Searching for Bronzebacks on Lake Champlain

My alarm chimed 5:00 AM and I pushed off from the ramp. I turned north, and began flipping a creature bait along the seawall by the ramp just in case something happened to be there. After a few flips I moved on and got into my first real area. This was a long flat with a gravel shoreline before the marina. I didn’t prefish this at all because I wanted to save it for the tournament. I started out by throwing a squarebill up along the gravel. I worked it up and down the bank but was not getting any bites. I swapped the squarebill out for a spook and went to work over a little deeper section. I kept expecting a blowup, but none came. I could see a few smallmouth cruising the gravel bar but so far none were hitting any moving baits.

Because I expected to fish shallow, I had taken my FX Custom Rods 6’6” ML-fast drop shot rod and re-rigged it with a ned rig. This way I could have both a wacky and a ned ready to go. I grabbed the ned rig and started casting it along the shallows where I was seeing them cruising. It only took a few casts and I was on the board. It was only a 12-incher, but that counts and I took the photo anyway. It was only 5:30 and I had a fish and felt like I was going to do well. Ten minutes later and I had another small one, 12.25 and the ned rig was killing it. By 6:00 I had my limit but my two largest were only 14.75 inches. I hoped I could find bigger fish, but it was shaping up to be a fun day. The pattern was a numbers game. I was catching tons of fish, and it would just take time to get enough bigger ones to make a decent bag.

I fished around the marina pretty hard but I didn’t pull anything out from around the sail boats. I did manage another 14.75” along the shoreline on top of plenty more short fish. I was still able to do some sight fishing, but the fish were very spooky in that shallow clear water. While working the shoreline in between the marina docks, I found three bass that would have gone over 18-inches including a big largemouth but I couldn’t get them to bite. I noted which bays they were in and I figured maybe I would have time to slip back in later in the day.

By that point it was 8:00 and I was still only sitting on 70 inches. I had three that went 14.75 and two shorter ones that I hoped to cull at a minimum. I approached a point where I caught one 17-incher on Thursday. That fish came on a texas rigged creature bait. I hoped maybe it was still in the area, possibly still next to the concrete dock anchor where I caught it before, and that it would fall for my ned rig this time.

My Daiwa Tatula LT on my FX Custom Rods 6’6″ is a deadly light weight combo.

About 25 yards away from the anchor, I cast up onto the gravel shallows as I had all morning. It was amazing what I could feel with that rod. I felt every indentation on the rocks as the ned head dragged over it. It was almost too sensitive; I still can’t always tell the difference between a fish bumping it, or it ticking into another rock. This cast however I knew it was a bite. I set into it and the rod doubled over. My first thought was YES! but then quickly came the Oh No! A ripple on the water made it harder for me to see, but with how this fish was digging I knew it was a drum. I had seen plenty swimming in the shallows along with the carp next to the bass. That fish dragged me all over including right over the concrete anchor. While it was pulling me around, I saw a few bass scatter, including one big one that might have been that 17-incher. It took me a few minutes to work the drum up to the boat, but that rod paired with the smooth drag of the Daiwa Tatula LT spinning reel worked flawlessly. It was an 8-10 lb drum and I landed it with a 6-lb leader.

The drum dragging me around blew up that area so I moved on around the point. I kept fishing along, but the shoreline there was different. It wasn’t sand and gravel, but ledge rock. I didn’t get bit at all along there, and probably fished too slowly along the section. It was just after 9:00 and the heat and humidity were already taking a toll. I kept having to clean the sweat and fog off my sunglasses, but I needed those polarized lenses to find the larger rocks and boulders on the flats.

There was a small cove which was more gravely and I moved into there. I was able to make out a few bigger rocks and cast my ned rig up to them. I was distracted momentarily by an Osprey chirping nearby when I felt the bite. I set into the fish and again my rod doubled over but this one felt like a bass. It was a good one, 17.25 inches! Finally I had a solid fish on the board! I was almost to a sandy area where I had seen many large smallmouth and had landed a 17 on Thursday, so I was excited.

I continued along the shore and wasted more time fishing ledge rock flats when I came to another gravel area, this time with a floating dock. The gravel and boulders didn’t produce, but the dock did! I put another 14.75 inch smallie on my board. Talk about consistency. At that point I had the 17.25 and FOUR 14.75-inch smallmouth. It was a little frustrating, but at least it made culling simple. I knew what my smallest size was and it would take four culls to change it.

First good fish of the day.

I fished along the sandy area that I had seen so many fish Thursday morning, but in two days, everything had changed. It seemed like everyone put their docks in the water on Friday. There were way more boats, and the fish I found before had vanished. I made it to the first little point along that shoreline. A nice gravely area, exactly what I had been having all my luck on and landed a fat little 16.25. That was one 14.75 down, just three left to cull. 

It was 11:00 and I had decisions to make. I could hear rumbles in the distance and knew the storm was coming. One cell had already passed to the north. The wind was swirling so I knew I was getting short on time. I could see where the gravel transitioned to sand up ahead. There were still lots of people out swimming and enjoying the last hour before the storm hit. I made the call to fish to the end of the gravel, then book it back. Unfortunately I didn’t catch anything more along that stretch.

I pedaled quickly back making a straight line across the bay. The were sprinkles just starting and I could see the storm clouds approaching. I ducked into the one Marina aisle where I had seen a large smallmouth and a 3lb largemouth. I wanted to at least make a couple casts in there to see if I could get them. I didn’t need to get close since I knew the structure now. I cast in there twice with no bites. On the third cast I felt the hit but it was just a 13 inch smallmouth. As I fought it, I drifted in too close and saw the big smallmouth swimming away. I never did see the largemouth again but I figured the spot was busted and I needed to go!

It was almost noon on the dot when I was approaching the ramp and the sky just opened up. The rain started coming down hard and the thunder rumbled overhead. I got to the shore next to ramp just in time. I pulled the yak up onto the rocks and I ducked under some trees to wait out the storm. I was tempted to jump in the truck which was right behind me, but there was not a lot of shore so a big wave could pull my kayak away and then I would be swimming after it. Thankfully the storm did not last long. It was maybe 10 minutes later and I could hear the thunder move off to the south. I looked to the northwest where the storms were coming from and it appeared to be clearing up. The rain had slowed to a light drizzle so I took of the rain jacket, popped my PFD back on, and headed back onto the water.

When I prefished the area, I had skipped the little cove that the boat launch was in. Instead I had cut straight across to the southernmost portion of the bay. With the threat of rain still present I decided to start right at the ramp and fish that area I had skipped. Right next to the ramp were two large floating docks. It was a little deeper out at the end of the first dock, about 14 feet of water. I figured out there, the bass would be suspended tight up under the dock, so instead of the ned rig I grabbed my wacky rig and tossed it between the last dock section and a boat tied up there. The Biospawn Exostick sunk below the surface; I saw the brown flash and set the hook. The fish felt big, but it almost immediately pulled off. I thought There’s no way she’d hit that again…. But maybe she didn’t feel a hook? I threw it back in the same spot and sure enough WAM. She thumped it. This time I gave her an extra second before setting the hook a little harder. I got her in and she was a tank 17.50 inches. Down to two 14.75!

I made my way along the dock skipping my wacky rig between each set of floats. As I got close to shore I made a bad skip and my wacky thunked one of the floats. I watched it start to sink when out from under the dock shot two big largemouth! My wacky went sideways and I set the hook. She was a nice 17 inch fish, fresh post spawn. I wondered if maybe this was a fish that was caught down in Ticonderoga and released up in Plattsburgh last weekend at the FLW event. Who knows! But I knew there was another big one with it and I still had one last 14.75 left to cull so I casted back into the section of dock. I felt a bite and set the hook. This time I came back with nothing but a bare hook, The fish must have just had the end of my exostick, so when I set the hook it just pulled out of the o-ring. 

A random largemouth.

I moved on to the next dock and worked my way from the shallow out. Under the second section of dock I skipped my bait up under there and pulled out a nice 14 inch largemouth. A fun fish, but not a cull. I got out to the end and there was a boat along the face of the dock but it didn’t produce anything. When I got around to the other side, there was a nice opening between two floats I could cast back into. I skipped my bait way back in there and right on cue, a 17.75 inch smallmouth took it. I had to be careful with this one. There was a pole anchor to the dock and she kept swimming for it. I reached down and pulled my reverse cable and pedaled myself away from the dock into open water where I could fight her more freely. When I finally put her in the net, she was barely hooked by the skin of her upper lip. Call it luck or call it fate (I like to believe there’s a layer of skill in there), but that little bit of skin enabled me to cull that last 14.75 and had me sitting pretty with 85.75 inches. Little did I know (because I wasn’t checking the leaderboard for this event) that I was currently sitting in first place. There was still just over an hour left of fishing, so anything could happen.

I fished along the next set of docks and landed a few more fish including sight fishing a few nice smallmouth. I was starting to get the hang of it and was really enjoying fishing that clear water. But I didn’t make any more culls and it was time to go. It was 1:50 and it would take me 10 minutes to get back to the ramp. I then needed 15 minutes to load up and I had an hour drive to check in. That only left me about a 15 minute buffer should anything go wrong.

On my way across the bay I chatted with a sailboat owner who had brought his dogs to shore while I was getting ready to launch in the morning. He asked how I did and I told him I had a solid day and I had five good fish but no kickers so I probably wasn’t going to finish in the money. When I got to the ramp and started loading up, the same steward who was working Thursday when I was there came down to check my kayak. He asked how my event went and I told him the same thing. I had an 85 inch bag, probably in the range of 15-16 lbs, a great day of fishing with lots of good fish, but I just didn’t have that kicker fish that I felt would be needed to cash a check.

I got to check-in and started chatting with the other anglers. People asked how my day was and I said it was “Eh”. I caught good fish, but never had a kicker. One angler asked me “Are you still in first?”, my response was “I was in first?” I had no idea. It turned out compared to most people I had a pretty good day! The awards started with 4th place since we give away door prizes from 4th through 10th. The top three can figure out they’re in the money, but they don’t know who won. Personally I like this system. Gives some suspense to the anglers at the top, and it makes the door prizes go smoothly giving them away. They announced 4th place with 85 inches and I knew I was in the top three. But with only 85.75 I figured I must be third. Not much space between 85 and 85.75. They wrapped up 10th place and moved to the top three. “Third place, also with 85 inches but with the big fish tiebreaker, Justin Queary“. OMG, I wasn’t third. I was top two, but there was no way I won. In second with 85.75, Tyler Sweet. And there it was, a second place finish. My second time in the money at a club event this season. Along with the check, second place included a Dakota Lithium battery and an NRS Chinook PFD. I had won the same PFD at the Adirondack Paddlefest so I elected to pass that prize down the line to third place. I didn’t need another one, and just felt it was the right thing to do. The battery on the other hand was great. Being on the Dakota Lithium team, I knew how great these batteries are, and this one was perfect for replacing the SLA battery on my ice fishing flasher.

I hung around for pictures and to help pack things up. The storms were rolling in and people were anxious to get home. I said congratulations to the other top guys, hopped in my truck, and started off on the two hour drive home. It was a long haul, but it felt good. I had a great day fishing on one of the best fisheries around. I did it my way, all with a spinning rod catching mostly smallmouth. I cashed a nice check. And more importantly, because this event had over 30 anglers, I was now qualified for the 2020 KBF National Championships at Guntersville Lake in Alabama next April. I never had any doubts I would qualify, but now with that monkey off my back I don’t need to think about it or worry about it. I can finish the rest of my season, focus on the fishing, and now just try to qualify for the end of the year events in LaCrosse Wisconsin.   

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