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Fishermen wait for Canadian border to open; big smallmouths await

Fishermen wait for Canadian border to open; big smallmouths await
By Brent Frazee • Issue #7 • View online

American fishermen wait for time when lodges in Canada's wilderness will be open for business again. (Photo courtesy of KaBeeLo Lodge).
American fishermen wait for time when lodges in Canada's wilderness will be open for business again. (Photo courtesy of KaBeeLo Lodge).
The sad story at the border
Ordinarily, this would be a busy time at Harald Lohn’s KaBeeLo Lodge in northwest Ontario.
Float planes would be transporting fishermen to the lodge’s 13 outposts, boats would be coming and going, and the fish would be biting.
Not this year. With the Canadian border closed for second consecutive year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the lodge sits eerily quiet.
“I’ve never seen anything like this in my 39 years in the business,” Lohn said. “I don’t see a lot of optimism.
“We’re 100 percent reliant on our American guests. We’re a long way from any population center in Canada, and Canadians aren’t going to travel here when they have so many other lakes close to them.
“So we’re stuck until the government opens the border.”
Lohn is committed to keeping the lodge open once the restrictions lift. But other resorts aren’t so fortunate.
With the loss of the entire season last year and at least the first part of this year, many smaller operations won’t reopen in 2022, Lohn said.
“I was on a conference call with 300 operators about a month ago,” Lohn said. “At that time, 50 percent of them said they will not be able to survive if the border doesn’t reopen soon.”
The Ontario government is basing its policy for opening the border on vaccination rates. Until recently, Canada was lagging short of the United States in that regard.
The vaccination rate in Canada is climbing, but the easing of restrictions is based on phases that often last several weeks.
Even if those phases were met and the border was reopened, it would be well into July before lodges such as KaBeeLo could reopen, Lohn said.
“Everyone is disappointed, but we just have to wait it out,” Lohn said.
Gord Pyzer held proof that Ontario has some trophy smallmouth bass.
Gord Pyzer held proof that Ontario has some trophy smallmouth bass.
No vacation for the smallies
American fishermen assume that Canada’s smallmouth bass are living the good life without a barrage of lures cast their way.
Not so. Despite the border closure that has barred Americans from traveling to the North Country, the fish are still being subjected to heavy fishing pressure in some cases…from Canadians.
“Now that the lockdown has been lifted, Canadians are getting out and fishing close to home,” said Gord Pyzer, a guide and well-known outdoors writer who lives on Lake of the Woods. “Parts of our lakes are getting more fishing pressure than we’ve seen in recent years.
"We’ve even seen parking lots at some ramps full, with fishermen having to use overflow parking.”
This is prime time for smallmouth bass fishermen. Ontario is dotted with lakes that have the rocky habitat the fish desire.
Once the bass recover from spawning, they’re ravenous. And some of the best fishing of the year can take place.
Pyzer likes to use topwater baits such as the Whopper Plopper, the Pop-R, Zara Spook and Tiny Torpedo to get the shallow bass to strike. He also uses Ned Rigs to finesse the smallmouths into hitting.
It’s a time when fishermen can put up gaudy numbers and catch quality fish, too. Big bodies of water such as Lake of the Woods and Rainy Lake have outstanding fishing and some sections on the American side.
But the best fishing of all can be found in eastern Ontario, Pyzer said. He recalls a day when he landed two 6-pound smallmouths as he practiced for a tournament at Lake Simcoe.
Kansas isn't known nationally as big-bass country, but Van Hendrickson caught a lunker this spring that defies that reputation.
Kansas isn't known nationally as big-bass country, but Van Hendrickson caught a lunker this spring that defies that reputation.
Catch of the week
It didn’t take long for Van Hendrickson to get his money’s worth for a lure he purchased this spring.
Less than 24 hours after he bought a Strike King Red Eyed Shad rattle bait, he used the lure to catch a 7.13-pound bass on a small state lake in northeast Kansas.
“Conditions were terrible,” said Hendrickson, who lives in Olathe, Kan. “It was cold, windy, and rainy, and the water was high and muddy.
“I only caught one fish that day, but it was a good one.”
Hendrickson caught the bass at the front end of a fishing jetty, along a dropoff where the water went from 3 to 8 feet.
He took a few photos of his catch, then released the egg-swollen bass to fight again.
The Ozark Flash spinnerbait.
The Ozark Flash spinnerbait.
Lure of the week
If you like spinnerbaits, you have to check out the Ozark Flash made by the Trophy Bass Company.
Bass Pro Casey Scanlon, the part-owner of the company, acted out of necessity when he brought the historic bait onto the market. A version of the lure was manufactured by several bait companies over the years, but was becoming difficult to find.
So Scanlon went to Jerry McCutchen, an Ozarks legend who designed the bait, and brought it back to life with a modernized version.
The spinnerbait is known as a big bass producer with one chartreuse blade and another that has white. The blades have hammered nickel on the opposite side.
“This spinnerbait has won a ton of money in tournaments over the years,” Scanlon said. “It’s really been a staple in my tackle box.“
Casey Scanlon, a pro on the Major League Fishing circuit, uses spinnerbaits to catch lunker basss.
Casey Scanlon, a pro on the Major League Fishing circuit, uses spinnerbaits to catch lunker basss.
Fishing spinnerbaits
Scanlon seldom goes to a spring tournament on the Major League Fishing circuit without having a spinnerbait tied on one of his rods.
“Reel it slow, fish it around heavy cover and you’re going to get a lot of bites,” he said.
Scanlon likes to throw his spinnerbaits around docks, laydowns and hard-to-reach places. He uses a 7-foot medium-heavy Sixgill rod, and 20-pound monofilament line. His go-to bait is a ½-ounce white and chartreuse Ozark Flash spinnerbait. Its white and chartreuse willow-leaf blades are effective in providing flash in both clear and murky water, he said.
But he will drop down to a 3/8-th ounce bait in shallow water and places that have been exposed to heavy fishing pressure.
One of the kids who entered the Urban Kids Fish Virtual Fishing Derby last year showed off his catch.
One of the kids who entered the Urban Kids Fish Virtual Fishing Derby last year showed off his catch.
Racial equality at the fishing hole
Wayne Hubbard and Candice Price have brought fishing to the inner city for almost 20 years.
The couple, who run the award-winning television show Urban American Outdoors, started by hosting a kids fishing derby open to all racial and cultural backgrounds in their hometown, Kansas City. The event proved so popular that they were soon holding events in Atlanta, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., Ferguson, Mo., and Milwaukee.
The COVID-19 outbreak interrupted the in-person events last year. But Hubbard and Price created an on-line derby (Urban Kids Fish Virtual Derby) in its place, and it proved enormously popular. The derby attracted entries from youth in 39 states.
Now it’s back, and Hubbard and Price are looking for even bigger things. The first virtual tournament of the year will run Saturday through June 13.
Rules are simple. Kids can fish anywhere and register for the derby at urbankidsfish.com. They or their parents can print off a Digital Tackle Box sheet and fill it out when they catch a fish they want to enter. The kids then pose for a picture, displaying the sheet of paper and the fish they caught.
Introducing kids to fishing is a passion for volunteers such as Phil Taunton of Council Grove, Kan.
Introducing kids to fishing is a passion for volunteers such as Phil Taunton of Council Grove, Kan.
National Fishing and Boating Week
It’s time to celebrate our outdoor sports.
National Fishing and Boating Week will begin Saturday and continue through June 13. During the week, states will offer at least one day where people can try fishing without having to buy a license. There also will be special fishing derbies, clinics, festivals, and boat parades. To find the event nearest to you, go to TakeMeFishing.org.
National Fishing and Boating Week is part of the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation’s Take Me Fishing program It was created in the early 2000s to get more people on the water. In 2002, President George W. Bush signed a proclamation designating the event as an official week and it has been a tradition ever since.
Have a great week and catch some big ones. Remember to send us your photos for catch of the week. Just reply to this email and I’ll get them.
See you on the water,
Brent Frazee
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