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Angler's dream

Lake Champlain among top picks for bass fishing

Jul. 17, 2008 - 12:05PM   |   Last Updated: Jul. 17, 2008 - 12:05PM  |  
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An ESPN survey of pro bass anglers a couple of years ago asked them to rate the finest lake in the country for fishing.

You might think one of the southern impoundments legendary for holding behemoth bass would be the top pick, but a majority selected Lake Champlain, a huge natural lake carved millennia ago by glaciers and nestled between upstate Vermont and New York.

Since that survey, Lake Champlain has consistently shown up on many "Top 5" lists.

The 112-mile-long lake spans much of the border between New York and Vermont, with Quebec on its northernmost edge. It is 12 miles across at its widest point, covers more than 300,000 surface acres and has a maximum depth of about 400 feet. Most of these deeper reaches are south of Shelburne Bay, where the lake necks down. It is the largest freshwater lake in America after the Great Lakes.

Lake Champlain's habitat diversity, with its open water, rocky points and gravel bars, submerged boulders, creeks and coves with assorted underwater grasses, cattail marshes, and more, is an angler's dream. With 585 miles of shoreline, it would take a lifetime for one person to figure out all the intricacies.

Tips and tactics

Fishing picks up as the waters warm to 50 degrees. Bass wintering in deep locations begin staging near shallower areas where they'll eventually spawn once the water warms a few degrees.

Lake Champlain begins rocking for big smallmouth bass in early May.

Smallmouth fishing is superb from Plattsburgh south to Ticonderoga on the New York side and from the mouth of the Mississiquoi River to well past Shelburne Bay and the narrower waters on the Vermont side.

Spring smallmouth bass on Lake Champlain prefer rocky, hard bottoms for spawning. Their largemouth cousins tend to seek thick cover and "edge" habitat, where they can ambush prey.

A smallmouth has no problem running down prey. It will chase and smash lures in open water, running after the hook-set with a vigor that generates some of the most fun and exciting fishing action to be had. Champlain's water can be incredibly clear. With polarized sunglasses, it's possible to see fish chasing lures far out along your casting range and to about 20 feet deep in water near the boat on calm days.

To catch spring or fall smallies, tie on a white or pearl-colored jerk bait and work rocky shorelines. Water can still be deep against many of Champlain's rocky cliffs and points, and fish sometimes will be stacked in there.

Following the June spawn, the fish move into deeper water and become more difficult to catch. It's critical to find holes with current nearby or offshore reefs where anglers can intercept the feeding fish.

Suspended jerk baits or any of a variety of soft plastics, usually crawfish or minnow mimics, with an imbedded lead-head hook are among the top producers. A Luckycraft pointer minnow jerkbait in a chartreuse shad color with a yellow stripe is a good summer producer. Or use Texas-rigged 4-inch finesse worms on one-fourth-ounce jig heads, such as Tru-Tungsten's "Ike's Spike."

Autumn resumes prime time for big fish. Once water temperatures drop into the 60s, a proven tactic is to cover a lot of water with spinner baits paying special attention to grassy flats and mouths of rivers or creeks.

"Explosive" barely describes the scene when a 4-pound smallie assassinates a spinner 6 inches below the surface of the water.

Another popular tactic with smallies is to make sure you've got two rods ready to go in the boat. Once you get the fish's attention with spinners, jerk baits or flukes — perhaps missing a strike — take a spinning rod and pitch a wacky-rigged finesse worm, such as a Senko or similar, right to the spot. The aggressive smallmouth bass will often attack the new, slower offering.

To catch Champlain largemouths, move toward creeks and coves that have ample underwater vegetation, such as milfoil, pencil reeds, lily pads or even cattails. Boat docks also hold fish.

Pitching and flipping weedless-rigged jigs is a favored tactic. Green pumpkin crawfish patterns or blue and black pig and jigs are good producers. Lunker bass will often be found in some of the thickest, nearly impenetrable stuff you can imagine, so hefty braided line and a powerful gear ratio on your reel are keys to yanking fish through thick surface mats.

Bass often wallop the bait as soon as it drops through their roof. Other times, strikes occur right at the boat as bass dart from vegetation to strike prey escaping to more open water. Fish the lure right to the boat.

In areas where lily pads and other vegetation create a carpet of greenery punctuated by watery holes, flip jigs, but also try bouncing a weedless frog over the top. Strikes on these presentations can be spectacular.

Other topwater lures and buzzbaits can produce, especially in early morning. Fish edge habitat where thick reeds abut grassy flats.

GET FISHING

Ample public access is available, and nonresident fishing licenses are available to cover short trips. For more details see:

Vermont Web sites:

http://www.vtfishandwildlife.com/bassfishing.cfm">http://www.vtfishandwildlife.com/bassfishing.cfm

http://www.vtfishandwildlife.com/buylicense.cfm">http://www.vtfishandwildlife.com/buylicense.cfm

New York Web sites:

http://www.dec.ny.gov/outdoor/28244.html">http://www.dec.ny.gov/outdoor/28244.html

http://www.dec.ny.gov/permits/6091.html">http://www.dec.ny.gov/permits/6091.html

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