around Powder Island -- where reefs and weed beds painted a picture of a classic muskie lair -- had great potential, and did produce several nice northerners. Alas, we came up short in the muskie department. Next time.