By Jonathan LePera
Special to BassFan
(Editor's note: This is part one of a three-part series on athletes in other professional sports who have a passion for bass fishing.)
Growing up, Bryan Bickell’s summers were spent fishing the streams around Orono, Ontario, for brown trout.
“My dad and I used to pick worms after it rained and the next day we’d go out stream fishing,” said Bickell, a three-time Stanley Cup winner with the Chicago Blackhawks who retired after the 2016-17 season following a 10-year career in the NHL. “We’d lose each other, and me crying, and I didn’t know where I was. It’s something we still like to do when we have time.”
Now, his fishing exploits center around bass, which he traces to a day on the water with one of his dad’s friends back when he was 12. Sure, he’ll dabble with walleye (Canadians call them “pickerel”) or other species, but once bass season opens in late June, he can’t get enough.
“I’m living hockey, but dreaming about fishing,” he said. “Fishing is one of my passions that I do in the summertime. It gets me neutralized from the hockey world and it's something I like to do with my friends.”
Bickell and his wife have sold their home on the Otonabee River in Peterborough, Ont., near the Kawartha Lakes, and are building a new home on property that sits 300 yards from the north shore of Lake Ontario. He’ll be a short drive from Rice Lake, a famed multi-species lake east of Toronto. He enjoys living by the water, but is looking forward to exploring different lakes and learning new techniques.
“There are a few lakes that are hidden gems in southern Ontario with lots of good fish in them,” he said.
Always Trying to Improve
Making it to the NHL and staying there for the better part of a decade was no easy task for Bickell, who played on Cup-winning teams in Chicago in 2010, 2013 and 2015. It’s a daily grind. Gone are the days of relaxing around a pool during the offseason. Bickell was never wired that way.
“I’m a competitive guy, like a lot of athletes,” he said. “I want to win. I’ve done tournaments before locally, and a lot of charity stuff.”
To break the monotony of being away from home during the season, he’d surf YouTube for fishing videos to learn about different techniques to use for bass. He’s also a self-proclaimed tackle-hoarder, some of which he jokes, “I probably don’t need.”
Like hockey, he takes his fishing seriously, preferring to dial in a pattern rather than float around looking for anything that’ll bite.
“I’m always trying to improve my fishing game,” he said. “There’s something about it that intrigues me. I’d rather cast and figure out patterns. One day you can be on them and other days not.”
Thrill of the Chase
When asked to pick his favorite technique for bass fishing, Bickell could not settle on one.
“Figuring them out is the joy of what I like to do,” he said. “There’s so many good ways to catch them.”
Everything from working a jerkbait for smallmouth to flipping docks and heavy cover for largemouth and fishing topwater baits are among his favorites.
“I’m not much of a spinning rod or dropshot guy, but you have to do what you have to do to catch them,” he said. “I enjoy flipping because you don’t know when that next bite is going to come. I like fishing the heavy stick and pulling back on them pretty hard.”
Bickell (right) once took the Stanley Cup on a fishing trip with Bassmaster emcee Dave Mercer (left).
He’s traveled to Lake Okeechobee and Lake Fork to chase giant largemouth, but his personal best came out of Falls Lake, a short drive from the arena where the Carolina Hurricanes play in Raleigh, N.C. Fishing a squarebill crankbait, he boated an 8.11-pound largemouth.
Bickell has crossed paths and fished with some of bass fishing’s A-listers. He was a guest on Dave Mercer’s “Facts of Fishing” and worked the filming of the show into the day he had to spend with the Stanley Cup back in 2013.
He’s fished with Bassmaster Elite Series analyst and TV host Mark Zona and has also shared the boat with Mike Iaconelli on a couple of occasions, one of which was part of his wife’s wedding gift to him.
Getting in the boat with reigning Elite Series Angler of the Year Gerald Swindle and this year’s Bassmaster Classic winner Jordan Lee are next on his bass fishing bucket list.
Bickell was traded from Chicago to the Carolina Hurricanes prior to the 2016-17 season and he later was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, prompting him to retire after the season at age 31. In his final NHL game, he scored the game-winning goal for Carolina in a shootout.
Now, he’s on to the next phase of his life, raising awareness about MS and hopefully spending some more time on the water. He and his wife, Amanda, have two children (ages 2 and 8 months) and he’s anxious to get a rod and reel in their hands.
“If there is something down the road in a fishing career," he said, "I’m going to do what I love to do."
Here’s Bickell speaking to the media after his final NHL game with the Carolina Hurricanes last month. Notice the Tackle Addict hat.
Below is the complete episode featuring Bickell’s appearance on Mercer’s Facts of Fishing show in 2014.