This column starts with us trying to shoot a show to finish the 2017 series. We decided to go out to the Niagara River for a few hours of fishing but for some reason the fish just didn’t seem to be set up and we didn’t get the footage we wanted. Since we had an unseasonably mild couple of days in February, I called up my old tournament fishing buddy Jack Levert, from the Cornwall area of Ontario, and asked him if he had ever fished on the St. Lawrence for walleyes in the middle of the winter. Jack said that he did once and the bite was tough, but he did catch a few dozen fish. That sounded promising, so I asked if he would like to go out and try the walleyes again.

Jack replied, “I’d love to go but my boat needs some service work and I can’t use it right now, but if you’re bringing a boat that would be great”.

So we loaded up the truck and the boat and set out to meet Jack down in Cornwall. We got out for about an hour and a half on the Friday night and it was game on. We got six walleyes that evening, including a seven and an eight-pounder. The next morning there was a big storm coming, but we managed to get in about four-hours of fishing and ended up catching 30 walleyes up to nine-pounds before the black clouds rolled in and a monsoon rainstorm hit us. That’s right, rain in February! We used 3/8-ounce Berkley Essentials jigheads tipped with five-inch Berkley Power Jerk Shads to catch most of our fish. The key was to use a very slow, steady retrieve, gliding the bait just a few inches off the bottom. What can I say; the fish were absolutely thumping it! Then it was back home to finish editing the final TV shows and to get the last of the Real Fishing radio shows in the can.

After that, my wife Sandy and I headed down to Florida for five-days of fishing at Streamsong Resort with our friend, and the Recreational Director at Streamsong, Tyler Ramsdell. On the first evening out I caught an eight-pound, six-ounce largemouth on a 30-something year old Devil’s Horse topwater lure. It’s a little wooden bait with a prop on both ends of it, and this giant bass absolutely exploded on it – talk about exciting! We ended up catching a lot of five to eight-pound fish during our five-days of fishing there.

I left the boat and truck down in Florida and hopped on a flight back to Ontario for an appearance at the SAIL store in Burlington. It was fun to meet a number of fellow anglers and other folks there. The next day I did an appearance at the Columbia Sportswear booth at the Toronto Sportsmen’s Show. It was the first time Columbia had ever put a booth at a Canadian Sportsmen’s Show and, once again, I had a good time meeting and talking with a lot of fishing folks down there.

After the show I jumped on a flight back to Florida to pick up the truck and get in a couple of more days of fishing before heading home for an ice fishing trip I had scheduled in Northern Ontario. We caught a bunch of bass over the next two days and then jumped in the truck for the drive back to Ontario.

When I got home I had to pack up the SnoBear, while my brother Wayne packed up another one, and we set out on our trip to Big Abitibi Lake, just outside of Timmins, Ontario. One of the cool things about Northeastern Ontario is that they have an extra month of ice fishing than what we have here in Southern Ontario, and the folks from Ontario Tourism wanted us to do a show up there to talk about this extended season.

Our home base was Halfway  Water Lodge, which is a new lodge that Bill Froud and his son Mark had built on the northwest corner of Big Lake Abitibi, near the village of Low Bush. Access to the lodge is by an old, decommissioned railroad trail that you can drive in on during the spring, summer or fall. In the winter you need to use a snow machine so our group of 14 used the two SnoBears along with seven or eight snowmobiles. When we finally got to the lodge we were very pleasantly surprised to see that everything was brand new and very clean. Big Lake Abitibi is huge and it has somewhere in the neighbourhood of 800 or 900-miles of shoreline. The lake has an average depth of eight-feet and you’ll never run out of places to fish on it. There’s a lot of colour to the water, which means fertility, and fertility means lots of fish.

This lake is an absolute walleye factory and there are numerous ling, sauger and pike to be caught as well.I took a lot of jigging-type baits with me on this trip including Sebile Flatt Shad lipless crankbaits, Sebile Vibrato jigging minnows, and an assortment of jigging spoons and regular jigheads. My intention was to jig up these walleyes, but most of the fish we caught through the ice were caught either on tip-ups or deadsticking with an ice fishing rod set in a holder. The colour of the water made live bait more effective so our lines were baited with either a half of a minnow or a whole minnow and we just sat and waited for those fish to come and bite. And bite they did. We ended up catching a pile of fish over the course of our 2½-days of fishing. Although we didn’t get any of the really big walleyes or pike that the lake is known for, we caught lots of decent ones and the action was pretty steady. It’s been a long time since I’ve been on a trip like this and I have to say that it was a lot of fun. Halfway Water Lodge is the perfect place to go with a group of friends or family who are looking for clean, comfortable accommodations and great fishing in a true wilderness setting.

On the way back from Abitibi we stopped at Horseshoe Resort, just outside of Barrie, to meet up with the folks from Mystik. I had an appearance to do there at the Mystik Lubricants National Championships snowcross event. I’ve never been to one of these races before and it was quite impressive watching how much “air time” these guys get. Mystik also had Levi Lavallee up there signing autographs and we got to have dinner with him and the crew from Mystik that night.

If you don’t know who Levi Lavallee is, he is the Evel Knievel of snowmobilers. He holds the record for a jump of 412-feet on a snowmobile and he’s broken just about every bone in his body. He told us that one time his snowmobile conked out right at the top of a ramp and he ended up in the hospital in a coma for three-days. Even though he’s just in his early 30s this guy is a legend with the snowmobile crowd and it was a lot of fun to get to know him. I’m planning to take him fishing and shoot a show with him so I’m excited about that.

After I got home it was time to do a little wine tasting down at Between the Lines Winery in the Niagara Region to pick out next year’s Izumi branded white wine. It’s always fun to taste the various concoctions that the boys come up with at Between the Lines. This year they had four different wines that we had a chance to sample and choose from. There were about 30 people tasting the new wines and afterwards we all ended up having dinner at the winery.

Then I flew up to Montreal to do a new SAIL store opening in Vaudreuil-Dorion, which is on the west side of Montreal. It was unbelievable to see how many people were at this store, waiting for it to open. I stayed at the Holiday Inn Express next door to the store and when I drove over I couldn’t find a parking spot! I ended up having to drive back to the hotel to park and then walk over to the store. The lineup from the store went all the way from the front door around to the back of the building. It was incredible how busy it was. Judging by the amount of people that were there, I’m sure the grand opening was a huge success.

After a quick flight back home that afternoon, it was time to pack up and head down to Hawks Cay Resort in Florida to do some fishing with Paul Michele from Navionics. Paul lives in Florida so he brought his centre console boat down to Hawks Cay, which is located in Duck Key, about halfway down the Florida Keys.

Hawks Cay Resort is a beautiful place. It’s one of those places where you can bring your fishing buddies or take the whole family. There are a number of restaurants on site, a lovely marina, and all kinds of fishing in the area. I’d mentioned to Paul that I’d really like to get some big tarpon on video so we went out and managed to land four in the 60 to 80-pound range. We lost a number of tarpon too, but we got some really cool video for the TV show. Paul even caught a 12-pound snook on a jerkbait under a dock for good measure. If you’re looking for an exotic fishing location that you can drive to, I’d highly recommend Hawks Cay Resort – I know you won’t be disappointed.

After Hawks Cay Resort we went back to Streamsong Resort, which is just outside of Fort Meade, in south-central Florida. It has two of the top golf courses in all of the United States along with some of the most incredible bass fishing in the world. We ended up fishing for a day and a bit with Tyler Ramsdell, and what can I say, the fishing was amazing. We got over 200 bass on topwater lures, including a number of big fish pushing eight-pounds. It was like dying and going to heaven. Streamsong Resort is an incredible facility with first-class accommodations, gourmet food and incredible fishing and golf.

Then it was time to load up the boat and head back home to get packed for our annual pilgrimage to fish the Sturgeon Bay Open bass tournament in Wisconsin. Derek Strub and I have fished this tournament for six-years now and we’ve done well in four of those six-years. Unfortunately, this year was a tough one for us.

We caught a lot of decent fish in practice, in fact, we had one of our best practices ever. We caught probably 22 or 23-pounds for our best five fish on most of our practice days. We were catching them pretty shallow but we made the wrong decision come tournament time. We fished some pretty cold water areas that were affected by a cold front that moved through prior to the tournament.

Day one was cancelled because of high winds so we ended up fishing Saturday and Sunday instead of Friday and Saturday. It was unbelievable on day one. We literally had one bite all day but did not put it in the boat. A wave hit the boat just as I lifted to feel the fish and it threw me right off the front deck and onto my rear end. The next day we had three bites all day and caught them all for just over 11-pounds.

Now here’s the crazy thing. There was a hidden weight prize each day and the hidden weight for day two was 12-pounds and change. We had 11-pounds and change and, if you can believe it, we lucked out and won the hidden weight prize. We got two fishing rods and two hats, which was pretty funny because both Derek and I are sponsored by rod and reel companies. Our cook at the cabin really appreciated the rods. The cool thing about this tournament was that our roommates, Darrin Bohonis who is a fishing equipment rep from Winnipeg, and his tournament partner Terry McClymont, an Air Canada Captain, ended up putting together two solid days of fishing for 48-pounds and change and got second place overall.

The irony is that Terry’s neighbour, Dave Bennett, who is a fishing guide and boat salesman, and his partner won the tournament and the first place Ranger boat prize. It was pretty strange that two neighbours on different teams were fishing completely different areas and they ended up getting first and second place.

So the Canadians did very well finishing in first and second, but Team Canada did not beat Team USA this year. We won by a whopping weight last year, but this year we got beat by a whopping weight since one of the teams (no names mentioned) didn’t fish the second day because they wanted to get back home to Winnipeg. Yours truly and his partner only weighed three fish for the entire tournament so we certainly didn’t pull our weight. Hopefully next year will be a different story. Unfortunately Derek and I did not qualify to be on Team Canada next year because only the top five teams from each country represent their country’s team in next year’s tournament.

I literally got home for one night and then it was off to Brennan Harbour Resort, at the mouth of the Spanish River on the Whaleback Channel in northern Lake Huron, to shoot some footage for the Real Fishing TV series. We ended up with basically three-days of rain but still caught a ton of walleyes.

One of the cool things about Brennan Harbour Resort is that you can drive to it in about five-hours from Toronto and it’s got fly-in quality fishing, which is unusual for a drive-to resort. We caught dozens of walleyes up to seven-pounds during our three-days of fishing there. We literally caught walleyes right in front of the dock that our boat was moored at, right in front of our cabin. We caught a lot of pike up there as well. Smallmouth bass season hadn’t opened when we were there, but they say the smallmouth fishing is off the charts. You also have muskie fishing and, if you want to venture out into the big water, you’ve got salmon and trout fishing as well.
James and Casey, who own and operate Brennan Harbour Resort, are two of the nicest people you will ever meet. Not only are the food and accommodations great, but these two people are outstanding hosts. If you’re looking for an affordable, drive-to fishing vacation with family or friends, you should really check this place out.

When we got back from Brennan Harbour, we made a quick run up to Cameron Lake in the Kawarthas to meet up with guide Taro Murata and, once again, we hit a rainy, windy day. Despite the weather, we scraped out about a dozen walleyes and about a hundred big bluegills and some crappies. Unfortunately we didn’t get what we wanted for the show because the rain and the wind kept the camera under wraps, but the fishing was certainly good.

The next day I was at the Canadian Sportfishing Industry Association’s Golf Fore Fish annual fundraiser up in Bolton, at Glen Eagle Golf Club. We were -9 in our golfing, which was pretty good, but our friends on the Nobis team beat us by one stroke. Robin Yates and his crew were -10 so what can I say, nobody remembers who came in second place. As I wrap this column up I’m feeling the urge to take advantage of the nice weather we’re having and see if I can’t catch a few fish. With that said, I think it’s time for me to hook up the Ranger and get back out on the water.