Invitationals pros could be catching Champlain on the off-foot - Major League Fishing

Invitationals pros could be catching Champlain on the off-foot

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It's smallmouth season on Champlain as angler hit the water for Stop 5. Photo by Rob Matsuura.
June 15, 2024 • Jody White • Invitationals

PLATTSBURGH, N.Y. – Recently, basically every tournament on Lake Champlain has been a slugfest, and new heights have been reached about every year. With the smallmouth population seemingly in boom times and forward-facing sonar doing some serious damage, it’s been a long time since there’s been a tournament that wasn’t just a parade of 19- and 20-pound bags.

This week, for Stop 5 Presented by 7 Brew, the Tackle Warehouse Invitationals pros may see the lake a little different. By all accounts, practice has not been super easy, and a confluence of factors are making the lake tough to crack. With three days of MLFNOW! on tap, we’re about to learn a lot about the lake, but there could be plenty of mysteries even once someone hoists the trophy – at 100 miles long and 400 feet deep, there’s always more to learn about Champlain.

The state of the smallmouth spawn

Plattsburgh pro Brett Carnright isn’t seeing as many bedding fish on Lake Champlain as he would like. Photo by Jody White

Heading into the event, the theory was that the smallmouth spawn would play big. While there will certainly be plenty of bedding fish caught, both Matt Becker and Brett Carnright are not high on it.

“It’s different than any time I’ve ever seen it before,” Becker said. “I think this is my fourth of fifth tournament in June on Champlain, and it’s really been different every time. I came here expecting to be straight looking for bed fish, and it seems like we’re in between waves right now.”

Big winds on the last day of practice pushed a bunch of cold water up from the depths, and Becker thinks that may trigger a spawn.

“The lake flipped yesterday, I feel like they wait for that,” he said. “It could trigger them to start spawning. The surface temperature was over 70 degrees, and now, yesterday afternoon, it was in the low 50s. There’s definitely a majority of them that don’t spawn until late June, no matter how warm the water gets. I think they know a flip like this could be coming.”

Spawning smallmouth, especially deep ones, are not especially efficient to find. But, if a new wave does hit the beds, it could make for a fascinating event. Still, neither Becker or Carnright are bullish on it.

“I pretty much bed-fished for two full days,” said Carnright, who is perhaps the best bedding smallmouth angler on the lake. “It seemed like everything that was 10-foot or shallower was postspawn, or fry guarding – which is never a good sign when you’re looking for bed fish. I barely found any fresh fish, which is pretty rare for this time of year. It almost seems like it’s fishing like the last week of June, or the first week of July as far as the bed fishing. But, the postspawn fishing is like the first week of June, which is not very good – they’re skinny, there’s not that many of them, it’s just not very good.

“It seems like there’s a whole wave of fish deeper than 10 feet, but you can’t see that good,” Carnright said. “Some of the spots I could see as deep as 12 or 13 feet, I didn’t see any evidence of fish spawning. It almost seems like 10-foot and shallower, they’re postspawn, or fry guarding, or the cabbage is up, and then there’s a huge gap. Usually, when you see the cabbage up like that, you just move out a little deeper and ‘boom,’ there’s a new wave of fish that came in. But, that wave just isn’t there. I think there’s going to be a wave that comes up next week, and our timing is off on the spawning thing. And, it’s not just me, I’m friends with the best locals on the lake, and we’re all seeing the same thing. It’s disappointing, it’s not remotely close to what was going on last year.”

Alternative game plans could play

With a lot of wind in the forecast for Day 1 and Day 3, the idea of someone making it work out of Ticonderoga (Ti) with largemouth is a pretty big ask. But, there are still a lot of other options – with ‘Scoping up fish in a variety of stages chief among them.

“I think your two main patterns are going to be some spawners,” Becker said. “And some a little deeper, ‘Scopin’, chasing bait, that I believe are a mix of prespawn and postspawn fish.”

Reports indicate that the ‘Scope bite is pretty decent – though not every fish bites easily, there are enough fish roaming and hunting perch and alewives that folks like Kyle Hall and Drew Gill should be comfortable in their element.

The largemouth could also be interesting this week.

“I could definitely see mixed bags being a deal,” Carnright said. “I did largemouth fish a bit in practice, I caught a few, but no big ones. The largemouth deal hasn’t been very good on this lake for the last five years, if someone was to do well with 15 largemouth, that would be extremely impressive. It could be done in Ti, but with the wind we’re going to have, I don’t think Ti will be much of a player.”

“I’ve got a milk run of largemouth up north, and I investigated a couple of docks – there’s some big ones waiting, for sure,” Becker said. “I plan on spending an hour or so of my day trying to make it happen.”

While getting to and from Ti figures to be a challenge, the weights in local events last weekend were quite good. Counting it out is the safe play, but not the sure thing. Another possibility is spawning largemouth – though they don’t get a lot of press on the lake, some big ones are out there to be caught – but probably not 15 of them.

Come Day 3, there’s every chance the Top 10 are all ‘Scoping, and also a great chance that they’re all doing different things – there’s no practice consensus.

What does it take?

As for the winning weight, don’t expect a slugfest. Though anglers usually lie and underestimate practice, it doesn’t seem easy, or, it may look good for a few, but not translate throughout the field.

“I personally believe somebody could win this tournament without catching 20 pounds any day,” Carnright said. “There could be an outlier, but I think, based on how I saw it, with the forecasted weather, I’m going to say 58 pounds, 14 ounces wins. This tournament, as far as getting paid, I could see it taking 16 pounds a day to get paid. I can’t believe I’m saying that, because I couldn’t have picked a better week as far as the spawn and overall, some of the best fishing of the year.”

For his part, Becker is more optimistic.

“It’s Champlain, you know it’s going to be around 20 a day,” he said. “I don’t see how it doesn’t take 59 to 61 pounds to win. But, I don’t think it will be as strong as the Toyota weights last year, down the field, simply because the water is dirty and you don’t have as many bed fish to play.”

Basically every Champlain tournament is a fun one, and this looks like it’s going to be plenty interesting. So, buckle up, it’s smallmouth season.

Follow along

You can watch the action from Stop 5 Presented by 7 Brew on Lake Champlain unfold live Saturday through Monday on MLFNOW! from 7 a.m. to 2:15 p.m. ET. on MajorLeagueFishing.com and the MyOutdoorTV (MOTV) app, and stay locked to the website for on-the-water galleries, daily stories and more.