Russ Belanger is a Massachusetts angler with a great fishing Instagram page. He not only posts pictures of a lot of big largemouth and smallmouth bass, but he also shares his keys to success with his posts. So it was a pleasure to get to know Russ through this interview and learn more about his fishing.
You fish tournaments. When did you first get into tournament fishing?
First of all, thanks for giving me the opportunity to share my story. I’ve been fishing since I was really young. Probably 7 to 8 years old. My identical twin brother Mitch and our friend Adam Poplaski got into Bass fishing Cheshire Lake together. Adam’s mom would drop us off to night fish for bass and bullhead and then pick us up at 3:00AM.
I remember my mom dropping me off in the rain one day on her way to the mall. I don’t remember how old I was but mom knew I would be ok. When she picked me up I had her take a photo with a disposable camera of a 3 pound bass I got that day on a single Colorado white spinnerbait. Still to this day, when it rains, I throw a white spinner with silver blades.
I enjoy fishing tournaments. It really isn’t about the opportunity to win money for me. What keeps me doing it is how tournament fishing advances my skill level so rapidly. I really don’t have a very long tournament resume. Outside of local clubs, this is my first year doing the FLW BFL as well as the Connecticut BASS Nation Open Circuit.
Competitive fishing forces anglers to get away from the local lake, pattern the fish, develop a strategy, and catch fish under some pretty unique circumstances. I believe that tournament anglers are more advanced because of this. Most of these guys know that there isn’t any real money to be made outside of the tour level. The reward is the experience and the skills we acquire while competing in these contests.
Outside of these events, it’s hard to find guys who are as passionate as I am about bass fishing. I’ve made some good friends. This would actually be the way I would compare fishing to baseball. The camaraderie among these guys who are willing to give so much of their lives to compete and get better at something they love.
What do you consider your best tournament ever?
I would definitely have to say that the back to back BFL tournaments on the Potomac River in April were my favorite. Not only were these my first FLW events, but each tournament drew just under 200 boats. There was a couple FLW tour Pros that actually fished the events.
My friend Adam, who is now married, fished the event. I camped with him for the first time in a couple years. I had a decent bag on day one when a lot of guys fishing the same community hole struggled. I broke off a fish that would have put me in the money because of a bad leader knot, but it didn’t bother me. That’s how I know I was having fun.
Also, my dad drove down to the Potomac and practiced with me which was pretty cool. I had amazing co-anglers both days. On the second day I ended up fishing a spot I found with my dad during practice. It helped me boat a couple fish.
You had a strange situation this year at the FLW Champlain tournament you fished. Tell us about that. How did you stay focused and calm during that day?
The Champlain event this year was a test. It is the only lake in the entire division that I have any real experience on and my practice was pretty good too. I drew boat #3 out of 170 and that was about the end of my luck that weekend. FLW rules require both a Co and a Pro to fish on the boat and sign each other’s card at the end of the day.
They were short co-anglers so the person that was assigned to fish on the back of my boat was registered as a Pro. Just like me, he towed his boat hours to get there. We both got unlucky. He decided to quit the event and left me believing that I wasn’t going to be able to fish the next day. He then changed his mind at 10:30PM that night and agreed to fish off the back of my boat.
We discussed strategy and I told him we were going to the Vermont Side of the lake. The tournament went well at first. We caught a bunch of fish in the first hour until the Vermont Patrol showed up and gave him a ticket for not having a fishing license. This automatically disqualifies him from the event.
This is a particularly uncomfortable situation to be in. I had no idea what to do. I couldn’t tell a grown man that he can’t fish the rest of the day. I asked him to release his fish and he didn’t. He also continued fishing the remaining 7 hours of the tournament without a license.
Finally, around 1:00, I said that I wasn’t going to sign his card at the end of the day. I hope that your readers learn from this story and remember to be respectful whether you are fishing as a co or a pro. The event wasn’t a waste. I got a limit and a mediocre finish, but I moved up in the regional standings.
What is your favorite body of water to fish a tournament?
I’ve fished a lot of tournaments on a place in Southern Vermount called Lake St. Catherine. This lake has a special place in my heart because it was always our day 2 stop when we made our weekend fun fishing trips to Vermont. We would always mix in Ticonderoga, Bomoseen, or Dunmore on Saturday and then fish St. Catherine on Sunday.
This lake is nostalgic to me because it is where I learned to flip and punch matted grass. There is so much available water to punch matted grass and lily pads it’s amazing if that’s your thing. It’s real deal mat-punching too. Break out the 8 foot broomstick because it’s not just a thick weed edge. I’ve spent entire tournaments with 2 rods on the deck. Booyah Pad Crasher frog on one rod and a Reaction Innovations Beaver on the big stick. Just like Bomoseen, this place has something for everyone. The smallie fishing can be Epic too.
Lets say you just want to do some fun fishing in your home State. What are your top 3 favorite fun fishing bodies of water?
Good question. Just because I travel to fish out of state a lot doesn’t mean we don’t have gems in Massachusetts. I live In Berkshire County/ Western Massachusetts. Our lakes are what out of state anglers come to see.
Lake Garfield is my favorite lake on this planet. Its small, but the fish aren’t. Last year I caught a 6 pound largemouth and a 5 pound smallmouth on consecutive casts. There is little to no boat traffic so I always feel like I have it to myself.
Runner up would be Lake Buel right down the street. People come from far and wide to ice fish for the pike in there. They are saying the Massachusetts State record will come from here in the next few years. The largemouth that I get out of Buel are always big and healthy.
Third place goes to Goose Pond in Lee. I like this place because it is where I go to hone my deepwater smallmouth skills without driving too far. It’s a great night fishing spot too.
On Instagram, you are very open about the baits you use. What do you consider your 3 best confidence baits.
I treat my Instagram like I have 100k followers. If I believe in a product, or if something works well I don’t mind sharing. I’ve had people message me saying thanks for some small tip I posted online and that meant a lot to me. I’m confident with my skills, and I plan to start doing videos and more stuff in the near future.
I always have a Chatterbait tied on. Always. It’s my mojo and I can truthfully say that almost half of the fish I’ve caught in my life have been on a Bladed Jig. It’s the best because it’s versatile. Weight, skirt, blade, trailer, etc. Z-Man Original or Elites are amazing. I also make my own with Lure Parts online components.
My number 2 is a Missile Baits D-Bomb. It’s deadly as a flipping bait, but I love throwing it as a generic Texas Rig on Gamakatsu 4/0 EWG hook with pegged 3/8oz tungsten weight. Bottom contact is the key and you can cover a lot of water with this setup.
Number 3 is a Jackall Pompadour. I am always night fishing and this lure speaks for itself, literally.
I know you experiment a lot with colors. My challenge when I have a ton of colors of the same bait is to over think it. How do you sort through your color selection on any given day?
I am self employed, so I have the luxury of fishing more often than the average weekend angler. I believe this affords me more opportunities to experiment. The angler that fishes one day a week is going to stay within their comfort zone. Some of the goofier stuff I’ve tried is usually a result of a conversation I’ve had with someone. Recently I tried out Margarita Mutilator because my friend Andrea Nivolo said it was her go-to. Turns out its now my go-to in Tannic or stained water.
Everyone has their theories about color choice, but I always test the theory. There’s a reason why there are colors called Okeechobee Craw, Rayburn Red, and colors with area codes like 309. They work in those regions.
In my region, translucent colors work well on sunny days when imitating baitfish because they take in the light and give off a natural appearance. For creature baits I go with shadowy darks like Super Bug D-Bombs or Tramp Stamp in the Reaction Beavers. Fish react better to the shadowy colors around vegetation on the sunny summer days. You can never go wrong with Natural Pro Blue in Keitech or Reins Bubbling shakers.
Instead of just trying a different color, I would recommend that developing anglers practice with downsizing their tackle instead. This changed my entire game and made me so much better. Rig up a medium Light with 6lb test and throw some smaller profile baits like 3’ bubbling shakers or putting a small craw bait on a Ned Head. You’re eventually going to run into ultra clear water lakes or highly pressured fish and you’ll be happy to have the “tickle stick” in your rod locker.
When it comes to changing colors in a tournament, start with what got bites in practice. If you’re on the fish and not getting bites then it’s time to get weird. Sometimes just throwing something different in their face will invoke a bite. Try drop shotting with a 3” bubble gum Senko rigged on a wacky hook at your local smallmouth fishery and see what happens. You might be surprised.
What boat are you fishing out of?
My Boat is a 2009 SKEETER ZX 200, and I love it. I’ve had such good luck with SKEETER boats. I couldn’t be happier. I do all of my own maintenance and sometimes I call on my mechanic and pike fishing buddy Kevin to assist with the big stuff.
I networked a pair of Gen 3 Lowrance HDS units in the console and bow. I also have a Gen 2 on the bow that is delegated to the universal sonar in the trolling motor. It’s older but for some reason I can’t figure out why the sonar signal is so amazing. I don’t dare touch the settings. I made custom switch and bow plate panels out of decorative marine ABS plastic that look factory. The finishing touch is the Blue Water LED dimmable Amber deck lights I put in for night fishing. They are mandatory.
You have a cool fishing partner named Tank. What makes him such a great fishing partner?
Tank is my 13 Year old Boston Terrier. He’s made me happy for a lot of years so I take him out for some swimming and adventuring. Also, he’s a pretty effective fishing lure to use for girls.
Do you have any pro staff or sponsor companies?
I have never applied for sponsors or staff affiliations. I love the idea of Pro Staffing but right now I want people to know that when I promote a lure or company, it’s because I truly believe in their stuff, not because it’s an obligation.
Thank you Russ. I will be following to see more big fish and the crazy colors you use to catch them on Instagram @russbelangerfishing.