Last week I competed in the Fort Frances Canadian Bass Championship, and the event offered a painful reminder of how little details mean a lot when you’re tournament fishing. Held on sprawling Rainy Lake, which offers incredible smallmouth bass fishing along the U.S.-Canadian border, the three-day, team-format event offers intense competition.
Teammate Mark Fisher and I figured out early in practice that the big bite would come from the shallows. High water levels and a forage base shifting from minnows to crayfish had the smallies behaving like largemouths. While bronzebacks used to cruise 20-foot depths chasing smelt, they now patrol shallow water near shore, and finding weeds or reeds adjacent to rocks in depths of 5 feet or less is critical.
It wasn’t a numbers game. Bites were few, but the fish you did hook were worth it. Our top presentations included a Terminator Swim Jig with a Trigger X craw trailer, Trigger X tubes and VMC marabou flies. Storm Wiggle Warts, which fish surprisingly well through the weeds, were also a factor. When we checked outside grasslines, Terminator spinnerbaits and XR10 Rapala X-Raps got the nod.
Despite losing a decent smallie on day one, we weighed in an 18-pound limit, including a 4.59-pounder that was big fish of the day. This put us in great position, less than a pound behind the leaders and poised to make a move.
Unfortunately, we lost three big fish on day two, and another pair of big ones on day three. When you’re fishing for less than 10 bites a day, that can’t happen. On those days, instead of bagging 18 pounds or more, we weighed just 14.04 and 14.74 pounds. Instead of a top five, we ended up 22nd.
Looking back, I know that one fish came unbuttoned at the boat because of a bent hook barb. I had lost two smaller fish on the same bait and failed to examine the hook at the time. Another big bass broke the line on a spinnerbait. Was it nicked? We’ll never know. But headed into another event on the same water a week from now, you can bet I’ll check every piece of my gear before hitting the water. In a game of ounces, there’s no room for mistakes.