This Tales from the Road starts off with a visit to the Big Rock distributor show in Toronto. Just over a year ago Big Rock bought KTL, which is a fishing tackle distributor here in Ontario. Big Rock is a North American-wide company that handles a lot of different retail stores across both Canada and the United States. I love going to these shows for a couple of reasons. It’s always nice to see a lot of the retailers there and to see what’s trending – what they’re buying for their stores – and also to see a lot of the manufacturers and sales reps that are present there with displays of their new products. For a guy like me it’s like being a kid in a candy store. It’s pretty cool to be able to see and touch the latest and greatest fishing equipment before it gets into the stores.

After the show it was back out on the water to get one more kick at the Lake Erie smallmouth in early December. The Ontario side of Lake Erie was off-limits for smallmouth, but on the New York side of the lake the bass season is extended for catch and release fishing only. Lake Erie ace, Mike Watson, shot me a call and asked if I wanted to get out with him so we met up for two-hours of fishing on Lake Erie that afternoon. We both knew it was a gamble because there had been high winds prior to that and the water was quite turbid on shore. We weren’t sure how it would be on the New York side, but we decided to give it a try.

I would bet any amount of money that we were the only boat fishing bass on the U.S. side of Lake Erie that day. It was a little choppy, snowing, quite overcast and, when we got to the area that we wanted to fish, the visibility in the water was about two-inches at best. Usually the visibility on Lake Erie is 5, 10, 20-feet, so we knew it was going to be a challenge. We had high expectations when we first set out but, because the water was so dirty, things didn’t work out quite as well as we hoped and Mike caught the only fish of the day – a four-pound smallmouth. As we got back to the boat ramp in the dark we both had a good chuckle about nothing ventured, nothing gained, but that’s fishing for you.

After the Lake Erie outing we did a fish fry for the folks from Berkley, Abu Garcia and some of the other Pure Fishing brands at their sales meeting in Brantford. My son Darren and I went over and cooked up some fresh perch and walleye that I had ordered from Wheatley and had overnighted to the office. At the end of the event all of the fish that I brought had been consumed and the day was big hit.

Then it was time to get some production work done and get some of the shows edited before I headed up to Barrie for the Ice Fishing Expo that was being held in the arena where the Barrie Colts play. This was the first ever ice fishing show of its type in Canada and it went over very well. I was there on behalf of SnoBear, who had one of their units on display, and I did a seminar with friends Wil Wegman and John Whyte. Both of those guys are fanatical ice anglers and I thought it would be fun to chat with both of them, and the audience, about ice fishing techniques. I really like it when I can actually attend and participate in a fishing seminar while learning a few things at the same time.

As it approached Christmas there were lots of get-togethers with family and friends and, the next thing you know, we were into 2018 and heading to Florida with my truck and boat in tow to do a little bit of taping. We hit some really nasty weather when we got onto Highway 401 and I probably saw over 25 accidents in the westbound lanes alone in about a 50-mile stretch. There was black ice on the road, very high winds and people were going way too fast. In those conditions you should keep both hands on the wheel and drive as sensibly as you can. When you’re towing it makes it that much more challenging but, knock on wood, we got through the mess and got down to Florida in a day and a half.

I was really looking forward to meeting up with my old friend Ron Lappin. Ron is the Tournament Director for the FLW/Costa series of tournaments. He and I met each other back in the ‘80s, when he was a Ranger boat rep and fishing guide, and this was my first time to ever spend time in a boat with him. We met up at the Streamsong Resort near Fort Meade, Florida, to go fish for crappies. I had asked Ron what kind of fish he wanted to fish for because – and this is only a possibility – he may be retiring at the end of this year and I thought taking him fishing would be a nice retirement gift. When I asked him what species he wanted to fish for he told me that when he relaxes he likes to fish for panfish, so we ended up going to Streamsong to catch panfish.

I got my hands on two Berkley C-Series Crappie Pro spinning rods, a 12 and 14-footer. I’d never fished with a long rod before, doing the “dabbling” technique for crappies, but I must say that these rods were incredible. I was using a small Berkley Power Tube and we were “dabbling” in any little pockets we could find in the hyacinths, around any sticks or wood in the water and around lily pads and ended up catching a number of good sized crappies. We went back out the next day to do some filming and caught another load of good fish.

After I spent a couple of days with Ron, I met up with Tyler Ramsdell, who is the Recreational Director at Streamsong, for a few days of fishing. Tyler’s a great guy who’s from up in the Northeastern part of the United States. What can I say; we hit it absolutely bang-on and the fishing was on fire. In a few hours the first morning we caught an 8 ½-pound bass, four more over 7-pounds and numerous 5 and 6-pound fish. We probably caught 50 to 60 fish in about three-hours. We got enough footage shot for maybe three shows, but we’ll just use the best of it and make one great episode out of it.

We filmed the show using a new lure called the Berkley PowerBait Bearded Grass Pig. It’s a traditional Grass Pig made out of PowerBait, but with a skirt made out of the same material built right onto it. We rigged this bait on a Berkley Fusion 19, size 4/0, weighted hook. It’s the perfect size hook for this particular bait and the weight on the bend of the hook adds a rolling, wobbling swimming action to it. That little bit of extra weight also allows the bait sink and stay down when you’re using a slow retrieve with it. Another bait that was catching a lot of fish for us was the 5” Berkley Max Scent General, rigged Texas style with no weight.

We ended up fun fishing the next day and put on another clinic, catching bass up to 8-pounds again. What can I say, it was amazing. I believe that the bass fishing at Streamsong Resort is some of the best you’ll find anywhere in the world.

I ended up staying around Florida to do some more fun fishing and had a blast down there. My friend, Mike Jenkins, caught his personal best on his first cast fishing with me; an 8-pound bass that beat his previous personal best by about two-pounds. I was even lucky enough to get a round of golf in with Mike and his wife Beryl while I was there. Then Sandy and I decided to leave the boat down in Florida and drive back home so I could get to the Toronto Boat Show. It was fun to see all the new boats, motors and friends of mine who were there.

Then it was time to get some more work done before making a quick drive back to Florida. Its funny how, for me, a 20-plus hour drive is like going to the corner store to get milk. I have some friends who look at me like I’m crazy, but I guess that being a road warrior is in my blood.

I had a very interesting first stop in Orlando to visit with the folks from Mercury. Me and a number of other media and tournament pros from Canada and the USA were invited to attend a gathering at the legendary Lake X (that Mercury used for years to test their motors) to try out some of the new Mercury engines before they were released.

We weren’t allowed to post anything about what we saw or tried until Mercury introduced these new engines the Miami Boat Show. Now that the Show has come and gone, we’re free to talk about them, so here we go.

They introduced a 175, a 200 and a 225 in a completely redesigned line of their four-stroke, V6 engines. The new motors are lighter, faster and more fuel efficient than any of the current competitor’s models. They are incredibly quiet, they have large displacements and the acceleration is incredible. They will also charge a battery at a much faster rate than any other motor out there. If they sense that your cranking battery is getting low these new motors will actually idle up a little bit to put a faster charge into it. These are definitely the future of outboard motors.

We were also introduced to Mercury’s new 150 Pro XS and the new Mercury SeaPro line. All I can say is, wow, these motors are incredible too. If you’re looking to re-power your boat or you’re looking for a new boat/motor package, you really should consider one of these new engines. It was an honour and a privilege to be invited to Mercury’s facility and function, and to get to test these new motors out on the waters of Lake X.

The next morning my wife Sandy, my son Darren and I hit the road to get the boat out of storage and participate in the 2018 Pan American Black Bass Championship on Lake Okeechobee in Clewiston, Florida, out of Roland and Mary Ann Martin’s Marina.

This was a pretty cool event. There are a number of organizations involved in this, and they are working on making fishing an Olympic sport. Apparently they’ve already approached the IOC and have talked to them about the possibility. This event was a kind of showcase or trial-run so I was extremely proud to be included in it.

Charley Evans, who is part of USA Bass, deemed me Team Canada Captain and I had a very short window to put together up to eight, two-man teams to participate in this initial Pan Am tournament. I only needed to make five phone calls to get seven additional teams to join me and my son Darren! The tournament was structured with two official practice days and then two tournament days. There were just medals and bragging rights at stake – no cash or prize awards were involved. Besides Canada; the USA, Costa Rica and Mexico also participated. In total, there were 22 teams entered into this event.

We all stayed at Roland and Mary Ann’s Marina. I’d been running pretty hard on a hectic schedule for the last little while and, just before the tournament, I started coming down with the flu bug that was going around. It completely knocked me out during the event but that couldn’t keep me down and I ended up fishing anyway, despite feeling a little bit under the weather.

What was really cool is that Team Canada all worked together on this. Our team consisted of Darren and myself; Phil and Stephen Hegerty; Dave Bairstow and Matt Hubble; Joey Ford and Shawn McCaul; Brian Hughes and Anais Chaves; Cole Bailey and Bruce Leeson; Spiro Agouros and Fern Campeau and Rob Lee and Dave Chong. We all worked together and discussed what lures and patterns were working, and what areas of the lake we were fishing. . It was the first time in the history of my tournament fishing that I had ever worked with such a large team where we actually compared notes on our fishing. A lot of Lake Okeechobee was actually quite muddy, so it was fishing pretty small. Most of the competitors were pretty much congested in either the south or north ends of the lake.

We came out of the gate pretty strong on day-one and Team Canada ended up sitting in second and third place, behind David Dudley and Mark Schlarb from Team USA. Darren and I finished the day in seventh place. We caught about 35 bass on the first day, including one 4-pound fish, but we couldn’t get any real kickers. Most of our fish came by fishing Berkley Max Scent General stickbaits around holes in the lily pads and reeds.

On day-two we couldn’t get any big bites either and we ended up with dropping down to 15th place overall. When it was all said and done, The Canadian team of Cole Bailey and Bruce Leeson got a bronze medal while John Cox and Keith Carson of Team USA took silver. Roland and Scott Martin of Team USA made an incredible comeback on day-two and took the gold medal.

After competing in this tournament I must say that it was an absolute blast. It was so much fun to represent Canada in this event. At this point we’re just trying to show the world and the IOC that tournament fishing is a viable Olympic sport and this event was a great start. There are a few naysayers out there but from time to time new sports are added to the Olympics, so you never know. I fully support the idea and I’ll keep my fingers crossed that someday people will be fishing in the Olympics.

After the tournament Darren had to fly back to Ontario get some work done so Sandy and I decided to stay in Florida. When it was all said and done I got eight or nine-days of fun fishing in before we hopped on a flight back to Toronto so that I could attend the Spring Fishing Show.

I ended up going to the industry breakfast on the Friday and then did a seminar and some work at the Ranger and Berkley booths on Saturday. I was back at the show on Sunday for my niece Mariko’s Fly Fishing Tour night. The independent films they were running were incredible. I got to see some pretty spectacular footage from around the world of folks catching tigerfish, tarpon, bonefish and other species.

Then I had meetings to attend with Mercury Marine and Columbia Sportswear before doing some production work and getting the last couple of shows together with our editor. Now that those things are finished, here I am, ready to go fishing again.

As we close this off, it’s going to be a whirlwind for me over the next three to four-weeks. I’m flying to Florida tonight to fish my brains out again, and then I’m going to bring the truck and boat back from Florida. I’ll work for a couple of days and then drive to Manitoba with the SnoBear in tow and do the annual SnoBear Migration on big Lake Winnipeg, in Gimli, Manitoba. This year they’ve added a tournament to the get-together so it should be fun. It’s going to be a short two days of fishing though, as I’ve got an early morning flight from Winnipeg to get back to Toronto to work in the Columbia Sportswear booth at the Toronto Sportsmen’s Show. As soon as that’s done we’re going to try to get out ice fishing until the ice breaks up. I can’t wait!