It’s no secret that the 1,000 Islands is a haven for bass and anglers alike. Now, the 1,000 Islands Big Bass Challenge is combining big money prizes with fostering a love of fishing along the mighty St. Lawrence, which has been a destination for fishing enthusiasts for centuries.
Not only that, but the catch-and-release event is receiving high-profile attention, being featured on a World Fishing Network show and also hosting celebrity anglers including Big Jim McLaughlin and Ashley Rae. This year’s 1,000 Islands Big Bass Challenge registered almost 300 participants who brought in more than 1,136 lbs. of fish to be weighed.
Fisher enjoys watching the excitement grow surrounding bass fishing on the St. Lawrence River. He said the most successful bass anglers know what they’re fishing for and prepare before hitting the water to maximize bass strikes.
Reeling in the big one: Getting to know your 1,000 Islands bass
Smallmouth and largemouth bass may share some similarities, but differ in basic aspects such a preferred habitat and biology.
According to the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources (http://www.mnr.gov.on.ca/en/Business/LetsFish/), smallmouth bass average in size from one to 3.5 lbs and like deeper water, often found around rocks, and shoals in the 1,000 Islands area. They enjoy living in water with a cooler temperature – perfect fish for the St. Lawrence River!
Largemouth bass live in more shallow, warmer waterbo dies with lots of weeds to get lost in. Submerged wood, rocks and man-made cover highlights a largemouth sublime habitat.
Both smallmouth and largemouth bass are most active from late spring to late fall. Both species spawn in late May and June. Smallmouth deposit their eggs in shallow gravel area and the male fish act guards. Largemouth prefer to spawn in vegetated, quiet bays.
Tall fish tales: Record bass in Ontario
The 1,000 Islands region spawns big fish – and bass are no exception! The bass that are hooked in the St. Lawrence River in the 1,000 Islands region are often above the provincial average of 3.5 lbs.
In the 2014 edition of the 1,000 Islands Big Bass Challenge, all the fish which earned hourly prizes of $500 weighed in at over 5 lbs. The meatiest smallmouth netted at the tournament was over 6 lbs.! The Ontario record for smallmouth bass sits at 9.84 lbs. while the provincial record for largemouth is 10.43 lbs.
Bass season in the 1,000 Islands
Anglers have flocked to the 1,000 Islands to bass fish for hundreds of years, taking advantage of its pristine bass habitat featuring rocks, shoals, clean water, and natural shoreline. Bass season typically opens the third Saturday in June (http://www.mnr.gov.on.ca/stdprodconsume/groups/lr/@mnr/@letsfish/documents/document/286927.pdf). The 1,000 Islands Big Bass Challenge is held a few weeks after that, on the first weekend in July.
Canadian fishing icon, Big Jim McLaughlin knows the fishing in the 1,000 Islands is top notch. He said fish populations in the river are in an upswing due to catch-and-release, as is practiced at the 1,000 Islands Big Bass Challenge, and the presence of gobies, which are natural food for bass.
“Fishing in the 1,000 Islands is world class,” said McLaughlin (https://www.1000islandstourism.com/listings/fishing/). “The fishing along the St. Lawrence River and into Lake Ontario is some of the finest you’ll experience.” McLaughlin points to his own big catch along the river recently, where he caught a 6.8 lbs. smallmouth.
Summer also started off with a bang for up-and-coming celebrity angler Ashley Rae, as she fished the river in the 1,000 Islands for the first time and caught a healthy smallmouth over 5 lbs.
Fisher notes that the 1,000 Islands on the St. Lawrence River has long been known as a playground for fishing enthusiasts. Ever since the area was settled, anglers, guides, visitors and locals have fished the waters, enjoyed legendary shore breakfasts made from their catch and told a few tall tales along the way.
With pike, small and large mouth bass, walleye, perch, bullhead, channel cats and of course fabled muskellunge being caught in and around the shoals and islands in the local region, it’s no wonder that thousands of anglers still drop a line in the water off the shores of Gananoque each year.
Finding bronzebacks: How to fish for bass
Fishing for bass in the 1,000 Islands is a thrilling experience, as the St. Lawrence River offers a near perfect habitat for smallies. A depth finder is a valuable tool for catching bass, as smallmouth bass like to stick close to shoals, rocks, but can venture into deeper water.
In terms of the best bait for catching smallmouth bass, some anglers still swear by a simple hook and worm or minnow combo. However, the right lure can make all the difference when attracting big bass. Everything from tube jigs to wally divers are recommended, but sometimes it’s the way the lure moves that optimizes fish strikes.
To cover large areas of water, like the St. Lawrence River, experienced guides suggest using diving crank baits, with silver or crawfish patterns proving effective. Ashley Rae notes in a recentKingston Whig Standard article (http://www.thewhig.com/2014/06/24/gear-up-for-bass-season) her favourite way to fish smallies is with a drop shots rig and a jerk bait. “Jerk baits are a fun way to fish, cover a lot of water and trigger aggressive hits,” Rae told the Whig Standard. “There are a number of ways you can fish them, but I tend to do a ‘twitch, twitch, twitch, pause’ and reel in at the same time as twitching. The pause is crucial, as most hits will occur when the bait stops.”
Other anglers advise keeping white and yellow spinnerbaits on hand when fishing shallow rock shoals. In deeper waters, slowly bouncing a ½ oz. jig head tipped with light-coloured grubs works like a charm.
Largemouths can be hooked on spinnerbaits, crank baits, and senkos. Getting snagged in weeds is always a consideration with largemouths, so fishing on the edge of the weed beds is always a safe maneuver. Frogs are also a great lure to consider for largemouths, with Rae writing on her blog (http://www.shelovestofish.com/) that she advises using the Trigger X (soft plastic) Frog matched with a 5/0 Gamakatsu hook (the Worm Hooks, Superline, Offset Shank, EWG), the BOOYAH Pad Crasher and the Live Target Hollow Body Frog.
Hook size for bass fishing depends on the size of fish that is being targeted, as well as the size of the bait. Bass bait needs to be free moving to attract fish. Many anglers prefer around a 3/0 or less for soft plastics. When in doubt, get creative with bass lures! Here’s one veteran angler’s imaginative idea:http://www.fieldandstream.com/articles/fishing/2014/07/package-deal-the-story-behind-one-readers-secret-bass-bait?dom=fas&loc=todayonfas&lnk=package-deal-the-story-behind-one-readers-secret-bass-bait.
Fisher said he prefers to use all artificial bait for bass fishing, and in fact encourages it at the 1,000 Islands Big Bass Challenge. Whether that means tubes, spinners, drop shots or more, he said using artificials actually saves fish because the way they approach the bait and get hooked is less intrusive than with live bait.
The 1,000 Islands Big Bass Challenge is an opportunity to experience that high-quality fishing for which the region is famous. In 2014, Rick Stuart took home first prize of $2,500 from the 1,000 Islands Big Bass Challenge tournament for the largest bass snagged during the weekend. It was a close call for Stuart, who caught the 6.18 lbs. smallmouth on his last cast of the day on Sunday, on a Bass Magnet 2 lure.
Think you can you better his catch? Register for 1,000 Islands Big Bass Challenge and find out more about community sponsors at www.bigbasschallengecanada.com.
Looking for information about the host community or for accommodations that evening? Visitwww.www.www.1000islandstourism.com for suggestions on places to stay and discover other 1,000 Islands attractions and events ongoing throughout the season. Experience fishing in the 1,000 Islands. We look forward to hearing your fish stories!