jeff gustafson

Keeping busy over the break

Where I live in Central Canada (just north of the Minnesota border) we get real winter. From mid-November until mid-April our lakes are frozen and we have snow on the ground. Typically, by late April we can get boats in the water and start fishing again. It’s always an exciting time of year.

This past winter was one of the worst that my home region of northern Ontario has experienced in decades. Snowfall was the most we’ve seen in sixty years and there were long stretches of cold weather. I get asked all the time “why do you live all the way up there?” and the reason is because our summers are so beautiful. The fishing is great, weather is pleasant and if you enjoy outdoor activities like I do, it’s a great place to live, year-round.

Earlier in the winter I looked at our Elite Series schedule and noticed the five week break we had between early April and mid-May and was excited that I would be able to get some fishing in at home during that break. The smallmouth fishing immediately following ice out is as good as it gets but most years the Elite Series schedule has me on the road somewhere down south this time of year.

When I arrived home from Chickamauga earlier in April, it quickly became apparent that I would probably not be getting out on Lake of the Woods and catching 100 smallmouths a day before I got back on the road to Texas in May. There was still a bunch of snow on the ground and multiple feet of ice on the lake. It was kind of depressing.

I did some ice fishing when I got back but a massive dump of snow in mid-April really took things to the next level and made getting around, even on snowmobile, very difficult. That’s how much snow we had. I have never seen anything like it.  

Since there was not a lot we were able to do outside, I put some time into working on my fishing gear and my boat. I did some tackle organizing, a seemingly endless job, trying to figure out what to bring on the road with me and made quite a bit of tackle, including some hair jigs that I’ll use over the summer for smallmouths and some tails for my topwater baits. I can make these on the exact hooks that I want and put them to good use later in the year.

One of my favorite activities during the ice break up period when I’m at home is getting out in the woods and looking for shed deer antlers. Over the years I’ve found over 1,000 sheds, especially in the late 2000s when our deer population here in northern Ontario could rival anywhere in North America.

Because of all the snow, shed hunting is off the table around home this spring so a few friends and I decided to take a trip to western Canada to look for some deer antlers. After a couple weeks of hanging around home I needed to get some exercise and was looking for an adventure. A group of us spent a weekend away, hiking around ten miles each day and we found a bunch of antlers, so it was fun trip.

I’m back into fishing mode now, and when I get on the road to Lake Fork for the next Elite event, I’ll to be ready to go. My performance thus far in 2022 has been mediocre but I’m optimistic the schedule should be in my favor a little bit more the rest of the way. I have had good days fishing offshore at both Lake Fork and Pickwick in the past, and then we have a couple of smallmouth events following those, which I’m really looking forward to. The Mississippi River might be a wild card, but I’m looking forward to them all!