Berkley B1 Bass 2012 Tournament

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.

5th Annual Ranger & Stratos Fishing Invitational

Once again I took part in the Ranger – Stratos Invitational Bass Tournament.  The charity fund raiser is organized each year by Orleans Boat World.  This year saw 52 teams competing on the Ottawa River out of Rockland Ontario.

Weather for the day was gray with light drizzle – perfect for Smallies.  My partner, Myles West, and I blasted off as team #32 aboard my 2012 Ranger 619 Fisherman powered with a 225 hp E-Tec from Evinrude.

We started by working weed lines along the openings of bays and picked up three quick keepers.  However, when we started throwing cranks around a stone retaining wall all heck broke loose.  A 4lb Largie was quickly followed up with numerous 3lb+ Smallies. By 10: we had culled ourselves into a fairly decent bag.

Our second largest fish of the day didn’t seem to be fairing all too well so we decided to release it back into the river.  It was a 3.5lb Smallie, but thankfully, we caught a suitable replacement.

With five hours to go, we switched up baits with the hopes of landing a real kicker.  The Ottawa River is known for some amazingly big Bass – they have to be if they want to avoid being Eaton by the numerous super-sized Musky that make this river their home.  Unfortunately, other than some amazingly large Catfish and Northern Pike, we just weren’t able to bring aboard a kicker to finish off the day.

Our weight of 14.75lbs was enough to earn Miles and I 7th place over-all and a cheque for our efforts.  19lbs took first place.  The weigh-in was orchestrated by Renegade Bass folks using Shimano’s live release system, and the BBQ and prize bags were sponsored by Ranger Boats, Evinrude, First Mate Lures, and last but certainly not least, Orleans Boat World.  Most importantly, a sizeable chunk of cash was raised for charity.

Renegade Pro-Am 2012

Each year eastern Ontario’s premier tournament Bass fishing organization, Renegade, hosts a pro-am event pairing renegade pros with potential newcomers to tournament Bass fishing.  This year’s event took place once again on Mississippi Lake just outside Carlton Place Ontario, and involved 27 teams.  I was fortunate to be partnered with Claude Bergeron, proprietor of “Bergeron School of Karate”.  We fished from my 2012 ranger 619 Fisherman.I learned a lot about the merits of slowing things down.  Claude’s a firm believer that a spot that has proven itself in the past will always produce; it’s often just a matter of waiting while maintaining a positive mental attitude.  No doubt, Claude’s level seven black belt has honed his ability to stay focused.  His approach bore fruit as we commenced culling by 11: in spite of our going without a serious bite for the first two hours.

The 225hp E-TEC ran twice that day – five minutes leaving the start, and another five getting back.  Otherwise, we spent the day moving around a large weed flat using the Minn Kota Terrova with plenty of occasions holding stationary with the Terrova’s I-Pilot anchor lock feature.  Claude himself uses a Minn Kota Talon to achieve a fixed anchored position necessary to dead-stick soft plastics at the end of long casts.

Claude is a huge proponent of fishing Senkos wacky style unweighted using octopus style hooks.  By noon that’s pretty much exactly what I was throwing too.  Instead of an octopus hook however, I elected instead to use a weedless wacky hook, but on reflection, I don’t think I was that much better off in terms of keeping weeds off my line.

Claude’s method is to make long casts into gaps between the weeds and simply wait.  He’ll give the Senko a few twitches once it’s resting on the bottom, and sometimes let it sit for as long as a minute before quickly reeling in.  We both picked up weeds on the retrieves which meant we only actually fished the spots where our baits initially landed.

Claude’s slow and systematic style of fishing has paid off on many occasions.  He and his partner finish routinely near or at the top.  It also confirms what many of us already suspect but often have difficulty putting into inaction.  It isn’t necessary to be in constant motion to find fish.  Even if the fish aren’t biting now, at some point in the day, they will feed.

Funny enough, when comparing notes at the end of the day with the other anglers, many reported catching most of their fish in the first 2-3 hours – the same time period Claude and I caught nothing.  Conversely, when Claude and I started catching Bass, the bite for many of the other competitors dropped off.

Claude and I may not have won the event that day, but what I learned was invaluable.  Slow down, and catch more fish.

Big thanks to the Renegade organization for allowing me to participate in the event, to the volunteers who assisted with launching boats and hosting the free BBQ, and to Renegade’s 2012 MC Big Jim McLaughlin for making us all feel like winners.  Shimano, Berkley, Paddle tails and Bennett’s also stepped up to the plate in big ways to reward each and every amateur – an over-all experience that’s well worth the investment.