One of the rewarding aspects of my fishing career has been being able to meet so many people who love the sport of fishing. This Tales column starts out with me taking some prize winners, from a contest we did with Columbia Sportswear at the Toronto Sportsmen’s Show, out for a day of bass fishing with me on Lake Erie. On the day of the trip the winds were pretty hard, with gusts up to 20-plus miles per hour, so I’d be limited on where I could fish for smallmouth on Lake Erie. At the last minute I decided to make a trip down to Long Point instead. I haven’t spent a lot of time fishing there over the last number of years but I certainly fished there a lot in the early years of my career and it always offered pretty good fishing.
The people on this trip were Scott Saunderson and his two sons, Cole and Aiden. The three of them were all really into fishing. Scott trained as a Michelin Star chef and he has worked in the UK and Canada. As soon I found out that he was a chef, a good portion of the day was spent talking about food because I love food and I love to cook. I love eating food more than I love cooking it, but I do like to cook as well. It turned out to be a pleasurable day; there was no shortage of fish and a good time was had by all.
I spent the next day at home and then I was off to the 1000 Islands to get ready to fish the FLW/Costa 1000 Islands tournament. I had an absolute stellar few days pre-fishing leading up to this tournament and I felt very comfortable going into the tournament. I had a lot of areas and a lot of patterns going for both deep and shallow smallmouth.
Well, it seems the tale of the season for me is that no matter how good my practice goes I just don’t get the bites come tournament time. On day-one I weighed in 17.3-pounds and on day-two I only weighed in four fish for 12-pounds and ended up in 107th place out of the 172 anglers in the boater division. My fourth fish on day-two came in my last 30-seconds of fishing and it barely made 12-inches long. That was my day – three not bad fish and a 12-incher.
The crazy thing is, on day-one my co-angler, Justin Lonchar, from Pittsburgh, who fished from the back of the boat, got a five-pound-plus fish as his first fish of the day. He caught it before I even had a fish in the boat. We proceeded to start running and gunning around Lake Ontario and I’d get a fish, he’d get a fish, I’d get one, he’d get one, and then he got one over six-pounds! He ended up weighing 21-pounds, 2-ounces on day-one as my co-angler. He followed that up with a decent day-two and made the top-10 cut to fish the final day. Justin ended up eighth place overall in the co-angler division of the tournament. So at least there was one good thing that happened in the tournament.
Unfortunately I fell short on my two-days of fishing and came out of that tournament dumbfounded by the fact that I had such a good practice yet didn’t execute on tournament day. I spent half of my time each day deep and then I went shallow in the afternoon. That usually works on big water fisheries for smallmouth because the sun seems to bring fish up shallow in the afternoon. But, for whatever reason they didn’t seem to be shallow in the afternoon and I didn’t get any big bites. If I could do it over I probably would have stayed deep and sight-fished with my electronics but that’s all hindsight now.
After the 1000 Islands tournament it was off to Vermilion Bay Lodge in Northwestern Ontario’s Sunset Country. Gord and Susanne Bastable have run this place for the last 26-years. We had a tight schedule, with only had a day and a half up there, so Gord set us up with professional guide Greg Bruetsch. Greg has guided the better part of his life on Eagle Lake. His boat control and knowledge of fish is bang on.
Greg asked me what I’d like to fish for and I said I’d like to sample some of the walleye fishing. He told me that he had been catching a lot of walleyes by live bait rigging with minnows, so that’s what we went out to do.
As soon as we got out to our first spot the rain and wind started so we waited it out and, after about 45-minutes, we were able to start fishing. We started on a main lake hump in the 25 to 35-foot depth range and within minutes we hooked up. With the camera running, we opened the TV shoot with a double-header of walleyes. Throughout the day we caught walleyes at every stop that we went to and ended up with a final total of about 30 fish. That was more than enough for the TV show. What can I say, even though the weather wasn’t the best the fishing was fast and furious. You know what that tells me? I’ve got to make another trip up to fish this incredible lake!
We got home, unpacked and unhooked the Ranger aluminum boat, then hooked up the Ranger Z521L and headed to the Berkley B1 bass tournament on Lake St. Francis in Valleyfield, Quebec. This is a two-day bass tournament with a cut of the top 50% of the boats after day one. Well, Darren and I finished day-one in 52nd place, a few ounces out of the cut to fish day-two. I would have never in my wildest dreams thought that we would miss the cut with our 16.87-pounds. Usually it takes around 15-pounds and change to make it into the top half of the field. To make things worse, every day in practice for this tournament we had five-pound-plus fish but on day-one of the tournament we didn’t have a single fish that made four-pounds.
If there’s anything I can take away from this tournament it’s that no matter how things are going before a tournament, you still have to get the right bites once the event starts. In this case, if we had to fish that tournament again I would change nothing that we did. Not where we fished or how we fished. We caught fish both shallow and deep in the tournament, but we didn’t get any four-pound or better fish, which was absolutely mind-blowing. I don’t even know what excuses to come up with other than we just didn’t get the bites. After how well our practice went I would have pegged us as doing very well in this tournament. I felt that we were easily going to make the top-10.
One thing I will say about tournament fishing is that even after a bad tournament if I leave there learning something I feel like it was a success, but I left this tournament learning zero. I don’t know what I would have changed. I love Lake St. Francis, it is an amazing fishery that has every option you can think of. You can fish shallow, mid-depth or deep; you can fish for smallmouth or largemouth and you can use any technique that you like and still have some success. But it’s all about decisions and I’m still not sure where our decisions failed in that tournament.
After the tournament it was off to Harmer’s Cottages, which is right in the heart of the 1000 Islands on the St. Lawrence River. Julie and Daniel run this beautiful, clean operation that’s located just about a mile east of the town of Gananoque. The fishing in this area is superb and it’s in one of the most scenic parts of the 1000 Islands area. You’ve got access to miles and miles of the St. Lawrence River and Lake Ontario isn’t that far away.
They have a beautiful, natural sand beach which is one of the very few natural beaches in the whole 1000 Islands area. Daniel has a tractor that he uses to launch your boat right off the beach. He’s got docking there, swimming and it’s just a perfect place if you want to go with your family or friends to stay. You’ve got boating, fishing, swimming and sightseeing right there, there’s a casino that’s about a 30-second drive from the resort and the town of Gananoque has a number of good restaurants.
Darren and I fished a bit on the Sunday, when the second day of the B1 bass tournament was going on, and we got some into some shallow smallmouth. We stayed the night at Harmer’s Cottages and the next morning we got up to very windy conditions with some rain and more wind forecast for the next couple of days. Because of the weather we decided to shoot some video around the property for one of the shows we were doing for Ontario Tourism, along with an on-camera interview with Daniel. We decided that we would return later in the fall to shoot the fishing portion of this show and, as it turned out, that would happen quite a bit later in the fall.
When we got home I had some office meetings to attend, and we had some TV production work to do, before heading off to the Canadian Tire Lake Erie Open. This is a local tournament that runs out of Chippawa, just above Niagara Falls on the Niagara River. It’s a well-organized and well-run event. This is a one-day tournament that’s held on the first Saturday in October, so you hope that Lake Erie is calm enough to fish. It can get pretty rough on Lake Erie, as we all know, so we always hope that it’s not going to be so rough that it turns into a Niagara River only tournament. Luckily that day it was calm.
In the last several Lake Erie tournaments Darren and I have run so far that we didn’t see any other boats but this year I thought we’d play it fairly close to home and not run as far as we usually do. Two days before the tournament we snuck down for a couple of hours of practice and it was so good we actually had a double header of five-pounders. We had well over 20-pounds in less than an hour of fishing and we felt pretty good going into this tournament. Long story short, we decided not to run and we ended up in 16th place out of 68 boats with 20.56-pounds, but we didn’t get any five-pounders.
Once again it was like we were snake-bit. I think we had three five-pounders and lots of fours in a couple hours of fishing a few days before the event but we couldn’t get a five-pounder the day of the tournament. My brother Wayne, who did not practice for the tournament, and his partner Joslyn Leung, came in cold turkey. They decided to stay and fish the Niagara River and ended up in sixth place overall with 21.55-pounds. Even though they got a decent cheque, I think Wayne was more excited about the bottle of Gibson’s Finest that they had won. I believe he cracked that bottle open when he got home later that evening to celebrate his top-10 finish. I still say he had a horseshoe strategically planted somewhere but others may say that he’s the better angler of the two of us. Well, I guess he was in this tournament.
I got to spend time with the family at Thanksgiving and then it was down to Lake St. Clair. We got away on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving Monday arrived with about three-hours to fish on Tuesday afternoon. My buddy Derek Strub was already down there fishing with some of his friends and when we met up with him he told us that the shallow smallmouth were on. I ended up shooting a show that afternoon on catching smallmouth with the Berkley five-inch MaxScent General. We were wacky rigging these baits on 10-pound test Nanofil with a 10-pound Berkley 100% Fluorocarbon leader. Making super-long casts on the shallow sand/weed transitions on Lake St. Clair we caught a number of good fish up to five-pounds. Overall it was a good afternoon of fishing. We stayed in Chatham that night and the next morning we headed out muskie fishing with Jim Fleming from Drifter II Charters.
I hadn’t fished with Jim for a couple of years and we only had the Wednesday to do it because the forecast for Thursday was for high winds out of the northwest, which would blow out Lake St. Clair and make it unfishable. I invited long-time friend John McGuigan from nearby Cedar Springs to join us. John was my brother’s friend growing up and he’s about nine-years older than me so he was a mentor for me when I was a kid. He’d take me fishing and hunting so it was nice to spend the day trolling with him.
As it turned out, we both lost decent fish and did not land a single muskie that day. It was Jim Fleming’s only skunk of the entire season of chartering between Lake Erie and Lake St. Clair. What can I say? It just goes to show the way my season went. There were more downs than ups in my season but overall I can’t complain. You know the old saying, “A bad day’s fishing is better than a good day at work”? Well my saying is, “A bad day’s fishing is a crappy day at work”!
After fishing with Jim I snuck in a fun day of fishing on Lake Erie before heading back to the St. Lawrence River to try and finish the show we started on the 1000 Islands area. If you can believe it, when we got to the St. Lawrence River we had some light snow, some heavy winds and a ton of rain. It was awful. We ended up fishing a day before calling it quits and spending the night driving back home. It was just brutal out there and impossible to do any videotaping. So we let about a week pass and then went back to the St. Lawrence to fish with my buddy Jack Levert in the Cornwall area. Jack took us out for about an hour of smallmouth bass fishing one afternoon and then we went for walleyes. We ended up catching about 15 walleyes in short order as the sun was going down.
The next day Jack met up with us around noon and we decided to try flipping for largemouth. Unfortunately we hit a real cold snap, it was unseasonably cold and there was ice forming in our guides. We fished for two-hours without a largemouth bite so we jumped over to the smallmouth and caught some pretty decent ones. After that we went walleye fishing again and caught about 30 walleyes before calling it a day. We ended up completing the fishing portion of our St. Lawrence show and I’m going to include it with the previous footage we got at Harmer’s Cottages. It was nice to finally get all the different segments for that show in the can. Then it was back home for the annual five-day shotgun deer hunt. As usual, we had some good success.
On the Saturday after our hunt I got an email from my long-time friend and working mate Mike Northcott. Mike was our original technician for the Real Fishing Radio Show in the late ‘80s and, other than one year, he was the guy who put the show together for 30-years. Mike’s email said that he had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer back in May so I emailed him back and we set up a time for me to call him. We got in touch later that afternoon and talked for about half an hour. He was very optimistic about the alternative therapy he was getting and he sounded very upbeat so we made plans to get together down the road. Then, 21-hours later Mike, who was only 55-years old, passed away.
That was a hard one to take as Mike was one of those guys you expected to be around for a long time. He played in a band, he was a sound technician with a studio in Toronto and he was the most talented audio technician I have personally ever met. The way he produced our show was amazing, his talent was endless. Mike left his wife Shelly, daughter Bailey and son Wilson way too soon. I’ve got to admit that going to the funeral home was pretty tough.
The next day we headed to the airport to catch a flight to the Barbados for a trip that we had planned for quite some time. My wife Sandy, daughter Kristin, and son-in-law Travis joined us to spend a week with some friends down there. I’ve never been to the Barbados before so I was pretty excited to go. As it turned out we had the most wonderful relaxing week I’ve had all year.
When you go as hard as I go during the year traveling, fishing in tournaments, shooting the TV shows and doing all the other things, it takes a few days to wind down. After spending a few days down there with my friend Adam Moryto and his family, and getting used to the island life, I have to admit it was pretty amazing. We ended up catching some blackfin tuna and the kids went out and caught a variety of small snappers and other tasty fish. We ate a lot of fresh and other wonderful meals, along with a lot of ice cream, down there. We definitely made some memories that will last a lifetime. As I finish this Tales article I’m planning to get out on the water as much as I can – even if I have to break a little ice to get out there!