Captain Howard Hammonds welcomes you to Lake Champlain, one of the top five bass fishing waters in the nation. Covering some 490 square miles, Lake Champlain has an incredible amount of the very best largemouth and smallmouth bass fishing available anywhere. Champlainbass.com wants to help you find the hot bite. H2O Adventures is Lake Champlain’s premier bass fishing guide service, with Captain Howard’s local knowledge with 40 plus years on the “Lake” and his experience fishing with celebrity Pros like Bill Dance and Guido Hibdon, he will pass along those special secrets. Come and spend time fishing Lake Champlain, build a Memory for a Life Time!
Contact: H2O Adventures 795 NYS RT 22 Westport, NY 12993
Phone : 518-962-8645
Whether you’re getting ready for a FLW Tour Major, a local club tournament or just heading out for a day of bass fishing fun, the key to a successful day of bass fishing Lake Champlain is good information. H2O Adventures Guide Service has developed the most comprehensive resource for Lake Champlain bass anglers, including:
We are reaching mid summer patterns on the Big Lake and both species of bass are in their summer haunts. The bite will be finicky at times and usually short in duration. If you have good electronics you will see that during feeding periods, the bass will suspend off the bottom. Now is the time to pull a drop shot rig out of the old tackle box.
Wherever its roots, the drop shot rig is more than the latest clear water/deep water fad. It’s a valuable tool that can help anglers in all waters — clear and dingy, deep and shallow, moving and still — catch more fish, more often.
There are a lot of drop shot rig variations, but they all have one thing in common — the soft plastic lure rides above the weight. It’s really not a light tackle thing or finesse thing. It’s a weight thing. Plenty to take it down, none to interfere with the action of the lure. In drop shot fishing, the weight is an anchor. It takes your bait into position and it keeps it there, but is functionally inert in the actual presentation of the lure. Whether it’s a little 4″ Gambler Stud or an 7″ Zoom trick worm, whether the weight you use to get it in place is 1/8 oz or 1 oz, whether the line is 6 pound test or 20, it’s all basically the same deal — the weight is sitting on bottom while you dance the worm around with the rod tip on a tight line.
So why dropshot?
A soft plastic lure fished with no added weight drifts with a very fluid motion that has natural appeal to a predator. But it’s tough to fish an unweighted soft plastic very deep, for obvious reasons. And this time of year on Champlain the fish are going deeper. Right now the best smallies are 18-20 feet deep and largemouth in Ti are 8 to 10 feet deep.
Enter the dropshot rig. The weight takes the bait into position, but once the lure is in the potential fish zone, the weight is resting on bottom, out of play, and the lure itself is fished pretty much in a weightless fashion. Not only does the weight not affect the way the lure moves in the water, there’s no weight between you and the hook to interfere with your sense of feel when a fish takes the lure.
No doubt some will opine that a Carolina rig accomplishes much the same thing, but nothing could be further from the truth. In Carolina rig fishing, you have to pull the weight to move the bait. It’s impossible to fish it in place. If you stop pulling for more than a few seconds, the bait is resting on bottom and there’s no way to get it off bottom again without moving it a considerable distance. The Carolina rig is superior for covering water, but the drop shot rig really shines for triggering fish.
Further, with the drop shot rig, the part of the line that is subject to abrasion from bottom debris is not between you and the lure — or between you and the fish, once you’ve hooked one. This allows you to work in cover or across abrasive bottom substrate (eg, zebra mussel beds) with confidence that you’re not likely to lose a fish to a badly nicked or frayed line.
In a word, twist. As in line twist. It comes with the technique. Using a fully swiveled weight can help, but much of the twist comes from the bait, not the weight, so you’ll never eliminate all of it that way.
I’ve tried putting a small swivel a couple feet above the hook. Caught fish rigged that way, too. But it makes tying the whole thing up into a project, and it really does interfere with my sense of feel. A swivel may not be much hardware between me and the hook, but it’s infinitely more than no hardware between me and the hook.
California drop shot guru Rich Tauber says that most of the twist occurs not while actually fishing the lure, but while reeling it back to the boat for your next cast. He recommends reeling the lure back to the boat very slowly and steadily following the working portion of the retrieve. Slow it up, and you cut that way down. Of course accepting that idea and developing the discipline to wind it in slowly when there are more casts to make and fish to tempt are two different things. I try, but in the end, I found the best approach for me is to take what measures I can to control the twist, but to live with what I get and then minimize it by clipping everything off and running the free line behind the boat as I idle in to the ramp every couple trips.
TOP WATER BONANZA
Let the fun Begin!!!
Lake Champlain bass have been in full spawn mode for the past several weeks. Bass will next enter their post spawn phase. During this period they will rest from the rigors of spawning and recover some depleted strength. Shortly thereafter the fun will really begin. The feed will swing into high gear and bass will begin to aggressively feed on schools of baitfish.
During the several weeks following the post spawn phase fisherman can experience the excitement of a Topwater bonanza. There is no more exciting action than to have a hungry bass explode on your Topwater bait. It’s like watching a scary movie just waiting for the villain to jump out from behind the next corner. With great anticipation you work bait over a weed patch knowing that any second a giant smallmouth is going to blast your lure. Ki- whoosh! It explodes and you about jump out of your skin and jerk like crazy.
There are several Topwater techniques a fisherman can use on the North Country’s lakes. Some are easy to master others require greater skill. My favorite tactic is using a Zara spook to walk the dog. This technique requires a modest degree of coordination. Make a long cast, wind up the slack and make a rhythmic half turn of the reel and a quick snap of the wrist. Keep the action going with a steady cadence. Keep your rod tip at just about shoe top level. If you are doing this correctly, you will notice the lure “walks” from side to side with each snap of the wrist. This action will drive bass crazy and the return is a heart stopping explosion. The tackle needed is a six foot medium action bait caster, 12lb test mono line and a Heddon Zara Spook Junior.
Probably the easiest Topwater to master is the “PopR”, which is another lure produced by the famous Heddon Company. The Pop-R has a cupped face that spits water and pops when retrieve. Using a seven foot spinning rod and reel and eight pound mono line, make a cast as long as possible. Wind up the slack and make a little jerk, just enough to cause the lure to spit a little water. Repeat the action but pause the lure between jerks. Vary the jerks and pauses as this imitates a dying bait fish.
For those of you that by now have decided these are a little complex, I have a technique that will have sure fire success, simple to master and still have heart stopping explosions. Buzz baits. Using the same Rod and reel as for the PopR, tie one on and make a long cast. When the buzz bait hits the water start winding, just fast enough so the lures runs on top of the water. The turning action of the winged blades will keep it on top of the water and will make a gurgling sound that will make bass go nut.
Lake Champlain has a very unique when it comes to Topwater. Most Topwater baits are used when there is over cast skies and a little ripple on the water. While this is a prime time to use Topwater an even better time on Lake Champlain is following a front when the skies are high and blue, no wind and a slick surface. When the major tournament Pros first started invading the North Country they found to their surprise that Topwater baits worked on Champlain during what otherwise would be tough conditions. I’m not a fish and therefore can’t tell you why these techniques work, but believe me the first time you have a big ole bass explode on your lure you’re hooked just like the fish!
INVASIVE SPECIES: Fact or Fiction
It seems the hot topic in the last few years has been the invasion of non-native species of aquatic plants and fish into Lake Champlain. To quote the Lake Champlain Basin Program Guide for Aquatic Invasive Species: “The Lake Champlain Basin is home to a number of invasive species that cause economic and ecological harm to our ecosystem”.
I have to ask: what harm? Yes, it is costly to try and rid the eco- system of a harmful species once it’s established but then what harm is the species causing? Where is the peer reviewed research and long term studies? Just to state non-native species harmful or will compete within the existing food chain without some documentation doesn’t seem very scientific. Actually, it seems very irresponsible.
Eurasian Watermilfoil is the most commonly named invasive plant species in Lake Champlain. I am sure milfoil causes problems with the million dollar waterfront houses’ water intake systems or the use of Jet Skis in the shallow flats from the heavy growth. But then again it seems from my years of fishing that where the milfoil grows so does the best fishing occur. Ask any big time Pro and he will always say” find the milfoil find the bass.” Where are the studies by the scientific community comparing the quality of fishing before the milfoil entered the Lake. I remember when 12lbs was a great catch in the 1980’s now if you don’t catch 20 plus pounds it has been a slow day. I contend the increase in the quality of fishing is because of the milfoil. Yes, it causes problems in some smaller shallower lakes but that can be controlled, but it does cost money. Money land owners don’t want to spend.
A recent survey by Bassmaster Magazine named Lake Champlain one of the top five bass lakes in the USA, probably wouldn’t have occurred if Milfoil hadn’t invaded the Lake. One has to pick their poison: the economic benefit of a great fishery or no weeds and no fish. I have witnessed the TVA in the south spend millions of dollars treating the lakes of the south to kill milfoil and hydrilla to protect the million dollar lake front properties and megawatt hydro-electric plants, and wind up with a limited fish population. Case in point, Fort Loudon Lake in east Tennessee, during the years the lake was polluted with milfoil and hydrilla the bass population thrived, today no weeds and no fish. One can fish all day and maybe get five bites, compared to Lake Champlain where it five bass in five minutes.
Mark Malchoff of the Lake Champlain Sea Grant spoke before the Essex County Board of Supervisors concerning the possibility of the the invasion of other species he finds disturbing namely hydrilla and the round goby. He gave his opinion that they could cause “economic havoc”. Please bring on the havoc! I recently returned from fishing on the western basin of Lake Ontario, an area filled with hydrilla, milfoil and round gobies. Believe me the bass are bigger and more plentiful than in Lake Champlain. There are far more 20 pound sacks of smallmouth brought to the scales by the same pro fisherman who compete on Lake Champlain. And it’s strange that not once did I encounter any Spiny Waterfleas.
Before you get up in arms about invasive species here are some facts. Brown trout and Rainbows are a non-native species stocked by the DEC. Lake trout are not natural to the Lake and the common carp has been here my entire life. In fact until a few years ago if you bought a fish sandwich at McDonalds it was probably made with common carp meat. There are pluses and minuses to every situation, before we throw out the bath water let’s make sure the baby isn’t in the tub.
I really tire of the politicians wanting their names in the press by taking a stand that seems popular without the real facts. This great country was developed from all forms of invasions; maybe some of these aquatic creatures are just the ones that will improve the fishery.
Everything the Bass fisherman thinks he needs:
There was a time years ago when fishing was simple. I’d grab a rod and reel and jump in the wooden homemade jonboat with my Granddad , crank the 3 hp Johnson outboard and putter to our favorite fishing hole. We would drown a couple dozen minnows catching white bass, crappie or largemouth bass until dark and then putter back home. Life was good.
Not today. Now it’s hook up the 21 foot Ranger Bass boat and trailer with the gas guzzling 250 horsepower Evinrude ETech motor, drop half a house payment at the gas pump filling it all up, pull it to some far away lake, buzz around at a casual 50 plus mph, all the time watching the screen of a state of the art Lowrance GPS with depth locator, 3-D imaging, countoured Navionics maps showing rock piles , ledges and points, looking for that magic fishing spot, hoping it holds the next 20 lb. stringer of bass to load into a 25 gal live well with fill pumps ,automatic recirculating pumps, oxygen tank, and special aeration systems to keep the oxygen content at as high as possible If it’s going to be a long day we can add ice and Rejuvenade that by the manufacture’s claim revitalizes our catch. . I have a trolling motor with intuitibe programing that will follow a contoured depth break with the simple push of a button on the remote on my right wrist, so not a single one of those little green fish will get away.
You won’t find the old paper bag with a baloney sandwich and coke on this boat. What you will find is 20 gallon built-in insulted cooler large enough to hold three days of electrolyte drinks, energy bars and various flavored waters along with enough baloney, mustard and gluten-free bread to feed myself and half of Wadhams.
Of course the old Mitchell 300 spinning reel taped to my 6 foot fiberglass rod has since been replaced by at least a dozen high modulus graphic rods with ceramic eyes matched with 10 ball bearing bait caster reels and another 6 or so 7 foot medium action spinning rods with high speed 8 ball bearing spinning reels. All cozily sit in a rod locker on board with fitted holders to protect the very expensive and sensitive cargo. Each rod has its own function : there are topwater rods, frog sticks , spinner baits rods, worm rods I and II, flipping sticks and drop shot rods and on and on. If there is a type of lure there is a special type of rod. Then , there are several different types of fishing line from Monofilament to Copolymer, to Braid to Fluorocarbon all in combinations of line strength from 8lb for finesse fishing to 12lb for crankbaiting to 20lb. for Flipping.
Are you confused yet?
How about lures? It used to be just the classic Zara Spook invented by James Heddon over a hundred years ago. Now it’s evolved to dozens of versions of topwater lures from Japan or China all with creative looks to resemble a real fish, with magic designs and colors. And after spending $15 to $25 for this very realistic lure we have to send it to “Buddy Bill” who charges another $15 to strip the factory color scheme and replace it with a special one –of- a- kind paint job that more resembles a minnow that bass are likely feeding on today. Since this column is about to end, I’ll save for another time the types of spinnerbaits , jerkbaits, chatterbaits, crankbaits, jigs and soft plastic baits that only the mind of a bass fisherman can dream up.
All this…and we STILL have to explain to our wives that we do in fact need all this to catch a silly green fish with a big mouth. Somehow, I don’t think the loves of our lives believe us.
Fishing is about making memories that follow us our entire lives. Some of my fondest recollections are that of fishing with my Grandfathers, sometimes nothing more than sitting on a lake bank in rural East Tennessee on a bright sunny day catching bluegills and carp. Other times we would fish all night from the highway bridges that spanned the section of the Tennessee River near my home. Then there is another memory of catching that first wall hanger bass, a 4 ½ pounder at age thirteen. Or the 40th birthday gift Mom gave me of a long ago picture of me at 3 years old holding my first bass.
Last Spring, I had the opportunity to take my neighbor’s third grade son fishing. On many days I would return from fishing and find young Mike waiting to see if I had caught anything or watch me filet Perch. As soon as I would unhook the boat, he’s climb in and look in the live wells or ask questions about how all the electronics work. You see, I have one of those go fast bass boats with four different electronic units that can tell where you are and what the bottom looks like in 3D. Finally one day I asked the dumb and obvious question “Hey Mike, you want to go fishing after school one day.” Huh, you know the answer. So the plan was set, “have a good report from your teacher tomorrow and you can go fishing” informed his Dad. Yep, the next day a stellar report from his teacher and off we go.
Loading up his tackle box, ultra-light fishing pole and life jacket we head out. Note: New York law requires all children age of 12 or under to wear a like jacket at all times while on a boat. Along with putting the boat in at the Westport ramp came rapid fire questions about where we were going and what we were going to catch. I finally got the boat launched, Mike zipped up in his life jacket and off we went heading for Button Bay. I knew the smallmouth were staging for pre-spawn and there are many rock piles along the bank. It was time to prove the wacky senko technique would work. Knowing Mike had never been on a boat before I took it easy at very modest 30 mph…no way…..”hammer it” he says. Now, Mike only weighs a soaking wet 65 lbs. and anything faster than 50 mph I figured he would blow right out of the boat. The laughing and giggling was endless the whole 5 minute it took to cross the lake.
Now the real challenge began, Mike had never cast his rod and reel. We took several minutes for some quick lessons on casting an open faced spinning reel. Not bad, he was a quick learner. Now the real task, “cast to that big rock pile Mike”, zoom right on target.” Let it sink, watch your line, wind up the slack” I instruct. Tick goes the line and off it streaks; I’m yelling Reel! Reel! and sure enough Mike winds like crazy holding on for dear life with a big pull on the end of his line. Suddenly it explodes, as do smallmouth everywhere, jumping two feet out of the water. Now Mike’s yelling and winding. He gets that smallmouth to the side of the boat and I go to grab it, but Mike has seen too many bass fishing shows, jumping the fish right in the boat just like the Pros. Whooping and hollering for the next few minutes was expected. After a quick lesson on holding a fish, and a few quick pictures it went back in the water. For the next hour we cruise the bank casting and catching, yes even losing some. And after every fish the same question, we aren’t going home yet? Nope Mike, they are still biting.
All good things do have to come to an end and Mike had homework waiting, so another quick boat ride back to Westport and the rest of the story now lives in Memory. Next article
Champlainbass.com – Find the hot bite.