Most people that live in my area of the world, in southern Ontario, winterize their boats and put them away when it gets into November or December but I usually leave one or two available so I can keep fishing right through until ice-up. This year was no exception and I managed to get out to Lake Erie for a couple of late season trips before it got too cold and windy.
During the late season on Lake Erie, you can have some of the most incredible smallmouth fishing of your life. They become very predictable in their wintering areas, in 25 to 50-feet of water, and they will readily eat lures like Thinfishers, Splinter Spoons, Power Tubes, swimbaits and a variety of other baits that you can keep in contact with the bottom. The strike zone is very limited to the first foot or two off bottom at this is the time of year and the fish don’t suspend very much. For the most part they’re “bellies to the bottom”, eating gobies and feeding up for the winter. We had a couple of good days and I got my last open water fishing fix before it got too late in the season.
In early December me and a bunch of fellow Canadians made a quick trip down to Ranger Boats for their annual Advantage Tour. I’ve made about two-dozen trips to Ranger Boats over the years, and I’ve had the tour on how these boats are made on many of those trips, but I’m still amazed to see how much work is involved in putting together a Ranger fiberglass boat.
Boat testing has always been a part of this cool, two-day affair but this year it was a little too cool for me to be testing boats out on Bull Shoals Lake. I elected to stay on shore to shoot a video on the Fisherman series while some of my friends in our group decided they would brave the frigid cold waters for some boat rides. About an hour later they came back and every one of them had bright, rosy-red cheeks. In one way I was kind of sad that I missed going out there to experience a little bit of performance boat riding but on the other hand I just got a good chuckle out of how red their faces were.
After the tour we overnighted at a hotel in Springfield Missouri before heading back to Canada the next morning. A couple of friends, Steve Chantler and Ward Edmonds, know how much I like my treats and they had found this incredibly large, two-pound Rice Krispies square at a gas station and secretly bought it. Just before midnight they presented it to me at the hotel. It was funny to see the grins on both of their faces as they were having a nightcap of Crown Royal and I was staring at this giant Rice Krispies square, debating whether I should open it or not before I went to bed!
As we got into the holiday season I made a bet with my future son-in-law, who is in very good shape, that I could lose 15-pounds by April. As of today I have moved the needle on the scale a full seven to eight-pounds – in the wrong direction! So it’s time to move it the right direction and get serious with this bet. It’s going to be hard because I definitely like to store it up in the winter, just like a hibernating bear does at this time of year.
After the holidays it was time to get our Brazilian visas in order for a trip to the Amazon to fish for peacock bass. You’ve got to give your passport up for two weeks and we got in at the last possible moment, so there would be no international travelling for those two weeks.
Unfortunately this winter has been inconsistent here in southern Ontario. We’ve had a few cold days followed by some warm days, then more cold, then warm again. The result is that a lot of the ice conditions have been questionable in certain areas in southern Ontario and there was a few week period where I absolutely did nothing but work on TV production and do other things around the house. To be honest, it was a hard thing for me to do because I’m so addicted to spending time outdoors fishing.
We did sneak down to the Toronto International Boat Show and did a tour of what’s new in boating this year. From all reports it was a good year for many of the people selling boats down there. I’m hoping that this translates into a good year for the fishing industry as well because if people are buying boats, they probably need rods, reels, electronics, tackle etc. as well.
The water skiing squirrel, Twiggy, was back performing at the show, which was a treat to see. It reminded me that I might have run into one of Twiggy’s relatives this year during one of the Renegade Bass tournaments. It was one of the most bizarre things I’ve ever seen in my life. I was practicing by myself on Dog and Cranberry Lake and all of a sudden I saw a black squirrel swimming across the lake. I went further down the lake and was fishing along the shoreline when I saw an albino squirrel. I mentioned it to fellow angler Matt Massey, and he told me that he had seen a black squirrel swimming across the lake as well. It definitely could have been the same one I saw. He also said that he saw the white squirrel on someone’s cottage front lawn! I guess we were fishing in the same area of the lake! It just goes to show you how you see the craziest things out there on the water. I wonder if that aquatic black squirrel was in training to be the next Twiggy.
Six-days before we were scheduled to depart on our trip to the Amazon my brother Wayne called me saying that he had got a call from David McCarthy, who runs Hooked on Adventures. David organizes trips for folks who want to go to the Amazon to fish peacock bass. He told Wayne that our trip had to be postponed because the river was up three to four-meters. From what we have experienced in the past, when the water’s high it moves a lot of the fish up into the jungle where they are inaccessible and the other fish get spread out, making the catch ratio way lower than normal. So, the trip was postponed and there I was, at home again with no fishing on my schedule and nothing much that I could do about it.
My long-time friend George McTavish’s daughter, Shylene, was getting married in Chatham so my wife Sandy and I decided to make the trip down to the wedding. We left early on the morning of the wedding and had some spare time so we took a drive down memory lane down to Rondeau Provincial Park. When I was 17 and 18-years old I worked at Rondeau Park for the Ministry of Natural Resources and I have some really great memories of working there netting fish for the museum, working in the police boat patrolling Rondeau Bay, cutting firewood, mowing grass etc. It was pretty cool to go down and see that the park had really not changed much since I worked there so many years ago.
We got to the wedding and I had a good time seeing a lot of old friends of mine, including some old school friends who I have not seen for literally 38 to 40-years. It was pretty interesting running into people that I hadn’t seen for that long. Some of them were very recognizable, others not so much. I’m sure that, if they haven’t seen the TV show, I probably wasn’t that recognizable to them either, especially with my bald head. At least until I opened up my mouth and they remembered the voice!
Then it was back home to pack up the SnoBear for little ice fishing trip. I like to have about 10 to 12-inches of good, solid ice to take the machine out on and even then I won’t take it near any risky areas. Because of the displacement offered by the skis and tracks, the SnoBear’s weight is spread out over a large area so it doesn’t put as much pressure on the ice as you’d think. It also has a unique feature that, if it did go through the ice, only the front engine area would partially submerge and the rest if it would float. There’s also an escape hatch in the roof to get out, so it’s a very safe machine.
So we packed up and headed up to do some fishing on Lake Simcoe. We launched out of Virginia Beach and went on the back, or east, side of Georgina Island to try for some perch. The hut operators gave us reports that the perch fishing was slow but we decided to head out anyway. We ended up locating some small pods of perch but nothing to get excited about. We didn’t do any taping for the Real Fishing Show, but we did end up catching enough keeper sized perch for a nice fish fry during our outing.
About mid-afternoon we hooked up with John Whyte. We were talking about how slow the fishing was and decided to pack up and head to Lake St. John to see if we could catch any walleyes. Neither John nor I had ever targeted walleyes on that lake so we thought it would be fun to give it a try. We ended up getting up there with about an hour to fish so we punched about a dozen holes and caught a few small perch, but we didn’t locate the walleyes. We decided to stay in Orillia that evening and give it one last shot for a few hours the next day to see if we could get some video for the TV show.
In the morning we moved around punching holes off some of the shoals and out from some of the shallow areas on the lake, from shallow to deep, trying to figure out where these walleyes might be. As a result we caught a number of perch, but did not hook up with any walleyes. As the old saying goes, nothing ventured, nothing gained. If you don’t try you’ll never know and that’s always been my theory in fishing. Unfortunately things didn’t come together as well as we hoped, so this will be one of those shows that you’ll never see on TV.
The Spring Fishing and Boat Show is put on by the Pallotta family and it’s held in February at the International Centre in Mississauga. It’s a great show if you’re serious about fishing and it attracts more hard-core attendees than any other fishing show in Canada. If you’re into muskie fishing, tournaments, trolling, fly fishing, or any other type of fishing, this show has it all. I attended the fishing industry breakfast that was held on the Friday morning and I was fortunate enough to see some friends of mine get inducted into the Canadian Fishing Hall of Fame including Wil Wegman, Darren Jacko and Steve Voros amongst others.
I returned the next day for a seminar and it was a jam-packed audience. Then I spent some time over at the Berkley booth talking fishing for a few hours. From all the reports I’ve heard, the show was a great success. And now that the show is done its crunch time. We’ve got one more show to shoot for our series and, at the time of this writing, I have to make a decision – do I go further north to find safer ice, do I go down and fish steelhead in the Niagara River or do I take a boat and head out after lake trout on the Niagara Bar? What can I say, it’s a dirty job, and I’m glad I’m doing it.