Fishing with the 12th Ottawa Girl Guides

Every year volunteers from Blue Fish Canada work hard to take young people fishing.

Fishing with Moby and Gord Ellis on the Nipagon River

While wading rivers for Trout I find it interesting just how closely my guide dog Moby watches my every move.

Luc Girard Citizen Scientist

A mid-November day on the St. Lawrence fishing with Luc Girard and John Chang for monster Musky can be a cold and frustrating experience.

John Chang and Lawrence

John Chang and Lawrence

We explored a stretch of river between Lake St. Francis and Cornwall, a section known for plenty of structure, deep channels, endless shallow flats, and rocky shoals that go for miles. The day offered up cold winds, plenty of waves and  strong current. Thank goodness the sun kept temperatures just above freezing, with water temps in the low 50’s.

My guest aboard the Ranger 620 Fisherman was Luc Girard. Luc is a member of Musky Inc and Cornwall’s Lunker Hunt fishing club, and a dedicated steward of the river. Luc is one of those anglers who truly cares about the future of fishing. In addition to his love for the sport, he’s volunteering for numerous local water conservation initiatives.

He’s fully equipped to  conduct fish tagging on behalf of the St. Lawrence River Institute for Environmental Science, helped organize a shoreline clean-up with 400 volunteers that pulled over 12 tons of garbage out of the river, monitors oil slicks on the river and reports spotting to the Coast guard over a 3-month period following the sinking of two tugboats on the river, supports several area charity fishing derbies, and so much more.

Luc Girard and Lawrence

Luc Girard and Lawrence

Luc does all this with a smile on his face and a positive attitude even though the arthritis in his hands is growing increasingly severe, and the three surgeries on his back have still not addressed the problem with his spine. His dedication to the river and love of fishing make up a large part of who Luc is, and he’s happy to share his passion with others, young and old.

After our sprint home up-current into the wind and waves at a thrilling 55 mph, we were all feeling a bit cold, wind-burnt and tired. And then  the sun went down and everything changed. The red sun sunk into the river bringing to an end the wind just as a huge ocean-going ship lit up like a floating city came into view. Moments later  a super bright “Super” moon popped up from behind one of the 33 islands clustered along this stretch of river. Even though I only have the one tiny window in the upper left section of my left eye, I still managed to witness both the day draw to a close and the night commence. After we finished gawking at this dramatic shift in time and space, my buddy John Chang idled the Ranger over to the doc. The solar/lunar sightings and meal of Perch at a near-by restaurant with good friends, new and old, was a well-deserved end to a bone-chilling day.

Fishing for Bass on Canadian Shield Lakes

You really don’t need to go far from Canada’s capital and forth largest city, Ottawa, to access hundreds of prime Bass Canadian Shield lakes. How lucky can one guy be.

Lawrence fishing on the prime Bass Canadian Shield lakesThankfully, Navionics has many of these lakes included on their various digital map offerings, which is pretty cool given it’s a company located in the U.S. And trust me, you want a good map; especially when you see birds that appear to be standing still in the middle of lakes.

Finding the often un-published public boat launches can be a challenge, given that cottage owners try their best to discourage non-residence from enjoying their wilderness sanctuaries. It also means taking responsibility for ensuring one isn’t transporting foreign life such as Zebra mussels or invasive plants from one lake to another.

Once away from the launch, it doesn’t take long to find you’re completely secluded from all signs of human activity. The fishing can be spectacular.

I always come prepared with an assortment of super-strong TroKar hooks. Flipping baits into fallen trees that litter the shoreline makes for amazing action. It does mean however, that my sighted partner has to give me some hints on where to pitch, and especially where not to. My 7’6” heavy Shimano flipping rod, 65lb PowerPro braided line, and a Shimano Antares reel winds it all in, regardless. Crazy times for sure.

Lawrence holding his catch of a bass using the new G Loomis 7’ E6X There are also the weed beds. Tossing wacky-rigged stickbaits using medium-heavy spinning tackle like the new G Loomis 7’ E6X paired with a Shimano 2500 Sustain spinning reel spooled up with 15lb PowerPro braided line is all it takes.  I prefer using TroKar 2/0 size octopus hooks. They may not be weedless, but what is. It’s not a tournament, so I have no problem pinching down the barbs.

Days like this leave you with raw skin on your thumb. Bass have no teeth, but after catching 30 or more, their mouths leave their marks. It’s only when your driving home though, that you notice you have “Bass thumb”. A secret reminder of a great day of fishing as you sit through the first office meeting of the week come Monday.

Girl Guides Catch Fish Fish and More Fish

For the third time in four years I brought together two seemingly different groups with a similar interest – to catch fish. The Ottawa Valley South Bassmasters, for which I’ve served as Conservation Director for the past three years, and Ottawa’s largest Girl Guide troop.

The trick is lots of worms, tiny 1/16 oz. ball-head jigs or smaller, floats, and did I mention worms?

Each volunteer Bass Masters Club member was paired with 2-3 Girl Guides. Sure, there was a bit of fishing rod sharing, but every girl caught at least two fish – some as many as eight.

Distributing worms started orderly enough with 2-3 in the bottom of cut-down disposable cups, and ended with girls grabbing worms by the handful to expedite the fish catching process.

A little Q/A section at the end to go over fish species caught, and to discuss the stewardship tips learned that evening.

Amazing how many fish can be caught from one doc in 90 minutes using 20-odd fishing rods – great job girls!

Ottawa Region Walleye League 2nd Place Finish!

Lawrence and Jason with 18inch WalleyeThe morning seemed “fishy” with heavy cloud cover, but that didn’t take long to burn off and flat-calm water and “blue-bird” skies to dampen my optimism. Jason Cox, Scott Campbell and myself were aboard my Ranger 620 Fisherman at 6: a.m for the second event in this tournament series.

Using 3/8 oz. EagleClaw Walleye jigs tipped with live minnows dragged on bottom at depths from 30’ to 20’ got the ball rolling, but it was my hunch that the bigger fish would be up shallow in 8-10 feet relating to weed edges that secured our second place finish. Bottom bouncers with spinner-rigs baited with minnows trolled at 1.3 mph netted us the bigger fish of the day.

Unfortunately, time ran out before we were able to up-grade several of our smaller fish. All were caught, photographed and instantly released back into the exact area of the lake from which they came.

What I like best about this club, for which I have served as the Conservation Director for the past four years, is the exchange of information that takes place between competitors both during and following each event. By ensuring that all members are schooled on successful patterns, the likelihood of their becoming long-term members increases. So far the approach is working. Our club has gained a half-dozen new members each year, and drops on average 1-2 annually. Slow but steady seems to be winning the race…

Catfish Fishing in Canada’s Capital

lawrence-moby-catfishIt may be the case that Canada’s capital Ottawa has one of the least developed and inaccessible shorelines anywhere in the world, but that doesn’t deter people from fishing. In spite of the limited shoreline access, we anglers still manage to partake in their sport in sight of Canada’s federal legislators and public service mandarins.

No Doubt, fishing with friends after work is a great way to end the day. Spring fishing for catfish off Victoria Island behind Ottawa’s Parliament Hill is one of many urban fishing options the city of Ottawa offers. These cats can reach upwards of five kilos. Bring a lawn chair, some heavy 2-3 oz. weights, size 1/0 non-offset circle hooks, a stout rod and some worms. Tie your rig so the line can slide freely through the weight by putting the weight ahead of a swivel, then attach your hook to the swivel using a 12-inch section of heavy 20lb mono. Set your rod in a holder and slack off the drag. When a catfish takes, simply tighten the line and the circle hook will take care of the rest. No need for a hook set.

The fishing is best around sundown. However, the comradery is always good no matter whether the fish are biting or not.

You can spend a lot and fly in to some remote wilderness resort, or you can just pull out your grandparent’s old fishing rod from the back of the closet. It doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive.

Follow me on Twitter @lawrencegunther, and catch my Feel the Bite Videos and Blue Fish Radio shows.

Fishing for Spring Crappy with Split Personalities

You often hear rumours about anglers who go fishing in spring and catch a hundred Crappy. The first thing we all ask, is where? Early ice-out conditions can be like fishing through the ice. The fish seem to be no where until finally you find them, and then they are in numbers that boggle the mind. Go back two weeks later, and it’s a totally different story. So why are Crappy so hard to find, and what explains their split personality?

Getting the boat out of storage or wetting a new boat for the first time is an exciting start to any angler’s year. Taking the boat for a shake-down cruise in April goes hand-in-hand with searching for spring Crappy. It’s a good fit because finding crappy can take a lot of running about. No doubt, lot’s has been said and written on where to look, but in the end, it comes down to a process of elimination. Once you find them though, its knowledge for life – they seem to be creatures of habit. It’s why everyone is so tight lipped about where to look.

Lawrence holding a crappy

Lawrence holding a Crappy

Northern shorelines in the backs of bays over bottom that is black, or at the mouths of in-flowing streams or rivers are features that are often identified as places to look. Of course, timing is another important factor as nothing turns Crappy on more than direct sun, and the lack of sun can just as quickly shut these little big-mouths down. The problem seems to arise when so many of the seemingly likely spots don’t seem to hold fish. It’s often just the one spot, but which one.

Water temperatures between 40 and 50 F could be considered pre-spawn. Crappy, like most all fish, are still experiencing a slow metabolism and have minimal appetites. They will bite, but prefer slow moving or stationary meals of smaller proportions. Float fishing is the answer because fish need to study their meal first, and they are probably in fairly shallow water. This is also the time of year that Crappy are taking the bite while moving up in the water column, which means the line grows slack when they bite, and doesn’t jerk or tighten. Round bobbers hardly move, but a stick bobber might tip over on to its side. Personally, I use the smallest float that will suspend my bait, cast out, and then reel in as slow as possible, setting the hook when tension is detected.

Later, when water temps warm up to between 55 and 70, Crappy come alive. They become just as difficult to find, but more aggressive when you do. Small 1/16 oz. jigs with 2” to 3” tubes or grubs work well, as do tiny spinners or jigs rigged with blades. A cast and retrieve is all that’s needed. Northern Pike might also be feeding post-spawn, so Crappy will be using cover like wood in the water or early growth weeds to avoid being eaten. Prepare to be bitten off.

A third technique that works on less than cooperative Crappy is a mini drop shot rig. I personally use 4lb braded Power Pro line, a tiny 6mm swivel, and 3-feet of 4lb floral line as a leader. A #6 extra wide gap hook from EagleClaw and a 1/16 oz. tungsten weight from Ultra Tungsten completes the rig. Fish the line a bit slack, and take your time setting the hook. Setting the hook after solid resistance is detected is sufficient and will avoid needlessly pulling the bait out of strike range before the Crappy has properly engulfed the bait.

Last, I never make it a point to count the number of fish caught. I don’t want to fall into that numbers game, and would rather catch some, enjoy the bite for a while, and then get back to cruising the lake to look for more areas where the Crappy are holding up. I always pinch the barb on my hooks as Crappy have paper-thin mouths and there’s no point tearing them a new hole every time I catch and release a fish. If I intend to keep a few for dinner that night, I release the biggest ones, thinking these are the primary breeding females, and keep just enough of the average size males to feed the family.

So, slow fish fast fish, it really comes down to the water temperature in the end. It has nothing to do with their astrological sign. Same fish, totally different experience. Try them both ways and enjoy your first days out on the boat in the new year.

Last Kick at the Ice Fishing Can

The 2016 Ice fishing season had to be one of the shortest on record. December was a bust and January crept in so slow that you just knew it couldn’t last. Even still, I managed to creep out on the ice, poke a few holes, and strike it lucky a bunch of times before the February show season began chewing up my weekends.

In early March my friend Jason Cox drove us up to one of his favourite lakes in the Ottawa Valley region. I know this lake well as my Walleye club has a competitive event here every summer, but this was my first time fishing it through the ice. Joining us for the day was my youngest boy, who loves being on the ice when the weather starts to warm up, and of course, Moby my Burnese / lab guide dog.

We took out the two Frabill flip-over’s. Three seats and wind-breaks for everyone. It was the beginning of March and only 14-inches of ice managed to form.

Lots of Perch entertained my son while Jason and I put down larger bait in hopes of tagging a large Pike or Walleye. Always fun fishing with tip-ups especially now that I’ve started using BlueTipz wireless bite alarms that send a private message to my iPhone or BlueTipz receiver announcing each time there’s action. Otherwise, I’m working the Frabill straight line combos that I’ve come to appreciate so much.

Whether it’s the Frabill multipliers or the single action reels I use for fishing 2lb test, they all have their place. Both allow me to get my line down to the exact depth faster than possible when using spinning gear. The free-spool multipliers are lightening quick, and the single action reels for lighter line and shallower water let me strip off the exact amount of line each time – eliminating the guess work.

Good day for sure. Lots of bites, warm nourishing sun, and great company. Moby had a great day too meeting and greeting the ice shanty dogs that had already laid claim to the lake for the season. Funny how dogs always seem to think they own the entire ice surface for as far as they can see.

Origins and current Applications of The Hunter-Gatherer Jig Angler

Ever wonder where the term “Jig” came from? Hunter-gatherers have been fashioning fish attractors using feathers and fur for thousands of years. These artificial baits would be jiggled on the end of a short strand of catgut. Fish that drew near to investigate would be speared. It wasn’t until much later that hooks were introduced. Early hooks were assembled with several fine bones or thorns tied together in the shape of a “V”. The use of various metals to add weight and flash came much later. Interesting to note, it was primarily women who did much of the early jigging and spearing of fish.

Jigs may seem simple in concept, but the myriad ways they can be dressed and used are countless. From size, weight, shape, colour and the use of hair, feather or plastic attractors, all manner of adornments have been added to enhance their appearance. The endless variety of jig configurations can now make the task of picking one over another daunting.

Just as one wouldn’t use a hammer for every repair job around the house, jig style and presentation method differ widely according to circumstance. The following factors need to be considered when selecting the ideal jig for a specific application. Consider: water clarity, light levels, local forage, current and depth, fish temperament, time of year, and fish habitat and structure.

The kick I get from buying new tackle still boosts my spirits. However, experience and a sore shoulder has taught me well to avoid the temptation of preparing for all conceivable scenarios, as it only leads to a seriously over-weighted tackle bag. Jigs may be small, but in no time can add up to be quite the “boat anchor”.

An easy way to keep a lid on over-stocking jigs is to limit purchases to a handful of colours. Instead of matching every conceivable hatch, go with natural colours for applications in open and relatively clear water, Black with a touch of something more vibrant for low light or heavily stained conditions, and rattles only for low visibility situations. Colour is often the least most important factor. Well-loved jig heads pounded virtually free of paint still often get the job done.

To avoid falling into the trap of becoming a “Jack of all trades and a master of none”, take the time to learn how to present jigs under different conditions. Presentation styles range widely from a simple lift and drop to sudden rips, and everything in between including: dragging, dead sticking, swimming, snapping, popping and twitching. Jigs can be fished directly below the boat or through a hole in the ice, pitched / flipped around visible cover, or fished blind by long-bombing them into open water.

More vigorous horizontal retrieve techniques meant to quickly cover aquatic territory have me reaching for outfits spooled with fluorocarbon line and fast action rods. fluoro sinks the fastest of all lines, and provides the straightest possible connection between the rod tip and your jig.

Deeper more vertical and slower presentation styles that demand rapid and instant hook sets increase the need for feeling subtle bites. Shorter extra-fast rods spooled with braid get the nod. The non-stretch properties of braid give a direct tactile connection to the jig below the boat / ice.

Lawrence holding 2 bass caught while fishing on White Lake

Lawrence holding 2 bass caught while fishing on White Lake

Ultra-light applications generally mean close-in work; making cheaper monofilament lines perfectly acceptable. Micro jigs used with ultralight outfits haven’t the weight to influence line stretch or sink rate, and even a basic ultralight rod will be able to transmit subtle bites without line stretch interfering. Besides, the bit of stretch in 2 or 4 lb line gives that added insurance against breakage.

In general, jig-rod actions almost always lean towards extra fast of whatever power will get the job done. The soft tip aids in detecting bites without imparting unnatural tension to the fish. It just doesn’t feel right to fish when tasting or feeling small bits of potential food with their mouths to encounter resistance associated with something far larger. Jig rods should also have a stiffer backbone ¾ up the blank for hook setting and to turn fleeing fish before they exhaust themselves beyond recovery.

A fast or moderate fast rod comes into play when actively swimming jigs horizontally. Fish first swipe at fleeing pray before making it a meal. The first strike is meant to disable the pray. The second and third strikes are signs of the fish actually eating. A rod with some give allows the jig to be slowed significantly by the first bite without it moving forward as if it possessed bionic strength.

The correct weight of a jig for each application is determined by current or drift speed. Generally, fishing as close to vertical is preferable as it affords maximum control over the jig without having to worry about dragging the lure into snaggy structure, or conversely, the jig drifting harmlessly just feet below the surface.

Penetrating heavy structure calls for heavier weights, as does clear warmer water. The first to break through to where the fish are residing, and the second to tempt active fish into reacting quickly without first having the opportunity to thoroughly size-up your offering.

Under almost all conditions fish will strike a jig as it’s dropping on a slack line. Too much tension, or any tension for that matter, will cause the jig to pendulum back towards the angler as it sinks; imparting the jig an unnatural look.

As a person who SCUBA’s I’m constantly reminded just how little cover there is in vast areas of lakes and rivers. It’s still possible to find fish in these open areas, but count on them being in continual movement. They expect their pray to be doing the same. When fishing over structure slow it down and even pause, but when the lack of tactile feedback from your rod is telling you there’s not much down there, keep moving to improve your odds of crossing paths with actively feeding fish.

Lastly, retrieving a jig back to the boat may seem simple enough, but requires the application of basic geometry. The following holds true whether snapping, jigging or swimming jigs horizontally.

A jig cast out and then raised with the rod tip is going to have more forward momentum than vertical lift. Dropping the rod tip the same amount you just raised it isn’t necessary. Follow the jig down by getting to know the sink rate, and then repeat the motion just slightly ahead of the jig to avoid line tension. As the jig draws closer, use less lift and more follow. By shortening the degree of lift with each stroke, your jig will exhibit a more consistent retrieve profile. By the time the jig arrives directly below, the movement of the rod tip on the lift and drop should be the same. This way when you do get bit you will know exactly how far your jig was above bottom at the time; allowing you to dial in your retrieve and eliminate waste.

Watching your rod tip to maintain a steady retrieve will work against you. Close your eyes and try visualizing what the fish are seeing. Do this, and I’ll guarantee you will become far more adept at imparting a consistent retrieve, even if others observe the movement of your rod as changing with every stroke.

The evolution of jig fishing in the past 100 years is truly impressive. While the concept may seem simple and traditional, learning to fish jigs effectively under a wide variety of conditions has become an art in itself. Take the time to expand your jig fishing skills and embrace a tradition that goes back thousands of years.