Lawrence wraps up practice on a confusing Champlain - Major League Fishing

Lawrence wraps up practice on a confusing Champlain

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Jake Lawrence has secured the Angler of the Year lead after four events, but the northern swing offers plenty of question marks. Photo by Rob Matsuura. Angler: Jake Lawrence.
June 14, 2024 • Jody White • Invitationals

PLATTSBURGH, N.Y. – Summertime in the North means that the pros have about 15 1/2 hours of daylight to practice in – over three days, committed anglers can get a lot done with that sort of time. Though the long days are hard on batteries and bodies, there are worse places to put your time in than Lake Champlain, even if the last day of practice for Stop 5 Presented by 7 Brew was pretty sporty.

Leading Fishing Clash Angler of the Year on the Tackle Warehouse Invitationals, this is the first trip north for Jake Lawrence – according to him, practice has been a little confounding.  

The stage of the fish has been tricky to pin down

This time of year on Champlain, it’s pretty common to have plenty of fish spawning, a few prespawn fish available and plenty of fish that are postspawn. Unfortunately, that situation doesn’t give anglers perfectly clear marching orders, and practice has given Lawrence mixed signals.

“I don’t feel like it’s wide open spawning, like they’re laying around everywhere,” Lawrence said. “There’s a bunch out there, but I don’t think it’s like what Alec [Morrison] and Brett [Carnright] and some of those guys probably envisioned.

“It’s not going to surprise me a bit if it’s won spawning by someone that caught them all week and knows what they’ve got,” Lawrence said. “But, it’s so weird, they’re all the same size, like 3.3 to 3.6.”

Not being able to catch big ones off beds is not a unique problem – one of the things that made Carnright so amazing recently on Champlain is his ability to bring 20 pounds of spawners to the weigh-in with such consistency. However, the fish that aren’t spawning also have Lawrence a little confused.

“I don’t have any experience here, or up north at all,” he said. “But, it’s really weird; the water is so warm, and every one of them I catch is so fat. I haven’t caught a 4-pounder yet, so don’t think I’m on ‘em, on ‘em – but when I catch one, man, it looks prespawn. Not beat up, not skinny, and it doesn’t matter if I catch them in 10-foot of water or 24. I can’t figure out if they’re so postspawn that they’ve had time to recoup and heal up or maybe something else.”

Open water fish have been a tough nut to crack

LiveScoping for open water smallmouth sounds easy enough – just drop the trolling motor and go, right? Don’t worry that the Inland Sea alone covers 104 square miles and has an average depth of 40 feet. And they’re dumb northern fish – they ought to bite every cast, right?

“The roamers, those open water fish, the bait chasers, those are a better quality,” Lawrence said. “But holy cow, to get them to bite, you have to go through so many of them. I can’t figure out a bait; I’m just going to have to put it in front of 300 of them to catch five good ones. But, I feel like that’s my best opportunity at catching 20 and catching a really, really good bag.”

The lack of enthusiasm for his presentations has really got Lawrence fired up at the fish.

“Being out there, so many of them are going to reject you before you get them to eat,” he said. “And, oftentimes, it’s not the big one in the group. It’s not the smallest one, but not the one you want. There has to be a bait, a technique, something that will trigger those fish – it’s driving me insane. They have got my number this week.”

The plan for the tournament

Champlain is a great fishery, but it can be a big challenge. Photo by Rob Matsuura

Having practiced for smallmouth “97% of the time,” it sounds like Lawrence is leaning toward swinging for the biggest day he can have.

“I’d be lying to you if I said the points race doesn’t add some anxiety and stress to it,” he said. “But, now that practice is over, I’m not going to think about it much – I’m just going fishing on Saturday and I’ll catch every one that bites.

“I’ve got one on a bed that I saw on a flogger, it looked like a pretty decent one – so, I’ve got one to go play with,” he said. “But once I realized that wasn’t completely wide open, I felt like I needed to stick with my strengths. I didn’t want to do something I wasn’t comfortable with when it wasn’t the thing to do.

“The roaming deal, the bait is up in the water column for the first couple hours during the day, and then the bait disappears and they get real sporadic. So, I think my plan is to spend my time in the Inland Sea in the morning, and then maybe stay there all day, or go up for those spawners.”

With some backup spawning fish around Rouses in his pocket for late-day needs, Lawrence is willing to gamble a bit.

“There’s no question I’m going to throw around multiple 4-pounders – it’s just getting the right five to bite,” he said. “I feel like I have a really good understanding of why they’re there, I just can’t make them bite – if I don’t catch them, it won’t be for not being around them.”

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 and the MyOutdoorTV (MOTV) app, and stay locked to the website for on-the-water galleries, daily stories and more.