What’s Hot and What’s Not

7/28/12  Smallmouth Topwater Bonanza continued… There are several topwater techniques a fisherman can use on Champlain.  Some are easy to master others require greater skill.  My favorite tactic is using a Zara Spook or Lucky Craft Sammy 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 or Lucky Craft Sammy.

Probably the easiest topwater to master is the Pop-R, 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 Spook, 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 is a very unique when it comes to smallmouth topwater fishing.  Most Topwater baits are used when there are overcast 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 visting Champlain, 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!

Editor’s Note:   This article was submitted by Howard Hammonds, operator of H20 Adventures Guide Service in  Westport, New York.   Howard is an accomplished tournament angler and fishing industry veteran with experience on Lake Champlain that spans decades.

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7/4/12  Baits and techniques – what’s hot and what’s not.  FLW Tour anglers reported using a variety of baits during last week’s tournament to catch largemouth on both ends of the lake.   Winner David Dudley was reported to have caught the majority of his winning fish on a wacky rigged Senko and a dropshot finesse worm.  Other prominent baits included the jig, the frog, a buzzbait, the Chatterbait, and a square bill crankbait – standard fare for summer largemouth on Champlain.  Most anglers reported keying on standard grass and rock patterns.  You can read how winner David Dudley caught his Missisquoi bay fish here.

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6/5/12  Baits and techniques – what’s hot and what’s not.   The Yamamoto Senko may not be the fastest tool to find fish, but if you think know where they’re at, tossing a wacky-rigged Senko is probably the easiest way to get bit right now.  Bottom line: If you don’t give a Senko a try, you’re probably missing out.  With more grass emerging each week, a chatterbait has replaced the crankbait as my primary method for locating largemouth.

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5/14/12  What’s Hot and What’s Not – River Smallie Edition.   My last two trips to Champlain have been focused on catching prespawn tributary river smallmouth.  The football jig has proven to be the best choice for catching larger female fish.   So far this year, Rob and I have landed four river smallmouth over five pounds on a 3/8 or 1/2 ounce blue and black football jig with a black and blue Yamamoto Hula Grub trailer.  I’ve also had a lot of success with the football jig out on the lake.  The color and bulk of the jig and grub combo make it easy for bass to find in dingy spring water and the profile makes it look like a tempting crayfish meal for bigger fish.  Cast it out to a likely looking hard bottom spot and drag it back with several long pauses.

The other lure that has worked well in the rivers is a small Mepps inline spinner.   Drifting downstream in the current, make long casts quartering toward shore and retrieve the spinner steadily back to the boat.  On a May 7th trip to the Lamoille River, this technique produced numerous prespawn males that were up on hardbottom flats in 3 to 4 feet of water.   It should prove very hot when the larger females join the males on the river flats.

What hasn’t been working?  It seems like the crankbait bite has fallen off on the lake and the rivers, but that could be related to the conditions I’ve experienced lately.  I’ve really enjoyed the crankbait bite this spring and I’ll probably keep flinging one until the bass tell me it just isn’t worth it anymore.

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4/16/12  Baits and techniques – what’s hot and what’s not.   So what have been the hot baits and techniques so far this spring?  Crankbaits have been producing really well, especially the Strike King Series 5 and Series 3 in a color Strike King calls powder blue back chartreuse.   The vegetation in the lake really took a hit last year and many places that have traditionally had milfoil in the early spring are devoid of it this year.  This has opened up opportunities to effectively fish crankbaits in new areas.  Grinding the bait along a hard bottom seems to be the key.   The Series 5 has been effective in water up to 10 feet deep and the Series 3 in water that is shallower or that still has some milfoil.  I’ve also has a little luck with the Rapala DT Fat 3 in clearer, very shallow water.

This past weekend I gave the football jig a try with some really positive results.  I really enjoy fishing a flipping jig on a short line – pitching it to both grass and hard cover.  I almost always have a jig tied on – usually a 1/2 oz Strike King Denny Brauer Premier Model in black and blue.    I’ve had some luck fishing football jigs for smallmouth, but I’m not as comfortable casting a jig as I am pitching it.  Saturday opened my eyes to how effective casting a football jig can be.  The one shown here is a 3/8 oz. Booyah Pigskin Jig rigged with a Yamamoto Hula Grub.   As with the crankbaits, the lack of super-thick milfoil made fishing the football jig a lot easier for me.  Make a long cast to a rocky point or bank and then slowly drag it back with some long pauses.

Regardless of the location or species, my “comfort bait” is a 5 inch Zoom watermelon seed finesse worm fished on the dropshot.  The dropshot is a rig that I am confident can catch Champlain bass at any time of year, water temperature, depth or clarity.  I can also change hooks and rig it weedless to fish thick cover.  Other finesse-type worms work well, but the Zoom worm is an all around favorite.  In my opinion, the only downside to the dropshot is that generally seems to produce smaller fish than other baits.  That being said, this spring the dropshot produced Rob’s personal best largemouth – a 6lb 4 oz. giant.

What hasn’t been working for me?   So far, the prespawn jerkbait bite has been largely non-existent and I’ve gone through almost every single one in my box, from $15 Lucky Craft Pointers to $1.95 Bargain Bin Beauties.  I’ve also provided significant in-water time to my collection of lipless crankbaits without any positive results.  Then again, I’ve never really had success with a lipless crank.  If anyone has any suggestions on how to use them on Champlain, shoot me an e-mail.  I’m all ears.   Back to the home page.

Comments or questions?  Email them to Jim@Champlainbass.com

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