The all new, Montreal Bassmasters club kicked off the season with their fist event in a series of 3 tournaments plus a Classic on the Richelieu River out of St-Paul-de-l'Ile-aux-Noix this past Sunday. The river has long been a favourite of mine to fish due to its close proximity and more importantly, its abundant numbers of big largemouth bass. Well, that is until recently...
For the last 2 seasons, the Richelieu River and Lake Champlain for that matter have experienced much higher than normal water levels in the early season. This has had a major impact on the development of aquatic vegetation in the early summer. So much in fact, that I believe it has played a major role in the decline of bigger sized bass. Simply put, no weeds means no cover for baitfish which leads to no bass. On a river system that is normally rich in deep weedlines, milfoil patches, matted vegetation, bullrushes and stickgrass, high water levels decrease the amount of light penetration in the water therefore stunting its growth and in some cases, stopping it. If I compare the quality and the quantity of the fishing from 2010, the difference is tremendous. The proof is in the pudding. Only 15 or so pounds to win the event. 2 years ago I weighed a 19.95lb bag and only came in 3rd!
As for the fishing, we targeted both species to be safe. Smallies definitely seemed to be the more stable bite as we found them roaming rocky flats on the main river in 4-8ft of water. Many were still relating to nests as the water temps during practice hovered around 68-69 degrees. A combination of tiny soft plastic swimbaits like the new Berkley Havoc Grasspig Jr. swam on Revenge 1/8oz Fish Hedz and 3/8oz tubes were the ticket. For the largies, wacky rigged Havoc Flat Dawgs in black and blue pitched into dark water at the back of canals tricked some bucketmouths to the boat.
This event proved to be a battle of ounces as the post-spawn conditions proved challenging for the entire field. My highly detailed Navionics charts really helped us find the right stretch of water for this one and Vigor Eyewear polarized lenses made it possible to target and sight-fish all tournament long. Ended up in 7th place overall with a modest bag of 12.57lbs.
Next stop is Lake St-Louis, where I've steadily gained more confidence in the past few years by putting in the hours. Might very possibly be another mixed-bag strategy as the hunt for the bigger than 3lb fish will be the deal-breaker!
For more info or to join Quebec's only B.A.S.S. club, check them out at www.MontrealBassmasters.com
It's always a special challenge when tournament organizers decide on producing events on bass season opening weekend. The Econobass series on the other hand, takes it one step further by not allowing any pre-fishing the week of the event. So with no practice and no indications as to how the water conditions were, my partner Max and I had to rely solely on previous experience and good old fashioned gut instinct. The result? A 13th place overall finish out of an impressive 65x team field with a modest 12lb limit. For the record, the tourney was won with only 16lbs.
Overall, the conditions were very tough. Water levels are significantly higher than previous years resulting in very little grass growth and potentially expanded areas where fish may be hiding. Furthermore, the water colour was much more stained than usual and a full field of 65 boats on a relatively small body of water such as the Richelieu made for some pretty cozy shoulder to shoulder fishing. So how did we attack this conundrum?
Max and I knew that the fish would most likely be in a post-spawn state with very few fish still on beds. We were also pretty confident that the obvious area that most anglers would target would be the canals in the St-Paul area. We felt that the better fish, that is the females, would most likely be looking for a resting zone, somewhere they could set up for a week or two to recharge after spawning. So we targeted main channel cover with the warmest water temp we could find. Fish ended up being really scattered and not very schooled up. In fact, we only had 7 bites throughout the entire day! We casted towards any visible cover or isolated structures we could find with Berkley Havoc Pit Bosses in June Bug colour. I had soaked them the night before in some Gulp craw spray hoping to enhance the presentation. With the water stained, I felt that the dark June Bug colour would provide a nice silhouette contrast and the action from the 4 appendages would really entice the fish into biting. Pitched it on a 7' 3" Heavy action Abu Garcia Villain series microguide equipped rod matched with a Revo STX and 25lb Trilene 100% Fluorocarbon line. Finished the rig with a pegged Ultra Tungsten 3/4oz bullet and a 4/0 EWG hook.
This event also marked the first time my new Mercury powered Ranger 520c courtesy of Groupe Thomas Marine participated in a tourney and I must say, she performed famously. Her jumbo livewells kept the fish healthy and the precise boat control provided by the Motorguide Tour trolling motor and twin Power-Pole Blades made all the difference in boat positioning in the wind.
Next stop: The Lions de Lafaivre bass open on the Ottawa River with good pal Jonathan Belanger. The strategy: We have none! Time to freestyle it and swing for the fences once again...stay tuned!
It was the event of the season. The one big tourney that I had been anxiously waiting for all winter long. A shot at the big leagues against some of the top sticks on one of my favourite bodies of water. FLW on Lake Champlain. I had signed up as a boater for this one and considering the registration fee was a hefty $1,000, it's safe to say there was a lot riding on this one to perform. So, with several days set aside for a serious pre-fish, I was pumped and ready to hit Champlain with everything I had.
About 2 months before the event, I received a Facebook message from a young gentleman whom I had briefly spoken with from his Woodoo Customs jersey order. His name was Patrick Zajdel, a 17 year old up and comer from Burlington, Ontario that I had noticed was making some waves in the scene this year. "Ben, I've signed up as a co-angler for the FLW event and was wondering if we could hook up? I would love to partner up with you for pre-tournament practice etc..." A 17 year old kid from Toronto signs up for the FLW?? Thoroughly impressed with his bold determination, I accepted his offer took Patrick on as my partner in crime for the week.
Patrick showed up by train on Sunday evening and on Monday morning, we were crossing the Quebec/NY border, Lake Champlain bound.
Day one of pre-fish was a very successful one. We targeted mainly largemouth bass in the Mississquoi area, finding big schools of feeding fish on shallow 2-4ft hard bottom flats with sparse weed patches. 3lb plus largies smoked California coloured Havoc Grasspigs one after the next, the action was absolutely insane. To boot, the area that I had found was vast and not just a little microspot that could easily get fished out. Spent the rest of the day marking smaller, less obvious spots that I would tuck away and use only if necessary come tournament day.
On Day two we decided to focus exclusively on smallmouth, exploring areas such as Alburg Passage and the Inland Seas. We targeted mostly main lake points with sandy, rocky bottom and looked for offshore reefs and weedlines as well. The bigger fish certainly appreciated some good cover adjacent to deeper so we tricked them into biting on dropshot rigs and wacky-rigged stickworms.
Sometimes when things are going just too well, it's a sign of rainier days to come. Now we didn't get hit with any rain, but rather a massive cold front! All week along nights were a warm 18 degrees and days 30 degree plus. Well wouldn't you know it, but the very night before the tourney, the temperature would plummet into the single digits, a freezing 7 degrees!
While waiting for my turn to blast-off, the brisk chill in the air already started getting me nervous. There was simply no way that a cold front as serious as this would not negatively affect my fish, especially the largies. I finally get to my spot and are content to see that I am the only one on it. "Yes" I thought to myself, I have the entire zone to myself to really hunker down and pick apart properly . Well to my disappointment not only had all the fish vanished, but a huge school of Northern Pike had moved in! It seems that the cold front had pushed the largies off the spot.
It was time to go to plan "B", good old reliable smallmouth. Surely the coldfront would have less of an effect on the smalljaws on the main lake. Yep, you guessed it, I was wrong again. My first area that was a large main rocky point had nothing but sub one pound bass on it. I can honestly say that I have never ever caught such small bass on Champlain. It was absolutely ridiculous. I quickly moved on to the offshore reefs that produced so well in practice. The first pitch and tick tick..boom! A 4 pound plus smallie to reward for the dreadful day I've been having! And that's where the good news stops. Every bite after that resulted in microbass measuring 6-10" long. What the heck happened to all the fish??
Surprisingly, I still managed to get a limit together and headed to the scales. Day one ended with a very difficult 9lb bag.
After a long sleepless night, I woke up and made the big decision that I would make the big run and head down to Ticonderoga in search of some warm water bucketmouths. Now why would I even bother making the big trip south, spend at least $200 in gas to fish an area that I didn't even practice in pre-fish? Let's just say that without a chance in hell of making the day 3 cut and extremely frustrated by seeing big bags of bass being brought in from Ti, I had absolutely nothing to lose and everything to gain by learning what the fuss was all about down south. I have fished the Ticonderoga area before but had never actually made the run on water from Plattsburgh to Ti.
The run took about 1.25 hours going 55mph with near perfect lake conditions. Upon arrival, bass boats lined almost every bay and shoreline. Everywhere I looked there was a bass boat. One point actually had 7 boats on it! Big names like JT Kenney, Dave Lefebvre and others could be seen doing their thing. Suffice to say, it was an absolute spectacle. I took advantage of the situation and drove around trying to understand what the bite was. I can now tell you with conviction that Ticonderoga will most certainly be an area that I will be focussing on when it comes to FLW tournaments on Lake Champlain moving forward. So much good water, soo many big piggies. No wonder guys make the run...
I ended up bring another 9 pound bag to the scale at the end of Day 2. More importantly however, I just accumulated a precious and priceless fishing lesson. Although this event may not have the numbers that I was anticipating on producing, at least I can say I made it into an incredible learning experience that has changed my outlook on fishing Lake Champlain. I stuck around for Day 3 and volunteered my time to be a boater for the FLW College Fishing event. I hooked up with 2 great kids from West Virginia and had a great time driving them around and making new fishing friends. Lake Champlain, I will have my vengeance one day. That day will be sooner than later.
When it rains, it storms. The Ottawa River is known for its lush cover and abundant vegetation that just screams largemouth bass. But it's also the one body of water that has been known to produce more skunks than any other in the region. In other words, 5 bites may be all you get during the course of the day. So when it comes to a tournament for 5 bass, one simply cannot afford to miss or lose a fish. Unfortunately, I can now attest to this statement.
Day 1 of practice I invited Berkley B1 marshall, Aaron Cohen out with me to scope out some fresh water. I decided to focus on an area that has historically produced winning bags known as Locharbor Bay. This shallow, weedy is known for its above average frog fishing and some seriously heavy piggies. I have not spent a tremendous amount of time in this part of the river so I thought this could be a great opportunity to explore.
On Day 2 of practice I invited long time fishing pal Jon Belanger out with me to pick apart some cover in hopes of discovering new areas that could produce some decent keepers. This time, we focussed our efforts on more of the outside terrain. Weedlines, isolated reefs, islands and channels. The day proved to be much more promising as we found some decent bites including a backup smallmouth pattern that we would keep in our back pocket.
What's interesting to note is that we actually decided to split up to cover even more water. Benji spent the day covering more inside bays and found some nice fish hanging around isolated patches. Together, we put together what seemed to be a pretty solid gameplan heading into the tourney. Our expectations were 17-19 lbs based on our pre-fish, probably a mixed bag to boot.
Here comes the tragic news. As per our plan, we roll up to our first zone and start picking it apart. Water levels seemed noticeably lower than during practice. One hour later, no bites and the temperature already at 35 degrees and its only 8am. We make a quick adjustment and back off a little bit and then we spot her. A gorgeous 4-5lb largie cruising the area! We throw a jig to her and she immediately scoots off. I quickly reach for my wacky rig and cast it beyond the direction we saw her headed. Tick...and I set the hook! She jumps out of the water and her fat belly can barely wiggle past the surface. I try my best to maintain control with my finesse lightweight outfit but it's no use, she turns and dives head first into the thick heavy cover and my line breaks....Fish #1 lost.
We continue with our plan for the next 3 hours with no avail. Our fish seemed to have moved and nothing we're doing can get them to go. At 11am we make a drastic move and go to plan B, smallies. During practice, I found a nice strip of docks on the main channel that were holding some quality smallouth. No nickels but definitely several 3-4 pounders that were highly territorial and would attack a jig if placed properly under its dock.
Using a pegged, 3/8 oz Ultra Tungsten bullet weight with a Berkley Havoc Pit Boss in Vampire Orange, I casted the perfect pitch into the darkest deepest part of the dock. Sure enough, it was there, a 3.5lb smalljaw that would come flying out from the dock! As it lands, it turns back into the pocket it came from and somehow manages to get itself wrapped around one of the chains that hold the dock in place. After 5 minutes of trying desperately to get it out, she comes unpinned. Fish #2 lost.
Now more frustrated than ever, we move to the next dock. Again, I pitch right into the sweet spot and tick...I hookset like a bat out of hell and up comes another 3lb plus bronzeback. This time, it decides to be an extreme acrobat and lunges 2 feet into the air and guess what...wait for it...spits my hook right back at me....Fish #3 lost.
We ended up weighing in a disappointing 12lbs knowing full well that we had actually hooked a 17lb+ bag. And with the lower weights being brought to the scale that day, this could have potentially been a top 5 finish. But hey, that's fishing, especially in tournament situations. I am proud however that we never at any moment ever gave up and stopped fishing. Did losing those fish bother me? More than you can imagine. If fishing was always easy and predictable, where would be the challenge?
Not everything went sour that day however. Back at the dock, I was greeted by a group of kids that were really excited to meet me and check out my new Charger boat. Rockstars may have "groupies", but I've got the coolest "Woopies" around! The next Renegade event is on one of my favourite bodies of water: Lake St-Francis. Benji and I have no choice but to perform at this upcoming 2 day event if we are to have a shot at qualifying for the classic this September.
When you're fishing a major tournament, any tournament, there's always pressure to perform. Money and reputations are on the line, pride is also always playing a slight role as well. After having fished two different events in far away lands, it was definitely nice to get a chance to compete on a body of water that I am much more familiar with...the Richelieu River. It was the Pro Bass Canada Open and this time I partnered up with good pal and river rat, Dobyn's Rods Pro Dennis Fontaine. Dennis and I have been fishing both the Richilieu and Lake Champlain for that matter together for quite a few years now. I knew that I had the right partner from the get go.
With my busy tournament schedule, we ended up only dedicating one day to prefishing, and a week before the tourney to boot!
Our initial pattern we developed was punching thick main river matts with 1.5oz Ultra Tungsten bullet weights and Havoc Smash Tubes. We even found a couple shallow grass clumps that were holding some decent fish. As you can see from the photo above, we ended the day with confidence, feeling pretty good about what we found and ready for the following weekend.
To our disappointment, absolutely none of our patterns were working. By 10am we had yet to catch a keeper and panic started to kick in. Do we continue on our path or do we call it and make a drastic change in the gameplan? After much thought and comparing views, we quickly decided to try something different. We had noticed that the water levels were certainly lower than the week previous and who knows? Maybe the areas we had found that were holding fish may have been pounded pretty hard by other teams during the week. This is the reality of tournament fishing. The only thing that you can truly concern yourself with are those variables that you actually have control over. In this particular case, what we were going to do next. Believe it or not, we went back to basics and starting hitting up some docks that we suspected may be holding a fish or two. To our surprise, almost each and every dock we hit produced fish! A 4 and then a 4.5...and then even a nickel! Yep, we were onto something and the timing couldn't have been any better.
We threw compact baits such as the Berkley Havoc Pit Boss, designed by Skeet Reese in June Bug colour. Most of the docks had stained water under them so we wanted to make sure to throw a dark colour. Pegged to 1/2oz Ultra Tungsten and the combo was just on fire.
At the end of the day, we went to scale with our best 5 weighing in a decent 19.95lbs anchored by a 5.05lb lunker. Good enough for 4th place overall and a cheque. I can honestly say that I had an absolute blast fishing this one and can't wait to do it all over again. Thanks Dennis for another awesome time on the water. Lesson learned? Never be too stubborn when it comes to fishing. Always pay attention to change and be open to change it up, even when it may be in your own backyard. Next stop: Ottawa River for Renegade Bass Q2.
I'm fishing arguably the most elite bass fishing series in the country, Renegade Bass, with long time pal and partner Daniel Benjafield. We'll be up against some of the top touring Canadian pros including Izumi, Desforges and Chong to name a few and we're hitting up some lakes we've never been on before. Our adventure started on Lake Mississippi, Ontario, a small /medium sized shallow lake located about 45 minutes west of Ottawa loaded with 2-3lb largemouth and smallmouth bass. We put in 2 days of prefish total and struggled to find any size. Although we did manage to boat a few decent 3lb+, they were one-offs that were caught in very random locations, this made it that much more challenging to put together an actual pattern. Wind also played a key role in the fishing. The lake was getting blasted with south winds of 35-45K almost every day, including the day of the tournament.
Ultimately, we ended up settling on 2 main patterns for the event: shallow weed clumps in the north end of largies, deep offshore weedline in the south end for smallies. Our pattern held up as we successfully boated largie after largie, all coming from Berkley Havoc Smash Tubes flipped pegged to a 1/2oz Ultra Tungsten bullet weight. We even scored a nice 3.2lb "lunker" to boot! Although we did take some time to check out our smallie deal, we were disappointed when we arrived and found 3 other boats doing exactly what we wanted to do on exactly the same spot. Oh well, I guess we had found a community hole...ooops!
All in all, we went to the scale with a very modest 11lbs even, putting us in 50th position in the standings. Our overall goal is to make the cut for the Classic which means we'll need to finish in the top 40 teams by Q5. Next stop is Ottawa River for Q2, we'll definitely need to play a little catch up and hook into some pig largies that we know live there.
After a promising 2-day prefish, Magog pulls the ol' 180 and puzzles me once again. Plagued with 2 pounder after 2 pounder, getting the big bite on tourney day proved challenging.
I had the opportunity to partner up with Denny Andrade, not only a great buddy but also a fantastic smallie fisherman. We decided to invest into a solid two days of practice. Last year, I finished 5th with Scott Nagy with a weight of 15+lbs. Needless to say, my confidence was pretty high going in.
Unfortunately, our strategy that we devised from pre-fish didn't quite pan out as anticipated. On the morning of the tournament, a drastic change in conditions would change the mood and positioning of our fish. 40km/hr winds from the south along with a 9 degree temperature drop would seriously affect our pattern. Although we may have had a limit by 11am, we would spend the next 4.5hrs unsuccessfully trying to cull our smallest fish, a dinky 1lb 15oz smallie. Frustrating indeed.
All in all, I spent an incredible 3 days on the water with one of the best smallie fisherman I know, got a serious farmer tan and burnt some serious gas. But, there is still a lesson learned. When it comes to a body of water that is heavily populated with small sized fish, better to have numerous "B" spots than only a few "A" spots. A really do feel that this strategy will put the most chances in your corner. Next stop: Renegade Q1 - Lake Mississippi, On.
My good pal Maxime Chabot has been bugging me to fish a Pike event with him for years and this year it finally happened. Max has started to build a solid reputation for being quite the multi-species type angler so I knew that I'd be in good company. This was my first ever Pike tourney but I can honestly say that I was surprised at how pumped I was for it. It being the Fishin-Canada.net Big Pike Challenge on Lake Champlain out of Venise-en-Quebec.
We decided to dedicate one day only to pre-fishing to see if we could figure out how the Pike were holding, especially the big ones. To my surprise, it turns out that patterning pike is not much different from that of Bass. As we had suspected, with the lower water levels this season, along with he earlier than usual mild spring weather, offshore reefs would prove to have abundant vegetation on them. Therefore, these areas would attract greater populations of bait fish. We focussed on the deeper edges of such structures and found big toothy critters hanging out ready to smack the right presentation. On this particular day, that presentation came in the form of one of two things. A bright coloured lipless crankbait and a texas-rigged Berkley Havoc Grasspig swimbait.
On the day of the tourney, the gameplan came together beautifully. Over 100x Pike boated with our best 3 measuring a total length of 111 inches. Good enough for first place as well as the result of one of the best Pike fishing experiences ever! Big shout out to Fishin-Canada.net for putting on yet another awesome Ripple. Thanks to all that came out for the event, Max for the incredible 2 days on the water and good pal Daniel Benjafield for lending me his boat to fish the event. Water temps read 69 degrees on the main lake with bright sunny skies and a light 10k wind from the west. Next stop: Lake Memphremagog for the Pro Bass Open with great pal, Denny Andrade.
For more info on Ripple events put on by Fishin-Canada.net, click HERE
Finally, the first official tourney of the year! And, my first ever walleye event. The 2012 Bay of Quinte Walleye Open got me amped to get the season started in a big way. So I packed up and headed westbound on the 401 to hook up with walleye pro Sheldon Hatch and Berkley Marketing Manager, Chris Hockley for a weekend of walleye action. The following is a video log of how this memorable adventure unfolded...
The recent string of steady weather has certainly stabilized conditions on Lake Champlain. Water temps are on the rise and the nights are getting warmer. The weeds are starting to grow and the shallows are getting more and more inhabited by baitfish, panfish and of course...predators.
On Mother's Day weekend, my good pal Benji was celebrating his birthday and asked me to join him for some birthday bassin'! We decided to attack the lake with a slightly different approach this time around. We pulled out the map and worked out a path of areas that we have yet to explore at this time of year. We targeted mostly bays that appeared sheltered and could potentially attract bass on the move towards the spawn. Water temps were in the high 50's(57-59 degrees), overcast skies and a consistant 10-15k wind from the west.
The cloud cover certainly made it very challenging to sightfish or even see into the water to identify weed growth, cover or otherwise. We spent most of our time fancasting crankbaits, spinnerbaits and swimbaits. One bait that produced some decent bites on this particular day was a weedless swimbait in the form of a Berkley Havoc Grasspig designed by bass-pro Bobby Lane. I used it to cover water in these vast weedy shallow bays and it managed to trick some thick females into biting. The second presentation that produced was a basic 1/2oz black and blue jig with a Chigger Craw as a trailer pitched to visible cover in these weedy bays such as wood or weed clumps.
Overall, we managed to boat about 24 bass, best 5 going about 19lbs. No nickels but we did have 3 fish over 4lbs. Although I am sure that we could have probably posted some better numbers if we hunkered down and really focussed on productive areas, I am content in the fact that we stuck to a plan and put in the time exploring new water and environments. Hopefully this homework leads to a better understanding of the lake that can help me out later this summer as I prep for the FLW Everstart event in July.