At 4:00 a.m. the lights start turning on at the motel. I am already out taking the tarp off the boat, checking batteries, and cleaning garbage out of the boat. By the second day of any tournament my boat looks more like a messy hotel room than the room itself. Itís cold out and this was certainly the first no shorts weather of the year. The long hot summer didnít do much to prepare for 3 degrees. It was the second day of the Berkley B1, Canadaís premier fall tournament. The winner would take home a new $50,000.00 Ranger boat, even second was $10,000 so near misses paid well.
Day one was already in the books and as usual, local teams dominated the leaderboard. Lake St. Francis is one of the best bass fisheries on the continent. The Lake is actually a section of the St. Lawrence River and because of the currents and structure, time on the water and years of experience are difficult to compete against. But this doesnít stop teams from all over the country from showing up every year to compete against the local talent.
Eric Danis and Eric Lamarche were leading after day one with a weight of 24.98 pounds which was a pound better then 3 other teams. In fact, there was 18 teams with over 20 pounds. The bite was on in spite of a 10 degree drop in temperature. Unlike many lakes where a sever cold snap can shut a fishery down or drive fish deep or suspended, fish in the river tend to go shallow where it warms faster. These fish can be almost impossible to catch but if you understand the currents and how to position yourself you can hook your share of some shallow monsters.
My partner was Jack Levert, a local guide and successful tournament angler and one of the best musky guides in the province. Neither one of us pre-fished as my entry was last minute but no one knows more about Frannie than Jack. He has spent his entire life fishing the river. When he was a young boy he made his money selling perch to local restaurants. Even though he had not spent much time on the lake this year we figured we could catch 5 good fish a day. Jack had some big largemouth in a few spots so we started there. One thing we left out of the planning was the opening of duck hunting season. Apparently they donít want you pitching heavy jigs through mats and ploughing reeds in their line of fire. Twice we were asked to leave nicely without pointing a gun at us. We never did find many fish and weighed in a small limit. Jack did manage to catch a nice 40 inch musky. https://scontent-yyz1-1.xx.fbcdn.net...34&oe=587BB3AF
Jack lives and I stayed in Cornwall, about 40 km from Valleyfield, tournament headquarters. As we turned onto Rue Victoria bordering Parc Delpha Sauve the volunteers start guiding you to the launch and parking. There are over 100 volunteers to help you every step of the way. There are even portable toilets along the road just in case you have 3 coffees and have a 64 year old bladder. Once we launched we sit in the harbor. Itís freezing out and you are thinking of ways to block the cold as you make the 40 km run back to Corwall area where most teams fish. At 6:45 all went silent and the crystal perfect pitch recorded voice of Celine Dion sang her rendition of the American and Canadian anthems. In spite of the cold damp biting air being the focus, this perfect powerful voice vibrated throughout the entire city and brought an sense of pride and meaning to where we were. We have all been at sporting events and heard various versions of the anthems but drifting in the mist as the sun rises was incredible. Nothing else existed but her voice. Thank you so much for this memory and reminder of what we have.
At 7:00 we trickled out of the harbor blasted off one by one heading out into the main lake for the day ahead. The cold breeze on the warm water created a surreal feeling as the thick mist glued to 3 ft from the water looked and felt like you were cruising on a cloud. You have so many layers on your head you canít even hear the sound of the chop slapping on the hull, you could just feel the hum of the motor.
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We could see boats spraying water and watch the vortex stir the mist into the air. You could see what to avoid on your Navionics charts and follow your safe trail back from the day before. We pass boats working mid lake shoals and flats. There are some perfect tournament mornings where you approach your first spot, put the trolling motor down, grab a rod and cast and you pin a big fish right away. This is what happened to us. Jack knew exactly where to cast and what to use and as his jig hit the water and he began to swim it back a big brown one crushed the bait and shortly after we had a high 4ís in the livewell. Minutes later I hit a smaller one. We got one more fish from the area then the bite shut down. These big shallow fish are the toughest bite once you disturb them and they know you are there. But because you have caught some and can see more you are glued to the spot for much longer than you should be. This scenario was being played out by many anglers trying to get one more of these stubborn fish to make a mistake.
The river can be tough to fish as the current is always moving you and you canít stay positioned. Jack is a master at controlling the drift. For those that donít have experience in the area or others like it, here is a tip. When you find a feature or spot that holds fish, donít just mark the spot where the fish are. Make a new trail on your Navionics chart and record you drift in a different color. Save this separately and the next time there you can avoid drifting over your fish and you wonít have to guess where the current will take you.
We could see other anglers spread out through the channels and islands. Some drifting and dragging deep baits and others on flats. We past many of the leaders as the scrutineers for the top 10 give them away. We didnít care, we donít want to share water. We catch a small fish on a drop off and now we have 4. Now we are looking for only big fish. If we only get one bite, we are happy. Finally I hook a very large blond fish but it is swimming towards me faster than I can real and keep the rod loaded. It comes unbuttoned. These are the fish you remember most. The hardest fish to catch are your first and last big fish. It wasnít until 1:30 that I notice a mark on the sonar that probably followed Jackís jerkbait. I drop a bait down 18 ft. and the rod loads. There is 3 or 4 more big fish with it but rather than try and double up we decide to play safe and boat our 5th fish.
Then Jack catches another small fish and as he releases it we look at each other thinking, ďhow small is the one in the livewell?Ē The bag killing rat stays with us. It is about 40 minutes back and time is running out so we hit one more spot where Jack has caught some huge fish but they are a Hail Mary bite and just like the others they would not bite. Time runs out and we head back with a decent bag but less than we wanted. As we check in and toss the rubber ducky into the net with our number on it we cruise down the harbor and we could begin to hear the weights. The weights were much lower so far, not that we were expecting a cheque with a 13.45 first day weight. As we are bagging our fish we realize just how small our rat is. Any good fish was a 3-pound cull for us. Iím sure that there is many other teams thinking that one more fish is all we need.
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[size=8pt]We pull up beside Bob and Darren Izumi and Wayne Izumi and Bob is taking inventory after losing 2 rods and reel combos worth over $2000.00. They were landing one fish and another hit an unattended rod.[/size]
The crowd is building in front of the stage as about 200+ people came to watch the weigh-in. We watched all the teams weigh in and finally the top 10 drove to the stage trailering their boats. Most had pretty good back up weights on day 2 but less than day one. Team by team someone got booted from the hot seat after taking the lead. TJ Lacey and Chris Vandermeer weighed in a big bag of largemouth which is rare in any Great Lakes tournament as smallmouth normally dominate the leaderboard. All week I had been ribbing Jack and Bob Izumi about wasting time on largemouth calling them cheque repellent. Now it was my turn to get jabbed. There are some huge green ones on Frannie. http://i1230.photobucket.com/albums/...and%20Lacy.jpg
Then the second place day one team Ryan Flaro / Scott Lefebvre came to the sage and weighed a very respectable 19.83 pounds and take the hot seat away from Nicolas Gendron and Jason Gramada by 4/100th of a pound. Finally, the day one leaders Eric Danis and Eric Lamarche come to the stage. They need 18.62 to win the event and Ranger boat. Ben Woo has the crowd pumped up as they put the fish in the weigh tank one by one. When the fish were being taken from the livewell it looked like they may have done it. But they come up short and after a re-weight they are still 2/100ís of a lb short. Imagine losing by the weight of a small crayfish or goby. You could see Ryan and Scott exhale and smile as Eric and Eric did the opposite.
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Congratulations Ryan Flaro and Scott Lefebvre the 2016 Berkley B1 Champs and winner of the Ranger Boat and Championship B1 rings. The $10,000.00 second prize took some of the sting away for Eric Danis and Eric Lamarche but Iím sure they wish one of their fish had not spit up a crayfish tail in the livewell.
We loaded the boat on the trailer to park closer to the stage and we were driving when the phone rings. Itís Bob Izumi telling me I won the Toyota Top Finish award worth $500.00 but I had 30 seconds to collect it or it would go to the next team with a Toyota tow vehicle. I pull over and start running back. I canít remember when I played Ben Johnson last but after 500 meters I thought I might explode. There was over $8000.00 worth of contingency prizes that anyone could win plus a very large 50/50 draw but you have to be there to claim the prizes. One great prize for those who had a bad first day is the ďcomebackĒ award for the team whose weight was the highest difference over their first day weight.
This is truly a premier event. The Organizers lead by Ben Woo and the 100 volunteers certainly make this a great tournament. The City of Valleyfield are very welcoming and Berkley really puts it out to make the carrot big enough for any level of angler. Congratulations and thanks to all the team and sponsors. http://i1230.photobucket.com/albums/...sored%20by.jpg