The Season Opens on Champlain - Major League Fishing

The Season Opens on Champlain

Getting the Costa FLW Series Northern Division underway
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June 21, 2017 • Jody White • Archives

Rather than starting a little closer to the Mason-Dixon, this year’s Costa FLW Series Northern Division schedule is kicking off basically on the Canadian border. Presented by Power-Pole, the season-opener on Lake Champlain is a little bit of a change of pace – it’s the earliest the FLW Series has hit Champlain since 2011 and 195 boats is the largest field the Northern Division has ever seen.


About the fishery

At about 100-miles-long, Champlain is a monster with a reputation for great smallmouth and largemouth fishing, beauty and big winds.

The south end of the lake (around Ticonderoga, also known as ‘Ti’) is narrow and mostly shallow. The water is dirtier, and there are big grass beds nearly everywhere. Most of the grass is Eurasian milfoil, but there are a variety of species present. Though some big smallmouths live in the south end, they are almost never caught in the summertime. It’s largemouth territory.

The midsection of the lake is deep and clear with some grass. It’s primarily rock and is almost exclusively home to smallmouths and coldwater species that live in the main basin (the lake is more than 400 feet deep in some parts in the middle). The main lake is heavily influenced by wind and usually only factors into tournaments in the spring, when the smallmouths are spawning.

The north end of the lake is broad, clear, and has a healthy mix of weed, rock, and smallmouths and largemouths. Because of the number of islands and bays, it is a little more manageable in the wind and there is more shallow water to fish. The Missisquoi River flows into the lake in the northeast corner, and the area around it is dirtier and grassier than the rest of the region. Unlike the south end, where largemouths are the sole target, winning limits of both species can be found within minutes of each other. Thus, a common strategy is to catch a limit of healthy smallmouths and then hunt for some kicker largemouths around grass or other shallow cover.


Current conditions

The best comp for the current conditions on Champlain is probably the 2016 FLW Tour event held at about the same time. Like then, the lake is half in and half out of the spawning cycle, but with some fish still prespawn this time around. Though Champlain is a great lake for sight-fishing, there aren’t often big tournaments on it where anything outside of smallmouths are caught off beds. Last year, especially on the first day, plenty of Tour pros plucked largemouths off beds in the north end of the lake – that trend could continue this week.

As for the actual water conditions, depending on where you go, you can find water temperatures ranging from the high 50s to the low 70s. The water level is normal, and the grass is as healthy as it usually is.

It’s worth nothing that some big weather might be on the way, which could really disrupt the fishing. Today is sunny and nice, but the wind was already howling at takeoff. Friday and Saturday are both questionable as well, with storms forecast for Friday and wind in the teens both days.


Tactics in play

Spawning smallmouths will eat all kinds of finesse baits, hit a jerkbait and even blow up on a topwater. Other shallow brown fish could be caught on hair jigs, crankbaits or swimbaits. If some deeper smallmouth patterns develop, expect to see Carolina rigs, jigs and drop-shot rigs get a workout.

Largemouths on Champlain are most often found in and around the plentiful milfoil beds, but they can get comfy with other cover, too, from rock piles in the right areas to docks, laydowns, cattails and reeds. Flipping is the most common way to put a largemouth in the net, but Scott Martin caught some last year with crankbaits on the way to winning, and frogs and swimming things work great also.


Critical factors

  • The wind – Champlain can get pretty rough, making the 60+ mile run to Ti a huge ordeal. This week, wind and waves might also put a damper on the sight-fishing deal.
  • Pressure – “I think it’s gonna fish small, but by George when you get on a group there are a lot there,” says Jason Lambert. 190+ boats is an oddity for Champlain, but even if some areas get busy, it’s still a gigantic lake.


Dock talk

Taking with anglers, it sounds like Champlain is fishing a little tougher than usual with fish spread out through pretty much all stages of the spawn depending on where you look.

Derick Olson, who made the top 10 in 2015, prefers to fish down by Ti and has elected to do so again after sampling both ends of the lake in practice.

“I practiced two days up here, the smallmouths are just sporadic right now, you can catch some decent fish, but you’re not gonna make the cut with that,” says Olson of the north end. “It’s tough down south, the fish are ganged up when you find them, but the weeds have completely changed and the water has changed. But when you find the fish there’s good ones.”

Olson likes Champlain a lot, and he thinks the south end isn’t as postspawn as it might seem.

“I didn’t see any on beds, but I did catch some that were literally dripping blood off their tails. I think that they’re spawning right now, they’re fat, you just can’t see them,” says the Honey Brook, Penn., angler. “Every hour I get a little more excited as we get closer to taking off. It’s a great place to come and fish. Any time you get an opportunity to come fish Lake Champlain for a week you take it.”

From Michigan, Ron Nelson knows his way around some smallmouths, but he’s had a bit of a rough practice.

“It’s different than I expected. I expected to find some spawning fish and I figured I’d find more of those postspawn deep fish,” says Nelson. “I really needed one calm day, then I’d be happy. I haven’t really caught any big smallies, I expect largies to really anchor it down. There’s one stretch of all spawning largemouths I don’t expect to get to that I know you can catch 20 pounds off of.”

Reigning Angler of the Year Cory Johnston says the fishing has been “alright.”

“The south is the worst I’ve ever seen it, I did not have one bite when I went down there,” says Johnston, who had a shortened practice due to the FLW Tour event on the Potomac. As a result, Johnston is going to be focusing his attention on the northern part of the lake. “It’s postspawn, prespawn and spawning fish, but it’s not easy to find the big ones. It’ll be a mixed bag (largemouths and smallmouths) for sure.”


Tournament details

Format: All boaters and co-anglers will compete for two days. The top 10 boaters and co-anglers based on cumulative weight after two days of competition will advance to the third and final round, with the winner determined by the heaviest cumulative three-day weight.

Takeoff Time: 6:30 a.m. ET

Takeoff Location: Plattsburgh City Marina, 5 Dock Street, Plattsburgh, NY 12901

Weigh-In Time: 2:30 p.m. ET

Weigh-In Location: Plattsburgh City Marina

Complete details

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