Lake of the Woods has to rank as one of my top five favorite tournament lakes with the annual tournament that I participate in there, The Kenora Bass Invitational, ranking even higher.
I enjoy the event in Ontario, Canada, because of the endless possibilities for places to fish. With a million acres of water and thousands of miles of shoreline and islands, there’s plenty of water for everyone to fish.
Also, the diversity of the fishery adds to its splendor. Some parts of the lake have heavy algae blooms while others offer water clarity close to 10 feet. Both smallmouth and largemouth are present adding another dimension when laying out strategies.
The 2001 KBI, as it is abbreviated, was just recently held with my partner Joe and I finishing just out of the money.
With this being our second year competing at Lake of the Woods, we decided to focus solely on smallmouths. Why? We learned from the previous year that it was hard to string together several good largemouth bass. In fact, most of our practice days would only produce one largemouth over four pounds and several small fish. Sure, the chance of catching a bigger largemouth exists over a smallmouth, but we felt that chances were better of catching several smallmouths in the 2-1/2-pound to 3-1/2-pound range.
Numbers Vs. Size
Over the course of a three-day tournament, most often it pays to go with the numbers because you are more likely to maintain consistency. If you go for fewer fish, but with the promise of some bigger bites, it leaves you more vulnerable to pattern shifts and lost fish.
Thus our practice this year was 100 percent focused on smallmouth bass. With steady, hot weather holding for the five days of practice, we were able to develop a strong pattern capable of winning. The smallies were really aggressive, chasing down Rapala Husky Jerks and topwater lures.
It was easy to catch a limit over 15 pounds (the mark that signifies a really good day on Lake of the Woods). However, as often is the case with fishing, things were changing on the last day of practice. A cold air mass was moving through with things cooling down drastically on the eve prior to the first day of competition. Having experienced the same thing a couple weeks before on Rainy Lake just to the east, I knew we were in trouble.
Sure enough, the first morning of competition had me dressed in a jacket, compared to shorts the previous several mornings. I was losing my confidence in our pattern. However, our first stop that morning produced two fish; not big ones, but the fish were aggressive. But as the day unraveled, we found it very difficult to get bites.
Two of our better fish came on a Walker Tube that I threw back on fish that were following the Rapala Husky Jerk. Most of our fish also came from pieces of structure that we ignored in practice. We would start out where we found them in practice and then follow the structure out deeper to see if we could find them. Our first day catch totaled about 11-1/2 pounds placing us in 33rd place.
Tournament Day Two
Day Two offered a weather warm-up and a rebound. In fact, we had our limit within the first two hours. Unfortunately, I blew the biggest bite we had of the day. The bass nipped my jerkbait near the boat and hooked itself on its outer lip with the rear hook. I cringed as the bass immediately went skyward so close to the boat. The hook held! I couldn’t believe it. But now the bass was doing circles right at the boat. Here’s where I made my mistake.
Never try to out-muscle a bass in open water when you don’t have to. I tried leaning on the bass a little just to get it the last 20 inches up to the surface where Joe was waiting with the net. The bass went berserk and the hook ripped free. To make matters worse, I lost my cool cussing myself for the mistake, and slapped my bait to the water in disgust. All that accomplished was breaking the bill off the bait, my only one like it in the boat. I never had another good bite the rest of the day (two hours) without that bait.
Our weight on day two totaled about 12 pounds moving us up to 18th place and in position to place in the top ten.
Tournament Day Three
Unfortunately, another cold front blew through and overnight things cooled down even more. This second front knocked us out. Our patterns were completely shut down. Noon came and we still didn’t have a bass in the boat. In the last few hours, we managed to catch a limit, but not much of one (7-1/2 pounds). We fell out of the money to about 38th place.
Incidentally, our best fish this third day came from about 11 feet of water. Looking back, this is where we needed to be fishing; in fact, some of the successful catches were caught in depths greater than this even. Are these deeper bass the same ones that were up shallow a couple days before? I don’t know. I’m reluctant to believe that they move vertically that fast. But I guess a move from 5 feet to 11 feet isn’t so drastic and out of the realm of possibilities.
About 44 pounds won the event this year, consisting mainly of largemouth. The second-place finisher caught all smallmouth. What will we target next year? I don’t know. That’s the beauty of this type of fishery. The strategies come in many layers.
I think I want to explore some new largemouth water next year, but that also means discarding two years of experience in one area, shifting into a new area altogether and starting from scratch. Decisions, decisions.