KBI blasting off this week

After a couple of weeks on the road it’s been nice to be back home to enjoy some of our beautiful summer weather. I had been on the water, in my boat, around 90 of the past 100 days so I’m enjoying some downtime from fishing this week, spending time with the family and taking advantage of a great crop of wild blueberries this year.

Normally, I would be fishing my butt off this week in preparation for the annual Kenora Bass International tournament on Lake of the Woods but sadly, I am missing the tournament this year. My last two Bassmaster Elite Series tournaments of the season are taking place over the next two weeks out in New York at Lake Champlain and the St. Lawrence River and it’s just too far to get our there in time for the start of the practice period if I were to fish the KBI. We’re going to a couple of great smallmouth fisheries that I’m really excited for so I don’t want to show up out there already worn out.

My plan is help out around the KBI the first couple of days and be involved however I can before hitting the road. The story has been told many times but for me, the KBI was where I got my start fishing competitively. When I was ten years old, my Christmas present was an entry for my dad and I to fish the tournament together. It was all I wanted to do and we did it. It took us a few years to start getting competitive, but we spent a lot of time on the lake and learned as we went along.

When I started fishing the tournament back in the ’90s, the fields were huge, with over 200 teams fishing some years. A lot of American teams would come and fish the tournament, treating the week at Lake of the Woods like a vacation. As time has gone on, local anglers have become very good bass anglers and it became difficult for many of the non-resident teams to finish in the money in the tournament. I feel like that is one of the reasons for fewer visiting teams today, in addition to the high costs for travel. There are still a good number of teams that visit us in Kenora to fish the tournament every year, just not as many as there were years ago.

The high quality of local anglers has definitely played a factor in my pursuit of fishing competitively for a living. We are fortunate to have excellent fishing for both largemouth and smallmouth bass on Lake of the Woods, as well as a good variety of water where we can use different techniques to catch fish. Some areas have deep, clear water, other basins are shallow, with darker water. It has been a great place to learn to fish and then having all of the great competition that we do certainly kept the drive to learn at a high level. Over the years, the tournament has been won with both largemouth and smallmouth bass, in many different parts of the lake, showing that you have to keep finding new populations and tactics if you want to stay at the top of the leaderboard.

The tournament this year will be exciting. The overall weights at the Bronzeback Classic two weeks ago were as high as they’ve ever been, and I look for more of the same to happen this week at the KBI. The fish will have had a couple more weeks to bulk up and group up, fishing should be really good.

The cooler weather this week might actually help the anglers as well, especially those who like to use their electronics and fish deeper water. The hotter the weather, the more the bigger smallmouths will show up in shallow water and when things cool down, they’ll slide out a little bit deeper. Many of the anglers know this and will take advantage of it. It could also help the anglers targeting largemouth because it will start pushing some of these fish out of the shallow weedy areas where they can hide for much of the summer.

The KBI runs Thursday through Saturday at the Whitecap Pavilion in Kenora. The top ten boat parade will take place Saturday afternoon followed by a free concert by local band Shred Kelly on Saturday night. It’s always one of my favourite weekends of the year and I look forward to seeing everybody down at the tent this weekend.

Jim and Ben Gustafson had a great KBI tournament in 2022 focusing on largemouth bass. It will be exciting to see if largemouths factor into the winners catch this week on Lake of the Woods.