My alarm went off at 5:00 AM and I was beat. But still, it was much nicer than the 1:30 AM alarm I had the previous day for the Lake George Trail. I got up and got ready to make the 2 hour drive to Old Forge for the Adirondack Paddlefest. It was Round 2 of my double header weekend. We were up to 28 anglers for the second signature event of our Adirondack KBF Club and I was excited.
The Adirondack Paddlefest is an interesting event. Held in Old Forge on the Moose River and the Fulton Chain lakes, it got its start as a pike tournament. In recent years it’s been transformed into a combination bass and pike tournament. The format is simple, a five fish limit and up to two of them can be pike. This means anglers can put up five bass, four bass and one pike, or three bass and two pike. The pike fishing in this area is phenomenal, with pike in excess of 36-inches being regularly caught. The score of your pike is limited to the length of your measuring board, but with just two 30-inch pike (the maximum length of the Hawg Trough) you’re already up to 60-inches with three bass spots left to fill.
The two species combination means that strategy can play huge in this event. Last year only two anglers put up a limit, and they both did it only catching bass. But without the longer pike boosting their totals, they ended up in 4th and 6th place. While driving to the tournament, my mind was racing with how I wanted to plan my day. Last year I launched at the west end of Fourth Lake and paddled down the river into Third Lake. I managed two good pike, but struggled to find bass. I caught two decent smallmouth and those four fish were good enough for 5th place. I had initially planned to do the same thing this year. There was a spot on Third Lake that I knew produces pike. I could fish it quickly, put my two pike up fast, then search for the bass.
As I drove into Old Forge I called an audible and decided to go to the east end of Fourth Lake to the boat launch there. I did that for a couple reasons. The first reason is that it’s an actual ramp which is easier to launch from with my setup on my truck. The launch at the west end is a little trickier having to navigate your kayak down a rocky shoreline. The second reason is that I wanted to explore someplace new. I love breaking down new areas and figured I might as well take in some new scenery. The third reason was I really didn’t feel like paying the Day Use Fee at the west end launch.
I pulled down into the ramp about 7:40 AM and was the first person there. Launch and first cast were both at 8:00 so I had plenty of time to unload and rig up. Shortly after, another truck pulled up. It was the Herrington family, two of whom were the ones who got their limit of bass in 2018. I figured the bass fishing must be decent at this end. A couple more anglers arrived at the ramp as I prepped and launched just after 8:00.
I decided to start my day out at the Islands. I figured there would be some good structure out there, and just maybe some vegetation where I could locate pike. I cruised out there and started fishing around the chunk rock and boulders in the shallows. I fished there for an hour or so trying all sorts of different baits. I worked a jerkbait, drop shot, crankbait, chatterbait, and spinnerbait all with no success. I was marking fish on my elecronics but couldn’t seem to get them to bite. I fished around a little bit with the shakeyhead I had on from Lake George. I was amazed at how it looked in the water. The plastic I had on was a Biospawn Plasmatail in watermelon red flake. It was crazy how in the tannic water, the green of the body almost disappeared and the red flake really shimmered. I made a mental note of that as I was fishing.
With the wind picking up, I elected to go to the shoreline to find some protected areas. I decided the south shore would be more protected since the wind seemed to be blowing out of the southwest. I pulled in and started working my way along the shallows. I was still mostly using the jerkbait and chatterbait looking for wood or grass and hoping to find some pike.
There were a lot of boat docks and boat houses along this stretch so I decided to change course and try for some bass. I grabbed my flipping rod and tossed a texas rigged Pit Boss up next to a boat house and quickly landed an 11-inch smallie. A fun start, but not what I was looking for. I decided to switch over to the shakeyhead because I could skip it back under the docks and into the boathouses better. I skipped the shakeyhead up under the next dock I came to and felt a bite before it even hit the bottom. I forgot I was using spinning gear with light line so my aggressive hook set resulted in the predictable *snap* of my line.
I turned around and opened the finesse compartment of my tackle crate. The last two bites told me a lot. The Pit Boss was green pumpkin. The shakeyhead was watermelon with red flake. The bass hit the shakeyhead fast and before it hit the bottom. I thought to myself Do I put a new shakeyhead on, or do I switch to something else? Green pumpkin wacky rig maybe? As I grabbed my box of finesse terminal tackle I noticed I had a package of Z-Man TRD Crawz in watermelon red! You can’t go wrong any time of year throwing a crawfish pattern at Adirondack smallmouth. I figured this was a perfect time to switch up to the ned rig and see what the crawz would catch.
The next dock I came to told me all I needed to know. The ned rig slipped up under there and a second later I felt the line jump. This time I remembered to reel down for a hook set and caught a solid little 14.25-inch smallmouth. Finally I was on the board. A few docks later a 16.75-inch took the craw and I was up to two. The next few docks didn’t produce, and then I came up to a boathouse and skipped the ned rig up in there. I felt the line jump and again forgot I was using light line. The line snapped but this time there was no question what I was tying on. I grabbed another 3/32 oz VMC Finesse Half Moon Jig and quickly re-rigged another TRD Craw.
I worked my way up the shore and the fish kept coming. 17.75-inches, 16.25-inches, 16.50-inches along with other short bass that didn’t count. I had my limit and now I needed to figure out the rest of my day. It was only 11:00 and I decided to do something I’ve been trying not to do this season; check the standings. I couldn’t believe it, I was in first! A few other anglers had a few big pike on the board so I knew it would only take a couple keeper bass and they would be past me in a hurry. Matthew Herrington was also right there with his limit of bass so clearly that end of the lake was producing.
I saw a cove up ahead and thought maybe there’s some grass in there with some pike. I made the decision to move along the shore and continue for bass until I got up into the cove and then see what I could find for pike. A few hundred yards and some small bass later I came up to a dock built over a large boulder. I could tell there was space under and around the boulder near the bottom and I was sure there would be a bass in there. I dropped the craw in perfect, felt the line get tight, and reeled down into it. This fish was heavy! Much heavier than the first bunch. I fought it up to the boat, swung the net under it, and set her down in my lap. It was a toad. A 19-inch smallie and a huge upgrade. It was 11:35, I got my photos uploaded, and took a look at the board again. I was still in first, but now I was tied with Matthew. He must have upgraded before I got mine. Luckily I had the tie-breaker for the moment.
I made the decision to put the ned rig away, even tho I was hammering them, and switch up to the chatterbait. If I wanted upgrades, I needed pike! I cruised around the cove looking for structure. Looking for cover. Looking for anything that might hold pike. Nothing. I reached the western point of the cove and took a break. I pulled out an Oatmeal Creme Pie and took a bite. I thought to myself Why am I sitting here without a line in the water? I set the creme pie down on the gunwale, grabbed the ned rig, and cast it out. I popped the rod into the rod hold and turned back for my snack. I looked down just in time to see it start to sink below the surface of the water. My Creme Pie! I laughed to myself at how when the fishing is bad, losing my snack would have have been just another thing to go wrong. But on that day, the fishing was good, I was having fun, and even losing my snack wasn’t going to knock me down.
It was just after noon, half way through my day, and I shot north across the lake to work my way back to the launch. There were more coves, shallows, and a nice little creek arm that I hoped may hold some pike. While cutting across I pulled up the standings. I had dropped to second. Matthew had made an inch cull and was ahead of me. The big pike continued to roll in from other areas, but they were still not putting up many bass. I knew that could change at any time tho.
The ned rig stayed pocketed while I worked my way along looking for the pike. I cruised along some great looking shallows with scattered rock I figured would hold some pike. Nothing. I worked my way back up into Eagle Creek. I found a little grass, but still no pike. I worked my way along a deep ledge pulling the chatterbait parallel to it hoping a big pike was sitting along the dropoff but no takers. I finally rounded into a another cove and started seeing more of the boulders and docks I was having success on earlier. I figured Screw it, I’m fishing the ned rig for bass. If I upgrade great, if not, oh well. I’m having fun.
I fished the north shore along and it wasn’t long before I was back on the pattern. I caught a bunch more good bass in the 12 to 15-inch range, but no upgrades. I approached a point in between some docks and rock bluffs and grabbed my chatterbait. I cast it out and *BANG* she hit! Missed her, *BANG* again, I missed again. *BANG* a third time! This time it held on just just a second longer but still no hook-up. I reeled in and quickly grabbed the jerkbait. I didn’t think I got a hook in whatever it was so maybe it would still bite. Thinking it likely wouldn’t hit the chatterbait again, maybe it would hit the jerkbait. I made a few casts around but nothing. Oh well. Further up was a nice looking bluff wall so I swapped back out for the ned rig and moved on.
I approached the wall and could see a nice little crevice. I cast up into it perfectly and felt the bait settle down into some rocks. Knowing how crawfish can shoot around the rocks, I gave the ned rig a little *POP* up and out. It was almost instant. I popped the bait and felt the tick of the bite. I cranked down and quickly landed a 17.50-inch smallie. That was the upgrade I needed. 1.25-inches. I uploaded it and checked the board. I was back in first. Matthew hadn’t upgraded and nobody else was catching them, or at least they weren’t uploading them. I knew no lead was safe and so I kept plugging away.
Just ahead on the bluff wall I could see a small outcropping below the surface. I cast up along it, let the bait settle down. I twitched it a couple of times till I felt it drop down behind a rock. Then the line got tight and I cranked down again. (At that point in the day I was finally getting the hang of a good reel-down hook set.) This fish was another big one. It stayed down and pulled harder than anything else had that day. I worked it up to the surface, but I just couldn’t get the net under it. I finally went for it and missed. I felt the head of the ned rig catch in the net. Oh NO! In the blink of an eye I twist my wrist and spun the net under the fish just as my line snapped. I hoisted it up and in and breathed a sigh of relief. Some days things just go right and it was definitely one of those days. That fish was an 18.75 and a 2.25-inch upgrade. That was huge and I was rolling.
I now had a bigger lead on first place and just got the news there was a severe thunderstorm warning for that area. I looked up and around and didn’t see any weather moving in but that all can be deceiving in the Adirondacks. Storms can move in without warning and can bounce around in the mountains. I figured I had just a little time left and there was one more bluff wall up ahead I wanted to hit. I pedaled up to it and right on cue next to a crevice in the wall another big smallmouth chomped on it. I was able to cleanly net this one and it measured 18-inches. That was another 1.25-inch upgrade. It was about 2:45 and I had originally planned on fishing until 3:30. But with the storms moving in (it was starting to sprinkle from an outlying band), I decided to call it a day and make the 15 minute run back to the launch.
I got to the ramp just as one of the other anglers, Johan, was driving off. I had briefly chatted with him on the water and I knew he needed to get service to upload a limit of bass; tho he didn’t tell me how big. The Herrington’s truck was no longer there. My first thought was Did they run to a new spot to get some pike? But there was nothing to do about it now.
I checked the leaderboard one last time and I was still in first with 91-inches. That was by far my largest single day total in a tournament (and likely even outside of a tournament). I was pumped! This lake is not known as an exceptional bass fishery, especially not one to put up numbers of larger fish. I had found a pattern, locked on to the giant smallmouth, and put up a total that would compare to almost any smallmouth fishery in the north.
I drove back to check-in just as the storms hit, and they hit hard. I was glad I got off the water when I did. At tournament HQ I chatted with the other anglers. Most had seen my fish come in throughout the day and were eager to know what I was doing. It was exciting being on that side of the conversation. Finally it came time to announce the winners. They started with 4th through 10th. As they went down the list of names and lengths I knew the top three was Matthew, Johan, and myself. It was crazy to think that in a combination pike and bass tournament, the top 3 would all have limits entirely of bass and would have launched from the same spot. On top of that, 4th place was also a limit of bass although she had launched at a different location.
The results were in. They announced Johan in 3rd place. As long as Matthew hadn’t gone and gotten a pike, I had done it. They then said the words I wanted to hear “In second place with 87.25 inches”. And it was official, I had won my first tournament!
It was a perfect setting. I grew up fishing smallmouth in the Adirondacks. There’s no place I’d rather be than somewhere in the mountains, with the smell of hemlock, fishing those brown tannic waters. To win my first tournament, catching huge smallmouth in a historic area like Old Forge just felt right. It was a great day of fishing, things went right when they had to. I made a few small mistakes but recovered from them, moved on, and most importantly just plain had fun fishing. It was an absolute perfect day on the water. Well, almost perfect, rest in peace oatmeal creme pie.