12th Ottawa Girls Guides go Fishing with the Ottawa BASS Masters

A 24-hour rain delay didn’t stop 48 members of the 12th Ottawa Girl Guides ranging in age from 5-16 from taking part in a shoreline fishing event I organized with the support of the Ottawa Valley South Bass Masters. The girls were equipped with rods, floats and tiny jigs, and were taught the fishing basics by 12 fellow Bass Master club members.

The bite was hot and it didn’t take long to go through Five boxes of 18 large worms. All manner of panfish were caught and released along with a half-dozen or so catfish. It may have lasted 1.5 hours , but plenty long enough for each and every girl to catch fish — many a half dozen or so each.

I led a short Q/A session at the end that was quite lively with the girls sharing their experiences and observations. Club members Tony and Julie Morin organized a prize table that included five rod-reel combos, three tackle packs and a bunch of hats. Each girl also left with a pack of miniature tube jigs and an original Eagle Claw cork float.

Thanks go out to the Ottawa Bass Masters for making this event a success, and to the Dows Lake Pavilion for the use of their shoreline and discounted parking passes.

Alone or in Groups, the frozen St. Lawrence Offers both

Think about how much water spills over Niagara Falls. Add in a couple dozen more rivers and that will give you an idea of the volume of water flowing down the St. Lawrence River. Now, ask yourself if you would ever consider ice fishing on the Niagara? The answers probably no, but guide Todd Beckstead has made it his business to safely take ice anglers out on to the frozen St. Lawrence.

Whether you prefer your water soft or hard, there’s no shortage of opportunity to catch all manner of species on the St. Lawrence River. How the day unfolds can be just as interesting, including opportunities for fishing together with your friends for jumbo Perch, spreading out to jig over fast moving deep water for monster Walleye, and everything in between. Known for its excellent Large-mouth, Small-mouth, Pike, Walleye, Musky, catfish and Carp, the St. Lawrence River from the Thousand Islands on east to Montreal has been producing record sizes and numbers of fish for decades.

The river was expanded when the St. Lawrence Seaway was developed in the 1960s that saw the installation of a series of dams and locks to facilitate the passage of large ocean-going ships. This deepening and broadening of the river has resulted in its now possessing dual personalities. There’s the fast-flowing current along its deep channel that ranges from 10 to well over 50 meters in depth, and then there are the numerous broad flats hosting a mix of sandy bottoms and weed beds complete with shoals that extend from land for hundreds of meters. Throw in a network of submerged roadbeds and building foundations, and it all adds up to wide-ranging habitat supporting an even greater variety of aquatic life. While it’s true many of the animals that call the St. Lawrence home are relatively new-comers, (invasive), thanks to tougher environmental regulations and a significant reduction in industrial activities along its shorelines, the native species are managing a comeback. The escalating quality of fishing has not gone unnoticed as made evident by the increasing number of local, national and international fishing competitions now staged annually along both its Canadian and U.S. banks.

We caught up with Todd Beckstead exchanging news with the owners at “Bite Me Bait and Tackle” in Morrisburg. While the store may be a relative new-comer, this well stocked fishing store offers a surprisingly wide range of equipment and bait. Todd is intimately connected to the pulse of the St. Lawrence, and while his passion may be fishing, his three-part guiding philosophy is founded on ensuring clients are safe and secure, everyone is having a good time, and fish are being caught.

The bulk of our day was spent fishing for jumbo Yellow Perch. This is the type of fishing that actually gets better the closer you fish together. With four of us comfortably arranged in a Frabill Thermal Headquarters 4-6 person pop-up shelter and four good-sized holes drilled, it wasn’t long before Todd had called over the first Perch of the day.

Fish whisperer is one term that could easily be applied to Todd. Nothing humans can hear above the ice, but made startlingly evident time-and-time-again as Todd dropped down a large five cm long rattle bait to attract the Perch. Within seconds no fewer than six Perch would be clustered around the bait five-meters below taking turns launching attacks on this unknown potential food source. Having triggered their feeding instinct, Todd would quickly retrieve the bait resulting in the Perch dispersing to seek alternatives. The rest of us would simply twitch and hold still small offerings of two cm long minnows or live maggots on size 12 1/32 oz. jigs. Within seconds of the dinner bell’s ringing coming to an end, double and often triple headers would result.

Thanks to countless Zebra Mussels the water of the St. Lawrence is almost crystal clear making it easy to witness directly the different ways Perch strike. Some Perch choose just to watch, while others cautiously taste the minnow or maggot to satisfy their curiosity. And then there are those who rush in to slam your bait. Twitching is usually all that’s needed to trigger the strike, but occasionally letting the bait rest on bottom does the job.

Sonar and colour video displays are not essential kit. Use shorter rods and seating that keeps you positioned erect so you can easily observe what’s taking place through the hole at your feet. The dark interior of the Frabill and the natural light that was penetrating the surrounding 20 cm of solid ice made viewing the scene below almost magical. The way our four 10” holes were positioned, it also made it possible to observe the action taking place beneath your neighbours. Real life gaming with four players – doesn’t get better than that!

Perch seem to roam ceaselessly. Whether to stay warm or two seek out schools of silver shiners and Big Eye that make up their regional diet, one need not wait long for perch to appear below. Prolonged spells of extreme cold will slow down their metabolism and activity levels; conversely, a stretch of milder weather will trigger intense action.

Marauding Pike weighing upwards of 10 kilos can quickly send Perch fleeing for the shelter of near-by weeds. That’s when you hope the large 20 cm long Sucker minnows rigged on tip-ups come into play. Placed well away from our Frabill shelter, the tip-ups provided a welcome break from sitting hunched over holes.

My BlueTipz Bluetooth wireless strike indicator worked flawlessly in alerting me to incursions from Pike. A small light-weight transmitter clipped to the flag of my Frabill XX tip-up instantly triggers an app on my smartphone to notify me that the flag is up. The warning will sound for a minute before turning off and automatically re-setting.

Twice I was sent scrambling. The first time my sucker was relatively unharmed but Pikeless. A bleeding wound to the Sucker’s back resulted in a scent trail. Less than 30 minutes later I was back running for my tip-up and hand-lining around 30 meters of line. Two good runs later I lost the brute at the hole. We did manage to make visual contact with the Northern just as she spat the sucker though, and Todd estimated its size at between three to four kilos. Good fun never-the-less and what I like to think of as a quick-and-easy hook release at the hole. More importantly however, is the lack of a visual photographic record that would have otherwise prevented me from expanding on this particular epic battle in future.

A second quick release scenario I managed to execute in broad view of my fishing companions was a sizable catfish that shook off and slid back down the hole. Todd came close to attempting a recapture by hand, but thought twice given the kitty’s stingers that would have no doubt found flesh. I’m guessing that after the Pike incident, he was on to my ways and wanted to ensure that this time there was a photographic record.

Lots of Perch and a few monsters to boot. Good times were had by all as we hunkered down and enjoyed the warmth of the roomy insulated shelter made toasty with two small heaters in spite of the sunless, frosty and breezy conditions. However, 3: p.m. came and it was time to pack up and prepare for round two of this two-part day.

Everything went back into the trucks, and out came several tiny sleds, a couple buckets, minimal tackle, rods and a manual auger for round two. We headed out by foot beyond the bay and on to the recently frozen main channel of the St. Lawrence to try our hand at intercepting a school or two of monster Walleye as they executed their evening patrol.

The ice was crystal clear making it possible to look straight through and see perfectly the depth and bottom structure below. After positioning ourselves using a series of complex geometric calculations, as well as the conveniently placed marker buoys, we drilled our holes in the 15 or so centimeters of clear ice.

We brought with us no shelters to protect ourselves from the 30-kph winds out of the east as erecting and anchoring anything on the glare ice would have taken about as long to accomplish as we intended to stay. The evening bite here lasts about 90 minutes, and is attempted over 15 meters of water in a five kph current.

Offerings that are a minimum of ½ oz. in weight are essential to execute a vertical presentation. Multiple hooks and numerous smaller minnows are recommended to avoid having to reel up and re-bait during a very short window of opportunity. If they manage to get one of your minnows, you know you still got a few more down there to work with.

Fishing together in a single shelter is also not an option due to the current’s effect on the lines and the size of fish being pursued. It’s imperative to spread out to avoid tangles that could easily end everyone’s chance to ice trophy Walleyes.

Keeping our back to the wind was the only way of preventing frostbite to our face and hands. Todd cautioned however, that the instant that contact was made with a fish we move to the up-stream side of the hole to allow the easterly current of the St. Lawrence to do the work of tiring the Walleye and to facilitate fish extraction through the ice. Walleye here can range upwards of eight kilos.

“Winds from the east, fish bite least”, was our undoing that day. The minus 35 degree wind chill made things slightly uncomfortable and may have influenced our decision to head back to shore fishless slightly before 5:30 p.m. — the end to our window of opportunity. After a day of non-stop fish captures, a punishingly cold fishless couple hours out in the open wasn’t the end of the world. It does however; make me anxious to return to the River to finish what I started. Caution will be taken however, as the Fast moving water like the main channel of the St. Lawrence isn’t somewhere I would want to venture without the expertise of a seasoned guide. Wouldn’t want my fishing trip of a lifetime to turn into the last trip of my life.

To get a hold of Todd Beckstead to arrange your own adventure, try the following:

Tel: 613-643-2067 or toddbbeckstead@hotmail.com.

Family Fun on Ice

When weather conditions are right and the bite is assured, I gather around my family and begin the up-hill struggle of convincing them just how much fun they would have if they went with me ice fishing. Not always an easy sell. Remembrances of prior frigidly cold fishless days always seem to get rekindled, and before long the family on mass is preparing to have me committed for even daring to raise the possibility of their re-living such experiences.

I’ll be the first to admit that convincing skeptics to try again what they already judge to be wasted and even potentially dangerous time on the ice is no mean feat. But, throw a heated ice shack into the equation, and its possible to melt even the most frosty opposition.

Thanks to my good buddy Yannick Loranger from Ottawa River Guided Fishing, a toasty shack set over top bountiful waters was on order for the day, and he delivered. Walleye, Sauger, Perch and Pike all made an appearance over the course of the evening.

Kids moved in and out of the heated shelter freely and took advantage of fishing opportunities both indoors and out. Mom and elder teenage sister were kept toasty by the gynormous propane heater while catching their own flurry of fish.

When quitting time rolled around there were even some who wanted to stay the night. (I have to admit that sleeping in one of Yannick’s mega cabins was my idea.) In the end though, logic trumped passion, and dad and kids were loaded into the truck for the 45-minute drive back into the city.

My hope is that memories of these good times will push far to the back past memories of less favorable outings, so when March roles around we can do it all over again under the spring sun. Hey, part of being a parent and angler is exposing one’s family to the positive benefits of fishing, even if some less positive aspects are involved. I always say that if nothing challenging happens, it’s not an adventure.

On Ice with Your 4-Legged Friend

Whether or not to bring your 4-legged best friend for some on-ice fun can pose some ethical issues. Sure it’s fun to have your dog with you, but will the pup manage the cold?

Face facts, for most of us are dogs have grown use to indoor climates and don’t necessarily grow the sorts of heavy winter coats their ancestors once sported. Even for me, I don’t really need to take my guide dog for the blind ice fishing. I never go alone and can get along fine without him. But, he just has so much fun — never mind that he cries like a newborn babe if I leave him behind. So, this is what I do to make sure we all have a good time on the ice.

Dogs seem to do better on snow then on clear ice. The snow is an insulator. Glare ice is not. If the conditions are snowy and the wind is low to no, I don’t worry too much, unless the temps are dipping way down there. Then you need to worry about ear tips getting frost bite, or those delicate parts down below that on many dogs are highly exposed. Shelter and some sort of blanket is a must on such days.

Keeping dog paws dry is important. Wet slushy days can quickly turn into ice balls forming between the dogs pads making it impossible to walk. Besides, who would want to walk around with wet feet in the winter. New rubber booties like “Pawz” available at many of the pet stores work wonders, and are relatively inexpensive.

Keep an eye on your pup during the set-up phase of the day. Nothing dogs like more than to mark territory, and for some strange reason this includes the sleds and gear of your buddies. Trust me when I say your pup’s attention to detail is never received with the same pack mentality spirit in which it’s offered.

Amazingly enough, some dogs just have the knack of stepping into ice fishing holes. Front entry portable ice shelters are particularly troublesome in this regard as they present twice as many chances for our 4-legged friends to soak a paw. The new side entry shelters from Frabill reduce the odds of paws dunking considerably. Their generous size also offer cozy corners where blankets can be spread and dogs can take a break from the wind and cold. Just try to maintain some separation between the pup’s tail and the heater. Amazingly enough, dogs don’t seem to have the capacity to register the smell of their own fur on fire.

Dog’s with solid think coats of fur have an advantage. My pup is a mix between a Lab and a Burnese Mountain Dog, so not only is he fine with water in summer, but he’s got enough coverage on him all-round in winter to withstand the coldest temps. All that fur goes the way of the Dodo Bird every spring when he gets his first shave of the season down to a quarter inch.

Have fun, but remember, while these friends will give their lives for us they almost never complain when things are going bad for them. Pay attention, use common sense, and take preventative measures like making space inside the shelter and bringing a blanket. Dogs can hear amazingly well and don’t feel the need to see out, which makes them easy company in shelters even when the windows are blacked out.

I’ve enjoyed the company of guide dogs for almost 29 years now, and I wish each one would have lasted my life span. It’s up to each of us to treat our dogs with respect as they grow from pups to adults to seniors, and to make sure their relatively short time with us is both enjoyable and safe. That’s also why I feed my pup food prepared by Eukanuba.

Mega-Cabin on Ice

The Ottawa River is a significant body of water with an even more impressive current. So imagine my surprise when my good friend and area fishing guide Yannick Loranger called me up and asked if I wanted to be his first guest in his brand new 12 x 20 ice shack? “Sure”, I said over the phone all the time thinking, “I hope this thing has an escape hatch in the roof”.

After picking up some super lively minnows from Charlie’s Minnows in Rockland we met up with Yannick outside the biggest fishing shack I’d ever had the pleasure of entering.

Yannick thought of everything. Furnace, stove, lights and even a flat screen TV. Bunks for up to 8 anglers, table and chairs, and four holes in the floor to fish all night.

Well, word soon got out that I was going to inaugurate Yannick’s new cabin and before long I was turning down friends who were suddenly all too eager to “help out”. Even still, we had at least eight guys hanging around and inside that very cool “man cave” that night – just the four of us stayed the night, including Yannick himself.

Late into the night my BlueTipz wireless bite alarm sets off the warning on my smart phone that there was action outside on my Frabill tip-up. Yannick flipped back on the 500 watt spots and out we stumbled into the cold where I was certain I would find a huge pike morroding my 7’ minnow fixed to a single 3/0 EagleClaw j-hook. With everyone gathered around I surprised myself and popped what must have been the hungriest 15” Walleye out of the hole with just the tail of the minnow still visible. Wasn’t hard to get the rest of my minnow back, but that was it for the night. 2:28 a.m. – time to hit the sack.

The next morning Yannick was the first to hit the deck and before long had the generator fired up and the stove going. Smells of bacon and eggs had the rest of us soon rolling out of bed.

I never went far though, having only to put my feet on the floor to start jigging a small Emerald Shiner. I just finished my breakfast, still fishing the entire time, when there was a strong and pulsing sensation at the end of my line. I reeled up to set the hook but it was gone. A quick check to make sure the minnow was still there, and then back down using my Frabill in-line reel and rod combo. Wasn’t long and the fish was back.

The fish felt heavy. I hoped it was one of those monster Walleye’s the Ottawa is known for, but after three good long drag ripping runs, Yannick reached way down and dragged up a very decent 10 lbs Muskie.

Thankfully the Trocar TK150 size #1 drop shot hook was perfectly lodged in the corner of the bruit’s mouth, making extraction simple. Without pause I had her back down the hole where she departed with a swish of her tail.

That was one fun adventure. While Yannick’s cabin may lack somewhat in polish and decor, it sure makes up for it in size and functionality. No doubt, a big hit judging by the number of bookings Yannick is making. It may be a while before the mates and I get back out for a second round of late night ice fishing.

To book your own stay on ice with Yannick Loranger contact:
www.ottawariverfishing.ca
Tel: (613) 419-0565

Talking Tackle Depth Whisperer

This past winter I received an email from one of the founders of Talking Tackle depth Whisperer. This led to our talking by phone and my hearing again a not too uncommon story about the potential benefits of having a talking depth sounder aboard a boat. These guys decided enough talk, and did something about it.

The product they invented is one of the best examples of audio technology being applied to a fish finder that I’ve come across in the past eight years. The voice is pleasant, the controls are simple to understand, and the technology is relatively easy to install. I now use the talker on my HobieCat, Porta-Boat and Ranger fisherman and love it. The nice thing is, so do my fishing buddies.

The technology features:

  • Weather and water resistant
  • Easily mounted nearly anywhere on boat with DUAL-LOCK tape (provided)
  • Cable provided for connection to 12 volt cigarette lighter plug
  • Power-on/processor-active indicator
  • 3.5 mm audio output port for connection to alternative speaker devices
  • Volume adjustable too easy to hear 85 decibel output
  • Verbal output menu selection system
  • Customizable time interval between VERBAL depth announcements
  • Customizable VERBAL Shallow Water Alert and Bottom Structure Alert
  • VERBAL Low Boat Battery Alarm
  • Tracks Bottom up to 450 feet

Yes, you read correctly, this device will even tell you if your cranking battery is starting to run low – how cool is that.

For more information about this technology I strongly suggest you visit their website where you can see and hear it function for yourself.
http://talkingtackledepthwhisperer.com

Anchors up, Lawrence

All Aboard “Fresh Off the Boat”

Lunker Walleye, Bass and One Extraordinary Fish

I first met John and Suzette Chang through our local Walleye league. Not only were they competing together in every event, they led the organization of our club’s yearly kids ice fishing derby. Several years back they took their love of Walleye fishing to the next level with the purchase of a 25-foot fishing boat that they overhauled and renamed, “Fresh off the Boat”. The boat is kept docked on Lake Ontario where the couple along with a partner offer daily charters. When my family received an invitation to join John and Suzette for a day of trolling for Walleye, we jumped at the chance.

We were hardly out of the marina before Suzette took over the wheel and John began running out planerboards – three on each side. We were trolling cranks over water that averaged 35-feet in depth. As John predicted, within minutes after he passed out the food he had only just prepared using the boats on-board BBQ, planerboards started to drop back.

My wife and our youngest two kids, aged six and eight, had plenty of fun reeling in 6, 7 and 8 pound Walleyes, with a chunky 4.5 lb Smallmouth caught by my son for good measure. Walleye of this size in most parts of Canada would be older fish well into their productive years, but on Lake Ontario, range in age from three to five years. John and Suzette routinely boat Walleye that push the mid-teens.

The highlight of the day was a drag-ripping call-to-action take on the left inside planer board. John pulled the rod out of the holder and called my name as next up. According to the Tekota’s line counter there was 352 feet of line separating me from the fish.

After an initial short but intense run, the fish stopped dead in the water. Unfortunately, the forward progress of the boat meant Line just kept coming off the reel. To avoid spooling the reel, Suzette had little choice but to take the boat out of gear.

We knew it wasn’t a salmon because the initial run wasn’t that long. John speculated that maybe the crankbait was snagged on bottom, but even through the elastic stretch of the mono I could tell that whatever had my line was alive. Eventually, with gentle pressure and coaxing from my end, the fish slowly turned towards the boat. Over the next 20 minutes I managed to reel about 100 feet of line in – enough for John to remove the planerboard. That still left 250 feet or so of line to go. It was then that the fish showed itself for the first time.

I wasn’t sure what to think when John saw the back of the fish. He was convinced that it was either a Sturgeon or a Musky. Whatever it was, I’m pretty sure the fact that it was hooked to my line hardly registered in its predatory brain. What I did know, based on John’s reaction and my limited ability to move the fish, that it was big.

To keep the other lines from tangling, especially the outside line on the right that was also showing signs of fish-on activity, Suzette put the boat back in gear and began slowly moving forward. Over the next 30 minutes or so I managed to recover another 150-feet of line. This left 100 feet of 10 lb monofilament line separating the monster fish from me and, hopefully, the net.

We still weren’t sure what we would do even if we were able to get the fish to the boat. John was convinced that there was no way he would be able to fit it into his 30-inch hoop landing net. What choice did I have but to continue to carefully take in line when possible, and just hold on when the fish refused to give another inch.

With 60-feet of line still to go, the fish adopted a position directly below the motor. Suzette said she could see the fish on the depth sounder as a steady line. My nine-foot medium-heavy powered trolling rod was bent 180 degrees straight down. It became clear that while the fish was willing to join us for a cruise, it had no intention of coming aboard.

About 50 minutes into the fight, things changed dramatically. The feel at the end of the line became electric as the line started to sweep upwards. John began yelling, “It’s coming up, it’s coming up”. For an instant I thought I was in a re-enactment of the movie Jaws.

The fish made three dramatic leaps behind the boat as it angled to the left and back. It cleared the water by at least four feet. After its third and final display of acrobatic prowess, the line separated and flew back in our faces. The fish was free, or so we thought.

My wife, John and Suzette all had a good look at my fish. The consensus was Musky. A fish known to inhabit the deeper waters of Lake Ontario. John swears it was the biggest fish he had ever seen, and my wife thanked God we didn’t have to bring it into the boat. Much to all of our surprise however, we weren’t through with it yet.

Not 15 seconds after breaking off my line the rod to my right began to scream out line. John, the first to react, surmised the Musky had become hooked on a second rod. He pulled it from the holder and again handed me the rod. What was I to do, but finish the job.

Unfortunately for the Musky it still had the crankbait from my first line in his mouth. One of the hooks must have become wrapped in one of the other lines being trolled behind the boat. Yet again, I was dealing with several hundred feet of 10-pound monofilament line. This time however, the Musky had no intention of joining us on a leisurely stroll, and was instead heading off in a perpendicular direction to our own.

For the next 15 minutes I worked on slowing down its progress. Suzette even altered course to parallel the Musky’s direction. In the end though, it wasn’t enough, and with another strong surge, the Musky cleared itself of the line.

The final departure of such a large Musky from our grasp left us with mixed emotions. We felt bad that such a large fish was now adorned with a crankbait with two treble hooks, although research on this issue tells us that the fish would be free of the bling within three to five days. We also all wanted badly to have landed the Musky, but none of us had any idea of how we would have managed to complete this aspect of the fight. In reality, the best we could have hoped for was a quick and easy hook release with the fish beside the boat. If not a complete release, then Cutting the hooks at best, or worse case scenario, cutting the line. There was no way we had a net anywhere near large enough to fit that fish without causing it significant injury.

I can say here with all honesty that I lost what would have been the largest Musky of my life. Keep in mind this isn’t my estimation, having never actually having placed my hands on the fish to determine through touch alone its actual size. No, I’m going strictly on what others in the boat observed with their own eyes. It was most definitely a musky that everyone saw leap three times behind the boat, with an estimated length that easily exceeded 55 inches.

For me to have experienced such a fish for over an hour on what would arguably constitute tackle that was far too light, was an experience to say the least. Honestly, I doubt the fish even knew it was hooked until it had grown tired of following what it had likely misunderstood to be pray that simply refused to give up the fight. It wasn’t until it tried to spit the bait and couldn’t did it panic resulting in it shooting up to the surface to shake off what it now understood to be a threat.

Some might muse that perhaps I overly tired the fish, but in my defense, the light line and drag setting never did allow me to actively engage the fish in a battle for its freedom. While interesting, in no way could the hour we spent connected to each other by means of first one and then another thin strand of monofilament be considered an epic man versus fish struggle for supremacy. In reality, it was more like the Musky had assumed the role of guide fish for the blind, and had simply joined me for a leisurely stroll.

Later in the day, after being driven off the lake by threat of lightening, I don’t think there was a single one of us who didn’t feel somehow different. Most certainly the hospitality and comradery was top notch and the fishing first rate. However, swimming in each of our consciences was an extremely large Musky that played us more so than we it. We were little more than a play toy to a rather large apex predator. A fish that new most certainly it had nothing to fear. Without exception, we were all left feeling awe inspired and humbled.

 

Renegade Pro-Am

This year’s annual Renegade pro-am bass tournament was held once again on Mississippi Lake in Carlton Place, Ontario, and it was my good fortune to be invited back to fish with one of their amazing professionals. My guest Renegade pro aboard the Ranger 620 was Corey Gaffney, one half of the famed Gaffney brother team that dominated routinely throughout the Renegade tournament series up until Spencer Gaffney’s career progression within the fishing industry transported him to southern Ontario bringing to an end this dynamic dual, for now.

Corey Gaffney started his professional fishing career at the age of 19, and over the next nine seasons he’s proven that he’s more than capable of competing in Ontario’s premier bass series. A competitive hockey enthusiast, Corey grew up fishing Mississippi Lake, which contributed to his second place finish the day prior to the pro-am. Corey and his new partner Trever brought in a bag of five Bass weighing over 18 lbs – three of the Bass tipping the scales at just over 4.5 lb each.

Corey’s Mississippi Lake game plan for our own pro-am competition was to focus on Smallmouth Bass first, and then go looking for a kicker Largemouth to put us over the top. Weather conditions had changed dramatically throughout the night.  Instead of bright sun, we were facing a day of dark clouds, high winds and heavy rain which, you guessed it, was exactly what we experienced up until one hour after the weigh-in concluded.

The 7: a.m. blast-off started with an exhilarating run down the lake at just over 60 mph. We  began by drifting flats of 6-10 feet in depth which had emerging weed growth, a mixture of sand and rock, and 71 degree water temperatures. Corey started off with a top-water bait and, in the interest of trying something different,  I was burning spinnerbaits. As the wind picked up Corey changed over to jerk baits and later a spinner bait as well. All proved effective but, to our surprise, we caught only Largemouth Bass, as well as numerous Northern Pike    in the 3-6 lb range. (If this had been a Pike tournament we would have clinched first prize for sure.)

Even though my Ranger is equipped with driver and bow mounted Lowrance sonar systems, I discovered later that morning that Corey hadn’t bothered to turn either of the HD units on. Upon my pointing out this slight oversight, Corey said he knew the lake more than well enough to run “blind”, although he did regret not having access to his waypoints.  In the end, he didn’t seem to experience any difficulty finding our targets.

Our largest Bass of the day, a 3.5 Largemouth, came on a white / chartreuse double-willow Jackle spinner bait. Hard baits and toads also performed well. With the fish on the move we had little choice but to stick to search baits.

After watching me retrieve my toad, Corey recommended I keep it on the surface where Bass had less opportunity to observe that my bait was an imitation. I pointed out that I had caught Bass in the past fishing toads sub-surface, but Corey felt larger more experienced fish would be less likely to strike a sub-surface toad as they would have more opportunity to reject the bait. He also suggested I could eliminate having to reel quickly to raise the toad to the surface after each cast by stopping the cast just prior to splash-down so that the retrieve could commence instantly. It worked. On my very next cast I caught a decent keeper.

Corey truly has the competitive spirit. I don’t think he stopped fishing once the entire seven hours we were on the boat other than to pilot the Ranger. His work ethic paid off. With ten minutes to go, not only did I catch another Bass that culled, on his last pitch for the day Corey produced our second largest Bass of the day. Not quite the kicker we were looking for, but enough to assure our finishing well into the top half of the field.

Weights of the 25 competitive pro-am teams ranged from 8 lbs all the way up to 16. However, only two fish were caught over 4 lbs, and the vast majority of the bags were between 11 and 13 lbs. everyone caught plenty of fish which meant a lot of smiling faces. A Shimano spinning outfit, $50 gift certificate from a local fishing tackle store called Paddle Tales, a bag full of goodies from Berkley, and a complimentary BBQ all helped broaden those smiles even further. Lowrance Elite sonar systems for the top three amateurs rounded off the prize package. The Renegade pros donated their boats, time and gas, and can take pride in the fact that they introduced 25 new potential tournament fishers to the competitive sport of Bass fishing.

Big thanks to Corey Gaffney for agreeing to join me aboard the Ranger for the day. Even though we got more than wet from the rain, we both enjoyed the stable ride the 620 Fisherman provided – not to mention the more than ample power of the 250 HO Evinrude E-Tec. I’d also like to acknowledge all the Renegade pros, shoreline volunteers and event organizers for putting on another incredible event. And, it goes without saying, having Big Jim on Stage as the MC is certainly an event highlight.

Musky on the Ottawa River

John Anderson 2014 Opener

As a Musky Canada member opening day of Musky season is always a celebratory event. This year was no different. Over 50 Ottawa chapter members showed up. Making the opener especially significant was a surprise call from my friend John Anderson inviting me to join him aboard his boat for the morning fish. John had experienced a rare cancilation – a rare event for his guiding service which is normally booked solid through to October. I graciously accepted with one condition, my regular partner David Mingie join us for the morning.

We pushed off from the Tredwell launch on the Ottawa River just east of the city of Ottawa at around 7:30 on Saturday June 21. Weather was perfect with slight overcat conditions and moderate winds and temperatures. Water temps were in the mid-60 range with reduced visibility – 3-feet and less — common for the Ottawa River. Even though spring was incredibly late weed growth was coming along strong with many weed beds coming within a foot of the river’s surface.

John and I were anxious to try out the new Shimano Compre Musky rods each of us had acquired following their release in late winter 2014. The variety of split and full cork handles with longer telescopic models reaching 9-foot 6-inches in length are light weight, powerful and sensitive. .

We started the morning with a short troll to the mouth of a bay that was on average 6-feet deep. John’s philosophy says that if it’s possible, go for it, and fishing sub-surface baits in waters that will soon be weed-choaked, seem to make sense.

Before long David hooked up on a nice 40” Musky using an in-line spinner while executing a figure eight beside the boat. He missed on a second not long after, which I may have caught shortly there after on our next pass using a jerkbait. John, the ever-respectful guide, first-and-foremost, was standing a mid-ship covering water David and I had already worked over. His suggestions and words of encouragement had there effect though, and we both owe him a big thanks for extending us this very generous offer to spend six hours.

Truck Camping with My New Ford 150 and Four Wheels Hawk

Loading a camper on to the back of a pickup and having the ability to then tow a boat to ones favorite lake opens up an entire new realm of possibilities. Now, instead of contemplating a trip to a distant lake for a day of fishing, knowing full-well there’s going to be two good long drives involved, it’s now possible to stay for that evening bite and catch the early morning bite the next day – sweet!

Guys seem to grasp the opportunities truck campers represent instinctually. Women understand the premise, but would seem to view truck campers as a barrier between their planned household improvements and the man in their life they’ve associated with many of the heavier tasks on the list. However, this doesn’t explain my six-year old son’s fascination with my new Hawk Four Wheel Truck Camper now occupying the 6-foot 6-inch box of our new Ford 150.

Researching the ideal truck camper took some time. Four Wheel Campers isn’t the only manufacturer of pop-up slide-in truck campers, but they certainly produce the lightest ones on the market. Their use of aluminum gives my Hawk model a weight of 1,100 lbs. On the truck the top of the camper is only a mere 10-inches above the roof of my Ford, resulting in only very minor additional wind resistance.

My goal was to avoid having to purchase a ¾ ton pickup or heavier. Gas engines in the heavier rated pickups on the market today offer less than ideal fuel economy, and their diesel counterparts are far over-rated for the job. I don’t need to pull 20,000 lbs, nor do I need to carry 7,000 lbs of weight.

Ford offers two options on their ½ ton line of pickups that clinched the deal for me. First, a heavy payload option that boosted the capacity of an F150 to 2,330 lbs, and two, a heavy duty tow package that gives me 11,300 lbs of towing capability. All this in a half-ton pickup that has as its power-plant the now famous Ford Eco-Boost 6-cylinder engine.

The numbers break down as 1,100 lbs for the camper, 400 lbs for the weight of the tongue of my boat trailer, 204 lbs of fuel, 400 lbs of passengers (2 guys), another 80 lbs of dog, leaving me 146 lbs surplus payload capacity. Fishing gear is in the boat, which weighs about 4,500 lbs including trailer, motor and batteries. Add another 500 lbs of gas and gear in the boat, and the total weight of the trailer still leaves me 6,300 lbs of room to accommodate all the weight being carried in the truck. All said, I still have around 4,000 lbs of left-over towing / hauling capacity. The Ford handles it all beautifully!

Setting up the Hawk camper takes under a minute, Release six clips around the outside, step into the camper and push out the rear and front walls – done.

A double full-length bed over the cab can be extended to queen size, while the comfortable couch down below tumbles into a second double bed in fewer than five seconds, and it’s capable of sleeping people up to 6’5”.

Across from the couch is a fully equipped galley. A 3 cubic-foot fridge / freezer, gas furnace, 2-burner cook stove, stainless steel sink with a 20 gallon fresh water supply, and all manner of storage. The roof came with an electric exhaust fan on the inside, and a set of roof racks on the top capable of easily holding   three kayaks.

Another nice touch was the Arctic Pack that gave an extra interior liner to boost the internal warmth and dampen sound. Ample windows that fully open and a screen door ensure plenty of light and fresh air accesses the interior, while the windows in the rear door and front of the camper provide the driver with a view behind the truck.

Cargo hauling needs are addressed in several basic ways. The Super crew configuration of the truck means with the rear seats flipped up, there’s tons of space for gear and dog. Even with the seats down my dog has more than enough space to stretch out on the floor. I’ve never experienced a pickup with such a large rear seating area before. The floor in the camper can also accommodate plenty of gear and can be fully accessed even with the roof in the lowered position. Finally, The cab-over design means that my fishing rods longer than 6’6” in length have a safe and secure home in the camper by simply resting the butts of the rods behind the couch’s back rest, and their tips on the upper bunk. Rods of up to 10 feet can easily be accommodated.

Altogether this truck / camper package still represents a sizable chunk of space. Manually extending over-sized camper mirrors from Ford on the front doors provide the driver with excellent views behind the truck, and the camper itself only sticks out past the sides of the truck by no more than two inches. It extends past the rear of the truck’s box about the same, which allows the rear step-up bumper of the truck to be used as a step to enter and exit the camper. The hawk came with a separate set of fold-able steps, but these only become necessary when accommodating children.

Designers of the Hawk also allowed for storage of a portable toilet. I admit, that my knowledge of these systems was fairly rudimentary up until recently, giving me many misconceptions of the potential mess and stink portable toilets represent. However, after exploring the many different options for sale at my near-by Sail outdoor store, I began to feel a lot better about meeting the call of nature.

The unit I purchased for around $100 includes a 4.5 gallon water tank in the top half that can be pumped into the bowl of the toilet prior to usage. A very comfortable seat at a more than satisfactory height accommodates even my 6’3” frame. Once one has completed their absolution’s, a simple tug on the release handle sends all bowl contents into the second tank below where it remains sealed off from the rest of the toilet, and more importantly, the general environment. To empty the holding tank one need only separate the top portion from the bottom by disengaging two clasps, and then carry the lower sealed unit to any nearby toilet. Attach the included dump spout to the drain hole after removing the cover, (the spout is cleverly stored in a recessed area in the bottom), open the air valve, and dump. Modern flush toilets will flush automatically as the level in the bowl rises so one need not watch closely the emptying process, but can judge by feel alone when the tank is empty. A swish inside the tank with some fresh water afterwards isn’t a bad idea.

While the hawk offers everything one needs to stay high and dry and out of the bugs, bringing along some camp chairs and a kitchen tent isn’t a bad idea when contemplating longer than quick over-night stays. In my case however, it’s more important to be able to break camp and get on with launching the boat in as short a time as possible. It means more time in the morning to take advantage of that early morning bite on the water, instead of spending valuable time rolling up tents and storing gear. The roof of my Hawk can be lowered and stowed in less than a minute, and one need not even store the bedding.

So far I’ve had about a half-dozen people back my boat down boat launches, and no one seems to mind the camper. I ask, but they all recognize that once you’re behind the wheel you can’t really see the camper, so it doesn’t factor into the reversing process. The hawk’s light weight also means it poses no potential threat to the Ford to become mired in the soft bottom of un-paved launches. Four wheel drive helps keep everything well in hand too.

Fishing and now camping alongside my favorite lakes and rivers has made it possible for me to develop an even stronger personal bond with nature. Listening to the sounds of birds, frogs and other wildlife while safely tucked away inside my Hawk is a great way to relax, and means I’m in a far better frame of mind when I start off each day in the boat compared to my usual feelings of fatigue and anxiousness to get started fishing when I arrive at the launch after a long drive in the morning. It really has made a big difference in my mental preparedness on tournament days.