By Jonathon Brodie – Brockville Recorder
After watching the Thousand Islands Open daily weigh-in, it seems obvious why the bass tournament came to the area in the first place and why it’s probably going to stay here for quite some time.
After each bucket of five fish was put on the scale and the weight revealed to the crowd, something had to be pointed out by host Paul Shibata to everyone sitting around the open grassy area at Rockport’s Ed Huck Marine, resting along the St. Lawrence River.
“Remember when you got 20 pounds with six fish and that was a good day?” said Shibata, an executive with Renegade Bass, the organization hosting the event. “Nowadays, 20 pounds (with five fish) is a bad day.”
Over the course of the three-day event, there were 38 catches that were greater than 20 pounds. On Saturday, the event’s last day, there were 15 catches over 20 pounds amongst a shortened field of 36 (out of 72) top anglers that made the cut to compete.
Curtis Richardson and Brad Arnott ended up taking the Thousand Islands Open title, picking up weights of 24.26, 25.71 and 25.75 pounds, respectively, over the course of the tournament and won $15,000. A three-day total greater than 75 pounds is a staggering number for anglers in the know, said Shibata.
The winning pair knows the area well. Richardson is a Belleville native who makes the 40-minute trip to Kingston often to launch his boat and fish in the St. Lawrence River, while Arnott, from Durham, Ont., has a cottage in the area.
“I always tell people it’s the best bass lake in the world,” said Richardson.
“And it seems to be getting better,” added Arnott.
It doesn’t seem to be getting better, it is better, according to Shibata, who is a fishing biologist by profession.
Don’t listen to tales from an older generation talking about the glory days of fishing because, “the population of small mouth bass is far better today than it was even just 10 years ago,” Shibata said. He added, it’s the major reason the decision was made to bring a fishing event to the area last year.
“You want to go to the best courses if you’re a golfer and you want to come to the best fisheries if you’re an angler,” said Shibata, adding the small fishery in the eastern basin of Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River is now viewed as being the No. 1 small mouth bass fishery in the world and it’s improving.
One reason for the bigger bass, said Arnott, is that goby fish, which are an invasive species that were a threat in the St. Lawrence Rivers at one time, have now been worked into the food chain and have become “major forage for small mouth (bass), making them fatter than ever.”
Professor Bruce Tuft, who was competing in the Thousand Islands Open, brought the biggest crew to the competition as he had a research team with him from Queen’s University. Working out of the Kingston university’s Freshwater Fisheries Conservation Lab, the team was tagging every fish caught at the event and then putting them back in the water for research purposes.
The Thousand Islands Open is a completely live-release tournament.
Dennis Carnahan was the biggest winner of the event as he claimed the prize of a Ranger boat. Every angler that made the cut to the final day had a chance to win the $65,000 boat.