Bucket Mouths and Bronze Backs

While Northern Ontario isn't known for its bass fishing–it should be. Find out why with this trip out on the water with Angling Algoma.

When we think about bass we don’t usually think about Northern Ontario. However, those with their ear to the ground know the lakes of Algoma Country offer stunning smallmouth angling on unpressured waters. Fewer still know of the weedy whereabouts of largemouth bass, lurking the docks, rocks, and weeds of Algoma.

Although I’m hip to Algoma’s smallmouth, I am definitely a largemouth square. But I’m hoping to change that by enlisting the services of Tyler Dunn Guiding. My prospects are further improved with the addition of his friend and fellow guide, Adam Vallee of Angling Algoma.

Tyler and Adam with a pair of largemouth bass.

Largemouth Clinic

It’s well into September when we launch Adam’s 20-foot bass boat and head to where the St. Marys River is squeezed between St. Joseph Island and the mainland. Here the chalky-coloured waters are loaded with pine-topped granite islands, rocky shoals, and weedy bays.

Launching at St. Joseph island the St. Mary’s River.

We slide over to a steeply sloping shoreline and start casting jigs and plastic. It’s not long before Tyler and Adam hook up with largemouth of about a pound and a half. We work our way to a shallow weedy shoreline and cast into waters that, in my ignorance, I would normally drive past.

Tyler hoists a nice largemouth bass.

“Look at those mats,” says Tyler admiringly as he dunks a flippin’ jig amongst pads and holes in thick weed to deftly pluck out fat largemouth. Adam casts a top-water frog deep into vegetation to walk it out over the greenery, eliciting the occasional explosion of a largemouth that he hauls out with speed and vigour.

Fishing back in the slop largemouth.
A big largemouth bass for Adam.

Tyler and Adam let me try a few things, but it is painfully obvious that I don’t have a clue how to catch largemouth back in the slop. Adam slides me a top-water frog and Tyler points to prospective haunts. “See if you can get it back into that hole,” he says, pointing to a circular opening surrounded by bulrushes. Repeated casts result in a few noncommittal strikes, but it’s a start.

As we approach a line of docks and boathouses along a shallow shoreline Tyler hands me a flippin’ jig with a trailer. After watching Adam and Tyler rifle their presentations under the shady side of docks, I too manage to deliver a decent cast or two and start landing some good largemouth.

Adam Vallee grips another largemouth from the weeds and rocks of Algoma.

By the time the sun meets the gnarled tips of the tall pines, I know much more about largemouth bass fishing than I did when we left the dock this morning. We reluctantly stow our rods and make plans for the next day.

The bass were biting from sunup to sundown.

Bronze Bonanza

Another gorgeous day dawns and we head to one in a cluster of inland lakes between Sault Ste. Marie and Blind River. It’s typical of the area with steep pine-topped rocky shorelines sloping down to hardwood stands and weedy lowlands with thick overhanging cedars. Adam watches the electronics. “I’m looking for bait balls and fish,” he says. After locating a school, we slow the boat and lower drop shot rigs. Immediately Adam is hooked up. There’s peeling drag and a big smallmouth breaking surface before Tyler nets a fish that has to be pushing four pounds. Next, Tyler boats its twin.

Adam hoists a hefty smallmouth.

While I enjoyed the largemouth clinic, I’m really hoping to catch a few smallmouth. I watch Tyler, who is constantly twitching and shaking his drop shot. I emulate his actions and soon feel a tap. I reel down and set the hook to enjoy the strong pull of what turns out to be another bronze back pushing 19-inches.

Adam scoops a smallmouth for Tyler.
My best fish comes on a gold flake drop shot worm.

As the day gets warmer, the action only improves. The bay we’re fishing is a huge bowl about 25 feet deep with subtle structure, where swarms of bass corral schools of baitfish. When fish start busting on the surface we have luck on swim baits, tubes, and football jigs, but my biggest bass comes on a gold flake drop shot worm. It doesn’t fight as much as the two to four-pounders we’ve been catching, but it’s a heavy fish that comes up slowly. Through polarized glasses, I see a long and fat shape, and when Tyler slips the net under, it’s nearly 22 inches, one of my largest bass ever.

Lifting my  best fish of the day caught on a gold flake drop shot worm.

Northern Ontario may not be known for its bass fishing, but after the last couple of days of buckets and bronze, I wonder why not.

About James Smedley

Professional photographer and writer James Smedley’s contributions—more than 400 pieces and close to 1,000 images—to U.S. and Canadian books, magazines, and newspapers have earned him over 40 national and international awards. In addition to teaching photography workshops, James is the travel editor at Ontario OUT of DOORS magazine. James has fly-fished for brook trout and arctic grayling in far northern rivers and continues to cast for trout, bass, and steelhead near his home in the northern Ontario town of Wawa where he lives with his wife Francine and daughters Islay and Lillian.


Visit James at www.jamessmedleyoutdoors.com

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