For the 4th year in a row Berkley, along with a host of other premier sponsors, staged the Berkley B1 Bass tournament. The event was held on the St. Lawrence River out of Valleyfield Quebec, a section of the St. Lawrence famous for incredibly large and strong Smallmouth Bass. The event itself has been a sold-out affair since its conception by its founder Ben Woo, and is arguably the largest Bass tournament on Canadian waters with 150 teams competing. It’s not only the largest, but some might argue the most challenging. However, the rewards more than make up for the effort with a brand new Bass boat and 200hp E-Tec going to the winning team.This year I had the pleasure of being joined aboard my Ranger 619 Fisherman powered with a 225hp E-Tec by my good friend Scott Campbell. Both Scott and I fully appreciate the enormous task trying to find where the Smallmouth are staging on this huge stretch of water, and our goal for the day was to turn in a respectable finish.
Ste. Francis was formed as part of the St Lawrence Seaway project in the 1960’s when large sections of the river were flooded to allow ocean-going ships to pass between the Atlantic Ocean and North America’s Great Lakes. Ships are restricted to a relatively narrow channel that ranges in depth from 20 to 60 feet, and is bordered by vast stretches of shallow water ribboned with shoals that come within inches of the surface.
Bass on Ste Francis can either be found in water less than 6 feet in depth, (Largemouth), or over 20 feet deep, (Smallmouth). This means the remaining 99% of Ste Francis’s vast acreage is relatively devoid of fish. Additionally, it’s not all waters below 20 feet that hold the monster Smallmouth. This productive territory too is limited to only those sections of the channel noted for fast current and structure. Knowing where these spots within the spots are situated comes only with countless hours of pre-fishing.
O.K., now that I’ve set the stage, it’s time to bring on the main characters. One would assume this would consist of the 149 other teams Scott and I were competing against, but not on this day. Front and centre were winds of 30km/h gusting to 50 out of the north-west, swinging around to the south-east by noon. Unfortunately, neither of the two weather patterns made the drive to and from our chosen fishing grounds pleasant.
We exited the Valleyfield harbour with the idea of running for 30 minutes up towards Cornwall; however, the mounting waves turned this into a run of almost an hour and a half. Coming back was no easier. Thankfully, the hull design of Ranger Fisherman multi-species boats are designed to handle rough water by permitting their operator’s to maintain sufficient speed to skip from one wave top to another. Too much or too little speed would have the boat landing on either the face or back of waves, making crisp throttle control and engine response paramount.
Scott was up to the challenge and brought us safely through the worst of the rough seas un-scathed. Unfortunately for many of our competitors this wasn’t the case, with numerous boats experiencing breakdowns on the water, including damage to their lower ends while attempting to skirt around the waves by following the shoreline. Many other teams who did make it back on their own power reported having speared waves resulting in rods and sonar units being washed overboard.
Rather than waiting aboard our boat to weigh in after day one, Scot and I realized our bag of fish wasn’t going to put us in the money. We elected instead to get the Ranger up on to the trailer before things got hectic at the launch. Having the Ranger safely stowed also allowed us to show support for the remaining competitors as they weighed in their catches. A 25lb bag of Smallmouth was the top catch for the day.
With weather conditions for day two not looking any better, tournament organizers decided instead to avoid sending competitors out for another round of pounding from the elements. There’s no doubt that Ste Francis is a large body of water, but even if you have the right equipment and experience, it isn’t always enough.
Big thanks to Ben, Vicky and all their team for staging another great event. Thanks too to my sponsors for making it possible for me to compete in tournaments such as this with a fishing boat package that keeps me high and dry.