The Spanish Connection
Back in September, the Fishing 411 TV crew traveled to a world class smallmouth fishing destination few anglers are aware of. Ironically, this destination isn’t a remote wilderness trip, a fly-in camp or even one of those trips you have to drive for many hours to reach.
We visited an area along the North shore of Lake Huron known as the Whaleback region. Named for the arching rocks that stick out of the water and resemble a breaching whale, the Whaleback is located near the town of Spanish, Ontario.
Spanish, Ontario is located about an hour and a half east of Sault Ste., Marie on Highway 17. Our base camp was Waterfalls Lodge, located just a couple minutes out of Spanish.
When traveling and fishing in this area of Ontario we often stay at Waterfalls Lodge for a number of reasons. Lodging is available in both cabin rentals and motel units located right on the water. The lodge maintains one of the nicest fleets of fishing boats I’ve ever seen in Ontario. Anglers have access to 16 foot Starcraft boats complete with flat floors, swivel seats, livewells, sonar, electric motors and 25 HP Yamaha outboards.
These boats can be used to access a chain lakes teaming with smallmouth bass, or you can bring your own boat. On site there is a well stocked bait shop, a full service restaurant and a swimming beach ideal for the family.
In addition to the smallmouth fishing at the Whaleback and lodge, visitors can explore the Ontario wilderness on UTV and fish guided remote lakes only accessible by all terrain vehicles.
MORE ABOUT THE WHALEBACK
Trophy smallmouth are most commonly found on hard bottom structure. Drop shot rigs armed with a host of different soft plastics rank among the most productive methods for targeting these fish.
What makes the Whaleback region of Lake Huron unique is that anglers have access to a huge amount of pristine smallmouth bass habitat, but this region of the lake is also protected by a series of islands. Known as the North Channel, this ribbon of water stretches for miles and has everything smallmouth bass and bass anglers could hope for.
Not only does this portion of Lake Huron support a huge population of smallmouth, the average size fish is much larger than is typically caught from in-land lakes. On our trip two pound bass were a dime a dozen, three pounders were common and four and five pound fish kept us busy.
Faced with this much water and only a few days to fish, our crew decided we would concentrate on a point hopping strategy. We launched in Spanish at the Municipal Marina and motored west about 20 minutes to the area where the North Channel empties into Lake Huron. From that point we worked our way back to Spanish, hitting every prominent point we could find that featured lots of boulders and nearby access to deep water.
Bryan Darland holds two great reasons to visit Waterfalls Lodge and the Whaleback region of Lake Huron. Smallmouth fishing in this beautiful and lightly fished and often overlooked region of Ontario is world class.
On the majority of Fishing 411 episodes Jake and I fish together. Occasionally, we fish with friends of the show and in this case we hooked up with Bryan Darland, one of the best smallmouth anglers I know and the fishing tackle buyer for Jay’s Sporting Goods.
Bryan and I have fished the Whaleback before, so we have a pretty good idea what would likely work and what wouldn’t. In September, the weather in Ontario can be anything from summer-like to winter-like, so we came prepared for the worst and hoped for the best.
We expected the smallmouth to be in their late summer patterns, so shallow water was pretty much eliminated right out of the gate. Instead, we concentrated on points that had 20 to 40 feet of water right up tight to shore.
For those who target smallmouth bass often, it will come as no surprise that drop shot rigs produced the majority of our bass. The beauty of a drop shot rig is they allow anglers to fish deep water and also to cover water quickly.
We fished Daiwa Tatula medium/light action spinning rods, 10 pound test braid and at the terminal end we used a three foot leader of 10 pound test fluorocarbon line with a No. 2 Eagle Claw Trokar Drop Shot hook. The hook is secured to the leader using a Palomar knot, then the tag end is run back through the hook eye so the point of the hook is positioned upwards and in-line with the leader. The rig was finished with a 1/2 ounce drop shot sinker.
At the business end we found success with several different soft plastic baits. One of the unique things about the Whaleback is the smallmouth here are feeding on a wide assortment of forage species including crayfish, round goby, emerald shiners and on our trip rainbow smelt were especially abundant.
To replicate these different forage types requires using a host of different soft plastics. Topping our list were the Z-Man Finesse TRD (2.75” long) and Big TRD (4” long) in Green Pumpkin, Green Pumpkin Goby and Coppertreuse. We also caught lots of fish on the Z-Man PaddlerZ 4” and 5” models and also the Scented Jerk Shad 4” and 5” models in the Smelt, Shiner and Houdini colors.
The PaddlerZ and Scented Jerk Shad are impregnated with Pro Cure Super Gel right in the package. We added Pro Cure smelt formula to the Finesse TRD and Big TRD plastics.
For those who have not used the Z-Man plastics they are made with an ultra soft and stretchy plastic known as ElaZtech that is durable enough to produce dozens and dozens of fish without having to replace it. Most soft plastics are good for a few fish and then they start to rip and tear and must be replaced.
FINE TUNING THE BITE
While obvious points and the drop shot rig produced the vast majority of our fish, Bryan was able to catch some exceptional smallmouth by throwing a NED rig with the Finesse TRD. It takes a special kind of patience to fish a NED rig in 25 to 30 feet of water, but Bryan was able to use this set up to catch bonus fish after we had worked over an area with drop shot rigs.
We also found some exceptional fishing on select flats that featured scattered boulders. Using the Side-Imaging on my Lowrance HDS Live units we were able to not only find these flats, but we could actually spot individual boulders and pick out the ones that had fish relating to them.
On these flats it was a game of see fish, catch fish. We moved around slowly graphing until we would spot fish, then put the electric motor in “anchor” mode and cast to specific spots we could see holding fish.
The municipal launch in Spanish, Ontario caters to anglers and is only a short drive from Waterfalls Lodge.
During our stay we spotted only a couple other fishing boats and those boats were trolling open water for walleye. We were the only boat targeting bass and in previous trips to the Whaleback it has been pretty much the same. What fishing pressure we see is usually associated close to the Spanish Municipal Marina.
It’s hard to imagine a fishing destination that’s this beautiful, this productive, this pristine and this close to home that has not been discovered by the masses. The fact is, most of the anglers who travel to Ontario to fish are more interested in walleye and northern pike than smallmouth bass. Like they say, to each his own.
IF YOU GO
If you decide to make the trip north, you can get more information by contacting Waterfalls Lodge at www.waterfallslodge.com or reaching out to the tourism arm of Ontario at www.ontariotravel.net or www.destinationontario.ca or www.algomacountry.com.