Catching up at home

There are some inconveniences to where I live in Kenora, Ontario. Located about 60 miles north of the Minnesota border, on the shores of Lake of the Woods, Kenora is a big drive from everywhere we compete on the Bassmaster Elite Series. Most of the drives are 20 plus hours, probably the least glamorous part of the job.

The reason that my wife Shelby and I continue to live where we do in Northwest Ontario is it’s home for us. Most of our family is still around Kenora and we love the little spot where we live. As an angler, the next six months offer some of the best fishing opportunities in the world, for both smallmouth and largemouth bass and a multitude of other species – walleye, musky, pike, lake trout and crappie – all of which I spend time fishing for during the open water season.

After the Lay Lake Elite event, we hit the road and got home for about a week and a half. I had booked a few guide trips earlier in the winter and was looking forward to getting on the water at home for a few days. I also had a little bit of yard work to catch up on because before we left for the last stretch of tournaments, three in four weeks (in South Carolina and Alabama), we still had a couple feet of snow covering our lawn.

The ice went off our lakes while we were at Lay Lake that first week of May. I learned as a kid that the best smallmouth fishing of the year occurs immediately after ice out. Smallmouths don’t eat a lot during the winter so when the ice goes off, they are eager to start eating and preparing for the spawning process that will occur a few weeks down the road.

Smallmouths up north spend the winter in large groups and they maintain these schools for the first couple weeks after ice out. When you find these groups of feeding smallmouths, you experience some of the best fishing of the year. Some fish will remain in deep water on the same structures where they spend the winter while other groups will show up in the shallowest, warmest water you can find. In deep water, the same moping technique that was successful for me at the Bassmaster Classic is hard to beat and up in the shallow bays, suspending jerkbaits and Ned rigs are tough to beat. You can really catch these smallmouths on anything you want, finding the fish is the most important consideration.

The guide trips went really good. We were catching between 100 and 150 fish each day, five days in a row. Most were smallmouths but we also put a number of walleye and pike in the boat as well. Catching the different species is a nice bonus, when you aren’t in tournament competition. I think walleye are the best eating fish in fresh water so we ate good a few evenings when we got off the water.

The Sunset Country Region where I live in Northwest Ontario is one of the best fishing destinations in North America. There are hundreds of fishing resorts, offering all kinds of packages from do-it-yourself trips to full American plans. We have drive-to and fly-in operations, literally any kind of accommodation you can think of. If you want to bring a boat, you can, if you just want to show up and fish, most of these outfits can provide boats and guides. It’s a relatively short season but I promise you’ll have the time of your life.

We are back on the road now for the Elite Series event this week at the Sabine River in south Texas. On paper the Sabine River is not really in my wheelhouse but I’m looking forward to the challenge. I’m going to look for something a little different during practice at the Sabine and hopefully find some fish that my competition overlooks. It’s hard to do against this field of anglers but that’s my plan. Follow all of the action on