The Honest Truth about Tournament Fishing

Thinking about getting into tournament fishing? Read this first.

If you’re thinking about getting into tournament fishing, it’s important to be aware that while it can be exhilarating, it can also come at a cost. A high one that is.

How I got started

I started fishing smaller local tournaments many years ago and really enjoyed it. To be honest I was mostly unsuccessful at first, but eventually learned a few tricks of the trade that helped me pick up a couple wins and a few top 3 finishes here and there. Then, in 2019, I was lucky enough to receive an invitation to partner up for one of the largest bass tournament circuit in Canada: the Renegade Bass Tour . I figured why not. Sure, I’m more of a walleye fisherman, but I catch bass all the time. How hard can it be right? Turns out the answer to that question is very. Sure you can luck into a good day here and there. However being consistently successful is a whole different ballgame. In our case, things started off really well. I think we placed 17th in our very first tournament. Northing went wrong that day. We made the right decisions and landed on a school of largies on our first spot. We fished clean (I don’t think we missed a single fish) and everything we did worked. We also had one top 5 finish on my home lake (St. Francis) and a few top 20 finishes in the first two seasons. We also made the classic (top 40 of 82 teams) in our first two seasons, despite having a disastrous tournament in year two.

In our 3rd year, it was the complete opposite. In our first tournament we scrambled to catch 5 fish and ended up finishing well below the 40 team cutoff line. We did reasonably well in the 2nd tournament and clawed our way back to the 38th position, but then made a fatal decision in the 3rd tournament of the season and we were never able to recover. We ended up well short of making the classic.

Why I love to fish tournaments

Personally I approach tournament fishing as a unique and extremely rewarding way to spend the summer months. Win or lose, I value every moment spent on the water and my approach is that ultimately the goal is to have fun and learn. It’s an opportunity to measure up against the best of the best and a tremendous learning experience. In addition, I’m truly lucky to have the best partner anyone could ask for. I can honestly say I’ve learned more about fishing in the last 3 years than I did in the previous 10. Whether it’s learning and practicing new techniques (there are many, many ways to catch a bass), improving reading/interpretation of sonar data, expanding my horizons beyond my home body of water, dealing with pressure, weather, learning teamwork, learning about fish management (fizzing, handling etc) the high-level tournament experience is an incredibly rich one. Watching the top teams go to work is impressive. The attention to detail, dedication and commitment these anglers put into their craft and the consistency of the top tier teams is absolutely astounding.

Why I don’t always love fishing tournaments

Having said that, tournament fishing does have its drawbacks. I think it’s only fair for me to provide an honest opinion based on my experience so that anyone thinking about taking the plunge can make an informed decision. First of all, tournament fishing it is very expensive. It has always been expensive, and in the post-covid, inflation-ballooning world we live in, this reality is only amplified exponentially. While you don’t need dual 12″ graphs on your bow and console, Forward Facing Sonar Technology (FFST), Humminbird 360 and the rest, these tools are a definite advantage in the hands of knowledgeable anglers. I would go as far as saying that FFST such as Garmin LiveScope, Humminbird Live and Lowrance Live Target are now a must-have if you want to remain competitive. Since its market introduction about 5 or 6 years ago, this technology has revolutionized bass fishing, and fishing in general. It has opened up new worlds by making previously inaccessible suspending fish fair game. Often these are the largest fish in certain bodies of water. Can you fish inland lakes and put together a decent bag of fish without this technology? Absolutely. Can you compete in top tournaments consistently without it? In my opinion, probably not anymore, and the technology keeps improving and new innovations hit the market almost yearly.

Sonar technology is one of the main expenses (after your boat and motor of course), and by the time your factor in gear such as rods, tackle, tournament entry costs, fuel, accommodations etc tournament fishing can be cost-prohibitive to many anglers. In my case, fishing tournaments in the summer means frugal living for the rest of the year. I have to make a lot of sacrifices in the winter and save up a bit of disposable income for the summer. I work out at home, eat all my meals at home, limit my travel, limit my purchases, look for sales etc. I actively aim to save as much money as I can for the summer, basically. For some, this is not an issue, but for many, this is simply the honest reality.

Fun Fishing

There’s also something to be said about the pressure of fishing tournaments. For some (myself included), fun fishing can be just as rewarding. I have come to truly appreciate a day of fishing with a friend or two, shooting the breeze and enjoying the moment without the added pressure to catch fish. Interestingly enough, a lot of times those are the days that yield the best results. It’s funny how you don’t lose big fish when you’re fun fishing.

Whether or not tournament fishing is for you, here’s the most important tip I’ve learned over the years. Make sure you have fun out there. You don’t need to catch more fish than everyone to reap the extraordinary mental and physical health benefits fishing provides. You don’t need to be the best, have the best boat, latest gear or know secrets. Whether you catch many fish, big fish, small fish or no fish at all is completely irrelevant in the grand scheme of things. All you need to worry about is to remember to soak it all in and enjoy the moment. The bonus is that this, my friends, is as free as the air we breathe.

So Get Out There!


Time for an Early Season Jig Bite!

The 2014 season is well underway, and with it comes the yearly challenge of finding early season big walleyes until they make their way to summer haunts. Where big fish go in the spring is always a little bit of an enigma, and the answer seems to be, well, a little bit everywhere. Some fish seem to stay up rivers longer than others, some will relate to edges and drop offs, some will be really deep near structure. The great thing about spring, it’s one of my favourite times of year to explore and get onto a solid jig bite.

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I have to admit, I’m a troller first and foremost. I pull spinners and plugs 75% of the time. It’s not because I prefer it, but rather because it’s what seems to put fish in the boat with the most consistency, particularly once the water warms up to 65F. When the water is still frigid though, fish tend to be less responsive to those horizontal presentations and that’s where covering lots of water with jigs and vertical jigging spoons can really pay some big dividends. If I had the choice to catch the bigger fish, or any fish for that matter, on a jig or say trolling crankbaits, I will pick the jig bite any day of the week. There’s no engine noise, no rigs, sinkers, and you feel your way along as you drift. When a walleye takes your jig, and you set the hook to feel that first big headshake there’s nothing quite like it. When you get into fish over 5lbs on jigs you will find yourself hooked and looking for more.


In a river situation, where you have current and breaks a jig can actually cover a lot of water in a short period. In my experience, early season walleyes, particularly larger ones, are a little more spread out than they are in the summer, so covering a lot of water is a must. A good friend of mine, Simon Lavictoire, who also happens to be one of the best jig fishermen I know has tought me a lot about jigging and particularly on boat control techniques. The first thing that is a must is a good strong bowmount trolling motor. I use a 24 volt 80lb Thrust handheld Minn Kota with a 42″ shaft and it moves my 16 foot Lund fast enough to water-ski. When you are fishing current, sometimes moderate to strong, you need to be able to make quick adjustments to make sure your jig is vertical. It’s also important to be able to move against the flow quickly in the event of a snag, which are a regular side-effect of drifting jigs unfortunately. The hand-held feature is a personal preference. I never really got completely comfortable with the pedal control and in rough water and current I just find the hand held much easier to work with. I also save a lot of space in the boat that way.


As far as the business end goes I’m always experimenting and still picking up some tricks here and there. I’ve had success with flutter spoons, jigging raps, tubes, platic worms and grubs and minnow imitations like TriggerX, Gulp Alive and Berkely Power Minnows and bucktails. All of them will work. I rarely go with a jig under a half ounce and usually fish a 3/4oz jig head. I like to use a 7 foot medium action spinning rod with a fast action so I can really control that jig with the rod tip and feel for what’s on bottom. You learn to almost read the type of bottom where a walleye is likely to be just by feeling your way around with the jig. It becomes your exploring tool. Using a good superline is also a must. I’ve used Powerpro and Fireline and they both do the trick. Just make sure you tie on a fluorocarbon leader and keep checking it. Those zebra mussels really eat them up quickly. Simon prefers the backbone of a baitcasting outfit. He is using Dobbins rods right now and I have tried them up north jigging for lake trout and I have to say they absolutely excelled. It also depends on the lure you’re working. For jigging spoons the baitcasting outfit seems to allow you to work those vertical “pops” a little easier, whereas if you’re going for a more subtle, constant bottom contact presentation I find the spinning rod gives me a bit more “feel”.


I’ve had a fun time finding fish on jigs this spring, especially since we’re having such a late season. If you’re having a rough time finding fish trolling your normal spots in the cold water give jigging a try. Just remember, jigging requires a lot of patience. Once you know it works, you’ll just want more I can promise you that!

Until next time, Stay Outside!


Why do we fish?


Returning home after another somewhat unsuccessful day on the hard water yesterday evening, I stopped by the grocery store and bumped into an old friend with whom I shared great times with back in the day. As is often the case with many friend interactions now, meetings are fleeting and conversation is frivolous. Don’t get me wrong, this person is someone I hold in high esteem. It’s just that I couldn’t help but get the sense she felt she was performing a civic duty by talking to me. There was something hasty about her mannerisms; like something was amiss (or afire). Either that, or I was just being paranoid, or projecting or something like that. Come to think of it, that’s quite possible too.

She has two beautiful kids now who both looked like the grocery store was the last place they wanted to be. I suppose that’s understandable. As they tugged aways at mom’s sleeves, unsuccessfully pleading for anything and everything, I couldn’t help but think of what it would be like to trade lives, if only for a few days. “-Do you still fish all the time”, her question threw me off guard. “Yeah, pretty much” I answered unimaginatively. I’ll spare you the remainder of the exchange.

That night as I lay in bed navigating a whirlwind of incoherent thoughts in an attempt to get some sleep, my brain honed in on my friend’s question from the grocery store. Why did I fish so much? I mean, yes to catch fish (duh), and hopefully catch a big one and brag about it. You know, like we all do. But does that in itself explain the hundreds of hours of our lives spent chasing bites? Does the possibility of catching a few fish explain forgoing other social occasions? And what about those thousands of dollars spent on gear? Surely there is something more to fishing than just fishing.

I don’t think it’s a stretch to suggest we fish to get away from the mundane, the ordinary and the predicable. But I think there is more to it than just that. I believe we go fishing to allow ourselves to dream, to imagine and to check out from time to time. If we can’t be on the water that day we’re day-dreaming about the next cast and fantasizing about that next big bite. And when we feel like we’re drowning in everyday problems and stress, that pull only gets stronger.


Ask yourself how many times you’ve seen a grown adult genuinely excited in the last year. I mean, look at Dave Mercer, you just can’t fake that level of excitement, and you’d be hard pressed to find a social situation where that kind of enthusiasm is not only acceptable, but also endearing and contagious. Fishing provides emotion, sometimes elation, other times despair. The important thing is that it makes us feel something. What else, other than fishing can be both a way to spend some quality spare time, and a way to figure out what to do with one’s spare time? Some days fishing brings us back to our roots, it reminds us that we’re awesome, that we’re providers, that we can be successful and that we can achieve. Yet on other days it cruelly brings the most stoic among us to our knees scratching our heads. Those days can convince us we’re a glutton for punishment, yet deep down inside, we somehow know it to be a necessary lesson.


At times we fish to put things in perspective, to take time aside to understand a loved one’s point of view. At others we seek the bigger picture with nothing specific in mind a day on the water seems to often unpretentiously and graciously provide. Sometimes we fish simply to kill time, but often also to attempt to slow its pace. A day on the water can provide a sense of pride and accomplishment when something has you feeling down. Fishing can create confidence yet also has the uncanny ability to keep you grounded and profoundly humble. We fish to feel a deep sense of interconnection with nature, to feel like we a part of something bigger. We fish to watch the sunrise and sunset on the longest day of the year.

Ross Island Sunset

We fish to get to know ourselves, to compete with, poke fun at, and get to know one another. In doing so, we create lasting friendships and get to know people at their very best. Fishing is a challenge. It allows us to seize the day, to battle the elements but more importantly to learn that when we want, we can if we put in a little effort. We fish to allow a picture-perfect morning to live up to its potential in a most natural way, to learn to let things unfold as they may. We fish to have stories to tell.

In seeking the next bite, sure we look to catch a fish, but in our quest we gain much more than just a meal, or the excitement of that moment. What we truly gain is wisdom, respect and humility. Each time we hit the water we learn something, we become better versions of ourselves and grow as human beings. The gift we receive in exchange is to have the privilege to share this knowledge with our sons, daughters, husbands, wives, friends and anyone else we hold close to our hearts. This is why we fish.

Most important of all however, we fish to be free.

July 1st Fire

Until next time, Stay Outside!


Deep Cabonga Wilderness and Lakers!

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I remember watching a fishing show on Cabonga Reservoir as a kid and immediately feeling intrigued about the area. It’s one of those big bodies of water that carries with it a certain lore and spirit I’m immediately drawn to. Big bodies of water trigger in me an irresistible feeling of adventure and discovery. They command respect yet begged to be explored. They can be calm and soothing or dangerously threatening. Life around their shores is different than life on the main land or near smaller lakes. People organize their way of life around these types of lakes and define their unique personalities and lifestyles via their interactions with them. Each year I try and visit one of these magical places and this summer I decided to scratch Cabonga Reservoir off the bucket list.

Cabonga is an immense man-made body of water that sits on the Eastern side of Réserve Faunique de la Vérendrye in central Quebec. The reservoir is huge, with a total surface area of 677 square kilometers and net area of 484 square kilometers. It is littered with hundreds of islands and offers some 4500 kilometers of shoreline. One could spend a lifetime exploring it and unraveling its many secrets.

We spent 10 days up there staying in tents on the beautiful wild shores of the immense reservoir near the Cabonga Dam. The SEPAQ has different categories of sites you can rent, and this one is what they call “rustic” camping. Although there are no amenities like water or showers, there is a maintained port-a-potty and bear proof garbage cans. Otherwise that is about it, so you need to plan ahead and make sure you bring enough food and water. The campsite we chose is up a 48km winding and hilly dirt road (should be called a driveway really) off the 117. If you’re looking for absolute quiet, you might want to find another spot because you can hear a constant low rumbling of the hundreds of thousands of gallons going through the dam here, thought it is a very soothing sound.

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We boiled water, used fire to cook and kept a clean campsite. Despite some rain, overall the weather was nice and our makeshift shelter came in very handy at times. Here’s a bit of a guided tour 🙂

    Now let’s get to fishing!

After doing a bit of homework and speaking with local guide Jimmy Lachapelle I decided to target the largest part of the reservoir near Barrage Cabonga with the hopes of finding early season walleye near the dam. Jimmy told me that part of the reservoir had better Lake Trout fishing than Walleye fishing but I figured I’d still be able to find some eyes on some of the shallower structure. We did find a few small walleye on typical structure like sunken islands and reefs, but it was very slow.

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Cabonga 2

Many hours into looking for walleyes with only a few fish to show for it, I accidentally hooked a small lake trout on a spinner, and that’s when things changed for the better. Something clicked, and I decided to give up on the walleyes and start targeting lake trout. After all, when in Rome…

I guess my reticence towards going for lakers is that, well, I have never fished for lake trout at all. In fact, before this trip I had never caught a lake trout. So the question was, where to begin? There were 2 or 3 other groups there who were fishing lake trout and they did provide a few good pointers, however all of them were trolling deep water and I don’t have downriggers. With 3 guys in the boat we had to come up with a plan to present lures deep without too much hassle so I did what I often do, I started jigging. It didn’t take long for us to realize we should have started doing this from the onset of the trip. Remembering a tip from one of the other group members, I located an area between two deep humps that looked much like a funnel on the map and dropped down a jigging spoon. I used the light wind to my advantage by positioning the boat in a way that would allow me to cover most of the structure, and was able to control the boat very precisely with the help of the bow-mount coupled with a drift sock behind the transom. This allowed me to keep the 3 lines vertical and separated keeping the boat inching along slowly. After only about 50 feet, bang! Fish on! It hit like a truck and hugged bottom, after a few minutes of pure power I had my first ever lake trout on a jig in the boat. I’m not about to forget that feeling.

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The part of the Reservoir we were on was its deepest and most open section, and by that I mean the area where there were fewest islands. I started looking for arches on the sonar on the edges of the really deep areas. The main lake basin is 300 feet deep in some areas, and is basically a big deep bowl with a few shallower reefs and edges. I started noticing that there were a lot of higher points that reached up to 40-50 feet at the top and bottomed out to flats in about 80 feet of water. The flats acted as highways for fish between the really deep basin and shallower water. The magic number seemed to be about 80 feet, once I found that depth near really deep water and near shallower structure I began to zero in on the fish. Here’s an example of what I’m talking about. This is the type of area we found fish on. If you notice, fish here will have access to anything they want. There is a very shallow point up top and bottom, deep water off to the right and left and a “highway” right down the middle.

cabonga structure

As far as presentation goes, we used everything from large twister tails on a 1oz jig, to jigging spoons and glow jigs and they all seemed to work. There was however one important common denominator. They had to be white or close to white. Before I left for the trip, my friend Simon handed me three colours of this one lure that outfished all others we tried. He handed me 3 colours; white, silver and chartreuse. We caught most of our fish and our 2 biggest ones on the white one, a few on the silver and not a single fish on the chartreuse. Same with the other jigs we used, flashy colours and darker colours simply did not produce. White was the ticket. Which is odd, because these trout were spitting up crawfish.

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Another interesting thing is that lake trout up there definitely suspend. I was letting my jig down over 90 feet of water at one point and realized it just stopped sinking about half way to the bottom. I tightened up, felt weight and set the hook. Whatever took my jig was a big fish and it bolted to the bottom peeling drag. Unfortunately, the hook didn’t stick and I was left with a few scales as a souvenir. Hey, every fishing story includes the big one that got away right? Luckily, this one, which ended up being our biggest, didn’t.

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Overall we had a great time up there and I’d go back in a heartbeat. It’s very secluded and isolated, so if that’s what you’re looking for you’ll be happy here. Just keep in mind that if something goes wrong with your engine there are chances you could be stranded for days as there is no cell phone reception in most areas and it’s such a huge place that finding you would take a while. So it’s very important to keep safety in mind up there at all times. Having said that, the beauty and raw nature up there definitely draws you in and immediately allows you to forget the daily grind. There is nothing like heading in for shore lunch on a beautiful day with fish in the livewell.

Later that day, the lake offered us a gift. We were treated to one of the most beautiful evenings I remember experiencing. As I look at this picture and recall the moment, I remember the distant call of the loon and the feeling that at that precise time nothing mattered. There were no jobs to wake up for, bills or petty problems to worry about. The only things on my mind were the distant call of a loon, the sound of a cozy fire being started in the background and a waiting sleeping bag in a tent. And to me, that’s what a trip like this is all about.

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Until next time, Stay Outside!