Charles Dickens once wrote, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness…”. Although we didn’t quite reach those extremes, the quote nicely sums up how I feel about this past weekend.
Our only plans for this weekend were to hit the Grand River and take part in the Grand River Bass Derby. I bought our tickets weeks in advance, Darrell and I had long discussions about the exact locations we wished to fish, and we knew what gear we would need for each day at least a week in advance. That was our ‘age of wisdom’.
Saturday morning dawned as the ‘best of times’. The sun was starting to shine through the trees as we dropped off of the car at our take-out location and headed upstream to the Conestogo golf course where we would be putting the boat in. We had gotten an early enough start to have great parking spots and no traffic while carting the boat and gear to the water. We chose to take our old Springbok, affectionately known as ‘Leaky’, for this stretch of river because she’s a light boat that is easy for us to drag down to the water when there is no launch. After loading the rods, tackle bag, safety gear, and a cooler that serves as a makeshift livewell, we set off drifting down the river.
A beautiful start to the morning.
The Grand River.
Darrell, always eager to reprise his role as a river guide, push-poled us through the first set of rapids while we both took casts and each landed our first smallmouth bass of the derby. They were several inches shorter than the length required to enter them in the derby, so they were quickly released. Drifting into the first pool I noticed the sky was now that perfect summer blue with a few puffy white clouds to break up the tableau. We marveled at the changes in the river since we had last drifted that stretch. With the spring flooding the Grand experienced, things had changed more than normal, and none of the overhanging trees we usually relied on for bass-holding structure were anywhere to be seen.
Leaky acquired her name for obvious reasons. She’s an old tinny that has been in Darrell’s family for decades and has been well-used. Every dent in her has a story. We have never taken her out without getting wet feet, despite Darrell’s patch jobs, so we were expecting to see some water in the boat. We were not expecting the water to be ankle-deep only 20 minutes into the journey. Here was our ‘age of foolishness’. It had been some time since we last put Leaky in the water, and we really should have tested her in advance of the derby. However, neither of us wanted to call it a day, and the water wasn’t coming in so fast that we were in danger. We moved our gear around so it would stay drier, baled the boat out, and kept on fishing. The water actually served to keep us cool and ended up being welcome as the temperature rose.
Not long after the first baling.
As for the fishing, we cast a variety of lures and for the most part, we had nothing but a few small fish to show for it. I spent much of the morning throwing a Rapala FlatRap. The action of this bait must really mimic the minnows in this river, because it usually catches me a ton of fish in the Grand. Darrell switched up between a wacky-rigged senko and a spinnerbait. When I decided the FlatRap wasn’t quite cutting it, I went with a Z-Man Original ChatterBait. It had the right type of profile I was looking for, and just the right vibration and flash. For once it looked like I knew what I was talking about, because just a few casts later my lure was smashed and I was reeling in a big…pike? Hmm…not the smallie I was looking for, but what a nice fish. Too bad my ChatterBait was destroyed in the process.
My biggest pike from a river.
Leaky waiting to be pulled out.
We reached the end of our drift after landing a few more smallies, pulled the boat out at Snyder’s Flats, and headed home for a nap. After dinner we decided to hit a stretch of river further upstream with the fly rods. Having spent some time talking about fly fishing with a fellow blogger, Mel at The Pond Stalker Blog, I was thinking it would be a blast to chase smallies on the fly. However, when we arrived and found nothing but brown trout feeding all over the river, we changed our flies and started trout fishing. The trout were smart enough to avoid our flies.
Sunday morning began with a jolt when the cats woke me up and I realized we had forgotten to set an alarm. For this outing were heading to Riverbluffs Park in Galt to fish a stretch of the Grand that had shown us some decent smallies in the past, but also had a great population of crappie last time we had visited. As well, we wanted to fish out of Luma, our regular boat (just another tinny, but a much sturdier one), and Galt has a boat launch. Cue the foolishness. I sat in the boat as Darrell launched it, and as soon as I was clear of the trailer, the boat would not move. Looking around, I realized I was stuck in mud. I tried to push my way out, but it eventually required the motors being pulled up and Darrell doing some shifting to get us clear. Guess we should have looked at the launch first.
We were one of several boats enjoying this stretch of river, and there were far more smallies to go around in this portion. We started by landing some small guys, then by playing with sunfish and rock bass. Darrell found a great channel in the river which allowed us to get further upstream than the other boats and we saw, but missed, a couple of real nice fish. Drifting back down we found some more big smallmouth cruising in the shallows. I nearly had the great moment with my fly rod when a big bass followed my frog imitation in. Unfortunately, as soon as it saw the boat it was gone. The fishing was better than the day before and we were having a great time, but we still couldn’t find anything approaching the 20 inches we would need to win the derby. By early afternoon we decided to call it a day. And that was when the ‘worst of times’ hit.
After loading the boat on the trailer, we went to pull it out and one bunk came loose, causing the boat shift, and ultimately fall off of the trailer onto the ramp. I won’t bother repeating the words that went through my mind at this point. We took the gear out, and with the aid of a wonderful gentleman who saw it all happen, we got the boat on the trailer, added an extra ratchet strap, and headed for home. Needless to say, we didn’t feel like attending the prize ceremony after that.
Despite the troubles, we did get two beautiful days on the water. We caught some of the great fish that the Grand has to offer, we participated in a fun derby, we saw scores of other anglers getting out there, and we had a good learning experience. I can’t wait for next year, but I hope it will only contain the best of times.
You can view the results of the Grand River Bass Derby here.