Thursday, June 10, 2010

Prowling the Parklands

I just returned from four days of some of the best stillwater fly fishing I have ever experienced.  Preparations for this journey began back in April when I provided a one day informational session and fly tying clinic for ten of the 12 anglers I would host on a trip to explore some of the quality lakes located in the south west corner of Manitoba, near the towns of Russell, Roblin, Oakburn, Rossburn and Sandy Lake, better known to many as the Parklands.

From my Edmonton area home the drive took approximately nine hours punctuated by strategic Tim Horton's stops for a stretch and caffeine top up.  Driving across rural Saskatchewan has a relaxing almost therapeutic effect on me.  You have lots to see as nothing is there to block your view.  Just outside of Saskatoon I had to stop and snap a picture of Combine World.  A dealership dedicated to selling both new and used combine harvesters.  I knew I was in Saskatchewan for sure after this sight.

The group arrived around dinner time on the evening of Friday June 4 in groups of two to four anglers. We based ourselves at Arrow Lake Lodge near the town of Rossburn.  Arrow Lake Lodge is strategically located amongst some of the finest trout fishing in the region.  The facilities are perfect for large groups.  The main cabin we were primarily occupied in sleeps up to 10 people.  The large dinning room table seats up to 16 and was a perfect platform for my evening lectures. Ray Lazaruk from Arrow Lake Lodge was a pleasure to work with.  I strongly recommend booking a stay, especially if you are part of a larger group of fly fishers.  A word to the wise though, book early, Ray's lodge is popular with both anglers and hunters throughout the year.

After settling in and devouring a healthy dinner of barbecued smokies I provided two seminars to get the group prepared for our first day on Tokaryk Lake.  Each evening I provided seminars after dinner along with a detailed de-brief session to review the key lessons learned from the day's experiences and to set up the following day.  It was a format that proved quite successful.  On the last evening we gathered around my lap top and pluged in cameras and digital cards for a photographic review of the trip.  It was the perfect conclusion to a fantastic trip.

Day 1-Tokaryk Lake

Based upon reliable reports we targeted Tokaryk Lake for our first day.  My personal thoughts were that if Tokaryk Lake fished well it would provide an element of confidence to tackle some of the more fickle waters we would visit in the following days.  Tokaryk did not disappoint.  In fact it excelled to the point of mythical.  The day started with a threat of rain and it did open up for a short while in the early afternoon.  The clouds broke soon after and I had the raccoon weather marked face to prove it! I started by making a few initial stops in the shallow reaches of the lake.  With nothing to show for my efforts I moved to slightly deeper water and suspended a brown and copper Ice Cream Cone beneath one of my balanced Sparkle Leeches.  It didn't take long to get a response.  The indicator drew under and when I set the hook all went crazy.  About five pounds of nickle bright rainbow exploded on the surface and tore line from my reel at breakneck speed.  After a prolonged battle I felt fortunate to have the magnificent fish lying beside my boat in my Moby net.  I removed the Ice Cream Cone from its upper jaw and stared at the beauty of this fish.  It was as bright as a chrome bumper, beautiful fat and perfectly conditioned.  Tokaryk fish are so bright that they over expose if you are not careful when taking pictures as evidenced below.  It was going to be a good day. 

Two members of our group, Andrew and Wade had anchored themselves in about 14 feet of water, drawn there by the number of low flying birds working the area.  They proceeded to put on a clinic using chironomid patterns.  They had numerous double headers and I managed a few shots of their 'Tokaryk twins'.

Chironomids were hatching in numbers and the trout were definitely keyed into them.  I joined Andrew and Wade and had a fantastic day taking over 20 fish to 8lbs on chironomids and balanced leeches.  Tokaryk fish are gorgeous, large and strong.  On two occasions I was snapped off by headstrong fish.  The last time resulted in my forgoing the indicator and fishing perhaps my favorite method, a floating line and long leader.  Nothing beats the take of a trout using this method.  I finished my day reluctantly at 6pm as dinner beckoned and I had to prepare for my evening session.  I was fortunate that the lodge was about 15 minutes away.  I capped my day with one of Tokaryk's browns but I have to admit I was smitten by the 4lb average nickle bright rainbows.  What a start to the trip, everyone had similar results to mine and for many they caught some of the largest rainbows of their lives.

Day 2-Patterson Lake

Patterson Lake, an even closer drive from Arrow Lake, was our target for day two.  I had the pleasure of fishing Patterson on previous trips and it is one of my personal favorites. I was looking forward to visiting it once again. Like Tokaryk, Patterson is another trophy lake containing both large rainbows and browns, Patterson did not give up her treasures as easily as Tokaryk but results were still impressive.  The rainbows seemed to be focused on small scuds despite the large numbers of cinnamon caddis and chironomids that were coming off in the morning.  Doug from our group did well early on using a small Diawl Bach.  The Diawl Bach is a Welsh pattern featuring a brown hackle beard and tail, peacock herl body and wire rib.  At least this is its original configuration there are now tons of variants.  My personal favorite features a pearlescent Mylar shellback.  The Diawl Back like many peacock based patterns works well when trout are fixated on scuds.

I was also successful using balanced leeches for the rainbows.  The brown trout favored larger meals and along the cattail lined edges of the lake they patrolled beats rounding up and slashing through the large numbers of stickleback and fat head minnows that inhabit the margins.  We learned to move often and target the weed edges.  Once a brown had been hooked or landed move along and work on the next stretch.  Watching these large browns work small schools of baitfish into compact balls and aggressively plow through them was quite educational.   My best fish was a 25" brown.

Not everyone in the group caught fish but those who did all managed large fish.  Patterson, after all, did not receive it's trophy status by accident.  Like Tokaryk thought the average size of Patterson fish is impressive.

Day 3-Pybus Lake

We had originally planned to drive north of Roblin to sample some of the tiger trout that inhabited Twin Lakes.  After discussing some reliable reports we decided to head for Pybus Lake near the town of Sandy Lake.  Pybus was about 40 minutes or so from our Arrow Lake Lodge base camp.  At first the lake looked promising, clear skies and a light breeze.  Within 30 minutes I had landed a plump silver bright 4.5 pound rainbow on a balanced leech suspended beneath a Quick Release Indicator.  A throat sample revealed scuds, leeches, zoo plankton and a variety of chironomids.  All the samples were dead though indicating that this trout had not fed recently.  It proved a bit of an omen.  As the day progressed the weather changed for the worse.  Clouds rolled in the temperature dropped, a classic warm front was approaching.  The weather change had an effect on the fishing and we had to work for them.  Moving often and working the shoreline weed edges where food would be we took advantage of any foraging fish  there.  Most of the group adopted this strategy and bumped and ground their way around the lake taking fish hear and there.  Bob from our group took full advantage of this strategy.  Casting towards shore using a slow sinking line and a Marabou Thunder Creek we tied at our tying session in April Bob hooked a monster rainbow.  I was on hand when he landed it and it measured out at a whopping 29 inches.  What a toad!  The fish was magnification as bright as an open ocean coho or fresh steelhead.  The grin on Bob's face was almost as long as the fish itself.  Bob's 'grip and grin' image says it all, "Come to Manitoba!"  I tend to underestimate fish but this fish had to go at least 10 pounds, its girth was impressive to say the least.

This trip could not have turned out any better.  Everyone caught fish and enjoyed each others company.  A real sense of team permeated the group as everyone pitched in to help out with food, clean up, loading and unloading boats and perhaps most of all sharing information regarding flies, locations and successful presentation techniques.

We are already planning on another hosted trip for the fall and another for 2011.  If trip interests you please let me know by emailing me at

To round this tale off and put it into perspective I have had the good fortune to chase trout on lakes right across North America including British Columbia, Alberta, Washington, Oregon and Alaska.  At this moment I don't think you can beat the stillwater fly fishing the Parklands region of Manitoba has to offer.  In my books that's saying something.  For example, when our group visited Tokaryk on the Saturday we were the only people on the lake!  The same was true for Pybus and we only shared Patterson with a few other anglers.  If you want a quiet remote experience, large average fish size, diversity of species visit the Parklands region and find out for yourself.  I doubt you will be disappointed.


  1. Excellent article, thanks Phil! I have a question for you though. When you use a balanced micro leech and a dropper chironomid do you tie the bottom fly into the eye of upper fly? Seems like the weight of a bottom fly on the bend of a balanced fly would take away the benefit of a balanced pattern.

  2. Hi Eric, when I fish the Balanced Leech/Chironomid combo the Balanced Leech is always on the bottom. I hang the chironomid off a separate dropper further up the leader.

    Glad you enjoyed the article. We are already working on plans for a fall trip. Let me know if you are interested in attending. Fall in the Parklands is typically spectacular!



  3. Your comment about nothing in the way of your view reminded me of a story a buddy told me. He was visiting an old friend from the armed forces in Manitoba. We live in the coast mountains so when they were sitting on the back porch at his friends farm his buddy said, "isn't this view fantastic". Mike says "what the hell are you looking at; there is nothing to see". A few years later Mike's prarie buddy was visiting here in the mountains, they were sitting on the back porch surrounded by mountains. Mike asks him what he thinks of the view. Buddy says "how the hell can I tell, I can't see anything with all these mountains in the way'.