Lake Champlain, Plattsburgh, NY
Things have been pretty hectic leading up to us leaving town for the third and final stop of the Bassmaster Northern Opens. Held on none other than the absolute freak of a smallmouth and largemouth fishing factory, Lake Champlain. This time of year always seems to be a very busy time of year for an angler on the move. Tournaments mean so much down the stretch, proper preparation can be time consuming. When you’re a northern angler your guide trip days start getting numbered and trying to accommodate as many trips as I can manage sucks up the extra days with relative ease. I’m no where near bitching here either, I love guiding, it really keeps me sane and any day I can spend making a few bucks out on the water is a blessing in my life.
To really make things crazy, my homeboy and Bassmaster Elite Series stick Seth Feider decided it was time to show the world what we all been saying up north for a hot minute. Dude went dead off at the LaCrosse Elite event and rolled on the river for an eventual second place finish. His timely finish thrusted him up the points to do what he may even of thought couldn’t be done. His last minute push secured his spot in the Angler of the Year tournament on none other than his personal playground, famed smallmouth fishery, Lake Mille Lacs. As if he was done there, he wins the championship on Mille Lacs and officially thrusts his fishing career into stardom. Well earned I can promise you that. Good job my dude, keep it rolling.
After the LaCrosse event, my homeboy and travel partner Chad Smith and I were east bound. We didn’t screw around much on the drive out and hustled through the Great Lakes region desperate to hit the water. A solid finish here on Champlain and I punch my very own Elite Series invite. Two checks in the first two Northern Opens had me sitting just inside the top 20 in the AOY points race. A good check here and I kick the door open to every dream I’ve had since I was a little kid. I don’t know Champlain well, I’ve only been there once and spent 80% of my time in Ticonderoga. This time I knew that wasn’t in the cards. I’ve been upping my smallmouth game to a pretty high level and was thrilled at the idea of attempting to qualify for the Elites on a venue I knew I’d be strong.
Practice got under way and we were absolutely relentless. Savage even. We idled my Phoenix/Evinrude all over that beast of a lake. When the wind blew, it didn’t matter, I was out there sneaking around looking for areas holding tournament winning smallies. Practice went great too. Both Chad and I had a blast out there and the fat smallie’s was plentiful. I developed a few different patterns to get bit. Early in practice I got on a solid shallow topwater bite. It was the first cold front of the year and those big smallies were up shallow on them post frontal slick, sunny days. Any bank that had the right ingredients as well as a slight chop was the deal. On the windier banks I threw a topwater “walk the dog” style bait and on the slick banks I threw the Biovex Joint Bait 110. Both were deadly and quickly gave me the confidence I needed to make a run at this event.
I also found a deep bite, where dropshotting a Biovex Kolt Fish Tail (Rame Gill) and a Reins Bubbling Shaker (Scuppernog) was catching both numbers and quality of good bass. The numbers were evident but almost annoying. You’d have to work threw the 10″ to 12″ variety and then all of a sudden bow up on a 3 pound fish or better. I’d use the clear-colored Kolt Tail in the gin clear water and the larger 4″ Bubbling Shaker in the greener, more shallow depths. My Lowrance electronics got their workout in this event and were my eyes under the water. When it came to dropshotting, I saw probably 85% of my fish before I caught them. My electronics are the deal. Straight up.
Lastly, I found another mid-depth bite on a mixture of a 110 sized jerkbait, as well as burning a modified Biovex Stangun Spinnerbait and enduring that bone-jarring bite. There’s much more to come on that particular bait I was throwing but the setup was equally, if not more so important. I was throwing the all chartreuse blade on a Daiwa Tatula 7’2″ MH rod, paired with a high speed Daiwa Zillion and matched with 40lb J-Braid. This setup I could cast the bait a mile across them rocky flats and the 7.1 gear ratio Daiwa would pick up line quick and help me really burn the bait. I used 40lb. braid to help with casting distance and the no stretch factor needed to successfully hook them smallmouth a mile out. I also used a FG knot to join a couple feet of Seaguar Invizx Fluorocarbon to keep my line above the bait invisible but to also give the bait a little downward momentum and absorb the initial shock of a 5 pound smallmouth crushing the bait. More to come on the modifications I make on the Stangun, check back soon!
Tournament day came around and I was 100% ready. I had more quality spots to fish than I’ve ever had on any tournament outside of maybe my home bodies of water, Lake Minnetonka and Lake Mille Lacs. I knew from experiance that Champlain blows, worst wave conditions on any body of water you will ever fish in the United States. It’s so important to have fishable water all over the lake so you’re always assured you got something stable to fish.
Day one and conditions were relatively stable. Big waves were plenty but manageable, surely nothing my Phoenix/Evinrude combo couldn’t handle. My goal was to hit as much as I could on Day one and really test my areas to see what had the potential for a top 12 finish. I knew I was going to catch them, I just needed to be sure I had 17 or more and set myself up great for day two. I went out there and did just that. I peppered every dot I had on the lake and in the end finished with around 17 pounds. I accomplished my goal but was still pretty disappointed. I had an opportunity to put up a 20 pound bag but I let a 4 pounder pull off on the jerkbait and missed a legit 5 pound brownie on that same bait right next to the boat just moments earlier. I also managed to cull in the same spot for a nice 3.75 lb. smallmouth. This area had very little pressure and had all the right ingredients to hold jammer smallmouth. There was rock, weeds, perch and lots of perch at that. Those fish were acting like wolves and kept them perch corralled all throughout the day.
Day two started off rough. Unfortunately an unforeseen issue kept me sidelined for the first couple hours of the day. Giant thanks to Bassmaster and the service crew as they all came together to get me back on the water. I missed the morning cloud cover and launched to slick conditions and high skies. This definitely cost me big. I was headed to my big fish water and between the spinnerbait and the topwater was fit to put a hurting on a few good uns’ looking to feed in the hazy morning conditions.
I made the choice with the calm conditions to just run everything and see what, when and where the right ones were biting. Right away I boated a nice 3.75 lb on the dropshot off the edge of a reef. I put together a small limit very fast and though throughout the day I did manage three real nice bites, I still weighed in two small bass going just a couple pounds each. Despite grinding my ass off, I was never able to overcome and weighed in a limit of about 14 pounds, finishing just outside the money in 65th place and am forced to wait another year to earn that coveted Bassmaster Elite Series invitation.
I was close, eventually finishing the Bassmaster Northern Opens in 17th place, gaining checks in two out of the three events. I’m excited to compete in these again next year, just got to keep getting better. My day is coming soon.
On another note, my dude Chad Smith repped on the co-angler side of things and with an awesome two day performance, anchored by a giant sack on day two, Chad made his first top 12 and finished the tourney in a rock solid 4th place. Atta boy Bud, proud of you man.
Up next, we headed south to Sam Rayburn Reservoir in Southeast Texas for the 1st Annual Sealy Big Bass Splash Pro Invitational Tournament. Time to go flip up some big heads and make me a little money. Texas bound!!