Lake Champlain-July Everstart
Day one of practice started out with clear skies, warm weather and no wind. I started in Ticonderoga and planned on fishing there the next three days before I moved north to explore. I ran to my first area to check out a small rocky island off a point that had mixed wood and grass. After a short time there trying numerous baits I started moving towards the back of a cove where I could see a mix of pads and grass. Once back in the corner I notice the water appeared to be about two feet high and was way back in the tree line. As I approached the pad and grass mix I tossed out my zoom white horny toad, it hit the water and was immediately engulfed by a 3 pound largemouth, pleased with my first fish I made another cast to the same area and again the frog barely started to move on the surface of the water before being swallowed by a hungry two pound largemouth. I continued to work this large grass bed and pad mix which consumed the back half of the bay. It took me about 4 hours to what I thought effectively covered the area seeing what type of quality fish were in this location. I located about an 80 yard stretch that held fish in the 2-3 pound range that would eat a frog as soon as it hit the water. Pleased with how aggressive the bite was I moved on and drove around the rest of the day checking spots here and there without many results.
Day two of practice started and I was excited to get out and do some frogging and my fishing buddy whom I had not seen in over a year was up to spend some time on the water with me. I located another large bay which looked similar to the one I caught fish out of on the first day. We quickly went to work chucking frogs and other top water baits. After about two hours and covering a lot of water it was obvious something had changed and that bite was not working. We had a couple of blow ups on the frogs but it was clear the fish seemed they did not want to commit to that bait. By then the sun was up high and it was hot so we pushed towards the thickest part of the mat I could find and began punching plastics through it. I was punching a Poor Boys Big Bass Getter on half ounce tungsten and soon we began to pick up bites. We began to dial in a pattern that once a fish was caught it was better to slow down and circle that area because we could usually catch 3-5 more fish out of that small area in which the fish would all be similar in size. Unfortunately we were only locating fish in the 2.5 pound class and I knew that would not hold up. The day ended with us catching numbers of fish but just not the right size I needed.
Practice day three started again with calm weather conditions and I was determined to get the frog bite going. I located another bay which had the right pad and grass mix. This time I pulled as far back to the shore as I could and we began working the area. My partner Dave was pitching the Big Bass Getter around wood which was on the shoreline and quickly landed a nice 3.5 pounder off a log. As we released the fish I noticed an opening in the brush and observed the water went about 30 yards back into the shoreline where it normally would not be. I told Dave if ‘I were a fish I would go back in there and ambush prey for an easy meal’. I tied on a Bass Pro floating mouse and gave it a toss as far back as I could into a little pocket of water. The mouse no more hit the water and twitched and a fish blew up on it. I attempted a hard hook set and to keep the fish moving but there was so much brush between me and the fish it came off before I could get it to the boat. We continued down the stretch of bank with Dave picking up fish in the 2-3lb class every once in awhile. I continued to chuck the mouse back into the tree line whenever I could. I noticed anytime I got the mouse into that back water I would have a strike, but would only catch less than 50 percent of the fish due to all of the obstructions in the water. The day ended about the same as all the others, no giant fish and to me it seemed Champlain was fishing poor at least for Ticonderoga standards.
Day four of practice we pushed north launching out of Point Au Roche and heading to the inland sea going through the north cut. Again the fish seemed lazy and sparse. I turned the trolling motor on high and began covering water. Depending on the area we were going through we were chucking spinnerbaits, jerkbaits, crankbaits. At times we would have fish follow but nothing seemed to want to commit to anything. I then switched to Reaction Skinny dipper swim bait. I like this bait due to the fact both smallmouth and largemouths are willing to eat it. Within a couple of casts I landed a 2.5 pound fish. We circled the area of grass and plucked away looking for other bites with no results. The day ended with plenty of followers but nothing great to report.
Practice day five I again went to the inland sea and began just working shoreline covering water with the swimbait until I caught a fish that was the quality I needed. Once this happened I would slow down and start pitching the Big Bass Getter or the Sacandaga jig depending on what was there for cover. This technique started to be effective as I broke these areas down and was able to locate more fish of similar quality to what I caught on the swimbait. By the end of the day I was putting together a pattern and starting to see bigger fish in the areas I was concentrating on.
My last practice day I knew what type of water I needed to look at and was going to put the trolling motor on high and cover as much as I could to locate fish. I was able to locate four key spots in about 10-12 foot of water that had a mixture of large chunks of rock and weeds. When the sun got up high around noon the fish would pull tight to this cover. I was able to throw the Sacandaga jig tipped with a Kiss Craw onto the chunks of rock and once a fish was caught, it was followed by several others. The first location I found we hooked a 4 lb largemouth and as it swam around the boat it was being followed by an even bigger smallmouth. These four locations would be key to my bag of fish on day one.
Day one started with knots in my stomach as I just have a bad feeling of what Champlain can do and has done to me in the past. We took off launching at boat number 94 and I headed north. We left the bay from Plattsburgh and as I rounded the corner by the ferry the waves became a little more intense from the heavy boat traffic taking off. I heard a loud pop and felt my throttle get soft and the boat lost a little bit of control. I feathered the throttle and got control of the boat again as we were traveling about 65 mph. I again was attempting to figure out what happened when I let off the throttle and nothing happened. The throttle spring broke on the hot foot which meant I know had to do a push/pull control with my foot in order to speed up or slow down. Not a huge deal but to me it just felt like one of those things Champlain likes to throw at me to break my concentration.
I arrived at my fishing location to find not another boat in sight which was a great feeling. I began working my area switching through baits that had been working for me earlier in the week. It was obvious the bite was different and not as intense. I stayed focused and slowed down milking each one of my areas for the big fish I had seen. By 12:30 pm my bite had turned on and each of these four locations were producing three pound smallmouth. I decided to leave these locations and save the fish that were biting for day two. Days end came and I had 17.02 ounces and was sitting in the 8th position.
Tournament day two came with gusting winds expected to reach in the 25 mph range. I had some main lake spots I did not fish on day one and figured I better get on them before it got too bad. The swells going north were in the 3 foot range with chop on the top and it took me about 45 minutes to get to my spot. I worked that area pitching jigs and swimbaits to selected chunks of rock in the grass. The bite was slow and I managed three fish with the biggest being 2.5 lbs. I did lose two fish that would have been in the three pound class, not sure what happened they just jumped and came off. I left that area and moved to the inland sea to hit my quality spots, by then the wind was cranking and the water was really rough. I went through my areas and caught a limit and made a few small culls. The bite did not seem to be working like it was the day before and I knew I had to make a change. I decided to go into an area where I had caught a few 3 pound fish punching mats, a weakness of mine but I felt if I could get a bite it might push me to that 14 pound mark I would need to make the top ten cut. I pulled into the mat and went to work, after about ten casts I made a pitch into a shallow pocket of reeds, grass and lilies. A perfect cast into a small opening no bigger than a golf ball. My bait hit the bottom and I felt the distinct tick of a fish making a strike. I came back and set the hook with all I had, an 8 ft rod, 65 lb braid and my rod loaded up. The fish began to pull towards the thick part of the mat as I attempted to keep it out. There was nothing I could do, this fish just overpowered me and got into that thick grass. I held tight and trolling motored over where I could see the grass still moving. I reached down in an attempt to get my hands on the fish. As I dug through the thick grass I felt the belly and up the side of the fish, I worked my way towards the head of the fish as it began to shake again. At this point I decided I would just pull all the grass up and bring the fish with it. As I pulled the large chunk of grass free and dropped it on the deck all I had was a 4/0 hook stuck in my finger and no fish in that wad of grass. My heart sank; to this day I can’t stop thinking about that fish and how it could have helped me.
My day came and went and with that the wind picked up to 25+mph with 5 foot swells at some locations. We decided to get closer to home and pulled up to fish an area close to the ferry just around the corner from Plattsburgh. Under normal conditions the run from this location to weigh in would take less than 7 min. Today we decided to give ourselves 20 minutes just to be safe. I had a small limit and it was time to go, we took off and rounded the corner by the ferry headed towards the Naked Turtle where weigh in was. As we rounded the corner I told my co-angler we just entered the gates of hell!!! There were five foot rollers with chop running across the rollers and it was a bass boaters’ nightmare. We struggled progressing with items getting slammed about the boat, stopping to secure rod, fish finders that were taking a constant pounding. I looked at the clock as we took off and we now had 10 minutes left to make it to the launch and we were not even half way across the bay. I told my co-angler to hold on we were going to have to pick it up a little. As I picked up speed we began to ride waves which would quickly drop out from underneath us slamming the boat to the bottom of the next wave only to have the following break over the top of the boat. As I did my best we came to the top of a large wave pushing five feet, the wave dropped out and the boat broke hard to my passenger’s side and slammed the bottom of the wave like I had never seen. As we came up I look and my trolling motor is hanging on my front cords only, the bottom of the motor is now hanging over the front of the boat. Eight minutes remain and I still have some water to cover. I keep a retractable dog leash in my boat for launching purposes; I told my co-angler to hook that leash to the front of the motor and sit back down and pull back on that leash as hard as he could to hold the motor. In the end my co-angler had two cut fingers and a great story to tell as we made it back with two minutes to spare.
I finished 45th overall, disappointed in myself as I felt I was right there with some of the fish I had on that day. Looking back it was my largest days catch on Champlain and best finish in an Everstart on that lake. I may have broken a few boat parts but I did manage to fish ‘the beast’ and get my co-angler and myself back safely to fish another day and that is what is important!
My jig tip bait: