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My Favorite Stop of the Year

My Favorite Stop of the Year
Chris Johnston

Going into the final Costa FLW Series Northern Division event of the year, I figured it’d be good to blog about the venue. Honestly, I think the 1000 Islands area – the eastern end of Lake Ontario and the western end of the St. Lawrence River – is one of the best smallmouth fisheries in the world. It’s really getting some recognition now after the Costa FLW Series and Bassmaster Elite Series have gone there the last couple of years. If you look at the weights over the last five years, it’s done nothing but get better. The fish are getting bigger every year, they’re plentiful and a bad day fishing at 1000 Islands is still better than any lake down south right now. Regardless, you’re gonna catch fish.

There are other great smallmouth fisheries too. Lake Simcoe and Lake Erie on the Buffalo end are in the same class. Erie, I believe, has more fish, but you don’t have the same size class as at 1000 Islands. Lake St. Clair is very good. It probably produces bigger numbers for anglers, but I still think that 1000 Islands has bigger fish. People say Sturgeon Bay in Wisconsin is one of the best smallmouth fisheries in the world. It’s good, but if you were allowed to come to 1000 Islands in May (the season’s closed then), when we’re fishing Sturgeon Bay, you’d catch 30-pound bags all over the place, and it would win by comparison. Then again, the fact that these 1000 Islands fish never get fished for in the prespawn because it’s closed is one of the reasons the fishery is so good. They get a good spawn and don’t get a lot of angler pressure.

The biggest reason for the fishery getting better, in my opinion, is the gobies. It’s an invasive species, and people were worried about them at first. They do eat the eggs and some of the fry. I’ve seen videos from Queen’s University that show them doing it. They study the smallmouths on Ontario all the time, and they’ve watched the beds. If you pull a smallmouth off the bed, even if you release it, the smallmouth might not come back for five minutes. In that time, the gobies will come into the bed and start eating the eggs. But, those gobies are like Mars bars; they’re making the bass grow so much quicker than ever before. That’s the main reason they’re getting so big, and I’ve never seen as many gobies as I’ve seen on this end of Ontario.

We used to have an opening weekend tournament for maybe two years. That was when the fish were at the end of their spawn, and my brother Cory and I finished with maybe 2 ounces under 30 pounds and were in third place. Both years that tournament happened it took more than 30 pounds to win. If you hit it in the spawn it takes more than 30 pounds to win. Even in the summer, for a one-day shootout you probably want 27 or 28 pounds to win, which was unheard of four or five years ago. So I think the weights are going to continue to increase.

These fish also have the genetics to grow big. Queen’s University is testing a lot of fish, and they found a 6-pounder that got that big in just 12 years. Usually in nine to 11 years you’re growing a 4- or 5-pounder no problem. That’s the only thing I wonder: If we keep taking these big ones away from their homes, will that hurt them? My biggest concern is charter boats. There are charter boats out there fishing where the big ones live, and they’re taking 20 or 30 fish a day sometimes. I don’t know if the fish can hold up to that.

Back a couple years ago the river really couldn’t compete with the lake. It used to be that if you caught 22 or 23 pounds on the river you did really well, but you could catch 25 or 27 pounds on the lake if you got good weather.

There’s another tournament that goes out of the river near Mallorytown, Ontario, and it’s been going on about four years now and usually gets about 100 boats. A lot of us that were fishing it would run from Mallorytown and catch our fish in the lake, and we’d bring all these 5-pounders back in. They were tagged and released in the river. If you’ve noticed the last two years that Mallorytown area is a really good area of the river. And the last two years the Elites have been catching a lot of big fish there. A lot of them are fish that actually came from the lake, and when Kevin VanDam won he caught a tagged fish there that was, like, a 6-pounder that originally came from the lake. I think a lot of these big lake fish have been taken up the river and actually stayed there. Now, that doesn’t mean all the big fish in the river are from tournaments, but that’s a big reason for a lot of big fish being caught in that area. Of course, the fish in the river are just getting bigger too. But I don’t think there’s the numbers you can get in the lake.

I was watching the Elite Series, and some of the top guys that faltered on day two were saying their fish left, or that because they’re smallmouths they’re here one day and gone the next. I don’t necessarily think that’s true. Now that they eat gobies, the smallmouths are very structure oriented. Those fish live on those areas, but there might only be two or three big fish, and if you catch them on day one they don’t replenish like they used to. When they used to have a minnow forage they would be moving around, and when the bait would leave they would leave. That’s where smallmouths got to be renowned for moving. But, I really feel like they’ve changed now. When I practice for them I practice similar to how I would for largemouths. I might catch the first one I hook to see the size, but after that I shake them off because there might only be four or five on a rock pile.

Another thing is they get really smart. If they see two of their buddies get plucked off and there are only five of them down there, they usually shut down and you have to change tactics to catch those other ones. You can’t drop on top of them, and they’ll get to know the boat is above them. I’ve seen it a lot where you can catch them good one day, and they’re a lot harder to catch the next day because they’ve gotten wise to your tricks.

It’s going to take some huge weight to win the Costa FLW Series event at 1000 Islands this week. The fishing is going to be amazing regardless, and you’re going to see some huge smallmouths no matter what the weather is. But it’s very dependent on the weather for the fish in the lake. I really think you’d need 74 pounds to win it if you had perfect conditions every day – sunny with light wind. The odds of that happening are not great, but I think at a minimum you’ll need 23 pounds a day, because that can be done in the river or the lake. Either way, I hope Cory or me is up there, because we’ve won plenty of times out of Canada, but for some reason we keep letting the Costa at the 1000 Islands slip away.

Tags: chris-johnston  blog  2018-09-06-1000-islands 

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