It was the event of the season. The one big tourney that I had been anxiously waiting for all winter long. A shot at the big leagues against some of the top sticks on one of my favourite bodies of water. FLW on Lake Champlain. I had signed up as a boater for this one and considering the registration fee was a hefty $1,000, it's safe to say there was a lot riding on this one to perform. So, with several days set aside for a serious pre-fish, I was pumped and ready to hit Champlain with everything I had.
About 2 months before the event, I received a Facebook message from a young gentleman whom I had briefly spoken with from his Woodoo Customs jersey order. His name was Patrick Zajdel, a 17 year old up and comer from Burlington, Ontario that I had noticed was making some waves in the scene this year. "Ben, I've signed up as a co-angler for the FLW event and was wondering if we could hook up? I would love to partner up with you for pre-tournament practice etc..." A 17 year old kid from Toronto signs up for the FLW?? Thoroughly impressed with his bold determination, I accepted his offer took Patrick on as my partner in crime for the week.
Patrick showed up by train on Sunday evening and on Monday morning, we were crossing the Quebec/NY border, Lake Champlain bound.
Day one of pre-fish was a very successful one. We targeted mainly largemouth bass in the Mississquoi area, finding big schools of feeding fish on shallow 2-4ft hard bottom flats with sparse weed patches. 3lb plus largies smoked California coloured Havoc Grasspigs one after the next, the action was absolutely insane. To boot, the area that I had found was vast and not just a little microspot that could easily get fished out. Spent the rest of the day marking smaller, less obvious spots that I would tuck away and use only if necessary come tournament day.
On Day two we decided to focus exclusively on smallmouth, exploring areas such as Alburg Passage and the Inland Seas. We targeted mostly main lake points with sandy, rocky bottom and looked for offshore reefs and weedlines as well. The bigger fish certainly appreciated some good cover adjacent to deeper so we tricked them into biting on dropshot rigs and wacky-rigged stickworms.
Sometimes when things are going just too well, it's a sign of rainier days to come. Now we didn't get hit with any rain, but rather a massive cold front! All week along nights were a warm 18 degrees and days 30 degree plus. Well wouldn't you know it, but the very night before the tourney, the temperature would plummet into the single digits, a freezing 7 degrees!
While waiting for my turn to blast-off, the brisk chill in the air already started getting me nervous. There was simply no way that a cold front as serious as this would not negatively affect my fish, especially the largies. I finally get to my spot and are content to see that I am the only one on it. "Yes" I thought to myself, I have the entire zone to myself to really hunker down and pick apart properly . Well to my disappointment not only had all the fish vanished, but a huge school of Northern Pike had moved in! It seems that the cold front had pushed the largies off the spot.
It was time to go to plan "B", good old reliable smallmouth. Surely the coldfront would have less of an effect on the smalljaws on the main lake. Yep, you guessed it, I was wrong again. My first area that was a large main rocky point had nothing but sub one pound bass on it. I can honestly say that I have never ever caught such small bass on Champlain. It was absolutely ridiculous. I quickly moved on to the offshore reefs that produced so well in practice. The first pitch and tick tick..boom! A 4 pound plus smallie to reward for the dreadful day I've been having! And that's where the good news stops. Every bite after that resulted in microbass measuring 6-10" long. What the heck happened to all the fish??
Surprisingly, I still managed to get a limit together and headed to the scales. Day one ended with a very difficult 9lb bag.
After a long sleepless night, I woke up and made the big decision that I would make the big run and head down to Ticonderoga in search of some warm water bucketmouths. Now why would I even bother making the big trip south, spend at least $200 in gas to fish an area that I didn't even practice in pre-fish? Let's just say that without a chance in hell of making the day 3 cut and extremely frustrated by seeing big bags of bass being brought in from Ti, I had absolutely nothing to lose and everything to gain by learning what the fuss was all about down south. I have fished the Ticonderoga area before but had never actually made the run on water from Plattsburgh to Ti.
The run took about 1.25 hours going 55mph with near perfect lake conditions. Upon arrival, bass boats lined almost every bay and shoreline. Everywhere I looked there was a bass boat. One point actually had 7 boats on it! Big names like JT Kenney, Dave Lefebvre and others could be seen doing their thing. Suffice to say, it was an absolute spectacle. I took advantage of the situation and drove around trying to understand what the bite was. I can now tell you with conviction that Ticonderoga will most certainly be an area that I will be focussing on when it comes to FLW tournaments on Lake Champlain moving forward. So much good water, soo many big piggies. No wonder guys make the run...
I ended up bring another 9 pound bag to the scale at the end of Day 2. More importantly however, I just accumulated a precious and priceless fishing lesson. Although this event may not have the numbers that I was anticipating on producing, at least I can say I made it into an incredible learning experience that has changed my outlook on fishing Lake Champlain. I stuck around for Day 3 and volunteered my time to be a boater for the FLW College Fishing event. I hooked up with 2 great kids from West Virginia and had a great time driving them around and making new fishing friends. Lake Champlain, I will have my vengeance one day. That day will be sooner than later.