I love this interview with Ontario’s Connor Cantwell. He fishes some great largemouth and smallmouth bass waters and has a great outlook on fishing. He is an extremely successful recreational and tournament angler. Get to know Connor in this interview.
How long have you been fishing in Ontario?
When I was a kid, I spent my summers in Mcgregor Bay, Ontario, located on the far north shores of Georgian Bay, just east of Manitoulin Island. Back then, I fished using the old worm and split shot for smallmouth. I enjoyed it, but did find sitting in an aluminum boat anchored on shoals a bit boring to be honest, so a passion for fishing never really took off.
After I moved to North Bay, Ontario for work, I ended up working alongside a guide and tournament angler from Fort Frances, Ontario. Hearing him talk about tournament bass angling and the passion he has for it really ignited a fire inside me for the sport. He and other anglers showed me the ropes of competitive bass fishing and I have been addicted ever since.
What are your three lifetime highlights from fishing?
I was fairly young, guessing younger than 6, and my uncle helped me hook a Northern Pike off the dock at our cottage. He was helping me hold the rod and I can remember the excitement and chaos of the fish thrashing and jumping next as my family cheered on nearby. I don’t think it was very big, but to me it seemed like I had hooked a whale. I’m pretty sure I even walked around telling people I had caught a whale for awhile after that.
Catching a 47” musky while frog fishing by myself preparing for an upcoming tournament is also a memorable moment for me. I was way up in the back of a creek in extremely shallow water when I saw a rather large swirl, about 15 feet from the frog, and the musky charged at it with its mouth wide open. Luckily I was using heavy braid because the line got wrapped around some big lily pads as the musky ran towards the boat. When he ran out of line he was right next to me in the water jumping, thrashing and banging into my boat.
I realized my bass net was of no use, so once he tired out I dropped the rod and carefully grabbed him under his gill and basically fell back into the boat while giving him a bear hug. I managed to get some quick selfies with my phone and got him right back into the water where he swam off to probably scare the next angler who dares to frog fish back there.
A more recent highlight in my fishing career was when I was competing in the 2 day classic event run by Nickel City Bass on the Pickerel River in Alban, Ontario. My partner and I had pre-fished and it didn’t go well, so we weren’t overly confident going in to day 1. In the first hour, we came to a bay where we knew there could be some largemouth, so I started pitching a jig up very shallow and pulled out a 3.5 pounds smallmouth on flipping gear.
Intrigued, we both started throwing these bigger jigs even into more typical smallmouth waters. We quickly started hooking bigger and bigger smallmouth. My partner topped it off by hooking a 6 poound kicker which anchored our bag at 18.6 pounds and gave us over a 6 pound lead going into day 2, which ended in a win with over 30 pounds of smallmouth.
How many tournaments do you fish each year?
I typically fish 5 to 7 tournaments a year, depending on scheduling. When I lived in North Bay I would fish a handful of tournaments on the Temiskaming Smallmouth Bass Series, including their year end classic. Since I’ve moved to Sudbury I have been fishing the Nickel City Bass Tournament trail and this year became a part of the club executive as secretary/treasurer.
What I enjoy the most about tournament fishing is just about everything! I enjoy the preparation and strategy talk with your partner the days before. I enjoy the shotgun takeoffs in the morning mist with a bunch of bass boats racing down the lake. I enjoy the first couple casts while your hands are still shaking from the rush of blast off. I enjoy putting your plan into action and starting to figure out the pattern for the day. I enjoy the indescribable rush of hooking a kicker fish and the absolute elation when it slides into the net. I even (although not at the time) enjoy when those big ones are lost at the boat; an awful feeling, but it’s part of the beauty of this sport. Working out a pattern and putting a solid bag together during a great day of fishing just can’t be beat in my books.
Also, the people you get to meet fishing these circuits and what great people they are as you build a camaraderie with them over time.
What do you consider your best tournament ever?
My best tournament ever was a couple years ago and my first ever win with my partner on Cassels lake near Temagami in Northern Ontario. Our day started rough when we had the rear transducer break off during takeoff and our initial plan was derailed a bit when another boat beat us to our planned starting spot.
So now we had no sonar, and we never got a prefish in. We were flying by the seat of our pants. We ended up heading a bit further down the lake and stopped at the first area that looked fishy. We started getting into some smallmouth after a bit and one spit out a uniquely coloured baitfish onto the deck that we had both never seen before. “I have a crank bait that has that exact same colouring!” I said. I tied it on and it was absolutely bananas after that. Quality fish after quality fish came flying in. My partner even caught two fish on one cast!
We ended up winning the event by a couple pounds if I remember correctly. It was definitely a day to remember!
What do you consider your 3 favorite largemouth bass bodies of water to fish?
My 3 favourite places to catch largemouth bass would be, in order, Lake Nipissing, Mcgregor Bay and Lake Nosbonsing.
Lake Nipissing is great because there are so many back bays and rivers that hold quality largemouth. I have seen 6+ pound largemouth, which is big for up here, come out of those waters.
Mcgregor Bay I like as well because its a bit of an unknown largemouth area. The smallmouth fishing out there is so good that people forget that there are decent buckets in there too! They are a bit harder to find and you need to cover some water to find them but when you do, there’s bound to be a some giants that get very little pressure.
Lake Nosbonsing was my old home lake, and I really enjoyed the largemouth fishing there. Very weedy lake with lots of structure and docks. Very healthy population numbers. Not many giants, a 4 pound largemouth is considered quite big there, but its still lots of fun to catch them on frogs as well as flipping weeds and docks all day.
If you could only fish one presentation/bait for the whole season for largemouth, what would it be?
I’d say a jig just because its so versatile. You can flip it, pitch it, cast it, swim it, drag it, deadstick it and it would be effective in all these techniques. Its something I always have on deck when I’m largemouth fishing.
What do you consider your 3 favorite smallmouth bodies of water to fish?
Mcgregor Bay, Lake Nipissing and Cassels Lake.
McGregor Bay is a great smallmouth fishery as it is part of Georgian bay and we get the cold, clear water that smallmouth love. Couple that with a very rocky geography with tons of crawfish the invasive round goby to gorge on, and you get trophy bass! My personal best 5.75 pound smallie came out of there. 2 years ago we had an angler weigh in a smallmouth just shy of 7 pounds in one of our Nickel City Bass events. I have personally seen fish roaming on shoals that could easily have passed the 7 lb mark. I’m hoping to hook into one of those soon! Those waters are far and away my favourite to fish for smallmouth bass.
Lake Nipissing is another favourite. I just really enjoyed fishing that lake over the years because the fish populations are so healthy. Big smallmouth, largemouth, musky and walleye roam that lake. Lot’s of water to fish and great angling to be experienced.
Cassels Lake I have enjoyed every time I have gone and not just because my first tournament win was there. A very healthy population of Smallmouth who are some of the strongest and most aggressive of any bass I have ever caught.
If you could only fish one presentation/bait for the whole season for smallmouth, what would it be?
I have caught more smallmouth on this setup than any other presentation hands down. I just make sure that I have a good solid hook, like a #1 Gamakatsu Finesse Wide Gap hook that a big smallie won’t straighten out when you really gotta pull her out of cover. I always have one on deck, reeled up to the tip guide on a rod, ready to go when I’m smallmouth fishing.
I noticed you fishing with an A-Rig. Is this part of your typical arsenal?
No, that photo you saw was actually one of the few times I’ve ever really thrown it. A friend of mine had been having some success with it and it was not too long after all the controversy surrounding it had happened down in the States so it was more the novelty of it for me. I realize it works well for some people but I just never got the results to be confident with it to ever use it in my tournament setups. Maybe I should try it again.
Last question is not dealing with bass fishing. I noticed you recently went to Lake Kesagami. How was the trip?
Yes, I did fly up to Kesagami but I didn’t fly up there as a lodge guest. One of the perks of working in the aviation industry was you get to know a lot of aviation enthusiasts. One of my best friends is a pilot and he invited me to join him and two others on a trip up there. We flew from North Bay to Cochrane where we fueled up and then north to Kesagami.
We pulled up on a beach, set up tents and went fishing. Weused a 14’ Saturn inflatable boat, incredible boats by the way, with a little Suzuki 2.5 hp 4 stroke motor.
The walleye fishing was incredible. Limits every day of perfect eating size fish which you could catch right from shore and pretty much any spot that we pulled up on. It was so good that we kind of forgot to give the pike fishing a solid try. I lost what was certainly a gigantic pike when it snapped my line, even got it on video, still hard to watch for me. We did see a couple big ones follow up to the boat but none were caught.
One thing that is pretty incredible about that lake is how shallow it is for the size. We had a little portable sonar with us and my buddy thought it was broken because we were crossing this large bay and it was holding steady at 3 feet. I poked my rod into the water and, yep…just 3 feet deep. I was told by some guides we ran into that the lake only averages about 7 feet deep which is pretty incredible considering the size.
Since I can’t give a real good first hand account of how good the pike fishing is, just check out the
Kesagami Wilderness Lodge’s Facebook page. It sure looks good! The guides we met were extremely nice guys and the setups they had for taking clients out on looked great; big, wide, steady square stern canoes with 6 and 9.9 hp motors on them.
I’m hoping for the opportunity to make it up there again and give the pike fishing a better try.
Great stuff Connor. Keep up the great work. Look forward to seeing your success on Instagram @connor_cantwell.