By Luigi De Rose
With the kids back at school, Top Bass anglers had one thing on their mind, the Classic on Balsam Lake. Under high heat and humidity, practice for most was decent. The black cloud that was hanging over everyone’s head was the horrible weather that was forecasted for the tournament. Rain, strong winds and bitter cold would shock the bass and anglers from their summer bliss.
|Jerkbaits and smallmouth a winning combo for Tim and Mike.
(Photo: Jeff English)
Balsam Lake has the highest elevation of all the Kawartha Lakes and it’s water flow both east and west to feed the Trent-Severn System. It has a rich wealth of smallmouth and largemouth but it can be difficult to fish. Most anglers target bass away from the shoreline that is dotted with expensive homes and cottages. The lake’s famous grass beds and rocky flats are where fame and fortune can be found.
Having only fished occasionally as a team, Tim Fernandes and Mike Quesnelle work exceptionally well together. Tim and Mike worked so well together they captured the 2015 Top Bass Classic in dramatic style. Both bringing qualities to the partnership that benefitted each other this weekend. Specifically, Tim enjoys offshore fishing for smallmouth and prefers to target bass he can see on the electronics. Mike, with over two decades of tournaments under his belt, is solid as a rock and provided tremendous strength and a voice of experience throughout the tournament.
“I only got to fish the weekend before but I found a great pattern.” Declares Fernandes. He discovered a specific weed bed on a mid-lake flat that held three-pound smallmouths. Setting the hook on the first bass, revealed smallmouth buried in the grass and not the typical largemouth. The jig and Lake Fork trailer produced many more bites but Tim didn’t wish to string bass so he left the area once he determined the specific area the bass where hold in.
Practicing several days without much fanfare, it wasn’t until Thursday that Mike discovered the winning pattern. “On Thursday, I started using a jerkbait on rock piles. Then I started creaming them and I when I hooked one, five others would come with it. Shallow rock seems to work best.” Reflects Quesnelle.
|Casting gear was key for slow retrieve and power.
On Friday, the team paired up and tried to establish a largemouth bite. With the pending poor weather and the notorious disappearing smallmouth, they wanted a largemouth pattern as backup if the smallmouth bite died. Unfortunately, after an entire day on the water, they only latched into two bucketmouths and decided the jerkbait bite was their best bet.
After the first day they sat in 2nd place with 16.45lbs. The day unfolded slower than they expected but were pleased with hooking a good smallmouth right off the bat. The morning bite was best. They netted
11 keepers on Saturday but were disappointed compare to the practice where 40 bass could have come easily if they worked their best areas. Tim says, “We expected everyone was going to do well and it would be a slugfest. Even with the windy weather we expected the fishing to be better.”
“We had 5 areas that we were going to target and rotate between each of the places. These areas were large enough that we could revisit them. We only saw 2 boats in one of our best areas but the other areas didn’t get fished much. We were targeting very specific areas and spots.” Explains Mike.
Surprisingly, they never invested anytime into the jig fish. The wind has been kicking up waves and they felt the jerkbait wouldn’t require as much boat control as the weed bass would.
When they woke, it was only 7C, a huge difference from the 27C only a few days earlier. “We didn’t adjust or change anything from our pattern the day before. We knew we were on good fish and we just has to slow down and keep fishing.” reflects Tim. Tim expressed tremendous gratitude towards Mike for his fortitude in keeping calm and level heading during the event. Mike’s year of experience, especially during the long lulls in the action, kept them in the game.
Again, they would make long casts with the minnow plugs and slowly jerk them along. “We were not doing a jerk-jerk-jerk-pause in a quick pace.” Advises Tim. They would slow jerk and allow long pauses between rod twitches. The key was to run the baits slowly and give the smallmouth time to eat it.
The two laugh at Mike’s special saying which was: “hours of boredom followed by moments of panic.” The fishing was so slow at times but they had to be on their toes when we got one. “The fish went nuts! Watching them cart wheeling and splashing in the whitecaps was so stressful.” Recalls Mike.
“Sunday, the bite was in the morning just like Saturday. The day before we had four good bass and one small one by 11:10am. We tried to get the small one out but only had 30 minutes left before we culled the tiny one out. On Sunday we had most of our weight by 10am.” Laments Mike
Tim explains that he thought he ruined their chances for the win with a lost fish. “I set the hook on a big, black one with a huge belly. It jumped and the jerkbait flew out. I was sure we lost the tournament. But Mike, confident and up-beat, kept us positive and sure enough we got another one to cull.”
“Mike got a 3 ½ pounder at the end of the day (Sunday) that really made the difference. We were screaming, not that we won but that we didn’t put ourselves out of it. We had the bass to win but it wasn’t a sure thing at all."Describes Tim
Sure enough, their 15.82lb catch was enough to seal the win and the $12 grand prize money.
Lures: A mix of Jackall squad minnows, Lucky Crafts and Megabass. In black/silver, Tennessee Shad and perch.
Rods: G Loomis GLX854 & G Loomis NRX 893.
Reels: Shimano Metanium and Core 50
Line: 20lb Power Pro braid with 17lb or 20lb Fluorocarbon leaders
The real key to the win was using casting gear. The pair felt the casting gear allowed better bait control and more accurate casting. “You can really control the cadence. It’s so much easier to go slow with casting. “Advises Tim. Another key
Mike wish give thanks to his fiancés Janet who is holding the check and will not let him cash it unless he behaves. Plus a huge thanks to: Shimano, G Loomis, Jackall Lures and Power Pro.
Tim wishes to thanks his wife Joy Anne for her support. Thanks to Tracker marine, Bass Pro Shops Power Pros Service Centre, Lake Fork Tackle, New Age Lures.