Even though I’m addicted to competitive tournament fishing and that’s what I eat, sleep and drink, I also like to get out golfing. Not as much as I would like to because if it’s a nice day I can either go fishing, go practice for a tournament, compete in a tournament, or I could go golfing. Unfortunately, golfing is second fiddle. I’ll start this Tales from the Road column with a couple of golf tournaments I had that were right before getting back on the road fishing. First was the Golf Fore Fish event that the Canadian Sportfishing Industry Association puts on. This year it was held at the Glen Eagle Golf Club in Bolton. It’s always a fun day and it’s great to see all of the industry folks supporting Catch Fishing and some of the other programs that the money that’s raised at this tournament is used for.
Two days later we had our Fishing Forever golf tournament at my friend’s golf course, Turtle Creek, just north of Milton. Once again, it was a fun-filled day that raised nearly $20,000 in support of Fishing Forever and the Kids and Cops program. Then it was back to work to do some video shooting and editing along with doing several radio shows with my long-time radio producer, Mike Nothcott. If I’m not mistaken, the Real Fishing Radio Show is the longest running syndicated radio show of any kind in Canada. We just completed our 30th year of doing the show so that was a cool milestone to hit.
It’s amazing how much work there is to do getting equipment ready for TV shoots and tournaments. Between setting up and packing all of my rods, reels, lures, lifejackets, accessories, boats, motors and electronics it really is a time consuming job. It’s hard to get caught up on organizing my gear in between all of the fishing that I do, both competitively and for the TV show. I really had to hustle because my time was limited to get packed for the first FLW/Costa Northern Series tournament of the year, which was held in Maryland, on the historic Potomac River. I rolled in there with four-days of pre-fishing time which is pretty darn good considering how crazy my schedule is.
I don’t have a very good track record on the Potomac so my expectations were not very high going into this tournament, but my pre-fishing actually went pretty good. Ironically, sometimes when your expectations aren’t very high you end up having a pretty good event because you go into it with a little bit more open mindedness instead of having too many preconceived ideas or notions of how the fishing is going to be.
On day one of the tournament I drew a co-angler whose first name was Kermit and you’ll never guess what he threw for about 80% of the first day. That’s right, a hollow topwater frog! And, he caught a couple of pretty good fish on it. In fact, it was one of those mornings you just dread as a professional angler, when your amateur partner is getting them and you’re not. In the FLW tournaments you’re fishing for your own fish and your co-angler, who fishes from the back of the boat, fishes for his fish. You’re fishing for different prize pools too – larger prizes on the pro side versus the co-angler side. Well, didn’t Kermit proceed to put on a bass catching clinic. By by 11:30 in the morning he had a limit and I only had two keeper fish in the livewell.
I decided to run north and check out some new areas and while we were there we only caught one short fish. With less than two-hours to go before weigh-in I still only had two fish in the livewell so I told Kermit that I had to at least get a limit to save face. So we ran back to an area where I had found some fish during practice and I got four decent ones in the last hour of the tournament. The tide had started to fall on the river and I managed to catch four keepers by flipping a black/blue Berkley Chigger Quad in the weeds. Fishing tidal waters like the Potomac is funny because when the tide’s up the weeds are standing straight up, but when the tide falls say a foot or a foot and a half, the weeds get laid over and you can actually flip them. Anyway, I got four good bites in the last hour and ended up putting together a limit that weighed just over 13-pounds. It wasn’t the best bag I’ve ever caught, but at least it gave me a shot at having a decent tournament.
Day two rolled around and the tide was up so I knew the flipping bite wasn’t going to be very good. I tried flipping for a few minutes but the weeds are actually very sparse when the water’s high – it’s amazing how it works in tidal waters – so I decided to mix it up. When the tide was high I threw a swim jig and ended up catching a couple of good ones. Then, all of a sudden all of my power went out in the boat. For some reason my cranking battery that all my accessories, including my livewell pumps, my graphs and my power poles run on, went dead on me. I’m not sure if the battery itself was the problem or if it just didn’t get fully charged the night before, but it quit working and I had to get it fixed in a hurry.
Luckily, that morning when I launched the boat I noticed that my volt meter was reading just 10.6 instead of 12 or 13-volts. I’ve got it set to read on my graph and, although it was low, I assumed that it would charge up while I was running the big engine. Anyway, I called my wife, Sandy, who was on her way back to the hotel after launching me that morning, and asked her to come back to the ramp so I could get another battery out of the truck. I met up with her, changed the battery and got back to fishing.
Once we got back on the water I proceeded to catch some fish on a frog, a swim jig and by flipping that Chigger Quad. I managed to and put together a limit that weighed 15-pounds, 6-ounces and I moved up 20 spots, from 35th to 15th overall and got a nice cheque. My co-anglers from both days one and two each weighed in their limits so they were both very happy as well. I also got some valuable points for the championship and then it was time to move on.
I got home for a day and then hit the road to Kingston with my son, Darren, for the Renegade Q1 tournament at Dog/Cranberry Lake, which is just north of Kingston. This lake has a reputation for kicking out a lot of quality bags of bass. Darren and I weighed in 16.98-pounds in the tournament and ended up in 17th place overall. We were 2.7-pounds out of first and just .95-pounds from 10th place. If we could have just got one big fish to go with the five keeper fish we had, we might have had a chance at winning. I could not believe how consistently good the weights were in this tournament. So we came out of there with some valuable points but no prizes.
Then we moved on to do a little bit of videotaping on Lake Ontario for some of the giant smallmouth that live out there. In short order we got a show shot with some four, five and six-pound smallmouth on camera. It’s amazing how good the fishing is out there during the first three or four weeks of the season.
Then it was up to Casino Rama for a fundraising tournament that Frank Guida from Tri-Con Concrete puts on. He raises money for Fishing Forever every year by running this fun, pro-am tournament where corporate teams and individuals get the chance to fish with a number of pro anglers. I’m not sure of the exact number of boats but there were somewhere in the neighbourhood of 25 or 30 in the tournament. This year it was held on a little lake just down the road from Casino Rama, on a lake called Lake St. John. I’d never been on this lake in my life prior to launching the boat that morning. It was a very interesting format because we were allowed to weigh in pike, walleye and bass. We ended up having a pretty good weight of fish and even held the lead for a while. It was a lot of fun to sit in the hot seat on stage, until we got knocked out of first place by another team. Both of my amateurs caught fish and they had a good time out there. What can I say, it was a win-win for everybody who turned out for the tournament, as well as for the charities that the event supported.
After the tournament it was back to the office to do some more radio taping. Then I did a number of radio interviews with all kinds of stations promoting some of the upcoming tournaments I was involved with. The next day then it was off to Lake Simcoe for the annual Casey Cup tournament. My son Darren and I have fished the Casey Cup for a number of years and it’s always a great event where a lot of big fish are caught. This year the fish had already finished spawning so we were targeting post-spawn smallmouth bass and ended up catching five fish for 21.5-pounds. We got fourth place and were only .30-pounds out of second. As usual the CSFL Casey Cup was a great event and I’m already looking forward to fishing it again next year. After the Casey Cup I did some radio shows promoting National Fishing Week. It’s a great promotion that Catch Fishing does in many provinces, where anglers can fish without a licence on a specific weekend.
Then we headed off to Big Rideau Lake for the next renegade Bass tournament of the season. Robert Greenburg, who is a friend of mine from Ottawa, was gracious enough to let Darren and I stay at his place on Big Rideau Lake. As usual Big Rideau kicked out lots of fish during the tournament and we caught some smallmouth bass as well as some largemouth. It seemed like the fish were scattered and we had to cover a lot of water in order to catch them. We ended up with a mixed bag that weighed 14.60-pounds, which put us in 40th place. The rest of the tournament field really caught them on this day, but we still we got some valuable points towards qualifying for the Classic.
I got home on Sunday, grabbed another suitcase of clothes as well as my golf clubs, and caught a flight down to Florida for the annual ICAST show, which is the annual industry fishing trade show. While we were there we participated in the Florida Sportsman’s Bass and Birdies fundraising golf tournament. My brother Wayne and I, along with Bill Ferreira and Dean Rurak from Columbia Sportswear, hit the links and had a great round of golf. We didn’t catch any bass, but we hit the golf balls really well. We came in with a good score but, although we didn’t end up winning, we all had a good time for a good cause supporting the American Sportfishing Association.
After our day of golfing it was off to the ICAST show. We always go straight to the New Product Showcase to put in our votes for what’s new in all the different categories of products that are on display. There’s no question I’m like a kid in a candy store when I get there because seeing all the new lures, rods reels and accessories is always a treat. Once we finished looking around the show we had several meetings to attend with Pure Fishing, Navionics, Lowrance, Columbia and Mystik. Everything went well and we had a great time down there. The folks from Cuda even gave me a nice award called the Cuda Pro of the Year award during the lovely dinner that they hosted for a bunch of pro anglers, media and industry folks. That was certainly a nice surprise. We got to bed around 12:30 on the Thursday night then got up at 3:30 in the morning to catch the first flight back to Toronto. When I got home I worked on the boat, packing for a three-tournament road trip.
The next day I hit the road for Kingston. When I got there I launched the boat and literally fished into the dark that night, practicing for the tournament by myself until 9:30 p.m. I have to admit when I get out into a tournament, whether it’s pre-fishing or the actual event, I really like getting in that zone of trying to figure out just what the fish are doing. I spent the next number of days on the water and then went over to New York to fish the second FLW/Costa tournament of the year in the Thousand Islands area. I was pretty excited because I haven’t been there for about three-years. The last tournament I was in down there I finished in second place, and I won the tournament before that, so I was pretty jacked about this particular event. As a result I fished really hard. Unfortunately I didn’t catch any giant stringers of fish over the three-day tournament. On day two they closed off the lake because of high winds and we had to stay in the St. Lawrence River. Over three-days I ended up with 54-pounds, 11-ounces and finished in fifth place, but I managed to move up to second place in the race for Angler of the Year in the Northern Division of the FLW/Costa Series.
After the tournament I stayed down there and the next morning I was back on the water from sunup until sundown, looking around for some more spots to fish in the next tournament, which happened to be the CSFL Kingston Canadian Open. It’s another three-day tournament, running from Thursday through Saturday, and I was on the water for another four-days preparing for it. I ended up in fifth place but I had lots of fun out there and I caught a ton of fish. As soon as the tournament was over I was right back out on the water again the next morning, fishing my brains out for the next four-days getting ready for the Thousand Islands Open, which is put on by the folks at Renegade Bass out of Ed Huck Marine in Rockport, on the St. Lawrence River. This is the first time in my life I have spent 22-days straight on the same body of water. I usually fish one or two different lakes every week and I never stay in one place more than a week so this was unusual.
I certainly didn’t feel like I was thinking like a fish, but I definitely smelled like one after spending that many days on the water! I did feel like I got in tune with them pretty good. My son Darren and I fished the three-day tournament as a team and wound up getting eighth-place. So I ended up with two fifths and an eighth place. One of the cool things at this tournament was that the anglers who qualified for the third day all got a key for a brand new Ranger boat package. Everyone had a chance to try their key in the boat and whoever had the key that started it would win the boat. Unfortunately our key didn’t start it but one of the lucky teams – who happened to be a one-man team, won it this year. This guy ended up catching enough fish by himself – his brother apparently bailed at the last minute – to make it into the top-20 and he also won the fully rigged Ranger boat.
After 22-days I actually took a day to drive back home and get organized again. Do you know how much laundry you have after 22-days? Luckily I had enough pairs of underwear and other clothes to get me through, but I sure had a lot of laundry to get done. The next day I went down to Lake Erie to spend some time pre-fishing for the CSFL Lake Erie tournament out of the town of Chippewa. I got a few days on the water that week and then I found out that the tournament, which was supposed to be on Friday and Saturday, had day-one cancelled because of high winds. Then day-two was cancelled and as a result the tournament was moved to Sunday, which was the rain day, so it became a one-day tournament.
I decided to run about 80-miles one way in big waves to gamble on a spot that one of these days I’m going to weigh 25 to 27-pounds from. I’ve tried this spot in three tournaments in a row and haven’t caught them yet, but I’m stubborn. I stopped at a spot on the way down there and we caught a four-pounder and a three-pounder before continuing our run. When I finally got to my spot we started fishing but we didn’t catch a single fish, so I went to my next spot and again we didn’t catch a fish. So I ended up spending over four-hours of the day driving the boat because it was such a long run down Lake Erie. Fortunately we hit a few other places and put together a limit that weighed 19.55-pounds, which put us in third place. Because it was a smaller field, and a lot of guys bailed or couldn’t make the Sunday after the first two days were cancelled, they only paid three places so I snuck in for the last paying spot.
There was only one really big weight, 25-pounds, that Gaspare Constabile weighed in, and he ended up winning the tournament. There was only one other weight over 20-pounds and that was caught by my son, Darren. He’s only fished four tournaments as a boater, and on this day he caught them pretty good. Unfortunately his livewell drained on the way back to the weigh-in and he was penalized 2 ½-pounds for dead fish, which knocked him down to seventh place. Had he weighed in his fish alive and healthy he would have finished in second.
As a result of the cancellations on Lake Erie, it really put me behind a couple of days in terms of getting down for the last FLW/Costa Northern Series tournament on Oneida Lake. I was sitting in second place for Angler of the Year but I’d never been to Oneida Lake and I had to try and learn it in a hurry. By time I got down there on Monday night I only had a day and a half to learn this 20-mile long lake.
On Tuesday morning I got the boat set up but the wind was blowing at 25-miles an hour out of the east, straight down the lake into where I launched. I went out anyway, but only caught one bass all day, a 2 ½-pounder that hit a Sebile Flatt Shad. When I got off the water that night I was pretty distraught, but I got back out there the next day to try again. Unfortunately things didn’t go much better and I ended up getting two bites on a dropshot rig all day, and that was the end of my practice.
So the tournament rolls around and on day-one I ended up getting five fish on a popper, one on a soft stickbait and one on a dropshot. My best five weighed 13.5-pounds and I was sitting in 30th place. Day-two rolls around and I only got one fish all day, a three-pound, one-ounce bass that hit a soft stickbait. That dropped me down to 50th place overall in the tournament and I slipped back to ninth in the Angler of the Year race. At least I qualified for the championship tournament on Table Rock Lake in November, so I really can’t complain.
I am very happy for my two friends, Chris and Cory Johnston. Cory ended up winning the tournament and his brother Chris got fourth. Cory also finished first for Angler of the Year and his brother was second. Hats off to those guys who are both just fish catching machines.
There’s no rest for the wicked. After I weighed in my solo bass on Friday I literally had to get the boat loaded and hit the road for a four-hour drive to Cornwall for the Renegade Bass Q4 event on Lake St. Francis with my son Darren. He had been on the water for two-days and had a pretty good practice finding both largemouth and smallmouth. We hit the water bright and early in the morning and started the day off catching a small smallmouth. Then I got one about four-pounds, which turned out to be our biggest of the day. Then the smallmouth bite died so we went for largemouth and filled out our limit. Later in the day we got a couple of small smallmouth and ended up with 14.5-pounds for 35th place. The good thing is we qualified for the Renegade classic so we’re looking forward to having a one in 40 shot of winning a Ranger bass boat. I’ll let you know how it turns out in my next Tales from the Road column.