Targeting the region’s underutilized species
Compared with the number of walleye and trout anglers, there are few serious bass enthusiasts in northern Ontario. I love bass fishing and whenever I have the opportunity, I cast a tube jig or a topwater popper. I’ve tangled with some decent smallmouth over the years, but largemouth have proven more elusive. Today, I’m hoping that will change.
It’s a late September morning when I meet my guide, Tyler Dunn, at the St. Joseph Island turnoff east of Sault Ste. Marie. The 31-year-old has been guiding for five years, fishing everything from steelhead to perch to walleye, but is narrowing his focus on Algoma District’s bass.
When Tyler’s clients want to fish bass, he brings his tournament angling partner, 29-year-old Adam Vallee along, and I would soon find out why.
We cross the bridge over the roiling waters of the St. Marys River and head to a boat launch at Sailors Encampment on the northwest shore of St. Joseph Island. We pile into Adam’s 20-foot bass boat and head north to where the St. Marys River is squeezed between St. Joseph Island and the mainland. Here the chalky coloured waters are loaded with pine-topped granite islands, rocky shoals, and weedy bays.
We slide over to a steeply sloping shoreline and start casting Senkos, jigs, and plastic. It’s not long before Tyler and Adam hook up with largemouth weighing about a pound and a half. We work our way to a shallow weedy shoreline and cast into waters I would normally drive past.
“Look at those mats,” says Tyler admiringly as he dunks a flippin’ jig amongst pads and holes in thick weed to deftly pluck out fat largemouth. Adam casts a topwater frog deep into vegetation to walk it out over the greenery, eliciting the occasional explosion of a largemouth, which he hauls out with speed and vigour.
Tyler and Adam are great at letting me try what I think might work, but it becomes painfully obvious that I don’t have a clue how to catch largemouth back in the slop. Adam slides me a topwater frog and Tyler points to prospective haunts. Repeated casts result in a few noncommittal strikes, but it’s a start.
As we approach a line of docks and boathouses along a shallow shoreline, Tyler hands me a flippin’ jig with a trailer. In between watching Adam and Tyler, I too manage to deliver a decent cast or two, and start landing some good largemouth.
When the sun meets the gnarled tips of the tall pines, we reluctantly stow our rods and make plans for the next day. I know much more about largemouth bass fishing than I did when we left the dock this morning.
Another gorgeous day dawns as the three of us discuss our destination over breakfast at the Husky truck stop. We’ll head to one in a cluster of inland lakes between Sault Ste. Marie and Blind River. Tyler explains that the smallmouth can be hit and miss, “but if the bite doesn’t turn on in one lake, there are plenty of options.”
After a 45-minute drive along Highway 17 we launch into a lake typical of the area. We start by covering water while Adam watches the electronics. “I’m looking for bait balls and fish,” he says. Apparently there are smelt in the lake which help to fortify its healthy smallmouth.
After locating a school, we slow the boat and lower drop-shot rigs. Immediately Adam is hooked up. There’s peeling drag, bent rod, and a big smallmouth breaking surface before Tyler nets a fish that has to be pushing four pounds. Next, Tyler boats its twin.
While I’ve enjoyed the largemouth clinic, I’m really hoping to catch a few smallmouth. I watch Tyler, who is constantly twitching and shaking his drop-shot. I emulate his actions and soon feel a tap, I reel down and set the hook on what turns out to be another bronze back pushing 19 inches.
As the day warms, the action only improves. The bay we’re fishing is a huge bowl, about 25 feet deep, with subtle structure where swarms of bass corral schools of baitfish. Sometimes a smallie intercepts our offering well up the water column. Adam watches with amusement as my attempt to get my drop-shot down results in a curiously light feeling well off bottom. “When in doubt, set the hook,” he says, as I battle yet another fat smallmouth.
When fish start busting on the surface, we have some luck with swim baits, tubes, and football jigs, but my biggest bass comes on a gold flake drop-shot worm. It doesn’t fight as much as the two- to four-pounders we’ve been catching, but it’s a heavy fish that comes up slowly. Through polarized glasses I see a long and fat shape, and when Tyler slips the net under its nearly 22 inches, there are high fives all around.
Northern Ontario may not be known for its bass fishing, but after the last couple of days of buckets and bronze, I wonder why not. Clearly Algoma’s underutilized species are worth a second look.
Tyler Dunn Guiding
95 Oak Ridge Lane, Gros Cap
Sault Ste. Marie, ON
Algoma Kinniwabi Travel Association
334 Bay St,
Sault Ste. Marie, ON
For more info on fishing adventures in Ontario visit: www.gofishinOntario.com.