Great day on the Rainy Lake

In the summer of 2000, I got a phone call in mid-July from then tournament organizer Doug Cain, that I had a spot in the Fort Frances Canadian Bass Championship if I wanted it. The call happened only about a week before the tournament and I had never been on Rainy Lake before but at that time the tournament was very hard to break into, with over 100 people on a waiting list for several years in a row.

My friend Pat James, who worked with my Dad at the time, offered a truck and I had a boat so we went for it. We finished in the money that first year, had a great time and were hooked on Rainy Lake after that.

Since that first tournament, I’ve been fortunate to have never missed the FFCBC. I feel like I say it on the stage every year but some of my best fishing and summer memories have happened during the week I get to spend in Fort Frances, at Rainy Lake, in July every year. I’ve made a lot of good friends over the years and I have a soft spot for the lake.

Jeff Gustafson with his biggest Sunset Country smallmouth, coming in at six pounds, caught last week on Rainy Lake. 

Last week, I got to meet some old friends from Minnesota for a day of fishing on Rainy. When I was younger, I got to fish the lake a few times in the fall and I fished the Labelle’s Fall Classic for the first six or seven years of its existence but in the past decade I had not fished Rainy in the fall. When I got the chance to go last week, I jumped on it.

For some reason, maybe it’s because it’s a little bit farther south or maybe it’s because it gets significantly less pressure, but the smallmouth bass in Rainy Lake just get a little bit bigger than they do in Lake of the Woods. It’s always been that way. On the drive down last week I was excited at the realistic shot at a five-pound smallmouth, which we really don’t see many of on the Woods.

We launched the boat to ideal fall fishing conditions, with light winds and a nice warm sun shining down on us. I choose an area of the lake that I had never fished in the fall but had a bit of experience in during the summer months. We used the map on my Humminbird unit to choose some traditional fall bass locations, humps and points, close to deep water.

The first couple of stops produced a few bass but no large schools. Once we get into October, there will be some spots that hold larger congregations of smallmouths, so that’s what we wanted to find.

The third spot that we looked at was a long point and near the tip of it in 22-24 feet of water, I noticed a bunch of arches on my sonar screen, indicating fish under the boat. We stopped, dropped baits over the side of the boat and immediately started catching smallmouths. These fish acted like they had never seen a lure before, often biting before our baits hit the bottom.

After catching a few fish, I set the hook on a nice bite and immediately knew that I had hooked something different. There are a lot of nice walleye and pike in Rainy, so sometimes when you hook a big fish you really never know what you’re going to reel in but this fish started to move towards the surface, the sure sign of a bass coming up to jump.

When the fish finally broke the surface, I told the guys that I had a nice smallmouth. When the fish got closer to the boat and I reached down to grab it, it was noticeably bigger than any of the others we had caught and when it was finally in the boat, I reached for my scale because it was a legit trophy fish. It pulled my scale to within an ounce of six pounds, making it the biggest smallmouth I had ever caught in Northwest Ontario. I have caught some bigger ones on the Great Lakes, where the combination of invasive zebra mussels and round gobies have created the perfect storm for sight-feeding smallmouths to grow extremely large but this fish was about as big as they get in our part of the world.

We took a few photos and released the beautiful fish. The rest of the day was great. We found a few other spots that had schools of fish on them and ended up catching several over four pounds. We also ran into a couple nice groups of crappies, plenty of walleye and a few big pike. The dream day of fall fishing.

Sadly, we’re running out nice days here in Sunset Country but if you get another chance or two to get out in the boat, take advantage of it, another long winter is coming.