Day One: Day one will actually be about Day 7, as I am driving straight from the Kerr Lake Stren Series tournament to Champlain. I'm already exhausted and frustrated from the Kerr Tournament. My practice on Kerr was one of the worst I have ever experienced there, and I can't explain why. I finished 3rd there last season, and had high hopes this year. Course, the lake level was about 3 feet lower and bout as clear as I have ever seen Kerr. My practice really sucked, having only caught about 2 or 3 keepers a day. I ran into a good friend the last practice day, telling him I was struggling and he thought I was lying. I wasn't and had hoped for a change in weather, which I got.
The first day of the tournament, Hurricane Alberta roared into the area, with driving rain and wind. I mean Rain !! All day long, it was raining sideways. My wife said we got 6 inches of rain at our house, maybe that at Kerr. Bad news is that several area's were under a severe flood watch, good news is that the fish really bit for me. The conditions were right for a spinnerbait and I made the best of it, ending the day in 20th place, just at the cut line. Unfortunately, the next day, was blue bird skies and calm, and I went back to my pre-tournament ways, landing on 2 keepers. Looking back as I drive to Champlain, I made a big mistake twice. Once was over estimating how much it would take to make the cut, and second which was the costliest, deciding to make a long run up river even though I had not done well there in practice. I figured the rain would have the river flowing and it did, too much. I choose to stay and fish it anyway and being a hardhead, bombed. I ended up 11 ounces out of the money at Kerr, and the 14 hour drive ahead of me to Champlain gives me alot of time to replay my mistake.
Day Two: I managed to drive late into the night last night, but still have a good 8 hours ahead of me. I feel more refreshed and have only thoughts of Champlain on my mind now. I like Champlain, its a fish factory, were everyone catches them, and ounces will determine checks. It will be that tight. I arrive at the little farm house we rent alone, Bump and Todd both made the Stren Series cut. Little E has not even left NC yet, but he has a good excuse. He is the proud new father to a new baby boy, his wife Rhonda and his first child. The first thing I notice as I unload my gear, the wind is howling. A bad deal on Champlain, as it is one monster with a slight breeze. In bed early tonight, time to prepare my body and mind for the Monster. Its really great up here, you can leave the windows open at night, and sleep like a baby. I even had to scramble for a blanket !!
Day Three: One thing that I never get use to here is the day light length. It gets light at 4:30 am and stays light well past 9 PM! The guy that we rent the house from says that during the longer days of summer, it's only dark about 4 hours, something to do with their location to the North Pole. One could practice themselves to death here. My first day of practice is a brutal one, as the wind will blow well over 20 mph. I manage to catch several fish, just not much size, maybe 12 lbs. Historically here, 12 to 14 lbs will get you a middle of the pack finish. But 15 to 17 pounds will get you a top 10, its that close.
Day Four: The wind will lay some today. Bump has arrived, having missed the top 10 cut at the Stren Kerr tournament. Todd made the top 10, so he's still on Kerr, and Little E has finally torn himself away from that little boy, in route to Plattsburgh, will be here tonight. The day will be like yesterday, a small limit, but I noticed that several fish are on the beds. This again will be a sight fishing tournament, my worst fear. I have never committed to bed fishing here, but this time, I will spend all day just looking. I find 6 or 7 really nice spawners, that if I can get to, a big "if", can bust a big bag the first day.
Day Five: Today, I am going to go look at the green fish, largemouth. I can't seem to find a large concentration of spawning fish, so I need a back up plan. Its hard to abandon the brown fish up here, but every year, someone will make the cut with largemouth. Lake Champlain is up, almost at a record level, with willows and grass bays flooded, reminding me of Kerr Lake. I pick up my Skeet's Custom Flipping rod and manage to find some areas of largemouth.
Tonight is the meeting and pairings. The entire group is now at the house. Todd ended up 4th at Kerr, Little E arrived, tournament time is here. Strange, everyone at the meeting is complaining that Champlain is off, just not like normal. I actually thought Champlain was fishing tougher for 3 lb fish, and an occasional 4 lb fish. You can catch a limit of 3 lb fish and maybe get a check in the past, but catch a limit of 3 lb fish with a 4 pounder and you will scare the top 10. Its that close, did I say that?
My hope is to get an early draw so I can run the better spawning fish I found before the field gets out. It won't happen, as I draw boat 166, near the last flight. The plan is to still run the bed fish as the weather forecast for tomorrow is calm winds. Yes, calm winds, a rarity here. So the bed fish will be easy pickings for the field tomorrow.
Tournament Day One: We awake to an eerie sound......no wind. As we put in, I make the comment to my co-angler how I have never seen this lake so slick. Perhaps the calm before the storm. I also make the comment that I plan on running a few beds this morning first. My co-angler is from Texas, and he makes the comment, "do what you need to do, don't worry bout me".
When they finally call my number, the sun is already high since it has been light for 3 hours. The first fish I run to on the bed, ironically, I find my roommate Todd already working it. Later I will ask him if he caught it, he remarked, "yep, it was my biggest fish". The next two beds I run to, again find the same faith, one working the fish, the other netting the fish. Finally I will find a couple not being fished for and will quickly secure them in my livewell. I know why, they were not much over 2 lbs. I find a largemouth on the bed that was there two days ago. Its close to 5 lbs, a really nice fish for up here. My first flip into the bed, the bass surprises me and jumps all over my jig. I set the hook, only to have the fish come off. After a couple minutes, that seem like forever, the good bass will again settle into the bed, but is not as eager to accept my offering. After working the fish for bout 30 minutes, he is ready again to bite. As I am working the fish, a small runabout boats idles up and proceeds to go past me toward the bed. I quickly ask him politely if he would not go any further, explaining what I was doing. His remark is that he has a camp on shore and is coming in for the morning. What happens next is nothing but bad luck, as the guy pulls over the bed, then throws an anchor right in the middle of it. Now I know he had no intentions of purposely sabotaging my ability to catch the kicker fish, but the timing was terrible. Not only did he throw the anchor out once, but drug it up and did it again. Guess he wasn't secure in its placement. I can see the big largemouth frantically making circles around the bed, but never will it come back into it. I decide to leave it, perhaps come back later, the guy will be gone. I do have one really good smallmouth about a 20 minute run from there, that even though the odds its still there slim, have to try under the calm conditions to go check. When I arrive, I will later find out that Bump has picked off the fish earlier. Can you believe that? 199 other pros in this thing, and my two roommates have found my bed fish too.
I will manage a limit from bed fishing today, almost 14 lbs. I went back to the big largemouth, it was still too spooky to even attempt to catch. When I come into weigh in, I feel like I had a pretty good day, perhaps even in contention for the top 10 or a good check. Wrong !! Man, did they catch them today !! I mean Catch them. I admit, the lake was as slick as I have ever seen it, but still, I thought since allot were complaining it was off, I did good. My limit today will find me in 129th place !! Ouch! Bump will have over 16 lbs and he will be in 61st place !! Shoot, Little E will have 15 pounds and he will be in 109th place. Crazy. Overall, 197 pros out of 200 catch a limit, as bout the same on the co-angler side. If this place was off, I hate to see it "ON"! I go from thinking I had a chance, to knowing I can't probably even get a check now.
Tournament Day Two: Today the forecast is the storm after the calm. Forecast is for a North wind 20 - 25 sustained, and its already blowing. No way can they catch them again today like yesterday, I hope ! I got an early take off today, boat 35, but with the lake so calm yesterday, every fish on the bed got whacked yesterday. So the plan is to go fish for largemouth. My co-angler today is from NY, and has fished Champlain alot. He thinks we should make a long run south, but as we idle around before our number is called, decides that my decision to fish near by bays is a better one. Realistically, I know it will take a 20 lb bag for me to make the cut, and even more mind boggling, 17 lbs to even scare a check. I think I can catch 12 lbs pretty easy, but without a couple kickers, just as well be fishing for bream.
At take off, its obvious that due to the rough water, allot will choose not to make the hour or more ride south, but stay close. It takes me a good 45 minutes of back breaking riding to get to my area, but it will pay off quickly. My first fish will be close to 4 pounds. In about a 200 yard stretch of grass, I will land 2 more nice largemouth's and 2 keepers to fill out my limit. What's strange about this, is that on my second pass, I will catch nothing but toothy critters. I do break off a really big fish, but since I didn't see it, will write it off as a musky. The wind really continues to build and build. My co-angler makes the comment we had better start back if we want to make it in on time. Start back? Its only noon and I have to be in by 3 PM. He is 71 years old, and though he seems in better physical shape than me, I agree to start back, hitting a couple areas on the way. It will be a good move, as I will land my biggest fish flipping a tree on our second move.
I figure I got around 15 lbs, not enough for a check, but its the best I could do under the weather conditions. I guess the wind will hinder some others, so the weights might fall. And fall they do, well, for Champlain anyway. My final two day total of almost 29 pounds will secure me last place check. Last place check is better than no check. What's even more crazy about this is that I only missed 50th place by 2 lbs, and I only missed making the top 10 cut by another 2 lbs. It was close as predicted.
So close that a 8 ounce penalty for a dead fish is costly. Little E had a dead fish, he missed making the FLW Championship by 2 points! 2 points !! And get this, David Fritts also had a dead fish and missed the Championship by 1 point. 8 ounces at this tournament was like having atleast 10 points taken away.
Did I mention it would be close?