SOUTH MUSKOKA - Going up against the best anglers from Ontario’s division of the BASS Federation could be daunting for some, but for Bracebridge angler Dave Rochette it’s like fish in the bag.
Rochette, a member of the Muskoka Bassmasters and competitive angler for nearly 20 years, topped Team Ontario anglers competing in the amateur bass fishing tournament Sept. 22-24 on Candlewood Lake in Danbury, Connecticut.
Rochette earned a spot on Team Ontario last fall during a qualifier on Lake Muskoka. In order to move on to the BASS Federation Nation Championship, Rochette had to beat out his 11 teammates from Ontario.
After three days of competition on the water, he topped the team with a total of 29.5 pounds and finished 16th overall out of 96 anglers. He was four pounds ahead of his closest Ontario counterpart, allowing him to advance to nationals on the Red River in Shreveport, Louisiana Oct. 27-29.
Rochette arrived early in Connecticut to pre-fish the state’s largest lake, which sees 170 registered fishing tournaments a year.
“I’ve made Team Ontario four times before, but by far this was the best teamwork I’ve experienced,” he said. “We worked as a team to find different areas during the pre-fish and all got along well.”
Candlewood Lake is about the size of Lake Couchiching at seven miles long and is actually the remnants of a town that has been filled with water.
Using electronics that give a two-dimensional view of the lake bottom, Rochette could see road beds, gravestones, foundations of old homes and even a tractor.
“The trick was figuring out how to get the fish to bite. The fish in this lake see so many lures and have access to so much food because of the bait fish there,” he explained.
As a boater in the tournament, Rochette drew a non-boater to fish with each of the three days. His first day was tough.
“I didn’t have my (five-fish) limit in the boat until 2:30 p.m. and the day is over at 3 p.m.,” he said. “I was fishing mainly for smallmouth, and I lost a largemouth that was about five pounds.”
Heading into day two in fourth place for Ontario and five pounds behind the leader, Rochette drew an angler from Rhode Island and again found he was racing the clock.
“I had two fish at 2 p.m. and had to be back by 3:15. Around 2:15 I caught two good fish quick and then went to a deep spot. With 10 minutes to go, I caught a good-sized largemouth in 30 feet of water. It was very lucky and pretty exciting.”
His total weight for day two was 12.5 pounds, ahead of many of his Ontario counterparts, some of whom only brought in six and nine pounds.
“After my first day I was five pounds behind Rob Hyatt from North Bay and then he only caught two pounds on day two, so going into the last day I had a 5.5-pound lead for Ontario,” said Rochette.
He was paired with an angler from New York on the final day of the tournament and had better luck reeling in four largemouth keepers. He ended up throwing one 4.25-pounder back before the weigh-in for fear its length wouldn’t qualify.
“I had one fish that was a hair above 12 inches, but I didn’t want to take the chance that it wasn’t 12 inches because the rules state I would lose that fish and the biggest one I had in the bag,” he said. “I had an idea that I didn’t need one of them to win. If I hadn’t thrown back that fish, I would’ve been 12th instead of 16th, but it doesn’t matter where you finish as long as you’re the top angler on the team.”
The overall tournament winner was an angler from Connecticut, flanked by four others from that state who finished in the top 10.
Rosseau’s Phil Curtis, who also made Team Ontario during the Muskoka qualifier last September, finished third in Ontario with 22 pounds, two ounces.
Preparing for nationals
Rochette will leave for Louisiana Oct. 22 and is planning three days of pre-fishing before the Red River tournament takes place Oct. 27-29. Each angler is equipped with a Skeeter bass boat and Yamaha engine.
“My main focus is to catch five fish per day,” he said. “It’s pressured water where fish are caught 365 days a year. There is no closed season so it will be challenging fishing, especially with no water clarity. Fishing a river and lake are two different things. In the past I’ve been fortunate to do well in pre-fish, so hopefully it’ll be good and I’ll do well.”
Rochette’s research of the Red River revealed the water body has a series of locks creating currents and is opaque, like chocolate milk.
“They use 65-pound test line because you’re fishing in trees and bushes in flooded areas off the main channel,” Rochette said. “There’s even alligators down there and snakes in the trees.”
The top angler in Louisiana from his division of eight earns a first-place prize of $60,000, plus a berth to the BASS Federation Classic next February where $500,000 is up for grabs.
“I can come in 30th and still go on to the Classic as long as I’m ahead of everyone in eastern division,” he said. “That’s what I’m hoping for.”