Opening Day

June 23, 2008

No date on the calendar holds as much significance to millions of North Americans as the opening of bass season.  It’s the day when summer really arrives, holidays begin, and fishing becomes serious — if only the bass would co-operate.  They’re notoriously tricky early in the season.

I’ll never forget the time I took my son Charlie with me to fish opening day on Opinicon.  He was about nine at the time.  We locked Wybmadiity II down through Chaffey’s Lock and anchored just outside the bay below the lock, planning to catch and cook as we went.

We had the dinghy on the transom.  Starting at sunrise, we rowed the bay, fishing every promising clump of weeds, casting every overhanging tree and stump, and all without a nibble.  As the sun rose high over the familiar water, Charlie was becoming discouraged, and I was running out of excuses for my failure as a guide.

Finally we returned to the mother ship in defeat.  As I scraped together an ignominious lunch of peanut butter and bread, Charlie sat down at the stern and dropped his line overboard.  The unexpected strike produced a fine dinner fish.  We ate it and decided to try the same trick again … and again, until we had caught and released a total of nine largemouth bass from directly under the boat. The sizes ran up to a very respectable five pounds.  There’s no accounting for the movements of opening-day bass.

So here are an ex-guide’s tips for success on opening day:

1.  This is the start of the real fishing season.  Remember how gently you had to handle those crappies and the occasional trout?  Forget it.  These are largemouths, and if you don’t set that hook HARD, they’ll throw it back at you.

2.  Get rid of that six-pound test line.  These are real fish, and you don’t want to lose a good one.  Check your knot and that of your companion.  More bass are lost to loose knots than any other error.

3.  Teach everyone in your boat to keep the floor silent, or else get used to fishing from the dock.  A scraped tackle box or a dropped lure, and you might as well start the motor and leave the area.  The bass just won’t bite until things have settled down.  Bare feet work best (unless you accidentally bring a northern pike aboard).

4.  The best bass fishing is close to shore, but don’t take the boat in close until you are sure your companions can control their casts, lest you spend the day fishing hooks out of the tops of cedar trees under the baleful gaze of property owners.

5.  Use single hooks, if possible.  This makes releasing fish much easier, and greatly cuts down on emergency room waits for fish-hook removal.  Weedless hooks work very well in bass cover on the Rideau, but again use heavy line.  I consider 20 lb. synthetic braided the minimum for fishing bass in heavy cover.

6.  Don’t forget:  in our district if a bass is shorter than one foot in length, back it goes, without exception.  You may keep six per full license, but it’s much cooler to come in with no more than four fish per boat.  Practice this:  “We kept these four.”  Say it again, proudly.  Good.

7.  For years my fishing pals have agreed not to keep any bass over three pounds.  Big bass are too large for kids and women of childbearing age to eat, and they are much more successful at raising their young than smaller fish.  By the end of spawning season a 13 inch male is thin and haggard, while a 21 inch largemouth looks as though it has actually put on weight.  It deals with nest raiders simply by eating them.

8.  Am I catching my share?  A study of the fishery in Lake Opinicon, Ont., (Lewis 1965) indicated that for guided parties  in July average rates of 0.5-0.3 fish per hour indicated good fishing. (Crossman and Scott, Freshwater Fishes of Canada, p. 739).

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Retired educator and writer Don Warren still delights in telling of that summer when Dr. Lewis hired him to row his guide boat into the sanctuary at the foot of Opinicon Lake and fill a washtub with bass each day for the Queen’s crew to study.

Years later Don taught me how to teach, but he didn’t consider the job finished until I became proficient in the ways of the largemouth bass, the creature which drives the economy of Chaffey’s Locks and surrounding communities.  That summer he rented me a canoe each evening, answered my questions and offered advice.  By the end of the summer I had the bass pretty well figured out.

Thirty years ago I calculated that, according to Dr. Lewis, two twelve or thirteen inch bass would keep an angler happy for a day of guided fishing.  The party would put, on average, about $250 per person into the local economy for that day.  Next time you look a bass in the face and decide whether to release it or drop it into the live well, ask yourself:  “Is this fish worth  $125. to me?”

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