Ups, downs of tourney fishing

It was an interesting finish to the bass tournament season for me last week as I travelled across Ontario to participate in the Berkley B1 Canadian Open Bass Tournament on Lake St. Francis this past weekend.
This is a large body of water that is part of the St. Lawrence River right on the Ontario/Quebec border (the tournament actually was run out of the Quebec town of Valleyfield).
I was fortunate to hook up with Derek Strub for this event. The southern Ontario native is one of the best smallmouth anglers in Canada, and he actually won a tournament on Lake Ontario this summer and took home $40,000.
Though neither of us had ever fished on St. Francis before, we decided earlier this summer to hook up for this tournament. I flew to Toronto, where Strub picked me up and on our way we went.
Our first day of practice actually went pretty good. The first smallmouth Derek caught was a 6.5-pound monster. We added a couple of other fish over 4.5 pounds that first day and figured we definitely were on the right track.
As the week progressed, however, the weather became very challenging and that hindered our practice significantly. The wind blew hard for a few days and it rained extremely hard on a few others.
We stayed in Cornwall, Ont. for the week and the weather channel there mentioned that the rainfall one day was 78 mm—a record. We fished that day from 8 a.m. until about 4:30 p.m. and I honestly can say that it was the wettest day I’ve ever been out in.
Throughout the rest of our practice, we found some smallmouths shallow and some deep, so we had a few options regardless of the weather conditions come tournament day.
There was a good population of largemouth bass in this lake, as well, and we could catch pretty good numbers of them. But we committed to the smallmouths because unlike Lake of the Woods, where largemouths generally grow larger, smallmouths get much bigger in St. Francis.
When the tournament started, 150 boats headed out on the water. We were one of the last boats to take off, so we were a little bit concerned that there would be other boats fishing where we wanted to go.
But we were fortunate that we had all of the water we wanted to fish to ourselves.
As it turns out, there probably was a reason for that as we only caught one fish on Day 1 of the tournament for 3.69 pounds. It was a tough day, but we stuck with what we found and tried to catch some big fish and go for the win.
We could have played it more conservatively and caught a limit of largemouths, but we felt like we wanted to go for it rather than just fish to get our money back or get a middle-of-the-pack finish.
To add insult to the day, when we were pulling into the dock to weigh-in, I dropped my cellphone in the lake so that was great.
The format for this event was such that only the top 75 boats fished on Day 2. We missed the cut by four spots, so we were done for the weekend.
To put into perspective how tough things were, 40 teams did not weigh in a fish. We stayed with Bob Izumi for the week and he only caught one fish, as well, a 4.87-pound largemouth.
He probably is the best tournament angler in Canada, and has won tournaments on this water before, so that was proof of the tough conditions.
Since we were not fishing in the tournament on Sunday, Derek decided he would take me out on Lake Ontario, out of Kingston, where he won the big tournament this summer.
Going out on this lake is like going out on the ocean because it is absolutely huge. But we made it about 15 miles out to some of his spots and he treated me to one of the best smallmouth bass outings I’ve ever been on in my life.
We caught a number of five-pound plus fish in short order; it was incredible.
They fish a little bit differently for smallmouths in southern Ontario than we do back here in Sunset , so it was interesting to learn some new techniques. We caught all our fish drop-shotting in deep water (28-40 feet).
The water here was so clear that you could clearly see the bottom in 20 feet of water, it was incredible.
This day made the whole trip for me. Catching those big fish was a lot of fun.
That pretty much wraps up the fishing season for me, but I definitely will get out a few more times on the nice days to catch some fall crappie, walleye, bass, and musky.
Enjoy the great weather this week!

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