JUNE 13 - Its a 17+ hour drive to Plattsburgh NY, so I plan on driving half way and get a hotel. I will met my traveling partners 3 hours in on Interstate 77. We always carry along two way radio's to help kill the long drive time on the road by talking to each other. It also helps to plan who needs gas, a rest, and a visit to the restroom. Timing was pretty good, there was only about a 20 minute wait between each others arrival. We drive into PA, find a decent hotel with good parking lot lighting for security. Sometimes we just pull into a rest area, grab a few shut eye, but decide to sleep in a bed tonite.
JUNE 14 - Up bright and early, plan on being at our hotel for the tournament by afternoon. Traffic around Harrisburg and Albany is always bad. Toll booths are frequent. I'm excited, Lake Champlain is one of, if not the best fishery anywhere. Its loaded with smallies and largemouth. They are eager to bite. Maybe because the lake is huge, and most local fishing pressure does not occur until the water freezes over. Never quite understand fishing on ice thru a little hole. Between then, most fish for those toothy critters. Bass are considered trash fish. The lake is enormous. Its called the Inland Sea, living up to that in size and waves. If the wind blows, and it will, it is a mother of all rough lakes.
We arrive at our hotel, which is only 12 miles from the Canadian border. Parking is going to be a premium. After some manuvering, we figure out how all can stay hooked up to boats, a plus anywhere. The hotel is on the water, we can see Vermont from our NY window. Time to unpack, hit the grocery store, our place has cooking facilities, and then it off to Vermont to get license. You need both Vermont and NY license to fish Champlain. And Canadian usually, but FLW has placed Canadian waters off limits.
JUNE 15 - My first day on the water, and I'm not alone! The lake is huge, but this is opening weekend for fishing season in NY. It also is the weekend of the largest two day fishing derby ( we call them tournaments) in the area. They have over 6500 contestants entered. Its a unique event, having different catogories, different prizes and different weigh in sites. You can fish in a boat, on shore, from a pier, anywhere, anyway. They broadcast the event on radio, with each weigh in station tallying its catch on the hour at a central headquarters. You got big fish for the day, for the hour, as well as total weight for all species of fish. But back to the day, there are boats everywhere, people casting off jetties, bridges, you name it. Plus the FLW crowd is in full force. I spend the day looking at upper lake grass beds and feeder creeks. Historically, largemouth win on this lake, but the better population is south, way south. I manage to find fish, but not the size I need. When we were there for BASS Tour, it took an average of 15 lbs or more a day to cash.
JUNE 16 - Let the floodgates begin! Rain and more rain is expected. Plus wind, making for a rough morning commute. I plan on running across to the Vermont side and pick up a co-angler in the tournament who wishes to practice with me. Its almost 30 minutes by water to our meeting place. The day is spend fishing in and around Mallets Bay. This area is large enough to hold a tournament in it. I have done well in it in the past. I concentrate on feeder creeks and grass. I'm catching fish, still small. The rain really picks up, and the wind makes running around hard. The water is always gin clear, and forecast is for spawing fish to be moving up. I locate some bedders in a bay, most are keepers, best five may go 10 lbs. I am afraid alot will be doing this, since the fish are so easy to see. I am not the best at it,and not my favorite thing to do. The larger females seem to not be moved up. I take the co-angler back to Vermont side, call it a day.
JUNE 17 - Time to build an ark! Man has it rained, and is still is raining. There is flashflood warings, the rivers are expected to crest at record levels. Reports say area gotten 9 inches of rain in 18 hours! Lake Champlain has never been stained, it is now. Though I am catching smallmouth, I feel it is not the size I need. During our "round table" dicussion at supper, we figure it will take over 15 lbs a day to make cut. One of my roomates and I decide to drive by truck south and launch. It will be over an hour run from take off, if it is calm, if the wind blows, you will not make it back. But largemouth are the dominant species south, living in vast grass beds in the bays. It takes us almost 2 hours to arrive at a ramp. We decide to stick together, fishing a certain bay, one taking the lower half, the other the upper. This way, we can cover more water. After about 3 hours of fishing, we decide to move on since our area is not producing the grade fish worth the long run. Seems alot have deciced to make the long run, the bays are crowded with FLW boats. Late in the day, I have one last creek I wish to go try, we part and go our separate ways, deciding to meet back at dusk. I find the creek to be high and muddy. As is alot of the lower bays. Tomorrow is the last practice day, I will have to decide on north or south.
JUNE 18 - The forecast is for a massive front to come in, bringing wind and more rain. I decide it is best to fish close today, hopefully finding something out of the wind. I begin by running across to the Vermont side, the water has risen several inches. Amazing, giving the size of Champlain. There is debris flooding everywhere. Full moon is forecast in 3 days, so there will be a wave of new spawners. Most coves and bays have small fry everywhere, telling me there has been a spawn already. The bays that earlier did not have fish, now have several really nice females cruising. Several males are up fanning beds. I can catch a limit in here, if I have it to myself. Doubtful, there is several boats in the area. I find some really nice females on the bed, in a little deeper water. Maybe no one will notice them since they are new. I come around a corner, there is a pontoon boat anchored. I quietly troll by, and to my amaze, the occupants are sun bathing nude. One older gentleman decided to sweep the deck in the buff. I go about my business, they theirs, as if it just another day. With the water rising, I figure that the tall reed fields will have some largemouth move into them. I spend the rest of the day running reeds, flipping a jig. I think I can get a big fish flipping, and a limit of bucks off beds. With a little luck, between 12 and 15 lbs. Its a short day, we have meeting and registration in town. The registration is a great time to relax a little with friends. FLW serves a buffet style meal before pairings. After meeting my co-angler partner, making plans to meet in morning, it back to hotel, work on gear, gas up, and in the sack. Long days and short nites are the norm on the tournament trail.
JUNE 19 -First day of tournament. I had hoped for a early take off number so I could run to the larger fish on the beds. I did not get it. I am in the next to last flight, around boat 165. Still, I will give it a shot, there was several less obvious, and its a big lake. Off I go, finally, seems forever waiting for that number. Surprisingly, most boats are heading north, toward the rising upper reaches. I run to my bay, there is already three boats there, one locked on one of the bigger females, the other two seems to be just casting. I idle over to one of the other beds, the water is so clear, you can see beds from 20 yrds. I notice there is a red marker buoy next to the bed. Obviously, someone has planned this their first stop, having left the buoy there overnite. Why, not sure, its is easy to see. I begin working her, but she shys away. This fish has seen too many baits. Another boat comes in, another is working toward me but stops on a bed. After about 10 minutes, I see a larger fish swim by. Its a female, and she immediately pairs up with the male. This is not good, I'm no expert at sight fishing, but I know when they lock up, they don't have eating on their minds! Two of the boats are now within talking distance, one ask "how big is it?. "Just a keeper" is my response. Ten minutes, later, the other boat trolls by. We look at each other, but no words are spoken. When the boats move on, I make the comment to my co-angler that we should move and felt the other boats had picked the area clean by now. I remember there was a small buck bass under the back side of a dock and maybe left behind. As I start toward it, I notice a nice 2 lb smallie on the bed. I flip my jig over there, he eats it! I can't believe the other boats missed him. But as I move on down the shore, I notice most of the beds I had planned on fishing are still occupied. Even my co-angler cannot believe three boats had passed thru without taking them. I proceed to catch my limit as planned, my co-angler gets his. Its has taken me about till noon, time to go run my reeds flipping for a big bite. I manage to cull a few times, not adding much weight. Just before weigh in, I decide to run into a bay to look for some fish for tomorrow, and if lucky, a big one that I need today. The bay has seveal fish that will not help me, I figure I got around 11 lbs, hard to judge smallmouth. I notice several nice females cruising the bank, but very spooky. A boat pulls in behind me. He has the trolling motor on high, just looking for beds. As he approaches, a 5 lb smallie darts under my boat. My co-angler begins flinging every lure he has at her. I ask him to be patient, allow her to settle in somewhere. Someone says " you got'em?" I look up and its Paul Elias. I respond to him "just a limit". He remarks "they have really picked off the easy fish today". We both agree that a big fish is needed to our creel. I tell Paul there is a big smallie cruising around, I'm waiting on her to settle down. Paul proceeds around me, down about 15 yards. The fish I have been watching circles my boat, and then moves out deeper. Paul makes a comment "is that the fish you are talking about"? "yep, thats her" Some call it faith, some call it just meant to be. But Paul proceeds to pick up a rod with this bright bait on it considering the clear water. He chunks the bait at the big smallie, landing about 20 feet from her. The fish suddenly reacts toward the bait. Oh, heck. The fish eats the bait, Paul lands hers, culls and says "Man, can you believe
that? I needed her. That was a gift from god"! Paul goes on to weigh in over 16 lbs, in top 5. Me, my five weigh in at less than 11, and I'm in 145th place. It was about as expected, a bag fest. Only 3 of the 180 pros do not have a limit. I think its about the same on the co-angler side. One big fish would have put me at 13 lbs, the cut on day one. There is three of us sharing the apt. Both my roomies are in the money. But its tight, only 2 lbs separates 20th place from 75th.
June 20 - I got a early take off number. Today, I am going to run to the bay where I saw the bigger females cruising in practice. Maybe they have locked on, and been overlooked since it is a good little run south. Upon arrivial, I notice the water is much higher and much dirtier. I can't really see the bedding fish. I start fan casting the bay, picking off a buck bass here and there. I get a limit pretty quick, a small limit. I will need atleast 17 lbs to make the cut after day one small limit. Decision time, do I run and fish the reeds, hoping to connect with a big largehead or put the trolling motor down and begin looking. I know that there was some big fish in this bay two days ago, so I decide to slow down, fish, pitch to where I thought a bed maybe in the dirtier water. The bite is slow, but productive. I pick up a nice smallie. My co-angler decides to tie on a wacky worm, dang, not what I want to see. Its even slower than what I doing, and hes casting out beyond the boat. He proceeds to catch a 5 lb smallie, then a 4 lb fish. He offers me a wacky worm rig. Tempting, but stick to my jig. I land another quality fish, come across several buck bass that will not help me, and pause long enough for my co-angler to catch them to finish his limit. He is really appreciative of the gesture. I wish no bad luck on my co-anglers, as long as I get mine! Would not help me, I had a limit, he did not. A tournament boat pulls into my little bay, it trolls thru the area, once and awhile, stopping on a smaller buck. I notice his co-angler and he will ever so often pail water from the lake and into the livewells. He leaves, almost time for me to follow. There was this rock out in the middle of the bay I had noticed when coming in. I stop on it, time for one last flip, and a 4 lb smallie eats it. Now I figure I got 14 lbs, just one more kicker, then 17 is reachable. Its a good run, I leave, plan on hitting a reed patch to end the day that in the past has produced a big largemouth for me. No takers this time, I weigh in at 15 lbs, fall one pound short. I see one of my roommates who has come in a later flight. The catch is as good as day one, maybe better. FLW officials have told everyone to remain in boat, with aireaters running because the weigh in line is backed up. No lie, this place is a fish factory. But my roommate thinks it will be close for him making the top 20 cut. He is right, he misses it by ounces. Good news is, our other roomie has made the cut, he will fish tomorrow. All three of us have put in at ramp away from take off. My roomie tells me that he did not have any size to his limit until he pulls into this little cut with 20 minutes to go. He said he culled three times, missed a huge smallie before time ran out. He ask if I want to go hit it a cast or two while we wait on Todd in the manatory top 20 meeting. Heck, lets go, even my co-angler is game. To make a already long story shorter, I pull in, my co-angler makes a cast while I get out a rod since I had them stored. He immediately has on a mule! It gets off, I cast and bam, I catch a 5 lb smallie ! My roomie proceeds to slam into its twin. We catch 4 in about 10 minutes, smallest is 4 lbs. Call it salt in my wounds. That one fish would have put me in the cut. The three fish I catch would have weighed as much as my first day limit.
JUNE 21 - Do we get up, begin the long drive home, or we go have some fun. We bid Todd good luck in the finals, and ponder the idea of just fishing for those smallies for some fun or homebound. The forecast is for wind and rain. Its tempting, but we decide time to go see the family. Plus, Todd is fishing that area, and if we went out there and did anything that may hurt him, would feel bad. Home it is. Later, Todd calls, he is leading the tournament going into day 4 and top 10 cut. He goes on to finish 5th.