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Monday, November 20, 2006

Lake Simcoe delivers trophy smallmouth

It never ceases to amaze me how some river anglers who enjoy casting for smallmouth bass will have a photo taken of themselves with a 3-pound "smallie" and promptly describe it as a whopper. Stay tuned. You'll soon find out what a real smallmouth whopper looks like.
On a separate note, why is it that some fishing fans insist that ounce-for-ounce the smallmouth bass is the hardest fighting fish there is? Sure, it's a fine battler, but compared to similarly sized South American peacock bass, morocotos and piranhas, or Florida snook, baby tarpons or crevalle jacks, the smallmouth bass is relatively easy-going.
However, I do not intend to demean the species. It's highly regarded by river waders, johnboaters and canoeists who, in these parts, do not have a much better fighting fish to look for.
That out of the way, allow me to introduce my friend Wil Wegman, who is the Conservation and Media Director of the Ontario BASS Federation, not to mention a fine outdoors writer and a fishing guide on Ontario's Lake Simcoe.
Wegman likes to pull my chain now and then as he teases me with photos of smallmouth bass that he and his friends caught. The fish almost always look as if they'd been on steroids, frequently exceeding 6 pounds in weight, which is comparable to largemouth bass weighing 10 pounds or more. (Smallmouth bass grow at a much slower rate than largemouths, hence even a 4-pound smallmouth is considered a decent fish anywhere.)
Wegman says that Lake Simcoe is only one hour's drive north of Toronto. "It is Ontario's most intensively fished inland lake," he says. "But that's only because of its winter fishery when more anglers fish it than at any other time of year. Simcoe is big -- 280 square miles -- and it is the sixth largest inland lake in Ontario." That alone is a mouthful because the province boasts more than 250,000 lakes of all sizes.
On Oct. 15 Wegman caught a smallmouth bass in Lake Simcoe that weighed 6.2 pounds, which was not his first smallie to exceed 6 pounds. "I dream of the day when I'll have a five-fish limit of smallmouths that weigh 30 pounds. It's not impossible on my home lake," he insists.
To further impress us Americans -- who really ought to take a closer look at the waters to the north -- Wegman described one of the most impressive sights in the history of Canadian competitive bass fishing. It happened a few weeks ago when one monster smallmouth after another was brought to the weigh scales during the Sixth Annual Crackle Cup Bass Tournament on Lake Simcoe. "Simcoe was the same incredible smallmouth bass factory that claimed the heaviest five-bass limit ever weighed during a Canadian bass fishing contest, which was the 2003 Crackle Cup when five smallmouth bass were weighed for a total of 29.59 pounds," he pointed out.
This year proved to be even better. On Nov. 5, 18 two-person teams headed out to try and break the record.
The hosts of this final bass tournament of the year, the Aurora Bassmasters, got plenty of support from Bass Pro Shops, which supplied various prizes for the winners.
As anglers began to check in their catches at the end of the day, it was clear that a fair number of bass over the 6-pound mark had been hooked. The majority of the contestants used plastic tube jigs and also said that jigging spoons accounted for a few fish.
When the team of John MacDonald and Steve Hawkins came up to the weigh-in stand, every one of their five smallmouths looked to weigh at least 6 pounds. The scales began to flicker close to the elusive 30-pound mark. Would they settle on or above that magic number? The crowd hushed in excitement as the fish settled and the weight was 29.90 pounds! Their biggest fish was a 7.14 pound smallie. The duo set a Canadian record. Their 29.90 pounds for five bass now becomes the weight to beat for a one-day bass tournament on Canadian waters.
The bass that had been caught were released back into Lake Simcoe -? all except for four big specimens that now reside in the local Bass Pro Shops' giant public aquarium.

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