A brisk south wind was blowing into our faces as we raced across Clearwater Bay on Lake of the Woods this past week. Friend Kevin Stobbe and I were out for our annual fishing trip with angling professional Jeff Gustafson.
Jeff lives a short distance away, making his home just outside of Keewatin, Ont. That doesn’t stop him in his travels as he pursues his career as a successful tournament professional. This year, he qualified for the Bassmaster Classic, the Super Bowl of bass fishing, in Birmingham, Ala. This will be held the second week in March for the 54 anglers who qualified through various events.
Gussy, as he is affectionately known on tour, finished 28th on the year over the course of nine Elite Series events spread across the United States. Jeff almost won at Cayuga Lake in New York state, coming up one big fish short of the US$100,000 first-place price. The money he received for second place, US$25,000, went a long way towards making the Classic. Jeff says he put on 5,500 kilometres in his travels, making around US$95,000 in total money. Still, he says it is a tough slog, with close to US$43,000 in tournament entry fees plus his travel expenses.
On this day, we were looking forward to hearing about his adventures and catching some fish along the way. Our first stop was for black crappies. After two hours and just one fish, it was time to change gears.
Switching over to largemouth, Jeff moved us to a shoreline point that had some weed growth. Gussy says this is becoming more and more difficult to find, as the rusty crayfish in the lake continue to destroy habitat. While good for the smallmouth, for largemouth, their fry don’t have places to hide after they are born, making predation so much easier for other fish. He says this has had serious effects on the population in the lake. Now most anglers just fish for the abundant smallmouth.
As we pulled up to the weed line, Jeff cast out a wacky rigged worm close to shore. He let it sink on a slack line, leaving the bait in one spot. After a pause, he twitched it a couple of times. Bang, fish on!
Leaning into the fish, he got the largemouth over the top of the weeds and into the boat. Man, what a way to start — a nice, plump two-kilogram fish to be held up for a quick photo and release.
Meantime, Kevin had a fish on of his own, a smaller largemouth caught on a Ned Rig. For Jeff, these were to the baits of choice at this time of year. It showed, as in the next hour we landed several fish from the same shoreline.
Next on the agenda were some jumbo smallmouth. To find these Gussy headed out to some deep humps. He said most of the fish at this time of year are in six to nine metres of water. For these deeper smallmouth, Jeff started with a dropshot rig. Meantime, he gave Kevin a small white swimbait, with a Mimic Minnow Jig head made by Northland Tackle. I was given a Ned Rig to use, which consists of a black jighead rigged with a ZMan Hula StickZ.
Because the Z-Man plastic floats and stands up in the water, it makes a great crayfish imitation. Gussy likes to use a 1/6-ounce jig, which is fairly heavy but will go lighter if the bottom is really snaggy. He most often uses a Z-Man Hula StickZ cut down about a half-inch, but Z-Man also makes the TRD CrawZ and the Finesse TRD, which is the original "Ned" bait. Gussy likes to fish these small jigs on a seven-foot medium action G. Loomis spinning rod, a 2500-sized Shimano reel and an eight-pound Power Pro braided line with an eight-pound fluorocarbon leader attached.
For largemouth, cast near shallow rocks or boulders and bounce the jig along the bottom. These baits can also be used for fishing deeper water by dropping them under the boat to fish you spot on your electronics, which is what we did for the walleye and bass on this day. Gussy ended up catching a trophy walleye on the Ned Rig, proving once again, how effective it is on almost all species.
Angler’s Notes: Walleye action has been heating up at Pine Falls and Traverse Bay. Anglers will have to deal with heavy water flows though, so taking along some heavy jigs is a necessity. It does pay to look around a bit, trying to find current seams and other areas where walleye can get out of the heaviest current. It also pays to find cleaner water at this time of year, with all the heavy runoff. This paid off for friend Jim Price on the Whitemud. He found a creek with some cleaner flow and a good school of fish.