I got an interesting phone last fall from an old friend, Donnie Ratliff, from Greenup, Kentucky. I used to fish with Donnie and his father but I hadn’t talked to either of them in over 30-years. Back when I was around 19 or 20-years old I met Donnie’s father, Ken, in Erieau. He had been going there with his family and friends for many years to fish for bass in Rondeau Bay. At the time, Donnie was about 4 or 5-years younger than me so I mostly fished with his father. Eventually I started fishing with Donnie and we became good friends. When we were talking, Donnie told me he is now is retired. Heck, when I knew him he didn’t even have a job; he was still a student in high school! It’s funny how the years go by and boy did it ever bring back some memories.
That call came while I was en-route to fishing Big Rideau Lake with my friend and tournament angler, Bryan Pollock. Bryan loves to fish all different species but one of his favourite things to do is target lake trout. We had arranged to meet up for some “video game lakers”, which is a type of lake trout technique where we use our Lowrance HDS 12 sonar to spot the deep lake trout. Once we find them we lower down a 3/8-ounce football head jig with a four-inch Gulp chartreuse jigging grub and vertically jig for them. As soon as you start to see that arch come up on the screen of your graph as your jig is descending, you engage your reel and start a medium-speed retrieve. The fish either streak up and you’ll get a bone- jarring strike or they’ll bail on you and swim back down. It’s some of the most exciting “new technology” fishing you’ll ever do and it’s all with the aid of your graph. Your catch ratio would be cut by 95% or more without a good graph.
Bryan is a master at reading his electronics and he schooled me by catching about five fish to my one. My son Darren, who runs the camera, wanted to give it a try and off-camera he proceeded to catch three really quickly, just to show me how it’s done. As the old saying goes, “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks”, and in this case this old dog was having a hard time catching on to this technique. Despite being outfished it was a lot of fun and we got some great video shot.
After fishing with Bryan we were off to the Ottawa River to do a little scouting for the Renegade Bass Classic. The Ottawa River has a reputation for kicking out some pretty good sized fish but it also has a reputation of being a pretty tough body of water to consistently do well on, especially in tournaments. There’s no guarantee that you’re going to catch a limit of fish all the time and it’s one of the few bodies of water where the names in the top-10 change quite frequently from year to year. We found a few fish here and there but I certainly didn’t feel like we were on to anything that would win the tournament.
Then it was off to Craganmor Point Resort to tape an episode of the Real Fishing Show. It’s just a couple of hours north of Toronto and it’s in the heart of the 30,000 Islands area of Georgian Bay. We decided to target smallmouth bass while we were there and, on my first day, I took out the owners’ son, young Andrew Overend. We caught some smallmouth bass by fishing some of the numerous underwater humps and bluffs within minutes of the resort. Unfortunately the rain came in and shortened our fishing day but we certainly had a lot of fun, caught some fish and shared some good laughs. On the next day I got out with John Whyte. John is a tournament fishing buddy of mine who has had a cottage up there for many years and he knows the water very well. We ended up catching some very nice smallmouth in excess of five-pounds on a wacky rigged Berkley Havoc Flat Dawg during our outing and were able to finish off the show.
Then it was off to Bark Lake in the Haliburton Highlands to take some Canadian Tire and Home Hardware dealers fishing. These folks had all won trips through an annual OFF! Deep Woods contest that we hold for dealers from across the country. As usual it was great fun, everyone caught fish and we had a great couple of days up there.
As soon as I finished at Bark Lake I headed over to Ottawa to join my son, Darren, for the Renegade Bass Classic. On day-one Darren and I fished for the first couple of hours without catching a fish and things were not looking good. But one thing about tournament fishing is that it’s never over until the last cast. About mid-morning we caught our first fish in some scattered weeds. A while later we caught a second fish from some reeds. We kept at it and got our third fish in the reeds and then our fourth from under a boat dock. With five-minutes left before check-in time we finally got our last keeper of the day in some lily pads. We raced back to the weigh-in and made it with 40-seconds to spare. We had 15.8-pounds for the first day, which kept us in the top-20. We had some work to do though, as Jay McCormack and Mike Desforges were leading with 20.41-pounds.
With nothing to lose, on day-two we decided we would go check out some new water. We ran about 30 or 40-miles to an area that Darren and I hadn’t pre-fished and hadn’t been to in five or six-years. We proceeded to catch a fairly quick limit, which is unusual for us on the Ottawa River. Darren put on a clinic and caught four in a row in about five-minutes of flipping. We got a limit of keepers and then started looking for better fish. As the day wore on we ended up catching some pretty good fish. Darren caught one that was over four-pounds, we each had one about three and things were going pretty good. Then Darren got a bite, set the hook, and the fish wrapped around a reed and was hanging in mid-air. I jumped on the trolling motor and headed over to it but before we could get there the fish fell off. My guess is that it weighed between three and three and a half-pounds. We ended up with 16.53-pounds, which turned out to be the second biggest weight that day. We moved up to fourth place and were 1.35-pounds out of first. If we had caught the fish that Darren lost it would have moved us into second place and it may have even been enough to give us the win. That fish turned out to be a very expensive one and we won’t forget it for a long, long time. Sometimes the fish that you lose are more memorable than the ones you catch and this was definitely one of those.
After the tournament, Scott Walcott, from West Lake Willows Resort in Prince Edward County, gave me a heads-up and told me that the walleyes were on, so we decided to make a quick trip to go fishing on Lake Ontario with him. Scott and his family run West Lake Willows and Scott is also a charter captain on Lake Ontario and the Bay of Quinte. He’s figured out where the big walleyes are before they come into the Bay in the fall, so we got out for a couple of hours of fishing and taping. We were trolling the new Berkley Flicker Minnow, both on planer boards and with clip-weights, using 10-pound test Trilene on Abu Garcia Alphamar line counter reels. What can I say; from about 9:30 in the morning until noon it was non-stop walleye action. It was amazing how Scott had these fish dialed in. By using his Navionics chart with the Freshest Data he had the area we were fishing completely mapped out. We got 11 walleyes including one small fish – a seven-pounder – but the rest were all between 9 and 11-pounds. The fishing was unbelievable. It was one of those shoots that I love because it makes it really easy to tape a show. My son, Darren, wanted to see if he could get his personal best walleye so he put the camera away and reeled in the next three fish, including an 11-pounder. Mission accomplished!
When we got back, fishing guide Taro Murata asked me if I wanted to go cranking for salmon on Lake Ontario at night. That sounded like something different so we met up in Toronto to do some night cranking and it was absolutely incredible. We landed five salmon, all between 20 and 30-pounds, by casting ¾-ounce Sebile Action First Lipless Seeker crankbaits on Abu Garcia Veracity and Veritas Winch Series crankbait rods. These are softer action rods that are good for using with treble hooked lures. We must have had 40 or 50 hits that night and, although we lost most of them, we did land five of those big bruisers. What an adrenaline rush!
After fishing with Taro I took a quick flight to Ottawa to speak at the Canadian Safe Boating Council’s annual symposium. I returned the next morning and went straight to a top-secret meeting in the GTA regarding some new products that are in development. One of the cool things about what I do for a living is that every now and then I get involved with some of the companies I work with on some of their product ideas way before they hit the stores. You’ll see this one about a year and a half from now and you’ll be very impressed with it. I’d like to be able to tell you about it but I was sworn to secrecy before I left the meeting.
Then it was time to head to the B1 tournament on Lake St. Francis, in Valleyfield, Quebec. This is an event I look forward to every year as some of the best anglers from across Ontario and Quebec come out to compete in it. Darren and I were feeling pretty good after our pre-fishing for this event because we had located a number of good areas that were holding fish. On day-one we had a decent limit of fish but should have had over 20-pounds had I not lost a key, five-pound class fish. I got a hit on a tube jig, set the hook and was fighting the fish towards the boat. I got it about 2/3 of the way in when it made a big jump and appeared to spit the hook. When I reeled the tube in I discovered the hook was broken, right at the bend. I remember putting on a hook that had a little bit of rust on the bend but thought nothing of it, which was a big mistake. The hook broke at the wrong time and the wrong place during the wrong event and cost us, big time. It would have given us a top-10 finish for day-one and would certainly have had us in contention moving into day-two. As it turned out, we weighed in 17.92-pounds and were quite a few pounds back on day-one.
Day-two didn’t get much better. We only had one smallmouth by mid-day and ended up panicking and going for largemouth. In the last hour and a half Darren and I flipped five largemouth, kept four of them, and ended up in 38th place overall. In hindsight, we should have stuck to our guns and stayed with the smallmouth bass. I can’t wait to fish the B1 again next year and I will definitely put my mind towards those smallmouth bass that keep winning year after year.
On Thanksgiving weekend I took my daughter Kristin, her boyfriend Travis, and my son, Darren, out for a little fishing on Lake Erie. The four of us decided we would fish the Berkley Havoc Flatt Dawg in shallow water and, in a few hours of fishing, we managed to catch around 15 smallmouth bass. We had a perfectly calm day and had a lot of fun out there.
After the holiday I had a day of muskie fishing scheduled on Lake St. Clair with my old buddy, Captain Jim Fleming. I invited John Ward, from the Cuda fishing tools company, to join us and he eagerly accepted. We had a great day and caught 11 muskies on that outing. I’ve got to say that Captain Jim has never let me down on a fishing trip. He’s one of those professional charter captains that, if the fishing’s not good, he’ll tell you not to come down, unlike some other guys who will take your money no matter what the conditions are. The only problem is, if you want to go muskie fishing with Jim, he can sometimes be booked a year in advance because he’s so good.
I’m always watching the wind during the fall of the year and whenever there’s a flat day forecast I try to get out on the water. After my muskie trip I noticed there was a calm weather coming so I said to my son Darren, “Let’s go shoot a little bit of video using the Johnson Thinfisher blade bait.”
I grabbed a handful of ½-ounce gold Thinfishers and rigged up some 7-foot, medium heavy baitcast rods (you can use a spinning rods too) with Trilene Professional Grade braid and fluorocarbon leaders. We fished on Lake Erie, working some subtle breaks that went from 28 to 32-feet of water, and ended up catching some pretty decent smallmouth up to 4 ½-pounds. What was really cool were the bonus walleyes and perch we caught. I got one jumbo perch that was about 16-inches in length – it looked like a smallmouth bass – and six bonus walleyes on our short outing.
The Johnson Thinfisher is an absolute fish-catching machine. Last spring I talked about how many big walleyes we caught with it over in Sturgeon Bay and on Lake Erie, as well as the numbers of smallmouth bass it caught. The key to using it during the cool water periods is to cast it out and let it go all the way to the bottom. Then just barely lift it a foot or two, just until you get a vibration, and then drop it down again. Let it sit for a few seconds and then repeat the subtle jigging motion. You’re only working a foot or so of the strike zone, near the bottom, but if there are fish in the area that’s where you’ll catch them.
Then it was up to Lake Simcoe to fish with my buddy and fishing fanatic, John Whyte, in the Lake Simcoe Open tournament. My track record at this tournament has not been too stellar so it was time to see if I could break that curse with John. John lives on Lake Simcoe and he does very well there, although his track record in this tournament isn’t much better than mine.
The tournament is run out of the City of Orillia and it was cold and windy as we blasted off and made the run out onto Lake Simcoe. We fished hard all morning but at 11 o’clock our livewell pumps were still not running and things were looking pretty dismal. We talked about whether we should stay on Lake Simcoe and possibly not catch a fish, or if we should run back to Lake Couchiching, where you really don’t have a very good chance of winning but you can at least catch some fish and maybe get a prize. We decided to go to Lake Couchiching for the last few hours and ended up getting three smallmouth and one largemouth for a total of just over 12-pounds.
We were just ounces out of cashing a cheque, which seems to be the story of my season. I think we were two places out of the money in this tournament and there were three others this year where I was one place out of the money. If we’d have caught one more fish in this one, even if it was a 2-pounder, we would have made the top-10. But that’s how it goes. At least John and I had a lot of laughs while we struggled out there!
Then I had another day scheduled with fishing guide Taro Murata. We had planned to go for muskies in the Kawarthas but made a last minute change and decided to go for largemouth bass on the Bay of Quinte instead. It was super-cold and super-windy that day but we ended up catching a couple of pike and five largemouth, all using the Sebile Action First Vibe Machine crankbait. As soon as we launched the boat we noticed the weeds were really slimy and dirty. We fished them for about an hour but didn’t get a bite so I said to Taro, “Let’s try throwing crankbaits on rocks and see if we can’t get a few fish.”
The first largemouth was probably a good 4 ½-pounds and I had it right up to the boat before the hook pulled out of its mouth. Then, a few casts later, I got one about 3 ½-pounds. We proceeded to get some pretty nice largemouth by casting the Vibe Machine around rock breaks off of points and islands. Although we scraped up enough fish to get our TV segment shot the fishing wasn’t exactly phenomenal, but it did show how perseverance and covering water can pay off and salvage a day.
Then I had a chance to spend some time on Lake Erie with Andrew Wheeler, from Abu Garcia. Andrew is in charge of designing all of the new Abu Garcia rods and reels. Even though it was cold and rough, Andrew was a trooper and he ended up catching his personal biggest smallmouth bass on a Johnson Splinter spoon that day. It was so cool to spend some time with him and to test some of the new products that he is working on. Unfortunately, once again I’m sworn to secrecy as to what I saw that day. Then it was off to meet up with Taro Murata again, this time at a studio in downtown Toronto for a photo shoot. Taro is branding of himself as the “Jedi of Fishing” and I was told that I would be the Master Jedi in the shoot. When I got to the studio they had some Jedi uniforms ready for us to put on and they told me that I would be holding my Revo Rocket powered light sabre while wearing a Jedi cloak. It was pretty funny when they told me I wasn’t allowed to smile during the photo shoot. I guess being a Jedi fishing master is pretty serious stuff! Last but not least, we were invited to Between the Lines Winery to do some wine tasting for next year’s Izumi red wine. For a few years now we’ve been working with Yannick and Greg Wertch from Between the Lines and it’s always nice to be in on the ground floor in selecting next year’s wine. In the process we ate a great meal of Arctic Char and beef shank that was catered by the Epicurean restaurant in Niagara-on-the-Lake. What can I say, it’s a dirty job but I’m glad that I’m doing it! Have a great winter everyone, and remember to stay safe this season.