Written by: Mark Melnyk, The New Fly Fisher
We left the house at 5 a.m., sunroof open, windows wide. It was unseasonably warm for the middle of spring, and we were loving it. The sun beat down for the entire trip, the music was turned up, and the air of angling excitement was palpable. The drive to Algoma Country from any direction is a drive to be savored: picturesque, topographically dynamic, twisty-turny, and generally a ton of fun.
It didn’t take long, those six hours. As we turned onto Basswood Lake Road—the name itself causes heart palpations—we left the smooth hum of highway 17 behind, as the white noise of tires on gravel takes over. The rear view shows plumes of dust rise lingering like fog until the wind moves it to the forest, clearing the air for the next passenger. It wasn’t long before we arrived at Birch Lake.
Northern Ontario has a special early catch-and-release bass season in zone 7, north of Highway 17. This allows bass enthusiasts to target, and release, big smallmouths while most, if not all of the province is out of season. This region is special. Think about casting for these fish as they are aggressive and looking to feed heavily in the spring.
We loaded up our aluminum boat with all the gear we thought we’d need and headed to one of the lakes in the surrounding area. It was glass-calm and a new lake to us, so we decided that the best way to figure things out was to simply go for a boat ride. We explored the lake and determined where our best chances were to catch post spawn bass. (The ice had been out only two weeks earlier, and the surface temperature was now 72 degrees.)
We pulled into a bay with deep water at its mouth and started casting. It wasn’t more than a minute or two before we saw violent slashing on the surface, as what seemed to be minnows launched into the air, attempting escape something below. We watched in awe as a giant fish attack the school of baitfish, its back coming clear out of the water. It was a smallmouth, it was a big one and it was hungry. We observed what was on the menu and did our best to match the size profile with our offering. We nailed it, and throwing flies into nervous minnows on the nervous water was the ticket.
After a while, the bass that were bait-balling the minnows went on the hunt for a more substantive meal. We witnessed fish cruising the flats and switched to topwater poppers. We managed to release at least 10 popper bass all in the 3- to 5-pound range before we decided to call it quits. What a first day we had in May.
Our second day started out a little differently, with big wind, whitecaps, and slightly cooler temperatures—still very much shorts and t-shirts weather, however. We launched the boat in a new lake, and this time, we were looking for lee-shore calms with windy points. Sitting in the lee of a windy point, we cast into the rough water. The result? Just a 7-pound smallmouth, followed by a 5 on another point, and then another 5 on a third point. It was the stuff that bass fishing dreams are made of. We continued our day fishing calm, shallow back bays for cruising fish. It was, hands-down, the finest day of smallmouth bass fishing both of us have ever had. The smallies averaged 4 pounds, and the bass to end the day was a 6.5-pound beast. So to recap: a 7-, 6.5-, and at least two 5-pound fish in a day? I have no words.
Mark Melnyk is the producer of The New Fly Fisher tv show.