Our second shoot of the season was exactly what we needed to get into the swing of real Canadian road trips – a fifteen-hour drive to the beautiful province of New Brunswick.
The first leg of this trip had us on a mission to examine a seldom-discussed, yet emerging, fishery in the town of Nackawic – Smallmouth Bass on the legendary St. John River. More than just the fish, however, we were on a mission to examine the culture of this unique area.
Examining culture may seem like a strange way to frame a fishing trip, but, to us, it can be just as important as the fish you catch. After all, would a trip to northern Ontario be the same without the small town chip trucks, local tackle shops with mounts of trophy “Pickerel”, or slanting inukshuks on towering rock walls?
Furthermore, can you really say you’ve been to the Maritimes without a Lobster dinner or a stop-in at a kitchen party? Thankfully, this trip had both, but the culture we were looking for was one that the Maritimes are not (yet) known for, that of tournament bass fishing.
THE DESTINATION NACKAWIC SMALLMOUTH OPEN TOURNAMENT
To find this, we began our first morning in New Brunswick as soon as the sun would allow us, at the opening blast off of the inaugural Destination Nackawic Smallmouth Open. By the time we got there, we instantly found the culture we had unfairly been questioning.
Before the sun had even fully risen, the brand-new Nackawic marina was full of sparkling bass boats, most already launched and hovering in place with the help of self-anchoring Garmin trolling motors. The anglers that were not yet on the water were shuffling around the parking lot, conversing with fellow competitors and nursing their styrofoam cups of hot coffee that were left over from the complimentary, pre-tournament breakfast put on by the local Lions Club. When the parking lot cleared, we watched as a few stragglers speedily launched their boats through the roar of friendly hazing from their competitors and met with the rest of the pack in front of the pontoon boat that was assigned the honor of beginning the blast-off.
High-priced tournament bass boats milling about in the morning before take-off, or afternoon at weigh-in is always a sight to see
As we watched the tournament kick-off, Ang and Pete couldn’t help but reminisce on their tournament days. Ang couldn’t believe how much this event reminded him of the early years of the Ontario tournament bass fishing scene, a time when the potential of the province’s bass fishery was being discovered and the enthusiasm for what we now have in our backyards was being fully realized.
Pete relayed the same feeling after walking around conversing with the competitors, most of whom were donning sponsor-covered tournament jerseys and speaking the jargon of seasoned bass pros. Bass fishing, and its culture, seemed to have planted its roots in Nackawic. It was now time to see if the fishing would hold up.
Ang and Pete are no strangers to fishing tournaments. In fact, that’s exactly how they met. This image/event dates back to 2014.
The first day wrapped without a hitch, with every boat weighing in their five fish limit and the standings as tight as we had seen in a tournament of this size. The second day, however, tested the strength of the culture, and the gear, this small community had built.
Winds began blowing the night before and brought with them a storm set to dump over 20mm of rain just in time for blast-off. Our cameraman spared us from the elements (we can not film in the rain (or so he tells us)), but, the tournament powered on and we heard the hum of bass boats rushing down the river from the canopied porch of our B&B as we recorded an episode of the Outdoor Journal Radio podcast.
When we met at the weigh-in, the crowd was already forming and, within an hour, we had a marina full of spectators, a happy mayor, and two winners on stage holding an oversized cheque reading $10,000.
A nice pay cheque for a day on the water
After a celebratory night at the local brewery, it was finally time for us to see what all this buzz was about. We loaded up the Princecraft and met up with local expert and tournament competitor Jeff Wilson to find out what these smallmouth were all about.
The area we were fishing was a skinny section of river that was out of bounds to the previous day’s tournament. Not only was this stretch free from angling pressure, it was also prime staging territory for the Smallmouth Bass that would be stocking up for their annual spawn.
Jeff led us up the river on idle with Dean standing on the front of his bow looking for prop-twisting boulders. He had been up the week before to mark a trail, but this dammed river is anything but consistent.
Over the course of the day, water levels can fluctuate by the foot, turning underwater humps into islands and prime smallmouth structure into deadheads. Jeff put an exclamation mark on this fact by pointing out the patches of seaweed that were hung on the birch branches that lined the shoreline. “It didn’t get there from the wind,” he affirmed.
Here is a shot of the “unmapped” area of the river that we were fishing. Although our new Quick-Drawn map doesn’t show a lot yet, with time, the area will be filled in.
After a slow cruise upriver, we immediately saw why smallmouth have established themselves so strongly in this river. The banks were rocky and full of wooden structure and the fast water created eddies that acted as a giant, swirling target telling us where to land our baits. We picked up our rods, unhooked the Yo-Zuri jerkbaits and twitchbaits from the bait holders, and threw them exactly where the river told us. One jerk and two turns of the reel and our first fish was on.
These St John Smallies like the one Ang is holding here, are certainly a sight to behold… such gorgeous fish!
This action continued straight through for the next two days, with almost every cast producing either a near-miss or a beautiful camo-coloured Smallmouth Bass.
Now, as you will see on the show, not all these fish are giants. In fact, the average size of these bass was probably close to just two pounds. But that is more a result of the sheer numbers than any reflection of the trophy potential of this fishery.
So many double headers… and then some!
During our days on the St. John, we caught hundreds of Smallmouth Bass. When numbers are this high, smaller fish are unavoidable as their voracious feeding habits bring them to your bait much faster than their big, energy-conserving counterparts. But as the 5-pound Nackawic tournament lunker will tell you, BIG smallmouth are not uncommon in the St. John and with the growing bass fishing culture and intelligent angling pressure rising in the province of New Brunswick, it will not be long before record-breaking fish begin coming out of the St. John river.
Pete releasing an absolute fatty of an NB Smallmouth Bass
Want to see a full breakdown of how we caught these fish? Check out the article below!
GETTIN THERE – NACKAWIC NEW BRUNSWICK
To get to this episode’s outstanding Smallmouth after Smallmouth action, we first took hwy 401 east to the Quebec border.
Next we took hwy 20 to hwy 30 and eventually got back on to hwy 20.
Next we turned south-east on hwy 85.
Once in New Brunswick we took hwy 2 south east.
We turned left onto 102, crossed the bridge and then turned right on Otis Drive.
We finally reached our destination at the Big Axe Bed and Breakfast on the left hand side.
This may just be the perfect location for a B&B. It overlooks the St John River and it sits directly beside the Big Axe Brewery. You can simply walk over and partake in a great “after-fishing meal” or sample one of the many local brews they have to offer.
What a way to end the day.
The town of Nackawic is known for having the world’s largest Ax. It’s quite the sight to behold. People from near and far gather here to view this monster of a wood chopper and of course get a great picture in the process.
If you’re looking for something to do with the family, you can explore the beauty of the Destination Nackawic Region by touring the Loop Scenic Drive. The loop runs along the shores of the St. John River and takes 75 minutes to complete. It features more than a dozen breathtaking vistas.
As usual on the East Coast, the locals in the Nackawic area are truly special and will welcome you with open arms.
EPISODE SPECIAL THANKS AND LINKS
Destination Nackawic https://destinationnackawic.ca/
Explore NB https://tourismnewbrunswick.ca/
Fredericton Capital Region https://www.frederictoncapitalregion.ca/