PLATTSBURGH, N.Y. – A rainy summer has swollen Lake Champlain past its normal boundaries, but EverStart Series Northern Division anglers will still find plenty of opportunity throughout this spectacular fishery. Maximizing such abundance, however, will depend upon prudent decision making.
First priority is target species. Champlain boasts healthy populations of largemouth and smallmouth bass – both of which reach competitive sizes. Traditionally, largemouth bass dominate this time of year, but several anglers reported good smallie bites in practice, so a mixed bag could play for some.
The other choice is location. At 121 miles long, this relatively narrow lake offers a broad array of habitat that includes islands, bridge structure, quiet coves, rocky bluffs, offshore rock/grass fields and shallow hydrilla beds. This diversity flourishes throughout most of the lake, while Champlain's slender southern end, generally known as "Ti" (for Fort Ticonderoga) largely comprises gnarly tangles of dense grass chock full of largemouth bass.
Prior to the day-one takeoff, Pennsylvania pro Randy Yarnell said he was still mulling his decision over where to start.
"I'm having a tough time deciding 'Do I want to go north or do I want to go south?'" he said. "Ti is holding a lot of fish and if you hit the right place at the right time, you're going to be a happy man.
"Today, with it being so calm I know we're going to catch a lot of fish. We're going to be able to get down there quickly and we're going to be able to get back. But I also practiced in Missisquoi Bay (northeast end) and it has a lot of nice fish. The hard part about Missisquoi, in my determination, is how many people are going to be there. I know I won't have a whole lot of competition in Ti, but I know there are better fish in Missisquoi right now."
Yarnall said he was leaning more toward a Missisquoi mission. There, he'd expect to catch most of his fish on a wacky-rigged Senko or a Reaction Innovations Little Dipper on a 1/8-ounce leadhead. A quick limit of Missisquoi largemouth, he said, would enable him to branch out and try a few smallmouth spots.
Yarnell said that spotting a school of sunfish is always a promising sight, as predators eventually locate such food concentrations. However, noting the sunfish behavior tells him if he's in the right neighborhood.
"If you drop your bait through a school of sunfish and they don't follow it down, that's a good sign," he said. "They know what's down there."
Florida pro J.T. Kenney, who won last year's EverStart on Champlain by fishing the Ti grass, said he's committed to another round of southward runs. As Kenney notes, the current water level has influenced the habitat and influenced bait selection. He'll flip Gambler Otter and a Senko.
"The largemouth down around Ticonderoga are spread out a little bit," he said. "It's not ridiculous like it was last year when you just had to find that little spot in each grass bed where you could just wear them out.
"It's mostly a flippin' deal this year. We have a lot of those cheese mats where we frog fish, but the water's really high. So, instead of having two or three feet of water under those mats, there's six feet of water. There's probably fish under there, but I just don't think they're as apt to come that far up (for a frog)."
California pro Ish Monroe will also target largemouth, but he's staying in the lake's upper end, where shallow cover presents more effective scenarios for working his Snagproof Ish's PHAT Frog and Poppin' Phattie. He'll also throw a River2Sea Rover and flip a Missile Baits D-Bomb
"With the high water, a lot of those fish that roam out in that middle grass pull up to the edges where they're easier to catch," Monroe said.
Now, smallmouth bass are notoriously cantankerous critters but nothing spotlights their mean streak like a topwater bait. Steve Lucarelli, who won the 2009 event on Champlain plans to summon the brown beasts topside by walking a Zara Spook over weed beds in 10-12 feet of water. It probably won't be an all-day thing, but Lucarelli's hoping to start his day with a bang and then go to work elsewhere.
As Lucarelli points out, Champlain's high water has created strong current scenarios, as water management pulls the overage through drainage systems. Current positions fish and stimulates feeding, so Lucarelli believes that this dynamic will present homerun opportunities for those who find the sweet spots.
Anglers will take off from the Dock Street Landing in Plattsburgh, N.Y., at 6 a.m. Thursday through Saturday. Weigh-in will be held at Dock Street Landing beginning at 2:00 p.m. Takeoffs and weigh-ins are free and open to the public.
Pros will fish for a top award of $40,000 plus a Ranger Z518 with a 200-horsepower Evinrude or Mercury outboard if Ranger Cup guidelines are met. Co-anglers will cast for a top award consisting of a Ranger Z117 with 90-horsepower Evinrude or Mercury outboard and $5,000 if Ranger Cup guidelines are met.
The EverStart Series consists of five divisions – Central, Northern, Southeast, Texas and Western. Each division consists of four tournaments and competitors will be vying for valuable points in each division that could earn them the Strike King Angler of the Year title, which allows them to fish the 2014 Forrest Wood Cup.
The EverStart Series tournament on Lake Champlain is being hosted by the City of Plattsburgh and the Adirondack Coast Visitors Bureau.
For complete details and updated information visit FLWOutdoors.com. For regular updates, photos, tournament news and more, follow the EverStart Series on Facebook at Facebook.com/FLWFishing and on Twitter at Twitter.com/FLWFishing.
Sunrise: 5:25 a.m.
Temperature at takeoff: 72 degrees
Expected high temperature: 82 degrees
Water Temperature: 75-77 degrees
Wind: SW switching to SE 2-7 mph
Humidity: 75 percent
Day’s outlook: Calm and partly sunny