Since my last Tales article I’ve been averaging at least six-days a week, sometimes seven, on the road. Road trips are, and have always been, a big part of my life. There’s just something about being on the go that I love. In fact, as I wrap up this column I’ll be hitting the road again and I can’t wait, even though I just got back a day ago. I think it’s ingrained in me so much that I don’t mind living out of a suitcase. I know it’s not for everybody, but I like it.
Speaking of road trips, in the early summer we made a trip to Reid’s Birch Island Resort, which is in Minaki, in Northwestern Ontario’s Sunset Country, to meet Jim Lacey and his son TJ. TJ reps all of the boat lines for Tracker Marine, including Ranger Boats, who introduced their new VX1888 multi-species aluminum boat this year. We went up there with a couple of things in mind: to shoot a show featuring Reid’s Birch Island Resort and to do a photo and video shoot of the new Ranger VX 1888 aluminum boat.
I’ve been to Reid’s a couple of times over the years and I have to say that Phil and Lizanne Reid run a first-class operation. This is a very well-run fishing lodge with gourmet meals, professional guides and excellent fishing. Best of all, you can drive to it.
My friend, Darrin Bohonis, also joined us on this trip. Darrin is a fishing tackle rep from Winnipeg as well as a tournament angler and professional photographer. He brought all of his still photography equipment to get some pictures of the VX 1888 for Ranger to use in their promotions.
It was a good visit up there and during our 2½ day trip we caught smallmouth bass, walleye and pike. On the last morning I got out for a couple of hours with professional guide Kris Gaune and we caught a good bunch of walleyes. Overall it was a down and dirty trip and we got a lot accomplished while we were there.
After finishing up at Reid’s we hopped in the truck for the day and a half ride home, then grabbed the Z521L Ranger tournament bass boat and hit the road to the first Renegade Bass qualifier of the year on Mississippi Lake in Carleton Place, near Ottawa.
For some reason we couldn’t get any good fish to bite until Darren finally hooked a big smallmouth that was just under four-pounds. While he was fighting it I saw six or seven more bass following and all of them were between 2 ¾ and four-pounds. I couldn’t catch any of the followers so I decided to net his fish. Unfortunately, we didn’t have anything else good in the livewell; just some small largemouth and that was it for us for the day.
Although we caught about a dozen bass that day we only had one good one and ended up with 10.97-pounds, which put us in 36th place. Not the best way to start off the Renegade series but at least it kept us in the hunt for the top-40 to qualify for the Classic.
Then it was down to Lake Ontario for a smallmouth shoot. I had a sample of the new Berkley Spy, which is a new, subtle hardbait, about 2 ¾-inches long, that I wanted to test out. The Spy has a spinner on each end, and it has a little bit of a wobble as it falls. As you retrieve it, it has just a slight undulating motion while the spinners are turning. If you’ve never tried these for clear water smallmouth fishing you really should. They’re a great search bait and they are definitely fish catching machines. I used eight-pound test Nanofil line with an eight-pound Trilene fluorocarbon leader to fish this little bait. By firing out super-long casts with that ultra-thin diameter Nanofil, I was able to cover a lot of water and catch a number of decent bass. There’s something about the subtlety of this bait that makes it an incredible little lure.
Then it was over to Lake Simcoe for another smallmouth shoot. Judging by the lack of beds on the lake I suspect that a lot of smallmouth did not spawn this year on a lot of our lakes, especially the Great Lakes. With all the high water we had this year around Ontario I believe this will probably be one of those years where there was a low percentage of bass that actually spawned – or even attempted to spawn. In a lot of the areas that I go to you will usually see the empty beds, if it’s a post-spawn situation, but I saw very few beds that looked like they had been used. There was the odd bass on beds around the lake but for the most part we caught our fish by casting the Berkley Spy as well as by covering water with a Berkley General. If we did see any fish we’d use either a Berkley PowerBait tube or a dropshot rig.
After Lake Simcoe we headed back to Eastern Ontario for the Renegade qualifier number two, which was held on Big Rideau Lake. Once again, we couldn’t get any big fish going in the tournament and we ended up with 11.52-pounds for a 61st place finish.
The day before the tournament Darren threw a frog up into some slop in about two-feet of water, in the back of a little bay. Just five minutes prior I had said that it had been a long time since I’d seen one of those big, “toilet bowl flush” hits on a topwater bait – the kind where it’s like somebody threw a concrete block in the water – and this was one of those hits. He brought the fish in and it was a real big, pot-bellied bass but its tail was not worn from spawning. Since this was a July tournament I suspect it did not spawn so it looked like even the largemouth, in some cases, did not spawn this year in certain bodies of water.
The highlight of that trip was definitely staying at my friend Robert Greenberg’s place on Big Rideau. We enjoyed some fun company and some great food and it’s always nice to visit with some of my friends from Eastern Ontario when we stay at Robert’s place.
After getting back home it was time to head off to ICAST in Orlando, Florida. I’ve only missed one ICAST in the last 36-years and it never gets old. I love seeing all of the new products in the fishing world so that trip was a lot of fun for me.
When we got back from ICAST we headed to the third Renegade Bass qualifier, which was held out of the city of Cornwall, on Lake St. Francis. We ran around and caught a few fish here and there and ended up with a couple of four-pounders and some two to three-pound fish in the livewell by late morning. It wasn’t going too badly at all. As we were leaving a spot in the late morning I threw a “Hail Mary” cast out off of the area we were fishing, into “nothing” water that was about 13-feet deep, and got a hit. I had a fish on about three-pounds and there was a four-pounder following it. Darren threw in and caught the four-pounder so we decided to stay and fish for a minute and we proceeded to catch about 30 bass in about a 50-yard circumference. We ended the day in sixth place with 21.09-pounds for our five fish. All in all it was a very fun event.
Catching those fish in the mid-depths rather than shallow or deep was fun. It was something I really didn’t practice. We practiced deep water, 25 to 35-feet, and we practiced shallow water but the mid-depths was something I just didn’t take the time to practice so catching those fish was a little bit of icing on the cake.
We stayed an extra day in Eastern Ontario and dropped into Kingston to do some flipping for largemouth in the Cataraqui River. Canadian freestyle skier Travis Gerrits and his dad joined us in Kingston and they wanted to do some flipping. It was really windy that day, blowing out of the south at probably 20 to 25-miles an hour. Because of that we couldn’t really go anywhere so I decided to stay right in Kingston on the Cataraqui River. We flipped six or seven largemouth bass using black/blue Berkley Chigger Craws and had a lot of fun. We even got a double-header at one point which was neat. The wind definitely made it challenging because when you’re flipping and you’ve got a wind that’s just howling down the shoreline, everything’s moving. The weeds and reeds are moving as you’re trying to flip so it’s not the ideal situation, but we got our show done so I can’t complain.
Then I went home for a day before heading off to Lake Simcoe for the Bronzeback Cup. The Pallottas from CSFL put this event on. We weighed in 19.42-pounds on the first day and 16.98-pounds on day two for 36.4-pounds and got ninth place overall. I was hoping for bigger weights so it wasn’t exactly what I expected. Cory and Chris Johnston walked away with this tournament with 49.04-pounds over the two days. These two young men are amazing tournament anglers who seem to light it up everywhere they fish. In the time that I have fished tournaments, which is 46-years now, I have never seen two dominant anglers like them ever come out of Canada. It’s pretty exciting to watch but it’s painful if you’re also a competitor in those same events!
Then it was back down to Kingston for the 1000 Islands Open. I always look forward to fishing this event because that area has been so good to me over the years. In fact, this tournament is going into its fifth year and over the last four-years we’ve gotten a top-10 finish every year so my confidence was very high. As it turned out, we weighed in 16.63-pounds on day one and 12.86 on day two for 29.49-pounds in total. It put us in 55th place after two days and we missed the top 50 cut by a pound.
In this tournament the top 50 boats after two days get to fish on day three and they all have a chance to win an $80,000 bass boat. Whoever has the right key to start the motor wins it. They also pay down 20 places in the tournament so it’s really a great event. My friends Todd Currie and Shawn Stenson absolutely put a beating on the entire field. They weighed in 68.17-pounds for 12 fish. In this event there is a four-fish limit per day so that was an incredible weight. They had three amazing days. I heard that they had their limit by 10 o’clock in the morning on the first two days and by 9:30 on the third day and basically quit fishing after that. They just mopped up in this event. Congratulations to them.
Then it was back for the final Renegade Bass qualifier on the stretch of river from Cornwall to the Iroquois Dam. The Iroquois Dam was closed to us and we weren’t allowed to go past it to the west. I don’t know this stretch of river as I’ve only fished one tournament there where we had to stay in that particular section of the St. Lawrence River. When it was all said and done we ended up in 67th place with 12.17-pounds. We did not get one three-pound bite in the tournament and missed qualifying for the classic top 40 by 1.55-pounds.
At the tournament prior to that, at the Q3 tournament, Renegade held a draw for where the classic would be. I jumped off the ground (actually about two-inches) when they drew Lake St. Francis out of Cornwall on the week after Labour Day but missing the classic pretty much took the wind out of my sails. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, tournament fishing can be a very humbling experience. If you fish enough of them you’ll have the highs and the lows and you’ll know what I go through. It’s definitely not for everybody but I sure do love my tournament fishing.
Even after having a so-so season thus far, I still like to leave these events by hopefully learning something. What I learned from that one is we didn’t really do anything wrong. Guys caught them deep and did well, guys caught them shallow and did well – we just didn’t get any big bites that day. We saw some big fish cruising under the boat but they wouldn’t hit our baits. Maybe we got too close to them, who knows.
Then it was off to Trenton for the FLW Canada Cup on the Bay of Quinte. This was a three-day event that the Pallottas from CSFL put on. In this tournament you could fish from the city of Trenton and Quinte West as far as the ferry at Glenora so there was a lot of water to fish. I believe there were 75 or 80 boats in this tournament and, with that much water available, it didn’t fish crowded, it spreads the teams out.
After the first day we were sitting in second place with 21.48-pounds. We finished day two in fourth place with 16.52-pounds and on day three we moved up a spot to third with 16.44-pounds. We ended up in third place overall with a total weight of 54.44-pounds.
All of our fish came by flipping and pitching. We went through 12 bags of Berkley black/blue Chigger Craws during the three-day event. We caught fish junk fishing anything we could pitch or flip to. We covered miles of water and we did it like I like to do it. That’s how I like to fish. If I could only choose one style of fishing, it would be flipping and pitching for largemouth. My stomach is still black and blue from this event; from setting the hook and catching everything from 12-pound dogfish under weed mats to northern pike to largemouth bass – it was amazing. One of the days alone we caught over 30 fish!
Young guns Cooper Gallant and Danny McGarry got second – they beat us by just over half a pound with 55-pounds even. My hat goes off to veteran Les Zacny and young gun Cal Climpson who weighed in a whopping 15 bass for 68.36-pounds and walked away with this tournament. I’ve known Les since the ‘80s, I’ve known Cal since he was a little kid, and I’ve known his dad, Paul Climpson, since the ‘80s.
Les and Cal weighed in three smallmouth and two largemouth every day of the tournament. They were only catching seven or eight fish a day but they were catching the right ones. They fished off shore deep, unlike us who spent our time beating the banks, fishing shallow. In fact, both the first and second place teams fished off-shore while we chose the method and technique I like doing. Those guys showed us how to do it and walked away with the tournament. That was, without a doubt, a record weight for that fishery on the Bay of Quinte.
Then I did a quick trip down to Port Colborne for some Lake Erie walleye. Cory Page, who is the rep for Penn Reels, set this trip up. Cory also had Dave Malloy, from Erie Tracker Outfitters, come out with us. Dave used to do a lot of chartering, he also fishes walleye tournaments and he runs the store down in Port Colborne. We started in about 80-feet of water and trolled back towards 60-feet of water. We went almost to the American border in the middle of the lake, due south of Port Colborne, and we really put those Penn line counter reels to work. We ended up catching a dozen fish in a few hours and were back in well before noon to have a nice brunch at Sugarloaf Marina.
As I finish this Tales from the Road I will say that I enjoyed a nice, fresh walleye dinner last night so you’ll certainly get no complaints from me – especially when it comes to feeding this belly of mine!