February 12th, 2014
Opening Week Largemouth – The Georgian Bay Wayby JP Bushey July 14, 2014
The St. Croix Boys flood new shoreline cover for buckets
Setting The Table:
Angling Authority Founder Grant Pentiricci and I make time to fish together every season. We normally put fish in the boat and have a great time doing it. Right at this time last year, I had him up on my stomping grounds, the Eastern shoreline of Georgian Bay. Among other things, we spent time poking around some largemouth water. For 2014, one of my goals is to do more bass fishing. I haven’t focused on them since my teens, and there’s terrific opportunities for both largemouth and smallmouth where I spend nearly all of my season. Lots of the water Grant and I prospected last summer looked good and we were eager to pick back through some of it this year.
The Bay experienced not only a long winter and late ice-out, but also water levels back near their historical highs. A late spawn plus an explosion of newly flooded shoreline cover had us both fired up to fish. Areas that were high and dry a couple years ago are now blanketed in four to seven feet of water. Old duck blinds, shoreline rock, docks, beaver piles, tea brush all of it. Not only that, but a year’s worth of newly sprouted pads, arrowheads, cane, wild rice and bulrushes are all in play along shorelines, with so much extra water for them to grow in.
Three days of steady, heavy wind greeted Grant when he arrived to fish with me this year. I’d been up for the week fishing other species, and had ducked everything from gale winds to crippling humidity to hail storms to lightning. Naturally, surface temperatures have been bouncing all over the place, with the Bay still a long way from stratifying. That upper few feet had been cooked to over 80F and then chopped right back down to the low 60s with the wild weather. On big water this early in summer—even in many of the sheltered sections—surface temperatures are unstable and easily swung. I’ve always looked at June and early July just like Turnover time, in October. All are what I’d call ‘swing months,’ where things are very much unsettled and transitioning. Finding things one way one day and then totally different the next is really common.
Two Headed Monster:
Grant’s a hell of a bass fisherman, there’s really no other way to say it. He’s got a ton of competitive experience, can play the game in any number of ways and has a great understanding of why largemouth do what they do. I learned lots from him last summer, and saw him take fish on a wide range of spots using a bunch of techniques. He throws rods and lures in and out of his hands like you or I would flip pages in a magazine. It’s seamless, almost second nature. My largemouth playbook reads like the back of a cereal box, for the most part: bomb horizontal, water-straining lures and grind it out, hoping to find a few dumb ones, out for a swim. Grant picks at spots like a dentist. I’m more like your neighbor flailing around with a rake on the back lawn. Leaning toward the high-efficiency beating of water probably comes from my muskie fishing background.
What I did to bring to the party, was a lifetime of experience on the water we fished. Early in our day, we eliminated spots that either held smaller bass or only pike. In these areas, my hand-tied spinnerbaits and Grant’s chatterbaits showed us we needed to be somewhere else, fishing differently. On big water, eliminating options is every bit as crucial as finding the good stuff. You’ve probably heard the saying ‘shrink the box.’ That’s what it’s all about. To put things in perspective, a couple of the individual bays we fished are similar in size to many lakes. At the very least, I was able to get us rolling similar spots once we narrowed down what the best bass were doing. And narrow it down, we did. A milk run took shape and before too long, we were blasting between spots where I knew we’d keep running into the same stuff fish were using. Being on the water the whole week leading up to Grant’s arrival helped, too. I knew what kind of weather changes were coming and what the prevailing winds had been doing to set up spots days in advance.
The Devil’s Always In The Details:
Now for the good stuff. Even with all of the high water and newly fishable spots available way back into bays, coves and cuts, the back ends of these areas were largely a waste of our time. The deeper we reached in, the less activity we’d scare up. It only took a couple spots before we got that part of the program confirmed. All our best largemouth came either right at the mouths or within the top quarter to third of the bays. Spots sitting in open water, like islands, big points and offshore weed humps got eliminated just as fast. The tops of the bays fit the transitional nature of late June perfectly. Pike fishing in these exact same areas more than a month earlier, the CD plays exactly the same: fish motoring their way out of the spawning shallows will always stall on key areas as they travel.
Grant noticed the thickness and weight of these post-spawn largemouth right away. The fishing pressure for them on The Bay is next to nonexistent, unlike in the Kawarthas and other regions. Now that they’d done their nesting, they were set up on juicy, strategic spots pigging out in peace. Mayflies were hatching, rafts of chubs and golden shiners were milling around and the shorelines were a creaking, groaning mass of bull and leopard frogs. None of the fish we released left any doubt when they hit. Our baits were getting crushed. And we caught them doing lots of different things. We were getting multiple fish from small chunks of area, too. Surface temperatures were between 72F and 74F.
Combining cover/structure with natural edges was one of the keys, as it so often is with any fish, anywhere in the world. Anything different that stuck out near the tops of the bays held fish. And so much more of it was in play, with the high water. One of the most obvious, was transitions in weed type. The arrowhead growth was a little behind the lily pads, but we found lots of areas where small, tight bushes would break up the pad fields. If there was an open lane, log or rock finger nearby, a bass was there. Instead of these little gems being in eighteen inches of water, they’re now in four or five feet. It was all just too perfect. Deep edges where pads changed to pencil reed or bulrushes to eel grass also generated. Add in some wind and that was better still. Out near the first little drop offs, tons of green and red cabbage was getting tall. Crispy, fresh and healthy, these outer weeds added yet another dimension to the spots.
Rigged Up For A Rip:
In this thicker stuff, Grant taught me how to frog fish. I threw his Spro Bronze Eye Poppin’ Frog a ton. ‘This one frog has been taking huge fish for me the first week of the season,’ he said. I had my first cast in the books before he got that full sentence out. His frog combo is a 7-ft, feather-light, heavy power, fast action St. Croix Avid (AVC70HF) with a 7.3:1 reel and fifty pound braid. I did a remarkable job hogging that stick up on the front deck with me all day. Anytime we’d reach frog water, I’d have it locked up. Bass were sucking the bait deep and usually right in the captain’s chair of the cover. Several fish blasted the frog in open water, too. The Poppin’ Frog is basically like a Pop-R or Chug Bug that’s 100% weedless. Out in the open, it chugs, spits and calls bass up. You could cast this thing into a pine tree and it wouldn’t snag. What a cool bait and definitely smash-mouth style of fishing. I absolutely loved it. That Avid has a ton of power and fits the technique amazingly well. I boated everything that blew up on the frog. I’ve taken some of my biggest casting muskies on The Bay on surface baits or bulged bucktails, so froggin’ appealed to me right from the jump, so to speak.
To my surprise, Grant also worked a swim jig through the nasty, mixed cover. Part soft plastic, part search bait, the swim jig offers a really special set of triggers. Two of our biggest largemouth of the day pummelled that thing right at the boat, exactly like a muskie would. I’ve known this is one of Grant’s pet techniques since I met him. Karl Kalonka, another of Ontario’s top fishing personalities and a complete bass machine, also swears by the method. The swim jig has a tapered, pointed head with the line tie set vertically at about 45 degrees. The trick is the trailer. Grant runs a giant, Gambler Lures Mega Daddy craw. Rolled slowly along or dropped into pockets, the Mega Daddy has massive, flapping claws that throw out all kinds of vibration. There isn’t a jig trailer in the box that swims like this thing does.
All the water we fished was heavily stained, and based on past experience in these areas, I know that thump is one of the keys. He caught them on a bunch of weights and colours, generally switching up as the sun came and went with the frontal activity all day. What a dynamite little package. And like the Poppin’ Frog, it smoked fish just as readily in slop and open water. Mega Daddy doesn’t discriminate. St. Croix’s Legend Tournament Bass Series has a few rods specifically designed for swimming jigs, and we had a couple on board with a few different flavours (TBC71MHXF, TBC74HF for those of you who are interested in model numbers). Unlike a spinnerbait, crankbait or other horizontal lure, the swim jig covers water with a subtlety and hooking percentage that’s really unique.
As long as we stayed in the upper reaches of the bays, wood and rock also held good fish, too. In the days leading up to our trip, we’d had a couple pretty substantial mayfly hatches in soft-bottom areas of the Bay. I’d noticed them plastered to objects all week, and seen fish picking them off the surface. Inside the big bays, crappie, sunfish, smallmouth and largemouth were all getting fat on them; walleye, too.
No matter the species, my go-to in any kind of bug hatch on The Bay has always been a three inch, Mister Twister Meeny grub in Pumpkin Pepper colour. What I do is soak a few at a time in commercial scent to change their colour slightly. They go from a brownish to a more mottled greyish amber. It looks exactly like a mature mayfly. The baits take a couple days to change colour and I marinate batches in little Liqua Bait Wallets made by Plano. Zero leakage, sealed air-tight and always easy to dip baits in and out to get them rigged fast and clean. I’m sure the scent helps, but that slight change of hue in the plastic really sets the lure off for fish that are feeding heavily on one, specific bug.
On rocks especially, the open-hook jig and grub did very well. I’ve been using the Precision Jig for all my jig fishing since ice-out. It’s made by B Fishin Tackle Company and comes with a delicate, wire keeper barb for holding your plastics in place. This is really nice to have around cover or where panfish are nipping and pulling your grub down the hook shank. On our largemouth trip, we had both. A black, 1/4-oz Precision Jig mates perfectly with the naturally-coloured Meeny. The shape of the jighead is kind of like a bell sinker laying on its side. The fat end is where the line tie sits. The hook and keeper barb poke out the tapered end. A couple days before Grant came up, I was using a very similar set-up on walleye with great luck. The paint finish on the jig is unreal. Even after miles of Canadian Shield and 60-grit bass gums, mine didn’t show a scuff. Custom Jigs ‘n Spins from Iowa handles B Fishin Tackle and the Precision Jig. They’re a small town, family-run business that has been making some of the most innovative and durable open water and ice jigs you can buy for a long, long time. The Precision Jig comes with fantastic, Mustad hooks that are sized perfectly for sticking fish, but not reaching out to snags.
St. Croix’s Mojo Bass Power Spin, is an outstanding spinning blank for hammering fish in deeper water or controlling them around cover. At seven feet in length, it’s got backbone to burn, tremendous feel and is very light. Matched with a 2500 Shimano Stradic and twenty pound, High-Vis Maxima Braid, this is a serious little stick. Power Spin is definitely the right name for it. Fishing vertically for walleye in 15-20 feet of water a few days before, this rod definitely showed it can cross all kinds of borders between species and techniques. For me, the Mojo Bass and Musky series rods offer probably the best quality for your dollar on the market.
The Look Ahead:
Grant and I will definitely be out more together this season, and I doubt this will be our last kick at Georgian Bay’s quality, under-fished population of largemouth. I’ve got hundreds of potential areas to work, and more techniques to refine, learn and mess with in general. Oh, and then there’s the smallmouth. That’s a whole other ballgame. I run into reams of fish over four pounds ‘out there’ walleye and muskie fishing all summer. We ran out to a rock point on our way home after rubbing the largemouth spots and watched one of the biggest specimens either of us have ever seen ghost in behind Grant’s crankbait in real clear water. The deep water drop shot and tube game on hard structure comes pretty naturally to me—certainly much more than frogging in pads does. Spinnerbaiting over blue water shoals, big surface baits, all that stuff takes huge smallmouth on The Bay all summer. We’ll have to pick a couple days and see what those fish have to say.
About JP Bushey
JP Bushey is a multi-species, multi-season fisherman living in Barrie, Ontario. North-Central Ontario’s ‘big water’ is where he spends most of his time, from his home waters of Georgian Bay to The Great Lakes, Lake Nipissing and The French River. JP’s been a freelance fishing contributor for over fifteen years, and enjoys helping people to improve their fishing through his articles, speaking engagements and on-the-water instruction.
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JP Bushey is a multi-species, multi-season fisherman living in Barrie, Ontario. North-Central Ontario’s ‘big water’ is where he spends most of his time, from his home waters of Georgian Bay to The Great Lakes, Lake Nipissing and The French River. JP’s been a freelance fishing contributor for over fifteen years, and enjoys helping people to improve their fishing through his articles, speaking engagements and on-the-water instruction.More by JP Bushey