I can’t believe how being on the water makes me feel like I’m in a different world, far away from some of the crazy things that are going on these days. But I was snapped back to reality last November when our daughter, Kristin, took a trip to Paris for a conference with a girlfriend of hers and ended up getting caught in the terrorist attacks that happened there. I was at home when I heard about the attacks and I immediately turned on the TV to see what was going on. It was one of those things where you remember every minute detail of what’s going on around you – where you are and what’s happening.

When my wife Sandy and I started watching the coverage, the first thing that came to mind was that our daughter was in Paris and the place they were staying at was right by the concert stadium where some of the terrorism acts happened. When we finally reached her through a text, we found out they were safe, locked down in a restaurant until three or four in the morning. Once the management decided it was safe enough to start letting people back out onto the street, Kristen and her friend got a taxi ride back to the apartment that they were renting. She told us there were police cars and ambulances everywhere throughout the area they were in. Despite what was going on, the next day they were able to make their scheduled flight out of Paris and on to Lisbon for the second portion of their trip. All I can say is thank goodness they got out of it unscathed.

Later in November I was invited to attend the Big Rock/KTL distributor’s show on behalf of Berkley, Costa and Cuda. This show is put on for the fishing retail dealers from across the country. I had the opportunity to get up on the CSFL’s seminar fish tank and show the new Berkley hard baits to the dealers before spending some time with my friends at Costa sunglasses and Cuda brand fishing tools. Overall it was a great show. I got to meet quite a few dealers that I had never met before as well as a lot of old friends who have been in the business a long time.

After the show there were lots of last minute tips to shoot for the new TV series. Then I attended some interesting parties, including a friend’s 50th birthday party and an ugly Christmas sweater party. My sweater featured a squirrel running around some Christmas lights but it obviously wasn’t ugly enough as I didn’t win the prize.

We had such a mild December that we were able to get in some smallmouth and walleye fishing on the New York side of Lake Erie for a number of days. The main baits that we used were Berkley Havoc Beat Shads or Ripple Shads rigged on a 3/8-ounce jighead that we fished in two ways. One was to cast these swimbaits out and slowly reel them in, bouncing them on bottom. The other was to make a long cast and then use the electric motor to move around at one to 1.8-miles an hour with the baits slowly bouncing on bottom. We covered the water going up and down the contour lines until we caught some fish. Then we’d double back and pepper the area catching fish.

I had heard that Orleans Boat World in the Ottawa area had a new Ranger Z522D, along with dozens upon dozens of other boats, on display in an old Target store in Orleans so on a whim I decided to drive up there to see the Z522D. We’re talking about a 22-foot long boat that is designed for big water bass fishing. It’s got two gigantic decks (it’s like an aircraft carrier!) yet it’s got a hull like a Ranger multi-species boat. This thing is rated for a 300-horsepower motor and there’s no doubt it’s going to make fishing on the big water a lot safer and a lot more efficient. Needless to say, I can’t wait to get mine – which hopefully will be here by the time you’re reading this. The next day I popped into the Sail head office in Laval, Quebec, to say hi to all of my friends there and wish them a Merry Christmas before heading back home.

On December 20, I got out on Lake Ontario with John Whyte, who has a number of fishing websites including the Lake Simcoe Message Board, for a couple of hours fun fishing on the Niagara bar. Before the wind came up we caught about eight or 10 lakers, John lost a couple of big brown trout and I nailed two walleyes including one around 10-pounds. All were taken on swimbaits. It was so good that a couple of days later, on December 23rd, we went out to tape a lake trout show. In the first hour I got all the fish I needed for the show but I stayed for another half an hour catching some more, just for fun. One of the lakers I got was well over 20-pounds. All the fish were taken by dragging four-inch Berkley Ripple Shads rigged on ½-ounce jigheads, from deep water up onto the bar. There are so many fish out there it’s amazing. It has probably has the most fish per acre on the Great Lakes at that time of year including smallmouth, walleye, brown trout, lakers, steelhead and the occasional salmon.

After a nice Christmas with family and friends, it was time to pack the truck and boat and head to Florida’s Lake Okeechobee for the first Costa/FLW Series tournament of the year. Practice went fairly well. It had been an extremely cold winter down in Florida and the fish were in a bit of a funk but I found some decent fish out on a flat that hit a vibrating jig. I got some fish on swimbaits in the shallower spawning areas – even though they weren’t on beds – and I got a few more by flipping, but not as many as I’d like.

On day one I started out on the flats for the first two to three hours in the morning and got one 13-inch fish. I scrambled around and ended up with a meagre limit of just over 7 ½-pounds. As it turned out, I was fishing less than a half-mile from where the eventual winner of the tournament fished. He fished the same flats as I did but he caught fish and I didn’t. That’s just the way fishing goes.

Day two brought 30-mile per hour plus winds and incredible amounts of rain. I ended up only catching three fish for just over seven-pounds and finished the tournament about five-pounds out of the money. I believe I’ve cashed cheques in three out of the seven tournaments I’ve fished on Okeechobee over the years so my average is going down. I can’t wait to fish another tournament on Okeechobee and get my average back up. Hopefully I’ll be able to do that next winter.

On a positive note, young Cole Bailey from London, Ontario, made the top-10 cut with an amazing, tournament best, 21-pound bag of bass on day two and moved on to fish on day three. He ended up in 10th place overall. It’s always great to see these young guns coming into tournaments and showing us old dogs how to do it.

After the tournament, my wife Sandy and I fun-fished for a number of days. What can I say, I needed redemption, I wanted to catch fish, I needed a fix. During our few days of fishing we hooked up with fellow Canadian Dave Johnson for a couple of outings. I’ve known Dave for well over 20-years through tournament fishing. He’s got a place down in Florida and it was a lot of fun getting together to fish and reminisce with him.

Then it was time to head back north. Mike Davis, who was my day-one co-angler in the FLW/Costa tournament, graciously offered me a spot to leave my boat at his place so we dropped the Ranger and headed north.

Things were going good. We were making good time until we got into the State of Kentucky and I75 came to a dead stop during a snowstorm. Believe it or not, we got stopped at exactly the same cut-off where my transmission went out on my truck last year. We were sitting about 300-yards from the exit for about 2 ½-hours when a guy came up and knocked on our window. It seemed his wife was in the hospital at the next cut-off having their first baby and he was trying to get everybody to move over so he could get off the highway. Every time he’d get people to move, others would move over from the left lane and it would fill in again. After 1 ½-hours of him negotiating, he finally made a path with his small car and got off at the exit. We decided, what the heck, we might as well get off too. We followed him off the highway but all of the hotels in the area were booked, so we decided to keep heading north on the country roads that ran parallel to I75.

For over two-hours we zig-zagged over and under I75, heading north on roads where you couldn’t see the lines because so much snow was dropping. Of course being Canadians, and having 4-wheel drive, it wasn’t really anything out of the ordinary for us.

We finally found an exit a few hours north of where we were stranded, got up on the overpass, looked at the highways and now it was gridlocked going southbound. There were some cars that had their lights off, some had their lights on, some were running, some weren’t and some were abandoned. But, it was clear going northbound. Nobody was on the road and there were no State Troopers keeping us off, so we decided we’d get on the ramp and start heading north on I75.

As we were crawling down the ramp, here come a couple of Humvees and another large Army truck, heading southbound in the northbound lanes, going to rescue people. After they passed we looked around and there was nobody else coming so we decided we might as well get on I75 and start going. For about the next three-hours we saw maybe five or six cars heading northbound.

We finally made it into northern Kentucky, just south of Cincinnati, and got a hotel room. The irony is, in the last four or five miles before we got our hotel room, everything cleared up. It was like somebody drew a line in the sand where the snow stopped. We felt like we dodged a bullet. We almost felt guilty, and for sure we felt sorry, for the thousands of people who were stranded on the highway that night.

After getting home I had some sponsor meetings and then my brother Wayne and I were invited by John Ward, from the Cuda brand, to hunt with one of his customers at the Goodwood Club. The Goodwood Club has been around for a long time and they offer some excellent hunting as well as fishing in the many ponds they have. Ron Barnes has donated a hunting trip to our Fishing Forever golf tournament for a few years now and he joined us for some pheasant and chukar hunting. It was a lot of fun out there walking the fields and getting some good Canadian fresh air.

There’s always a lot of production work to do editing the last of the TV series. After our hunting trip I ended up spending a fair amount of time in the edit suite putting the final touches on the new shows before they get sent out to the network. Then I spent an evening at Mariko’s Fly Fishing Film Tour that was held on the Thursday night at Spring Fishing and Boat Show. Mariko and her partner, Kevin Estrada, have a collection of films from all over the world that feature some incredible fishing and stunning locations. The next morning I attended the industry breakfast that Vita and Andy Pallotta do at the Spring Fishing and Boat Show and the following day I did a seminar at the show. There was a packed house and it showed me that the fishing industry is alive and well.

Then a big group of us went to Between the Lines winery for some wine tasting and a wonderful dinner right in the facility. Brothers Greg and Yannick Wertsch do a wonderful job making some superb Canadian wines. Needless to say our group had a lot of fun tasting five different white wines and eventually picking the one that would become the new vintage of our limited run Izumi wine.

Then it was time for another road trip back to Florida, where we picked up the boat at Mike Davis’s place and then headed over to Streamsong Resort. Streamsong Resort is on the Mosaic property which encompasses 16,000-acres. The resort has a 215-room hotel and several fine dining restaurants. There are two top-ranked, 18-hole golf courses on the property as well as 40-plus lakes with some of the best bass fishing in the world.

There are so many big fish in these lakes it is mind blowing. Even though we hit high winds, rain and a cold front on our first day, the fish still bit. We fished for a couple of hours and caught numerous bass up to seven-pounds. On a few more outings to some different lakes over the next few days we caught so many fish from four to six-pounds it was unbelievable. I’m talking about dozens and dozens of big fish – and this was during a cold front. Florida bass are the most fickle largemouth you’ll ever find anywhere and they are very susceptible to cold fronts. They get lockjaw very quickly and are much harder to catch during cold fronts, so it tells you the quality of fishing at Streamsong. Unfortunately the golf courses were booked up and we couldn’t get a tee time but hopefully I’ll get to golf there sometime down the road.

I left the truck and boat down in Florida and flew back home to speak on behalf of Columbia Sportswear at a Toronto manager’s meeting for FGL Sports. FGL Sports have a number of sporting goods stores across Canada and 400 managers were in attendance. I was honoured to be part of Columbia’s presentation and it was fun to be part of that convention. As long as I’ve been in the business, I never get tired of some of the corporate functions I’m lucky enough to get invited to.

As I wrap this column up, I’ve just flown back from the Mid-Canada Boat Show in Winnipeg, Manitoba. It’s been over 20-years since the last time I visited this show and it was great to see so many old friends out there. They had over 250 boats on display in the newly renovated convention centre.

I did seminars with Alex Keszler, Ted Takasaki and Jeff “Gussy” Gustafson at the show and I also had a chance to visit with my radio co-host, Gord Pyzer. I spent some time with the folks from SnoBear, Mercury, Lund, Ranger and a number of other folks that were at this show.

As I sign off, I have a flight to catch back to Florida in about four-hours. I’ll be there for six straight days of fishing before I drive the boat and truck back to Ontario for the Toronto Sportsmen’s Show. What can I say, life is tough.

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