“Yours is bigger than mine,” I quipped when my friend Colin Cameron landed a four foot spotted gar during our recent fishing expedition on the Ottawa River. It was an exciting moment and the highlight of many memorable moments that day. Minutes before, I caught my first gar–smaller than the specimen Colin landed but a gar. Catching the gar was a big thrill for me as I never expected, I would have the chance to land one. I remember the gar as a species of freshwater fish caught my eye when I was in grade four. I saw an illustration of the gar in a book to identify the freshwater fishes of North America by Herbert Zim. From that moment on, I dreamed of catching a gar. I had no idea they were found in local waters until recent years. That knowledge gave me hope that I might catch a gar someday, but the hope remained remote. Colin and I had a great day out on the river. Along with the gar, we caught several smallmouth bass, a couple of channel catfish, two pumpkinseeds and a northern pike. The bass, pumpkinseeds and pike were caught using an unorthodox technique devised by Alex, another of Colin’s fishing buddies. The day was not without drama, as you will see as you read on.
Colin and I met back in the 1990s when we were in our thirties. We drifted apart over time but remained acquainted on Facebook. We reconnected when we found we have a mutual interest in sport fishing. Colin invited me to come fishing with him, and I happily accepted. I met him at his house on the Ottawa River’s edge, west of Ottawa, at 10:30 AM. We gathered our gear, drinks and snacks and were underway in Colin’s fishing boat by 11:00 AM. Colin knows the waters on the stretch of the Ottawa River, where he lives very well. We motored out to some shallows and anchored at the edge of a weed line close to an island on the river’s Quebec side. We used spinning rods and reels with braided line and live minnows for bait, rigging them on two treble hooks–one hook through the head of the minnow and one through the lower half of the baitfish. We cast our lines into the shallows and steadily reeled in the bait. Before long, Colin landed two nice smallmouth bass and a channel catfish. I landed my first smallmouth of the day, and we put the bass into the live well on Colin’s boat.
It was at this spot we landed the two spotted gar. Colin had caught a gar before and knew how to handle them safely. It was a delicate operation to remove the hooks from the gar’s long, narrow snout lined with razor-sharp teeth. Both fish were freed from the hooks and safely returned to the river. I learned later that day, back onshore, that the spotted gar is listed as endangered. I am happy I finally had the opportunity to catch a gar and pleased that we returned the fish to the river. I hope they enjoy a long life and produce many progenies.
Eventually, we moved on to another of Colin’s fishing spots. The new spot is on a sandbar in the middle of the river. We anchored the boat then took a lunch break. We dined on ham on pumpernickel sandwiches, olives and pickled red peppers. Following the meal, we stepped into the waist-deep water and waded to the edge of a dropoff. We employed the unorthodox technique I mentioned in the opening paragraph. We used ice fishing rods and spinning reels, with Carolina rigs and worms for bait. We made short casts into the dropoff and slowly reeled the bait back in. We found that the bass were at the edge, where the water got deeper. We caught a few more bass, standing on the sandbar and had a few get off the hook as we tried to land them. The bite was slower than anticipated–Colin assured me that the spot often attracts bass, catfish and mooneye. We fished a while at this spot before moving on to a “secret” spot Colin shares only with visiting fishermen. The spot is another stretch of the river where it is shallow enough to wade. We tried our luck there for a while, only to find the bite slow.
Colin wanted to try a spot we passed on our way out at the start of the day. He told me it is typically not the best place to cast a line, but I thought it worth a try. It was at the least favoured location that our fortunes took an exciting turn. Once more, we waded into the shallows and cast with the Carolina rigs on our ice fishing rods and reels with worms for bait. We started catching appreciable numbers of smallmouth bass. Colin had quite a streak of luck, landing several bass as I stood by, casting and casting. I observed that he is a more seasoned fisherman than me–that he likely has more finesse in casting and detecting baits. Colin remained unconvinced and as if to tell me, “I told you so,” I made a cast and hooked the biggest bass Colin ever saw landed on the Ottawa River. I caught the bass while Colin was on the telephone with a friend in St. Petersburg, Russia. As Colin chatted with his friend in Russian, I saw my monster bass break the water.
As I did my best to keep the bass on the line with my ice fishing combo, Colin noticed and told his friend he had to call him back. Colin picked up the landing net, and after a fight that lasted a few minutes, scooped up the bass. We took photos of ourselves holding the bass and set it free. Colin and I are conservation-minded. We are careful not to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs. Though we kept some bass for the table, we freed the specimens less than twelve inches or more than fourteen inches in length. Colin estimated that the monster bass I caught weighed up to five pounds. The fish who live to reach this size are preferred as breeding stock. We hope the bass lives to spawn for many seasons to come–to pass on its genes and maintain a healthy stock of bass for those who appreciate them as a game fish.
Our incredible fortune continued on the normally less productive spot when Colin landed an eight and a half-inch pumpkinseed. We would have preferred to release the fish, but it suffered mortal injuries in taking the bait. Rather than leave it for scavengers, we added it to the catch. Pumpkinseed fillets are tasty. I know this as I am an enthusiastic pan fisherman.
What happened next really took the cake. I made a cast and set the hook when I felt a bite. I saw in the water as the fish took drag that it was a small bass. As the fish continued to fight, I saw something larger in the water. Colin picked up the landing net, and as I manoeuvered the fish into position, we discovered that a big northern pike had given chase to the bass and got scooped up into the net. I remember as a boy watching an episode of an outdoor show called “North Country Sportsman.” In the episode, the host and company were fishing for muskies. During a break in the action, they fished for bass for their lunch. A muskie struck on a bass that one of the men hooked. The muskie got away in that instance. The pike is the third I caught in my lifetime, and the second I landed using an ice fishing rod and reel combo. I caught a pike through the ice on the Ottawa River last winter using a light spinning combo with fishing line that was three-pound test. Colin got bitten by the pike as he worked to revive it. Yes, the northern pike is a predator, and you need to be mindful that it has a mouth filled with sharp teeth. The pike swam on its way after it had the chance to catch its breath.
As I stated at the beginning of my account of our great day of fishing on the Ottawa River, it was not without drama. Colin and I stopped at a location close to his house to cast some lines with hooks and bobbers to use up the last of the minnows we brought for bait. What happened next is detailed by Colin, who wrote on Facebook, “And to top it off, a large catfish literally almost sunk the boat by tangling itself around the engine (it was not running) and then getting the line in the plug pulling the plug out. We got back home just in time – hadn’t a clue why the boat wouldn’t plane until I got it on the dock and noted the bilge was completely full of water.” Despite the drama, back onshore, Colin prepared a hearty meal of spaghetti and meat sauce for us while I filleted the catch of the day. The smallest bass (all smallmouth) measured eleven inches and the largest, sixteen inches. These fish were kept for the table as they did not survive Colin’s effort to remove the hooks from them. The rest were all fourteen inches. The bass and pumpkinseed yielded several pounds of tasty fillets that Colin and I shared. It was a great day of fishing, on that we will have a hard time topping. Though I do hope that one day Colin and I can get out together for a muskie hunt. In the meantime, I will remain ever grateful to Colin for taking me on my most memorable fishing trip to date.
Posted by Geoffrey