I drive somewhere between 80,000 and 100,000 kilometers a year but I also do a fair amount of flying so I’ll start this Tales off with jumping on a flight to Ottawa in late August. I was scheduled to visit the Sail store up there to do a store appearance and a seminar for their fishing department staff. It was one of those quick trips where I flew up on Friday and flew back home on Saturday afternoon. It was nice to meet all the staff and the folks who showed up to say hi while I was there.
When I got home I had to pack up for a shoot at Crow Rock Lodge in Ontario’s Sunset Country. My brother Wayne’s friend, Jerry Collins, was going to Kenora to pick up his children and he offered to tow up our Lund 1875 Pro-V Bass boat, so we decided to fly up and meet him there. Wendel and Kurt Dafcik have been involved in the fishing lodge business their whole lives and they do a wonderful job running Crow Rock Lodge, a top-notch place in the heart of Lake of the Woods.
The folks from Cuda Brand joined us on this trip – John Ward, who heads up the Canadian division of Acme United and Rick Constantine from the U.S. division, who also brought along his dad, Ted. From what I understand, Rick and Ted had never done any fishing for pike, walleye or lake trout.
In three-days of fishing we caught all kinds of walleyes, smallmouth bass, pike and lake trout. It was nice to see Rick and his father having fun and catching fish. They’re die-hard saltwater anglers and are legends when it comes to shark fishing so I thought it would be fun to have them on a trip where they got to fish in a way that was very different than what they are used to.
After the trip to Crow Rock Lodge it was a quick flight home to repack and hit the road to the Renegade Bass Classic at Dog and Cranberry Lake. I had a pretty good practice and, after three-days of pre-fishing, I was feeling pretty confident.
Darren and I caught between 20 and 30 fish on day one and our five heaviest weighed 14.84-pounds, which put us in the middle of the pack going into day two. Day two was windy because a cold front had come through and the fishing was a bit tougher. We only managed a small five-fish limit that weighed 12.43-pounds and we ended up in 23rd place overall, which was pretty disappointing.
Even though we caught a lot of fish, we did not get a single bona-fide four-pound fish in two days of tournament fishing, yet in practice I got one over four-pounds every day. No matter what you think you know about fishing, it doesn’t always happen the way you want it to. But that’s fishing for you, there are no guarantees, only more things to learn. .
On Monday I drove by myself from Portland, Ontario, to Bark Lake in Haliburton to fish with some of our sponsors and two groups of contest winners. The folks from SC Johnson were up there with the winners of their annual OFF! dealers fishing contest along with the people from Mystik Lubricants and the winners of their “Win a Day of Fishing” contest.
The fishing on Bark Lake is always consistent but on this particular trip it was a little tougher than in other years. We still managed to scrape up decent numbers of fish, and everyone had lots of fun, but it was definitely not as easy as it normally is up there.
I headed back home and started to get the boat ready for the CSFL Lake Simcoe Showdown when I got a text saying that the tournament had been cancelled. Suddenly I found myself with a weekend off. It was kind of weird being home for a whole weekend with nothing scheduled but it was nice to just kick back and spend some time with the family.
Then it was off to the annual B1 tournament in Valleyfield, Quebec. We stayed in Cornwall and primarily fished the west end of Lake St. Francis during our practice period. Once again, practice was pretty good. We saw a lot of big smallmouth, we caught some pretty big largemouth, and things were looking good going into the tournament.
I have to say that in past years, when I’ve decided to go for largemouth in a tournament on Lake St. Francis, I know I’m only fishing to save face. In the last five or six-years, tournaments there have always been dominated by big smallmouth.
On day one we started by getting some smallmouth but only one was decent, so I said to Darren that it was time to save face and go for some largemouth. Every time I do that he always looks at me like I’m crazy and, quite frankly, I’ve come to the conclusion that he’s right when it comes to largemouth bass on Lake St. Francis. We ended up weighing 14.02-pounds on day one with a mixed bag.
So on day two I said to Darren, “Okay, no largemouth bass. We’ve got to go for smallmouth and we’re going to fish deep all day.”
We fished our plan and caught probably 20 smallmouth bass, but we couldn’t get a four-pound or better fish. We ended up with 16-pounds even, finished with just over 30-pounds in total and ended up in 46th place. It took 37-pounds to get a cheque at this tournament. If you fish as many tournaments as I do you know that sometimes it’s a fine line between cashing a cheque and not. At other times it’s a fairly thick line and this was definitely a thicker line because seven-pounds is quite a bit of weight. But, there’s always next year.
I got home and was able to sleep in my own bed for one night before hitting the road to do a shoot at Goldie and Regan Thompson’s Mashkinonge Lodge on the West Arm of Lake Nipissing. Regan is a keen fisherman who also does some guiding at the lodge so I was looking forward to getting into their corner of Lake Nipissing. I haven’t fished a lot in the West Arm and I was excited to try some of their waters. My brother Wayne also came up and he brought Chip Jaggard, the marketing manager from Pure Fishing, and Chip’s father-in-law, George. George is an Atlantic salmon fly fishing guide and a pretty good all-around angler.
On day one Wayne, Chip and George caught more and bigger fish than we did. On day two we all ended up catching some decent smallmouth bass and a number of pike. On the last morning Wayne and his crew had to hit the road early but Darren and I decided to go out and give it one more shot to finish our video. We had a great day and ended up catching some nice smallmouth bass and getting pour video finished. .
Then it was time to repack the boat and truck and head to Elmhirst Lodge on Rice Lake in the Kawarthas. Elmhirst Lodge is a first class, family owned business that has been operating on the northeast shore of Rice Lake for many years. Fishing guide and tournament angler, Joe Ford, who has guided on Rice for many years, told me that Elmhirst Lodge would be a good place to do a show out of so we met him up there to shoot a show. We ended up catching a number of smallmouth and largemouth bass, a walleye and, to top off the trip, Joe caught a beautiful muskie on a tube jig. He threw his tube up on the sand, on the inside of a weedline, got a bite and set the hook on a fish that didn’t move. Then it went absolutely crazy. After a wild fight on a light spinning outfit, Joe finally landed a decent muskie to close off our show. Overall it was one of those easy shoots. It was close, the accommodations were stellar, we had superb meals, the hospitality was first rate and the fish cooperated.
The following Saturday, Darren and I fished the Canadian Tire Lake Erie Open out of Chippewa Creek on the Niagara River, just above Niagara Falls. I guess you’d say that this has been the year of gambling when it comes to my tournament fishing and in the morning I said to Darren that we were going to go for it and try to win. We ended up doing a fairly long run down Lake Erie, so long that we had to stop and fuel up just to make it back to weigh-in.
Can you imagine a strong west wind, waves that are four or five-feet tall, and you’re running right into them for three straight hours? Well that’s what we did. It took us three-hours to get to our first stop. At one point we had to stop and change our clothes because we were soaked. So much water had gone down the necks of our rainsuits that we were completely drenched and had to change into a whole new set of clothes, right down to our underwear.
When we finally got to our spot I looked at my graph and saw nothing on it. The fish were gone. At that point, with only maybe two-hours left to fish, I wondered what to do. Do I idle around and try to locate those fish or do I try to save face by hitting a few spots here and there on the way back to try and put a limit together?
We decided to turn around and head back. On the way we picked up a fish here and a fish there but our first two would have only weighed about a pound and three quarters for the two of them. Darren caught our third fish, a decent one that was over four-pounds. It was so rough that I had to hold the boat with the big motor in six-foot waves while Darren fished. He managed to get three in short order, including another one over four-pounds, and saved our bacon. Once again we ended up close, but no cigar. We had 16-pounds and change and it took just over 17-pounds to get into the prizes.
I’ve made that same long run in four different tournaments now and it hasn’t paid off yet, although I scraped up enough fish in one tournament earlier this summer to cash a cheque. I have to say that the competitive gambler in me still likes to roll the dice, but I really have to re-think my tournament strategy because rolling the dice isn’t always the answer. In this last tournament I probably could have stayed closer and weighed in a bigger limit, but that’s a different discussion.
Then it was home for Thanksgiving. It was a nice two days and I got to see all of the family before it was time to hit the road for Pigeon Lake. I haven’t fished muskies on Pigeon much in the last 15-years, but in the early part of my career I used to go up there quite a bit to fish for them. Guide Taro Murata, who guides in all kinds of different lakes throughout the year, joined me.
We had one day scheduled for the shoot so we got up there the night before. We got out on the water in the morning but it was really foggy and we couldn’t go very far, so we idled out of Bobcaygeon and started fishing on a weedline. Within minutes Taro caught a giant smallmouth, about five-pounds, on a great big Medusa muskie bait. I’m still shocked that that fish could even get hooked on a lure that size.
We only landed two muskies that day, one that was 40-plus inches and another smaller one. But, we had over 20 follows.
When we got back to the ramp I was feeling a little down so I said to Taro, “Why don’t we stay up here and give it another shot tomorrow.”
Taro was keen so we stayed overnight and, when we hit the water the next morning, it was game on. We landed seven fish in short order and Taro caught six of those. He really put on a clinic. He caught four in about 45-minutes on one stretch of weedline and three of them were in the 40-inch range. It was great to get a lot of fish and a lot of good video up there. What can I say, Taro is definitely a fishing machine.
Then it was a quick trip to Redtail Golf Course down in the St. Thomas area to join up with some of the folks from Columbia Sportswear. It was fun to get out since I’d only been able to go golfing maybe five or six times this whole year. After golfing, I had a week at home to get some work done at the office and to get the boats and tackle sorted out.
On Saturday my family joined up with a bunch of our relatives for a birthday party for my uncle Michi, who would be turning 100-years old three days later. Michi talked, laughed, ate sushi and stayed right to the end of the party. Sadly, 100-years to the morning of his real birthday, he passed away. He got up, got dressed for breakfast, then told the caregiver at the nursing home that he wasn’t feeling that good and was going to rest a little bit before breakfast. When they came back to check on him an hour later he had peacefully passed in his sleep. As sad as it was that Michi passed away, it was great that he got to visit with all of the people who had come to see him and pay their respects. That birthday party was an incredible celebration of life and I’m happy I was able to be there for it.
Then I made a quick trip to Kingston to speak at the Eastern Ontario Water Works Association’s 69th annual conference. A good many of the people at this conference were outdoorsy types and I was fortunate enough to be able to speak to them about some of the adventures that I’ve been on. It was a lot of fun and an honour to be asked to speak to this group.
Then it was back home to pack for the FLW/Costa Championship on Table Rock Lake in Missouri. This was the grand finale of the Costa series and 200 boaters from Canada, the United States and other areas of the world were there to compete in this prestigious tournament. It was also the first time I’ve ever been to Table Rock.
The lake has got largemouth bass, spotted bass and smallmouth bass in it. During the four official practice days I covered a lot of water and caught at least one keeper every day, but wouldn’t say that I had a great practice. Prior to the tournament everybody was talking about how there would be low weights because Table Rock typically fishes pretty tough in the early fall, so I was just hoping to get five keeper bites a day.
On the first day I ran about 60-miles to my first spot. My co-angler from California, Joe Cunningham, ended up catching a nice largemouth over three-pounds off the tip of a dock and then he caught a decent spotted bass off a wooded shoreline. He finished day one with just under five-pounds for his two fish.
Unfortunately for me, I was five bites away from having a great day – I did not catch a single keeper fish. I had a number that were within a quarter of an inch of measuring but I did not have one bona fide 15-inch fish. I have to admit that it’s a very humbling experience when you don’t have a single fish to weigh in in a tournament. The one good thing about the day is that I got to see my friends Forrest and Nina Woods at the tournament. They developed the Ranger boat brand many decades ago and it was great seeing them.
When day two rolled around the lake was covered in thick fog and there was a three-hour fog delay. By the time I got to my spot we only had about three-hours of fishing time at best and, once again, I couldn’t catch a keeper bass. The closest I came was a spotted bass that was about one-millimeter short. So my co-angler and I got back to the weigh-in with goose eggs. It’s the first time in my entire bass tournament career that I have zeroed two days in a row in a tournament and it was one of those events that I definitely want to put in the past. One thing about tournament fishing is that if you fish enough of them you are guaranteed to have some bad ones.
When I got home it was time for our annual five-day shotgun deer hunt on my property. To continue the theme of my Table Rock performance, in five-days we did not see a single deer. It was the first time in 22-years of hunting where I live that we did not harvest a deer. I didn’t even see a squirrel this year. It’s almost like I had some kind of repellent on me. In fishing, we want to be consistent and I would say that my fishing at Table Rock and my five-day shotgun hunt were definitely consistent – consistently bad!
Larry McNamee from BoaterExam.com was scheduled to fish Lake Erie with us so I thought I’d better go out the day before he flew in, to make sure I could find some fish. So I drove down and spent a couple of hours of fishing by myself. I caught a bunch of smallmouth bass on a Johnson Splinter Spoon, as well as a 3 ½-pound walleye, (which was very tasty) and I felt like the fishing was good enough that we should be able to get a pretty decent show shot. When Larry arrived the next day we headed down to Lake Erie and started dragging 3 ½-inch green pumpkin Power Tubes. We ended up catching a lot of fish including two smallmouth in the five-pound, 10-ounce range; another one just over five-pounds and a bunch of smaller ones. It was easy fishing and it was nice to have a bit of redemption. On that note, I think it’s time to hook the boat up and get just a little more redemption before Old Man Winter rolls in!