Day One: This will be a trip a long time in the making. My wife is going to go with me. I'm really looking forward to that. I get to travel alot, seeing some great things along the way, and I admit, it sometimes makes me feel guilty. Its not often my wife gets to travel with me, and honestly, I don't see how the guys who travel with their family do it. Its expensive out here, and being able to cut cost by sharing hotels with a buddy is almost essential. I can tell my wife is really looking forward to this trip. Not only because its just us, but its the first real vacation she's had from work in years. Its a two day drive to upper NY and Plattsburgh. We plan on making it quality time together. The leaves are turning into their fall brilliance, something I've gotten to experience each fall going to Champlain. The Adirondacks are spectacular in the fall, I can only imagine when they get snow capped.
Day Two: We arrive at the traditional New England farm house we will be staying in for the week, my wife is overwhelmed at the views surrounding the lake. You can stand on the lake shore, look to the east and see Vermont and the Green Mountain range. Looking to the west, you can see the Adirondacks, with White Face mountain and other peaks. We are greeted by a couple, Justin and Helen, that I meant my first FLW Tour event on Champlain. Since then, they feel more like family than friends. Helen plans on showing my wife around while I go to work preparing for the tournament.
Day Three: My first day on the water is pretty rough, the wind is howling, the theme for the week. I decided to trailer over to the Vermont side, fish some slightly protected areas. First thing I notice is the water level is really low compared to when we were here in June, perhaps 4 feet lower. Thats alot for such a huge lake. I targeted largemouth during the FLW Tour, but just about everything I fished then is high and dry.
Even when you are on the water, the scenery is spectacular. There's so much history up here from the French Indian war to the American Revolution and beyond. Water was the main avenue of travel and commerce back then, if you controled the waterways, you controled the land. There's several old fort built during the war that guard the shoreline. The one pictured here guarded the early Canadian border.
The wind is so rough today, its hard to get anything accomplished. Only good thing about it being practice, is that I can trailer my boat to another section of the lake instead of fighting the swells. I will do this a couple times. I don't really figure anything out today, well, except the smallmouth are not shallow for me like they were last falls Stren Series. I find one area that I think I can catch a limit of smallmouth, if the wind will allow me to get there.
Day Four: The forecast today is for winds to blow SE 15 to 20, building to 40 or more mph. I decide to try and put in an area that I can fish those conditions. By 10 am, its obvious that the only place I can fish will be on land. The winds are blowing atleast 50 mph, making travel anywhere on this big lake impossible. As much as I hate it, theres nothing for me to do but call it a day. All I'm gonna get accomplished today is tearing up my boat or my body. I call my wife to let her know I'm coming in, perhaps we can do something together for the afternoon.
As much as I hate it, specially since I need to do really well in this, the final Stren Series, I call it a day. The rest of the day is spend visiting Lake Placid. Its an interested drive up the mountains to the village of Lake Placid. Along the way, the Ausable River meanders, making for some world class fly fishing. Every now and then, you will see a group of fly fisherman in the deeper pools. Honestly, I don't see how they can even cast the small flies in this wind. From what I can tell, the fly fishermen aren't having any better luck than I was on the big pond.
Off in the distance you can see White Face Mountain. It was the center peice of the Lake Placid Olympics held in the early 80's . It looks intimidating from a distance, much less if you were about to ski down it.
The rest of the day, we tour several area's of Lake Placid. Like the old Olympic Stadium, the big ski jump platform, and what has to be my favorite, the hockey arena. I might be showing my age some here, but I felt the history and magic inside that building the moment I walked in. Its the famous site where USA beat the Russians for the gold medal in hockey.
I can still see the American player tossing his stick into the stands as the final horn blows. You can still hear echoing thru its empty halls, "Do you believe in miracles". Interestingly, there's perhaps some future Olympians practicing on the ice.
Day Five: The forecast today is still for windy conditions, and much colder. But I gotta get on the water. The wind will blow, but I do get a complete day in. I can't seem to make the largemouth bite work. History tells me that it will be won on green fish, not brown. Usually the south end is the best place to key on the largemouth, but with these winds, it would be a brutal, if not impossible, run by boat. I feel like I can catch a small limit of smallmouth, maybe 12 lbs or better if I can get a big bite. History also tells me that it will take 15 or better to even scare a check, and 16 or better to make the cut. I feel pretty good about what I found today, but either the weather or fishing pressure has the bite off for me. Well, off for Lake Champlain. Back at the house, my wife tells me she took the ferry over to Vermont today for some sightseeing. She makes the comment they got wet on the ferry from the waves. Wet? I got soaked. Welcome to Champlain, lol.
Day Six: Today I will try and expand on what I think I have found. Its by far the coldest morning yet here, but the wind has lay some. The plan is to try and find something close in case I can't get to my fish tomorrow. Up here, that's the norm more than not. Specially in the fall when those Canadian winds howl in the cold weather. And its supposed to come, wind and cold. The day is short, with meetings tonite, work on gear and most important, make sure all my loose ends on the boat are tight. I check my jackplate bolts, motor mount, trolling motor, anything that might get jarred loose. Some say there's a big serpent monster that lives in the depths of Champlain, I say there's a monster here all right, its called a SE wind.
At the meeting, everyone is talking about the forecast, for severe winds tomorrow. Alot are talking about how the bite seems to be off alot, I thought it was just me. My name is finally called, and as usual, I'm almost the last boat to go out tomorrow. My co-angler for the day is from Conn. His first question to me is, "Are we making a long run"? I reply by saying, "If the wind will let us." Thats a big 'if".
Tournament Day One: When I awoke, my first move is to turn on the weather channel and stick my head outside. The temperature is in the 30's. The forecast is for cold SE wind 15 to 20, building as the day progresses. A small craft advisory is in effect. I decide to put in at another ramp since the small main ramp is always crowded and slow.
At take off, the winds are blowing hard enough to make the flags stand straight out, but its not too hard we can't go. I am going to try and get to my fish, hopefully catch them quickly, and then get close before the winds really pick up. It takes me almost an hour to get to my starting spot. The first thing I need to do is apologize to my co-angler. Just 5 minutes into the run, I spear a wave and soaked him. It was rough, but still shouldn't have happened. I lowered my concentration one second and he paid the price.
The wind has my starting area rolling. I make one pass on the trolling motor and realize its not gonna work. I quickly throw out a drift sock, which works well enough that we can fish. Good, because I'm not sure we can go to my back up area. My first pass, I manage to land a keeper, its a start. The next pass we both manage to catch a decent smallmouth. The bite is slow, but I feel confident I can get a limit. My co-angler makes the comment that he thinks the winds are dying down some. Famous last words there because I think Mother Nature was just catching her breathe.
By noon, I have my limit, my co-angler has 3. The wind is howling, perhaps gusting over 40. I tell him that since it took me an hour to get here, with the winds worse, I'm gonna allow 2 hours to get back. He makes the comment, "don't worry bout me, I'm not fishing for points like you, and you need to make sure you get those fish on the scales, so do what you gotta do." Thats a great jesture on his part, but I tell him I'm gonna stay as long as possible till he gets his limit. I think I've got around 12 lbs, usually not good, but with this weather, who knows. I will hook into a huge smallmouth, only to fight it up to the boat and see it pull off. Man, I needed that one !! Suddenly my co-angler flips in a big smallie. I ask him if he ask for the net, which he didn't. Its so rough, the winds so loud, its hard to even hear oneself think. I tell him get one more, and we are out of here. Not long, I will land the biggest fish of the day for me, and my co-angler will catch his fifth fish. Pull up the sock, secure your gear, and strap on your hard hat, its gonna be a wild ride!
And it was. I know the waves were over 10 feet in one area I had to cross. Bout mid way, we go thru alittle area called the gut, which is a protected bay. There must have been 2 footers in there! We manage to get back to the marina with about 20 minutes to spare. Its so rough, there's no where for you to even consider to fish till due in time, so we idle into the marina early. Its apparent real quick that most, if not all, have done the same thing. The wind is brutal right now. And it makes for an ominous sound. The wind against all those sail boat mast is making an eerie roar. A roar so loud, you can't hear FLW calling bag numbers or even talk to the boat next to you. Its deafening.
It doesn't take long for the war stories to start rolling in. Most who made the long run south didn't make it back. Rumor is that we lost 6 boats today. Later, the local news will confirm a few were lost, with chilling video of two boats who got swamped, washed ashore, beat on the rocks till they were nothing but a floating mass of broken fiberglass. I will also learn my buddy Bump did not make it in today. He was running back to the marina, when he got swamped by two big waves. It overcome his bilge pumps, and they couldn't pump fast enough compared to the amount of water that keep crashing on board. Before he knew it, his boat was full of water, water deep enough to cover his batteries and powerbox. His electrical circuits soon shorted out, and he was in dire straits without power. The only good fortune he had was that the SE wind was pushing him toward a small protect marina. There he was able to keep his boat from crashing into the rocky shoreline. But the bad news doesn't stop there for him. When help finally arrived, late into the night, he still had his days catch in the livewell. He had 5 fish that would go over 20 lbs, easily leading the tournament. Atleast 2 fish that was over 5 lbs, perhaps one that would have been big fish for the day. But it went down on record books as a zero.
The wind is howling so bad, I can't even get back to the ramp I put in this morning. Its so bad, I have my wife catch a ride with a friend to go get my truck and trailer. It will be late into the night before I will get back to the house. Overall, I am thankful to the Lord to have returned safely today, managed to weigh in and hug my wife again. The forecast for tomorrow is for substained winds up to 30, with gust over 50 accompanied by severe thunderstorms. A deadly forecast for boaters and one that will continue to keep the service crews busy. The line today must have been 50 boats long.
The first thing we see when we tie up to a dock, is a fire and rescue truck and ambulance. Word is that an co-angler has broken his back in two places. We watch them carry him off on a stretcher. It really puts to reality what weather like this can do.
Finally my bag number is called, we hit the scales. A couple guys ask me how I stayed dry. I just smile, I had a spare set of clothes with me. Surprisingly, or perhaps not, this is Champlain, the weights are still pretty strong. My limit will top the scales at 15 lbs, putting me just 3 ounces out of the cut. My co-angler will also fair well today, his limit puts him in the top 10. He thanks me for staying when we probably should have left. Good day for us considering.
Tournament Day Two: When I awake, I can hear the wind whistling thru the trees. I don't have to turn on the TV to know the forecast. My co-angler for today is a local who lives in town. We are in the first flight today, boat # 12, so we meet early. We meet away from the take off marina, the first thing my partner tells me is that he thinks the tournament has been delayed for 2 hours. Another boater will pull up and confirm he has heard the same thing. We decide to go ahead a prepare for the day, load our gear and hit the take off ramp. When we get to the boat ramp, theres a line of boats, but everyone is standing around talking. One guy said there was waves breaking over the side of the ferry from VT. Its as bad right now as it was at any given time yesterday, and it was bad yesterday. The talk is that it will be canceled. A couple guys walk up complaining if FLW decides to cancel today, they will protest. Their theory is they can reach their fish. I don't see how anyone can complain if they cancel after the mishaps yesterday. Its supposed to get worse as the day progresses. Its not the size of the waves that can kill you, its the speed and distance between them. Champlain is not like a Great Lake, which gets huge swells of waves that you can run in and out of. Champlain gets huge breaking whitecap chop that's really close together. And about every 4th or 5th wave is like a big rouge wave that will hit you like a freight train, jarring your boat and rattling your teeth. If you loose power, theres nothing but rock everywhere, no where to just pull your boat up on shore or safety.
Suddenly we see some activity, some guys start putting their boats in the water, and some guys pulling out of line. FLW has annouced we are going to fish. I am in shock at this decision. I hear one of my friends say, "Have fun, I'm not going out there, this is crazy and you are too if you go" and off he goes. We go ahead and put my boat in the water to idle around to the take off marina about an mile around the corner. That will be turn out to be a wet ride just to get there. What should have taken just 3 minutes, takes about 15. I'm already wet and cold.
As I idle thru boat check, I make the comment, "this is a bad decision guys". Nobody from FLW says anything. I try and find a vacate slip out of the wind to get ready for the bone jarring ride ahead. Or better yet, make a decision if I can even get to where I fished yesterday without breaking equipment and bones. Shoot, in reality, if I do make it there, I will probably have time enough to make a couple passes, then turn right back around since I'm in the first flight today. The wind blowing thru all the moored sailboats again is like some big alarm going off, or an air raid siren. Its eerie. My co-angler and I huddle together, look over the map trying to even figure out if we can make it anywhere to be able to fish period. We both just look at each others eyes, not saying a word, knowing that getting any where will be painful.
But just before we start to untie the boat to stage for blast off, someone yells, "The Coast Guard has shut it down"! What, the tournament day is canceled? Soon we realize that the decision is made that its just not safe to go out today. I for one, agree. I know its tough call for some, specially being this is the last qualifying event of the year, where points are on the line, but its the right call. I'm only 3 ounces out of the cut, maybe could have made up ground today. I also could go out, hurt me or my co-angler, tear up my equipment, and perhaps even lose my boat to Champlain. It just isn't worth it.
I make a quick call to my wife, she had planned on going into Montreal today. If I'm lucky, they haven't left yet and I can join them. They haven't left, so the rest of the day and the rest of my trip, I become a tourist.
Montreal is a beautiful city. But I tell you what, its a tough place for this southern borne bubba to get around in. Everything is French ! The language, the culture and specially the road signs! I was quick to learn "arret" means stop. My wife and I really enjoy the day in Montreal. I've been to Canada before, in the Ontario Providence, but not Quebec, where French culture dominates. My wife has never been to Canada. Our first stop is a local bakery and deli. Instantly the shop keepers know we are "not from around here". He ask us in french if he can help us I guess. We ask "can we point"? He laughs and says, "Aaay, Americans!" I guess he's one of the Mackenzie Brothers, Aaay?
The city is beautiful, with its European Architect, cobble stone roads, and open window restaurants. One thing we really loved was the open air markets down town, the smell and color of it is indescribable. There's food everywhere, but what exactly it is, well, I guess I need a translation book. While in the market, I look for Pedigree dog food, just out of curiosity to see it in French label. Some sights we will see are the now vacant Montreal baseball stadium, which also served as the Summer Olympics opening ceremonies. Its kind of unique because it has a huge tarp that is tethered open or closed. We go to old Montreal, the Bio Dome, Center of Sports Medicine, and the historical Catholic Cathedral of Montreal. And my favorite, an authentic brew pub. When we leave for the return trip back home, I have to scrap ice off my windshield. When we get home, its almost 90.............AAAAaaaay !