Big water boating

While we have big water here in northwestern Ontario, we’re lucky that we can usually always still find a place to fish, regardless of the wind direction or how hard it’s blowing. On most of our larger lakes like Lake of the Woods, Rainy Lake and Wabigoon, there are some big stretches, but for the most part we can usually hide out and get out to do some fishing.
Having spent quite a bit of time on the Great Lakes because of my travels through tournament fishing, we don’t really ever face wind conditions where the waves get huge in northwestern Ontario, outside of the random event where we get a crazy summer storm. Don’t get me wrong, we certainly experience some tough conditions on windy days, but we don’t see waves so big that when you are next to another boat and they go down in the waves, you lose sight of them for a few seconds. Been there a few times in the past on Lake Michigan.
One of the roughest days I can remember close to home was on the final day of the 2013 Fort Frances Canadian Bass Championship. My partner John Peterson and I had come close to winning the tournament several times and on that day I think we left the dock in fourth place. We ended up having an amazing final day in a protected bay way up the lake and didn’t really realize how rough the lake was. Fortunately we had caught our fish and left with some time to get back figuring it would be a little bit rougher than usual. When we hit the first big stretch we realized it was much rougher than we had thought.
John’s brother and nephew were fishing the tournament as well and we ran into them as they were getting ready to head back to the docks. We slowed down and yelled for them to follow us and that we would drive back together. They ended up spearing a wave shortly after, filling up their bass boat with water. When we got back to Sand Bay, the final stretch before the check in, that was one of the roughest stretches I can remember in a long time. We had time and didn’t have to rush it so I coasted my 20 foot Lund boat along and we made it.
I can remember getting into the docks and seeing all kinds of broken stuff on other team’s boats. Trolling motors missing, I remember one boat had a Talon broken off and another nearly lost their motor. It was the windiest day of the summer and Rainy Lake was not a pleasant place to be.
A couple years later, I took my Dad out to Lake Michigan for a smallmouth tournament. We were on our way to Alabama for an FLW Tour event that he was traveling with me to and it worked out that we could fish a one day tournament on our way. We had fun practicing for a few days and had a good boat number in the tournament. It took us about an hour to get to where we wanted to go, which would have been a twenty minute ride usually but we made it. The fish moved and by lunch time we had only caught one or two bass. We attempted to try and head back towards the check in area but it was brutally rough. Legit six foot plus waves. This was one of the times I can remember being next to another boat and actually losing sight of it when we went down in the waves.
Fortunately there was a boat ramp in the bay we were fishing in so we turned around and went to the ramp. We ran into a few other competitors who decided to do the same thing. Someone knew somebody to come and pick us up and drive us by land back to the tournament site to get our vehicles. We loaded up the boat and hit the road for Alabama to cut our losses. It’s the only tournament I’ve ever missed checking in for the end of the day. We could have limped our way back but it would have been unsafe and hard on my equipment.
Even as recently as a few years ago, most tournament organizers would send boats out in all but extreme conditions but today the new standard calls for cancelling tournament days if there is a small craft warning, which usually means that winds are sustained at over 25 KM per hour. It’s a good rule.
We kind of ran out of room here telling old stories so we’ll focus on tips for driving a boat in big water in an upcoming column.
The weather looks fantastic across Sunset Country all week so I hope you are able to get out there and have some fun on the water.