The words “Duck” and “Mountains” do not have the instant synergy of, say, “Senate” and “Expenses.”
But they come together beautifully in western Manitoba in the shape of a provincial park.
The Duck Mountains — aka The Ducks — rise like a mirage from the lush farming landscape 500 km north-west of Winnipeg.
To the south is the park’s big sister Riding Mountain National Park, famous for its monster black bears.
The region between these two gems of nature is known as the Parklands. It is a destination deserving of a spot on any adventurous traveller’s must-see list.
Duck Mountain Park encompasses 1,424 sq. km and is a natural western upland region. Within its boundaries is Baldy Mountain, at 832 metres the highest point in the province. Indeed, the park itself sits 200 metres above the Assiniboine River valley to the west, and 400 metres higher than Manitoba’s typical lowlands.
The densely treed refuge presents as a rolling, waving mass of bright green poplar and birch speckled with darker shades of spruce.
Duck Mountain is a haven for hikers, canoeists, mountain bikers and of course a multitude of wildlife.
On a crisp early June morning, as I ride in stillwater troutfishing guide Ryan Suffron’s truck close to the park, we see a cow elk, a moose, two black bears and two deer. All in 20 minutes and punctuated by a smorgasbord of bird life. Indeed, the Ducks could just as easily have been named the Goose or Hawk Mountains.
Ryan lives with his wife and two small children in the nearby village of Benito, just 2 km from the Saskatchewan border (close enough to be the butt of an April 1 ruse on local radio that it had been annexed by it’s prairie neighbour!).
He guides clients on the gin-clear waters in Duck Mountain Park and on a group of small to medium-sized lakes nearby that are aerated by bubblers to maintain water oxygen levels in the long, cold winter.
The result of this project, courtesy of a community-based group tagged FLIPPR (Fish and Lake Improvement Program for the Parkland Region) and aided by the immense natural food sources in the lakes, is a superb stillwater fishery. The lakes have rainbow, brook and brown trout plus splake (a brook trout-lake trout hybrid) and the stunning, exotic tiger trout (a brook trout-brown trout cross).
Under Ryan’s patient tutelage I catch two tigers on flies, a first for me and the fulfillment of a long-held personal goal. I also learn a great deal about the area from a man who is devoted to his guiding and the sheer beauty of the Parklands and neighbouring Swan River Valley.
NEED TO KNOW
— For information on Ryan Suffron and guiding services, go to alpinecountryoutfitters.com.
— There are many options for accommodation in the area and in the park (see travelmanitoba.com), but for a real taste of rural Manitoba (and great food and ambience) consider Brenda and Danny Bielik (booneoutfitting.com), where Suffron berths his clients . The new-but-rustic lodge on their farm, used mainly in the late fall for hunting, is a gem.
— Getting there is an easy flight on WestJet or Air Canada, and a four-hour drive to the Parklands along excellent roads eerily quiet by some standards. Time it right and it’s a simple one-day journey.