Exploring Lake Champlain
Part 4 in a 6 part series
By Dale Brown
The Lower Section of Lake Champlain
The lower end of Lake Champlain looks more like a muddy river than like the
continuation of one of the clearest lakes in the Northeast. Actually, from the directions
of the compass this is not the lower end of the lake, it's the top. This lake flows North
into the St. Lawrence Seaway and out into the Atlantic. There is also a way out of the
upper or Southern end into the Champlain Canal and eventually, on into the Hudson River.
Remember, the water flows North. That fact matters, because after the rains come,
the water in the creeks are flowing hardest along the Northern side of the creek mouths
and the bait fish and their predators will favor that side. All the channels as they run
out into the lake turn North.
As you go South, from the Champlain bridge at Port Henry, New York, the bottom changes
from rocks and sand and an occasional weed line to that of a muddy bottom with large weed
beds. Also, the width, from one side to the other, varies from several miles North of the
bridge to less then a mile in this Southern section. The change in the lake's environment
is extreme and fast. Just in the width of the bridge you can see the difference. As
you go even further down the lake you reach the section called the Narrows, where it is
precarious for two boats to navigate side by side and the weeds are so thick along the
shore that your boat's motor will get fouled.
The old timers say that in by-gone days, before all the Milfoil and Chestnut weeds
invaded this section, the Bass fishing wasn't all that great. But now with the advent of
huge weed beds, you will find some of the best Largemouth Bass fishing is in this murkier
water. The tournament fishermen who travel the length of the lake in pursuit of a limit of
winning fish have caused the gene pool from the North to spread all the way to Whitehall
and vise versa. The Milfoil and Chestnuts are also beginning to travel the length and
breadth of the lake. So the fish in the North and South are now all cousins and tend to
react the same to their habitats.
So as you proceed South, if you're used to fishing in the clear water of the Northern
section, you may find that you want to change your tactics and go to a cloudier water
pattern. But I would recommend you reconsider it. The fish seem not to be as effected by
the change as we are. To us the two areas are like two different lakes, but the fish
continue to react the same in both areas.
Schooling Fish Appear to Be a Key Pattern
Smallmouth Bass like to school, bunch up, in small compacted groups in the Fall. Well,
here at Champlain, there is a remarkable phenomena in the way Largemouth will also school
up and stay in very close tight schools. But with the Largemouth this happens all season
long, not just in Fall conditions. This is very unusual for mature Largemouth, and matter
of fact, is mostly unheard of. These behemoths are usually loners. In other lakes, the
bigger they are, usually the less they like company. So, If you start to fish around a
cove or shoreline and you may find that when you locate one fish, you could have found 10,
20, or even 30 fish in one spot. I mean one spot the size of your boat. It can be like
fishing in a bucket. Every cast must be almost in the same exact spot.
Some fishermen have tried to explain this fin-nomenon in many different ways. One old
timer, said it has to do with the under water springs, bubbling up from the bottom, which
attract small bait fish. So the predators stay close by. That sounds plausible. Another
theory that is put forth by a local fishing authority is the possibility that the
schooling is caused by the White Perch. The most common bait fish in this lake are the
White Perch, which only travel in schools. The Largemouth may be staying near these
schools of Perch.
After careful investigation, I don't think these theories quite pan out. The spring
idea doesn't work, because the fish are not always schooled up in the same exact spot.
Sometimes the fish may be in the one spot for a week at a time, then gone. And a spot that
is good for a time, may not be consistent for a couple of years or a decade. Also the
Perch story, doesn't seem to work, because the Perch schools are always on the move and
would take their predators with them.
Hunting in schools, for schools of bait is very common and many fresh water species use
this method, and it's very successful. I have come to believe in the minnow school theory,
but not in the White Perch one. I think it involves smaller bait. I've seen clouds of
small minnows, about the size of a garbage can, just sitting there rotating. It looks like
a cloud of black mud, just rotating and pulsing if anything comes near. But what I think
happens is that the bigger fish surround one of these small minnow clouds and keep them in
check while they slowly consume the entire school over a few days. The doomed school just
sits there in a pile of weeds and awaits their destiny. If you come along and drop a lure
into the school, a predator will grab it, one after another. Many a tournament has been
won by some lucky guy who stumbles onto one of these phenomena.
A similar situation happens at the end of the spawn in June. The tiny minnows after
hatching out will leave the nest and their father will accompany the small cloud of
babies. If you flip a white lure, such as a white tube bait into the tiny school, their
protector will grab it. This is a well known fact and often leads to many a young male
Bass getting an unscheduled ride in a bassboat to a weigh in. On Champlain the spawn of
many of the Bass occurs in the creeks that empty into the lake. So watch the mouth of
these tributaries and if you see a splash on the surface or a school of one these spawns,
just throw a lure their way. The strike is swift and immediate when the lure hits the
Finding the Right Weeds
I don't know the scientific name for a particular dark weed that seems to hold
Largemouth in this lower section, but when you locate it, you will never forget what it
looks like. I call it "Black Weed". It looks like a small, fine needled, dark
Christmas tree. You will find one plant standing in the middle of a weed bed and it's in
that one bush that most of the fish in that weedbed are located. Fish them very hard. It's
amazing what you will find living under and in them.
Now for the Details
That takes care of some of the general information about fishing this section, now for
some specifics. Under the bridge on the Vermont side is a weed bed that starts there and
continues down the shore line for several hundred yards to a another small bridge. This
weed bed is great. I swim a white four inch grub that is rigged Texas, with a one thirty
second or one sixteenth bullet sinker, over the top. The bass will explode on it, and so
will the Northerns.
This is the first place I encountered the Largemouth schooling phenomena. It was during
a tournament and for an hour and a half under a hot noon day sun every cast yielded a two
or three pound bass. The good news was that I won that tournament. The bad news was, I had
a heart attack. That's right. I felt the chest pains and numbness in my left arm with
every retrieve of a fish. After weigh in I drove home and had my wife take me to the
hospital. That was ten years ago. My heart keeps on ticking and I keep hauling them in.
Fish every point and light house from here to Whitehall. And if you see thick weeds
with yellow scum on them stop and throw a large Texas rigged lizard with a heavy bullet
sinker right in the middle of the slop. Let it sink and jiggle your rod. Keep flippin and
jiggling, they're in there and they're big.
Out in the middle of the lake, just past the paper plant (which you can find by smell
alone), is a green buoy. There are humps, several, on the mill side. It's a good place for
a worm or jig.
The mouth of the river across from the Tieconderoga Fort is good, all the way out to
the drop. Actually, the shore line from the ferry to the river mouth is great. Back off
and fish the weed line out off the shore line. It's a 1/2 mile of good fishing. I'd try a
Green worm or Watermelon grub in the weed pockets.
If you want to be successful down here in the lower section, you have to master fishing
in the Water Chestnut. This stuff is a thick mat of green vegetation. There are a couple
of ways to go after it. You can flip a half ounce jig along the edge (black or green, with
matching pig). Or you can take the same jig, or maybe an even heavier one, and throw it on
top of the weeds and drag it back across the top. The fish will blow up through the canopy
for it. A White rat or mouse works great. Add rattles. Many of the strikes will miss.
The best way to fish this stuff is to fish as a team. One guy, drags a lure around on
top, the other guy just stands and waits and after the fish reveals their location, they
throw a one ounce jig and pig into the opening that the fish makes. Just let it drop and
jiggle. Sometimes a White Five inch grub works. Down under the thick canopy it's not as
thick and the fish move around quite freely. Throw a White rat into any openings or clear
areas around the edges.
Any of the rocky outcroppings or cliffs along the shore are good Smallmouth habitat.
But the area below the bridge is Largemouth and Northern country. It's also good for
trolling for Trout, from Benson's Landing North to the Bridge. You could start to troll at
Benson's and stop when you reach the Canadian bounder. Or buy more licenses and keep going
Champlain, is where the best fishing in the world of fresh water fishing world, starts
and ends. Well that's four installments, two more articles to come.
Lake Champlain - Part 1
Lake Champlain - Part 2
Lake Champlain - Part 3
Lake Champlain - Part 5
Lake Champlain - Part 6
If you found this article helpful, go to
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all of Dale’s 30 years of experience fishing Lake Champlain in Bass
Fishing 101 - Lake Champlain
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