By Larry Dablemont
There wasn’t anything about that point to tell me it was any special hideout for bass. I knew I’d love to fish it sometimes when the wind wasn’t blowing across it. But that’s what you deal with on Canadian lakes. All the old time Canadian guides and experienced anglers I learned from 40 and 50 years ago said it over and over, “Fish the points, fish the points.”
‘Reefs’ they often called them, because sometimes, big boulders ran off them for 29 yards or more, then there would be a drop-off of perhaps 25 to 40 feet. In those drop-offs, in the fall, you found smallmouth, walleye, yellow perch and often crappie.
Only two of those four species of fish were found in Canada in 1900. Can you guess which two? I will tell you at the end of this column.
I had trailered my boat from Lake of the Woods to a small lake only five miles away. It was only about a mile wide and three miles long but Tinker Helseth’s son-in-law, Dallas, said it was a good lake for smallmouth bass. Back in August, he told me about a reef jutting out from a bank which had underwater boulders under the surface a few feet. You could see them in the clear water and if you worked top-water Rapala lures over them while sitting out aways on the lake, you could see smallmouth from 10 to 15 inches long came up and whack those lures like a Lynx going after a pine marten. The strikes were vicious, not a lot of surface commotion, just a flash of gold or brown, and a four-inch lure sucked under. With that, four-pound line stretched taut and an ultralight rod bent nearly double. The water was still and deep to each side of those boulders, little wind on an August afternoon and it was wonderful.
A smallmouth bass that was 12- to 15- inches long was a battler on my light rod. But I drifted out a little to the end of the reef and decided that I might catch a big walleye in that deep water around me. So I tied on a jig and retrieved a dead minnow out of a bucket I had brought along. You catch most of your walleye on jigs and minnows in that Lake of the Woods region.
Walleye seldom hit a dead one, but bass and crappie will. In just a few seconds off the end of that reef, I lifted my jig off the bottom a few inches and felt a weight on the line so I set the hook into the jaw of a hefty fish. At the time I was using that same light spinning outfit with four-pound line that was a year and a half old. I know better than to do that, but it seemed strong enough. The bass in the depths below me fought hard and I gave him line by loosening my drag. I could do that because in the depths of 25 or 30 feet there was nothing he could get around to help him escape, or so I hoped. But I desperately wanted to see that fish.
It is easy to tell a big bass from a big walleye in Canada after 40 some years of hooking each. I knew what he was, but I didn’t know how big he was. In a few minutes I did.
He seemed to tire and the arc in that light rod eased a little. Fishermen dream of a fight like that, maybe a six-pound bass, easily well over five. And finally there he was, surrendering to lay on his side, not a dark brown bass like I so often see in the Ozarks, but a light bronze or golden color.
On the other side of my boat I had a nice-sized dip net, but the big bass seemed whipped so I just reached down to grab his jaw, seeing the jig firmly embedded in the side of his mouth. He’d be released anyway, the fight was over, but I couldn’t wait to get a picture of this bass, at least 20 to 21 inches in length.
My thumb had just touched his lip when he mustered one last lunge, burrowing toward the depths and snapping the line with his last effort. I have measured a lot of lunker bass, both black and brown , and you don’t catch a lot of bass longer than that one, even in the Ozarks. He was broad-shouldered, shaped like a football rather than long and lean as our Ozark smallmouth are. What was really exceptional was not his length, but his width. I think he was seven inches or so below the dorsal fin and thick as my grandma’s biscuits! I tipped my cap to him and told him I would be back in October.
So last Monday on my birthday, I kept my promise. That is when I wound up on that windy point; about forty yards from the end of the reef where the golden bass had taken that jig away from me. The wind encountered each October was prevalent, and I used it to take me over the point again and again. On every pass I caught a bass between 15 and 20 inches, but not that big one. Maybe he lay in the depths telling other lunkers like him to beware of that rubber lure. Some didn’t listen. But for a few hours, it was the best birthday I can remember. In all the years of going to Canada, I have never seen the equal to it. I believe a lone angler like me could easily catch a couple hundred smallmouth there. Lots would be smaller; the lake has plenty of eight- to 10-inch brownies that pester you to death while you pursue their grandparents. If there is no photo of a bass with this column, you can see a 19 inch golden smallmouth and other Canada photos on your computer. www.larrydablemontoutdoors.blogspot.com.
I’ll write more about my 10-day October trip to Northwest Ontario, fishing, hunting grouse and geese, and enjoying the mildest October they have ever had. And I will tell you more about the fish, including smallmouth and crappie, which once did not exist in Canada anywhere.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Larry Dablemont is an outdoor writer from Bolivar, Mo.