There’s a handful of things in life that I really like to do and one of them definitely is eating. My wife Sandy and I were lucky enough to attend Air Canada enRoute’s, Canada’s Best New Restaurants event at the Gardiner Museum in Toronto. The Gardiner Museum is an interesting building that is devoted entirely to ceramic art. It is the only museum of its kind in Canada and was a cool place for an event like this. There were food stations set up and the top-10 new restaurants were all invited to serve some of their signature food.
I hadn’t eaten anything that night and when I first got there I was thinking, “Oh boy, I sure hope there’s enough food!” Well, I wasn’t disappointed. There were some incredible food tastings and after visiting about five different stations I was already full. I was definitely slowing down by the time I got to the last one. Wolf in the Fog restaurant, from Tofino in British Columbia, won this year’s event but as far as I’m concerned they were all winners. It was definitely a highlight of this winter for me!
There’s been a lot of high winds this winter and in one particular windy storm one of our 35-foot blue spruce trees, that we had planted some 20-years ago, blew down. Luckily it was in the back of a cluster of trees so we don’t really need to replace it. On a positive note, it gave us a beautiful, and very large, Christmas tree for the house. My wife has always wanted a big one for the front foyer of the house and this tree could be custom cut to any length so it was perfect for the holidays.
Next on the agenda was getting over to Cambridge for the grand opening of a new Sail store on behalf of Columbia Sportswear. People were lined up to get in and once the doors opened the store was flooded with customers. It’s great to see a Canadian outdoors company like Sail doing so well.
Then I had a number of meetings with sponsors to go over some prototypes and samples of products that are in development. It’s so hard for a person like me to keep some of these products under wraps but there are non-disclosure agreements in place and I certainly don’t want to let any secrets out.
After that I did some work for the upcoming television season, shooting tips and doing voiceovers. There’s always a lot of things to do to get the new TV series polished off before it goes to the networks for airing.
In the first week of December, my son Darren, our friend Cole Chantler and I went to the annual Ranger Product Knowledge boat tour in Flippin’, Arkansas. I’ve gone to the Ranger plant a number of times over the years and I’m still amazed at their incredible craftsmanship and how they build their boats. It’s no wonder they’re the number-one bass boat manufacturer in the world.
Once we were back in Ontario my son and I spoke at the Hamilton Bassmaster’s monthly club meeting. It was great seeing some familiar tournament fishing faces in the crowd and it was awesome to just talk about tournaments with hard-core anglers.
During the Christmas holidays we caught up with friends and family and there was way too much eating, as usual. Then, in first week of January, I was back doing post production work on the TV show. We wanted to get everything finished before we got on the road to Florida with the Ranger in tow.
Even though I drive between 75,000 and 100,000 kilometers a year I have to admit that I still like to drive. Some people wouldn’t like that type of lifestyle but I find that when I get on the open road I can actually unwind. I can only do a certain amount of work when I’m driving so I’m sort of forced to take it easy and collect my thoughts.
Here’s one of the coolest things I learned on the trip to Florida. We had stopped at a gas station in Kentucky to fill up the truck and I wanted to pay at the pump with my credit card. If you travel in the US you’ll probably know what I’m talking about – if you try to use your credit card to pay at the pump it asks you to enter your zip code. As Canadians, we have postal codes, not zip codes, and they won’t work when you try to pay at the pump. This has been a problem for over a decade for me. Imagine trying to fill your boat or truck, but you don’t know if it’s going to take $50, $60 or $80 worth of gas so you prepay the highest amount you think you’ll need. If you forget to get the proper receipt, in some case they’ll charge you for the full amount you prepaid for even if you pumped less gas. In some cases they’ll re-adjust it for you, but it depends on the system they’re on. It’s a real pain.
So I walked into the gas station to either give them my credit card or make a prepayment on it without knowing exactly how much gas it would take to fill up. The girl who was working said that she had heard that you could use the numbers from your postal code and add “00” on the end, instead of entering a zip code. She came back out to the pump with me to try it so I swiped my card and, when it asked for the zip code, I used the three numbers from my postal code, added two zeros and bang, it went through! Ever since then I have tried this in multiple states and have not had my card refused once. After more than a decade of being frustrated and not filling my vehicles up completely, I finally have an efficient way of using my credit card to prepay for fuel and things on the road! So that’s my big tip in this Tales from the Road column.
Once we got to Florida the weather was up and down. For every warm day we got it seemed like we’d get three or four colder days. The Florida strain of largemouth bass are very fickle when it comes to cool water conditions and that’s my excuse for some of the tough fishing days we had. We fished Lake Okeechobee for a number of days and our biggest fish was just six-pounds. We didn’t have any of those real stellar days where we’d catch big numbers of large bass. When we got a couple of warmer days in a row the fishing would start to pick up but then another front would come through and slow things down again.
Brent McNamee, from BoaterExam.com, joined us for a couple of days on Okeechobee and we caught some largemouth by using Sebile Action First Lipless Seeker crankbaits in some of the canals. We also got a few fish by flipping and casting swimbaits, but for the most part the fishing was pretty challenging.
In between the bass fishing we went over to Stuart, Florida, to meet up with Paul Michele from Navionics. Paul is an extremely hard-core saltwater fisherman who has won saltwater tournaments for a number of species. He is really tuned in to the shark fishing over there at this time of year. For a number of years he’s told me about the spinner sharks that migrate through that part of Florida and it was great to finally get out with him.
My friend, Rick McCrory, was also with us on this part of the trip so he, my wife Sandy and I all headed over to get out with Paul for a day. All I can say is, “Wow!” We landed nine blacktip and spinner sharks that were all in the 70 to 100-plus pound range and we lost as many more. For you folks that have never done any of this type of fishing, it is an amazing adrenaline rush. We could see sharks jumping out of the water. Once we set up a drift above them and got a good chum slick going it was game on! All of a sudden you’d hear the clicker on the reel go “click, click, click” as a shark grabbed the bait and started to swim off with it. You’d grab the rod, tighten up the line, set the hook and hold on. After experiencing some mediocre bass fishing, getting out on this trip definitely took the edge off and gave us all a good fish fix.
Then we were off to Orlando to meet up with some family members for a little bit of fun, golfing and fishing. Whenever I’m in the Orlando area I like to hit one of my favourite restaurants, Amura. It is a Japanese sushi and steak house that is to die for. I’ve never had a bad meal there and the food is always incredible.
My friend, Terry McClymont, joined us for a couple of days in Florida. Terry is an Air Canada Captain who lives in Kenora and I’ve known him for a long time. He was asking me about the Okeechobee fishing and the next thing you know he was down there in the boat with us for a day of fishing. The next day he joined another friend of ours, Bill Chambers from North Bay, in Bill’s boat while Sandy and I were in ours. We had some pretty good fishing throwing the Berkley Rib Shad in the California colour on a weighted, 3/0 belly hook around some of the lily pads and flats. Our biggest bass was around five-pounds. The irony is that the fishing was just starting to pick up the day before we had to fly back home.
On a side note, I’ve got a funny story to tell you about Terry. Last fall I was on an Air Canada flight to Ottawa when the flight attendant announced, “Your Captain today is Terry McClymont.” I was laughing and asked the flight attendant if she could give him a message. She said that I could write a note to him so I got one of my son’s business cards and wrote, “Terry, please get me to Ottawa safely. Bob”, then handed her the card. When we were deplaning in Ottawa Terry and the other pilot were waiting for me at the front of the plane. It was pretty funny because the first thing I said to Terry was, “Boy that was a rough landing.” He pointed to the other pilot and said, “Oh, he landed the plane!” I wasn’t even off the plane and I had already put my foot in my mouth!
When I got back from Florida I attended the Spring Fishing and Boat Show’s annual industry breakfast and Canadian Angler Hall of Fame awards and inductions. This year Dr. John Casselman was inducted to the Hall of Fame; Saskatchewan MP Gary Breitkreuz was presented with the Rick Amsbury Award for Excellence and the Jock River Fish Embayment Creation Project was awarded the Conservation Project of the Year award.
The next day I was back at the show to do a seminar. It was a packed crowd and I met a lot of enthusiastic anglers. The next evening the show’s founders, Andy and Vita Pallotta, had a roast for Big Jim McLaughlin. They asked if I would speak at the event and I joked that, if we’re going to “roast” Big Jim there would be plenty to go around! Jim has been a friend for many years, since way before I started the TV series, and I gladly accepted.
The following week I did two evenings of seminars in Vaughn for the fishing department staff from three of Sail’s stores. The first thing that blew my mind was how hard core the people in the room were. They all fished – from fanatical steelheaders to bass anglers to multi-species anglers. The other thing was their enthusiasm for both the sport of fishing and for what they do for a living. It was really cool to see a lot of like-minded people all in one room.
That same week I also took some prize winners from the Sail Cambridge store, Todd Leach and his son, Kyle, out for a day of ice fishing on Lake Simcoe. John Whyte from the Lake Simcoe Message Board, John Mirco from Pure Fishing, and my tool and die connection, Roy Adams, all joined us.
I’ve got an old saying that goes, “You’re only as good as who you surround yourself with,” and John Whyte is one of the best when it comes to fishing on Lake Simcoe. For not being a guide, he spends more time on the water than anybody I know. John has been catching some exceptionally large lake trout this winter and he wanted to take us out to one of his spots to see if we could get a few trout and whitefish.
John jumped into the SnoBear with us first thing in the morning and gave Todd and Kyle a quick seminar on how to read the Lowrance electronics and how to work the Sebile Vibrato lure we would be using. It’s a pretty funky looking, two-treble hooked jigging spoon that puts out an incredible amount of flash and vibration. As John was showing them how to work the lure, he hooked up with a whitefish and has it on for a short time before losing it. Within 10-minutes, Todd Leach hooked up with a very heavy fish that we knew was a lake trout. When he landed it, it ended up being a decent one that weighed about 12-pounds. His son Kyle got a decent whitefish and then, at the end of the day, Todd hooked up with another whitefish. This father/son team had never ice fished before in their lives and they were definitely 10-feet off the ground after our outing.
Some sad news – while we were in Florida we got word that a friend of mine, Tony Mignacca, had passed away suddenly. Tony was the CEO and founder of the Sail retail chain and had been involved in the sporting goods retail business for most of his life. In the four-years that I got to know Tony I really admired his honesty and knowledge about the Canadian retail scene. He was as passionate about the business as he was about fishing and that’s one of the reasons I admired him.
As I wrap this up this Tales column I’m ready to head to the airport to fly back to Florida to hit the waters of Lake Okeechobee for another shot at those big largemouth bass. Stay tuned……