When it comes to spring fishing the opportunities are endless, especially here in southern Ontario. After getting rained out with fishing guide Taro Murata on Cameron Lake, we decided to give it another go on Rice Lake, which is one of the larger lakes on the Kawartha chain. The Kawarthas offer multi-species angling and Taro spends a lot of time guiding on this chain of lakes.
When we got out on Rice Lake it was game on. We caught numerous walleyes up to five-pounds with Taro that morning by fishing weedlines and weed edges in about eight to 10-feet of water. One of the things about Rice Lake is that it has a good abundance of weeds. My Navionics mapping chart showed all of the contour lines and most of those contours have weeds on them. We got enough walleyes in a few hours one morning to get our show done. We even had time to sneak into Golden Beach Resort for a great lunch. What can I say, life was good!
It’s not often that I devote a ton of time to pre-fish before a tournament but the FLW/Costa event on Lake Champlain was the first of three in their northern division tournament series so I thought I would go down there early and get in some practice. I had six-days of fishing prior to the event, which is about three to five-days more than I normally get for any other event.
A lot of the bass, both smallmouth and largemouth, were still shallow. Most of those fish either hadn’t spawned yet or were in the middle of the spawn. After spending that many days on the water I found a number of areas in about a 25-mile stretch where I had located some smallmouth, so my game plan was to target smallmouth in the tournament.
As it turned out I did a lot of sight fishing for either cruising smallmouth or smallmouth that were locked on beds. When it was all said and done I ended up 13th out of the 190 or so boats in the tournament. I missed the top ten cut by 10-ounces, with a total weight for the two days of 33.10. Even though I missed the cut, ending up in 13th place was a nice finish out of a big field like that.
The unfortunate thing was that I was in a later flight on the second day of the tournament so I didn’t weigh in until late in the afternoon. Just as I was getting the boat tarped an incredible amount of rain hit. I got a little bit wet and the boat got a lot wet before I got it covered. I finally pulled out of Plattsburgh at 6:05 that evening, I stopped for one fill-up of fuel and one coffee, and that was it. I drove the rest of the way without stopping and got home at about 2:15 that night. After a quick shower I set the alarm for 3:30 and then slept for an hour. When I got up in the wee hours, Darren and I loaded up the truck and drove an hour and 45-minutes up to Orillia to fish the Casey Cup. After being on the water for eight-days I was feeling pretty good other than a little bit more sleep would have helped.
With no practice and very little sleep I still had enough energy to give it hard that day and we ended up in sixth place at the CSFL Casey Cup with 23.40-pounds. Overall I was pretty happy with that. It was incredible how tired I was when I got home and I definitely got a good night’s sleep that night.
The next day we were off to the Berkley B1 tournament in Belleville, which has been an incredible place for us over the years. The Bay of Quinte has always been a good spot for us over the years. I remember filming shows there in the early ’80 and Wayne and I won our first tournament there back in the ‘80s with 45-pounds of largemouth bass. Needless to say, Darren and I were excited to fish the first of three B1 tournaments that Ben Woo is running this year.
We caught 17.3-pounds on day one and 17.7-pounds on day two for 35-pounds even. The fishing was absolutely incredible and we got well over 40 bass over the two days. The majority of our fish came by flipping and pitching either a Berkley PowerBait Chigger Craw or a Chigger Quad in black with blue flake. We used 1-ounce, 1¼-ounce and 1½-ounce Ultra Tungsten flipping weights with 4/0 Berkley Fusion flipping hooks tied to 65-pound test Spiderwire Smooth. We were flipping in some pretty heavy weeds as well as in some open weedbeds to catch all of our fish.
We ended up in sixth place and came away sitting in second for Team of the Year, behind Cory and Chris Johnston, who ended up winning the tournament. Of the 28 teams who were fishing all three of the B1 tournaments, they were the only team who finished ahead of us. Hats off to Cory and Chris for another phenomenal finish. Those guys are hard to beat no matter what tournament they’re in.
Then it was back home to get some work done before heading off to the Canadian Open on Lake Simcoe. The Canadian Open is a long-running tournament that’s been held everywhere from the 1000 Islands to Lake St. Clair to Lake Erie to this year on Lake Simcoe. It’s a pro-am format where you fish with a different amateur every day and that amateur gets to carry the total weight that you and that person catch. It was a three-day event and on the first day I weighed in 22.95-pounds. On day two I weighed in 21.2-pounds and on day three I got 21.7-pounds. I ended up with 65.85-pounds in total and finished in third, behind Cory Johnston who was in first, and his brother Chris, who was second. This is almost sounding like the last tournament where they won it as a team.
The key bait for me at the Canadian Open was a ¼-ounce dropshot rig with a Berkley PowerBait Pro Twitchtail Minnow in the watermelon/pearl colour. That little bait is a fish catching machine. Smallmouth can’t resist it, they just love that thing.
I got home for a day to get organized and then it was off to Orlando, Florida, for ICAST 2017. It’s always cool to see what’s new down there and to see people I’ve known for a long time. This year we could only be at the show for one day but we crammed about six or seven meetings into the day. After the show we went out for dinner with the folks from Cuda and Mystik and had a great time before heading back home.
I first met Cam Thompson back in the mid-‘70s when my dad held the first bass tournament in Canada. At the time Cam worked for Woodstream, which was the parent company of Fenwick, and he’s one of the few guys who has been in the industry longer than I have. Cam is the guy who got me my first Fenwick flipping stick back around 1979. I can remember driving over to Buffalo with him to go to their U.S. warehouse to pick it up back when I was just a young fellow. That was a turning point for me and I went on to win dozens of tournaments by flipping for largemouth bass.
Cam recently retired from Pure Fishing and Rob Walton and the rest of the crew from Pure Fishing Canada had a farewell party for him in Burlington. It was great to see Cam and several other old friends at the party. Even though Cam has retired, we certainly will be seeing lots of him both on and off the water.
The next tournament on my schedule was the FLW/Costa 1000 Islands Open. The last three times they’ve held a tournament there, over the past seven or eight years, I’ve got a first, a second and a fifth place so needless to say I was pretty jacked up about this tournament. If I was a betting man I would have bet any amount of money that I would have had a respectable finish in this tournament. I can’t remember having a bad day out on the eastern end of Lake Ontario or in the St. Lawrence River in the past 20-years of fishing out there.
My pre-fishing went very well. On one day of fishing in shallow water I could have had 26 or 27-pounds. I actually ended up putting shrink tubing on my hook so I wouldn’t hook any of the shallow fish. At one point I felt a tick, looked in the clear water, and saw a six-pounder trying to eat my bait but it couldn’t get hooked because of the shrink tubing. Behind it was one about five, several fours and a bunch in that 2 ½-pound range – there were about 10 fish swimming around together.
I kept moving and it wasn’t long before a five-pounder grabbed my bait. A little further along I had another one over six-pounds grab it. In a short stretch of about 200-yards I had located around 25 fish including a couple of sixes, some fives and numerous fours and other sized fish. So that was my shallow area that I figured would definitely be worth hitting in the tournament.
I know that shallow smallmouth can be here today and gone tomorrow so I also wanted to get some deep fish going. Late one day I got on to some deep fish in about 18 to 24-feet of water. It was a massive school of smallmouth; the biggest school of smallmouth personally I’ve ever found on Lake Ontario. You definitely get big giant smallmouth on Lake Ontario, but you don’t get the big schools like you do on certain parts of Lake Erie. Anyway, in an hour by myself I hooked and landed 25 fish. Normally I would never catch that many fish before a tournament, even fishing deep, but this was three-days before the tournament started and I felt like I could hook them and they’d be ready to go again in a few days.
The main reason I kept hooking them was that I couldn’t get anything over 2¾-pounds. They were all 2 to 2¾-pounds. It was an incredible amount of the same year class of fish. After catching so many on a dropshot, I kept zigzagging down the break, in and out at 18, 20, 22, 24-feet of water. About 200-yards down the break I finally set the hook on a little heavier fish. When I got it in I put in on the scale for giggles and it weighed 5½-pounds. I threw out another cast and caught a three-pounder so I figured it was time to leave. I was convinced that this place was loaded.
On the first day of the tournament I told my co-angler, a nice guy from Maine, that we were going to go to a spot where we would catch a limit in minutes so we could take the stress off of getting a limit and have the rest of the day to cull up. He swallowed the pill I fed him so he was feeling pretty good about my plan.
On day one it was blowing hard out of the southwest and we ended up running out onto Lake Ontario in solid six-foot waves. We stopped a couple of times on the way out for a break from the rough ride and managed to put two fish in the livewell from those spots. After a 2½ hour trip we finally got to my spot, but we didn’t graph a single fish and we didn’t catch a single fish. It was pathetic. I was miffed and I couldn’t believe the fish had disappeared. It was time to go into scramble mode. I fished some other deep areas and got nothing. Then I had to fuel up because I ran so much. I ended up going to the shallow fish I’d found in practice but only got two dinks. Then my co-angler got a fish on a deep spot and then it was time to run in. So my co-angler had one fish and I had four for 11-pounds and change.
On day two the winds had swung straight around to the northeast and I thought, okay, we’re getting a curveball thrown at us. The wind was in completely the opposite direction so I figured I’d switch things up a bit. I didn’t go to the deep area where the massive school of fish was, but I fished a number of other deep areas and caught a couple of fish. I ended the day catching eight keepers all day and my co-angler caught two, so we got 10 fish all day. In my case, “all day” includes a lot of time running, probably between 2 ½ and 3-hours of running because I was fishing a lot of different areas. I probably covered over 100 miles that day and ended up with a small limit and a total of 26.06-pounds over the two days, which put me in 75th place overall. So I was about halfway down the field but I did manage to stay in the top 20 in the points standings. The top 40 anglers by points get to go to the year-end FLW/Costa Championship, which is being held at the end of October on Kentucky Lake.
Overall, I can honestly say that the only thing I learned in that tournament is; if there’s one thing you can guarantee yourself is that smallmouth bass love to move. In that tournament they moved from the shallow areas and they also moved from the deep areas. Moving on, I can’t wait to get back there for the 1000 Islands Open, which will be my next tournament. But before that I’m heading up to Georgian Bay to stay at Delawana Resort to shoot a show this week. With any luck the fish will be more cooperative and we’ll get our show done without too much trouble. No matter how it goes, I’ll be on the water doing what I love, and when you get to fish for a living life’s always good.