It’s hard to believe the open water fishing season is still at least a couple weeks away for most lakes across the region. Typically by early May we’re able to launch the boat and start fishing for lake trout, pike, crappie and bass. After a long winter, everybody is eager to get back in the boat and have some fun.
While there are no bass tournaments in NW Ontario until July 1 — because we essentially have a catch and release only season until then — the smallmouth fishing the first couple of weeks following ice out is excellent. Fish are active and grouped up before they spread out to spawn later in the spring. It’s a great time to get on the water and try some of the new baits and techniques we might have picked up over the winter.
For all bass tournament anglers across the region it’s an exciting time of year. We are lucky to have some of the best tournaments in North America in terms of participation, paybacks, and the quality of bass fishing that we have. The unique aspect of the tournament culture in our area is that we have mostly community-run events that are run by volunteers, most of which have 100 per cent payouts. We’re lucky.
It sounds like most of the bass tournaments across the region are status quo for 2022, meaning they are happening on their usual weekends and there haven’t been any notable changes. Last week there were some changes announced for the annual Kenora Bass International, heading into its 35th year.
New boundaries put in place by tournament organizers at the south end of Lake of the Woods will have some influence on the results moving forward. Anglers will no longer be permitted to fish south of the 49th parallel, a line running east to west south of Bigsby Island from the main land to the U.S. border. The intent of this rule was to make the Rainy River off limits for anglers. Tournament anglers are not allowed to enter U.S. waters either.
Over the past decade the tournament has been won a number of times by anglers running 70-plus miles to fish in the Rainy River at the south end of the lake. It’s unfortunate this rule has to be implemented but it is for the betterment of the tournament. It’s become apparent that a different class of smallmouth bass reside in that part of the Lake of the Woods system and the rest of the lake can’t really compete with the fish being brought back to Kenora from down there. I understand the rule change is kind of a punishment for the anglers who have discovered this area and made the big boat ride to catch those fish, but there has been a growing sentiment from many teams over the past five or six years that they don’t want to fish the tournament anymore if the Rainy River is going to be part of the KBI. The rest of the lake simply can’t compete with the quality of fish there, so this will make for a more exciting event.
All tournament competitors need to understand the KBI is a volunteer-run event and none of the tournament organizers are getting paid to run one of the best open bass tournaments in North America. At last year’s tournament, there were numerous issues that arose with anglers fishing in the Rainy River area, including late night phone calls to tournament directors to complain about other anglers and even a couple of anglers having an altercation on the docks. At the end of the day, these were issues that the volunteers should not have had to deal with.
The reality is, with gas prices now, it’s a $400-500 trip each day from Kenora to Rainy River and back to fish there — it’s significant. For some teams, that isn’t a consideration, but for most, it’s unrealistic to make that commitment. There are safety considerations that tournament organizers have to acknowledge with teams running that far and they don’t really have any way of policing what is going on down there. So the decision was made to remove that extreme south end of the lake from the tournament boundaries.
Another rule change for 2022 involves the anglers Code of Conduct. Any angler who shows aggression or uses inappropriate language towards tournament officials or other anglers will have their day’s weight disqualified. This extends to social media as well. It’s a great rule because none of the volunteers that make the tournament happen deserve to be treated poorly by any of the anglers for any reason. There will be zero tolerance, which is good. Hopefully it’s not something that will ever have to be addressed moving forward.
Big thanks to volunteers of the KBI and all of the fishing tournaments across sunset country for giving those of us who enjoy fishing competitively some great events to fish.