PLATTSBURGH, N.Y. – Lake Champlain has a lot going for it, not the least of which is a double barrel bass population boasting solid fisheries for largemouth and smallmouth. Although the latter usually holds an edge in popularity, the former played the lead role in the day one drama at the American Fishing Series Northern Division event.
In fairness to the brown guys with striped faces, there was no lack of smallmouth representation. In fact, several anglers reported spirited action with smallies. Despite the day’s high bright skies, some found smallies willing to blast topwaters with vicious aggression that carried them clear out of the water.
Nevertheless, the smallmouth deal was a little off and a recent algae bloom that left a lot of rocks coated and slimy probably has something to do with this. Not surprisingly, the green fish earned big bass honors in the pro and co-angler divisions, but more on that later.
Leading the pro field is Greg Pugh of Cullman, Ala., who sacked up a limit of 21-2. Pugh made the long run south to Ticonderoga where he found his better fish around isolated clumps of grass. A sunny and mostly windless day did not work in his favor, but Pugh dealt with the conditions and got his game going by mid-morning.
“The way I’m fishing, I needed a little wind blowing and a little cloud cover but it was slick and all I could catch was small ones this morning,” he said. “But around 10 o’clock it picked up and I started catching a couple good ones here and there.”
Like many of his competitors, Pugh was factoring the day two forecast for windy, stormy weather into his first day’s game plan.
“The wind is supposed to blow (tomorrow) and I wanted to get a big bag today,” he said. “I actually thought I had a little more than (what I weighed) and I pulled off of them. But (21-2) is still a good bag up here on Champlain.”
Pugh fished a jig in certain scenarios, but caught most of his fish flipping an undisclosed bait. He said the pursuing Champlain’s green fish taps into his southern roots. “Largemouth is something I like catching. I haven’t quite figured out these smallmouth yet. Over that last couple of years, I’ve started learning a little bit about (Champlain’s) largemouth, so maybe I have a little something figured out.”
Noting that he’s looking for specific types of spots within the grass beds, Pugh compared his tactics to something he’d do back home. “There are some key elements that I’m looking for. It’s kind of like back home on Lake Guntersville. Fishing the grass on this lake is a lot like fishing Guntersville.”
Pugh said he caught between 30 and 40 keepers on day one.
Webster winds up second
The only other pro to break 20 pounds, Rob Webster of Janetville, Ont. earned the second place spot with a limit weighing 20-10. Targeting largemouth bass was his intention, and his practice results steered him to the lake’s south end.
“I practiced up north and couldn’t find groups of nice largemouth so I spent all my time down south,” he said.
Webster did his damage by flipping a Punisher jig and a Packer Craw Texas-rigged with a 1-ounce weight. He found his better fish congregating around isolated vegetation.
“The seemed to be around isolated clumps of grass, not miles of it,” Webster said. “You’d catch four or five fish and then you’d go to the next clump. They were definitely grouped up.”
Marietta, Schwenkbeck and Wolak tie for third
Harold Marietta of Hunker, Pa.: He tried topwaters early, but Marietta caught only small fish and quickly decided to shift gears and switch to deeper presentations with plastics. Fishing slow and giving his baits a slight wiggle was intrinsic.
“I started to get bigger fish when I dropped off into deeper water,” Marietta said. “With the largemouth and smallmouth, there seemed to be bigger fish when I got down around the 16-foot mark.
“I fished around rocks, but weeds were a bonus. It seemed that when you got around rocks with weeds, that (scenario) seemed to double the number of fish.
Marietta fished north of the launch site the entire day and found abundant action. “I caught fish all day long. I probably caught 40 keepers and had my limit by 10 o’clock.
Darrin Schwenkbeck of Varysburg, N.Y.:Fishing in and around the Ticonderoga area, Schwenkbeck caught his fish by flipping black/blue and green pumpkin baits. Although he thought his practice findings had given him a slam dunk spot, he ended up having to work at it a little harder today. Belief in his area ended up rewarding him.
“I had one area that I thought, if I got it to myself, that I could bust a heavy sack and be back here by 11 o’clock,” Schwenkbeck said. “They didn’t eat this morning, but I rolled back in there later in the day, caught one key fish, picked up a flipping stick and culled out twice about half an hour before I had to come back.”
David Wolak: Coming into the event with a deep well of experience, Wolak said he put his faith in his practice findings. In the days preceding the tournament, he found more plump and aggressive largemouth. Day one confirmed his beliefs.
“I think part of the whole gig here is determining which species you’re going to fish for,” he said. “I fished for smallmouth and caught a small limit, but I (decided) that they really weren’t the dominant pattern today and I ended up focusing more on largemouth.”
Wolak caught most of his day one fish on Texas-rigged Yum Dingers. A blue-back Zara Spook produced his first fish of the day – a 6-1 that earned Big Bass Honors.
“When you catch a big fish like that first thing, you kind of put a sense of serenity on yourself,” he said. “I knew I just needed to go out and catch 3-pounders for the rest of my sack.”
Best of the rest
Rounding out the top-10 pro leaders at the American Fishing Series Lake Champlain event:
6th: Pat Eichmann of Nancy, Ky., 19-12
6th: Matt Greenblatt of Tequesta, Fla., 19-12
8th: Bill Spence of St. Albans, Vt., 19-10
9th: Gregg Seal of Eldred, Penn., 19-6
10th: A.C. Campbell of Mineral Springs, Penn., 19-3
10th: Paul Noechel of Lost Creek, W.V., 19-3
Noechel caught another 6-1 and split Big Bass honors with Wolak.
Plastics right for Wright
He usually fishes as a boater, but Peter Wright of Eden, Vt. took a break from driving and handily secured the lead from the back of the boat. Fishing green plastics, Wright caught a limit weighing 19-12.
Wright said he Texas-rigged his baits with a small peg weight to create the type of fall his fish seemed to favor. “The liked it gliding.”
One other co-angler, John Woodroof of Lynchburg, Va. reached 19 pounds. Fishing reaction baits, Woodroof’s limit of 19 even included the day’s largest co-angler bass – a 5-11 largemouth.
William Capwell of Macungie, Penn. finished third with 17-12 and Christopher Hall of Clarks Summit, Penn. took fourth with 17-6. Masahiro Yanase of Knoxville, Tenn. was fifth at 17-3.
Rounding out the top-10 co-angler leaders at the American Fishing Series Lake Champlain event:
6th: Jeff Zeisner of Arva, Ont., 17-1
7th: Seth Downing of London, Ohio, 16-15
8th: Larry Evans of Southport, Ohio, 16-8
8th: Dick Gum of Woodbridge, Va., 16-8
8th: Jeff Misaiko of Tolland, Ct., 16-8
Day two of American Fishing Series on Lake Champlain continues at Friday’s takeoff, scheduled to take place at 6 a.m. (Eastern) at the Plattsburgh Boat Basin located at 5 Dock St. in Plattsburgh, N.Y.