I am thoroughly disappointed in myself for my performance yesterday on Lake Champlain at the NY Bass Federation Open. Before I get into that tournament, let me walk you through my thought processes over the last two weeks and how and why I ended up fishing the way I did.
Two weeks ago I began to do my homework on Lake Champlain. I had a club tournament on Sunday 7/20 and the NY Federation tournament on Sunday 7/27. Contrary to popular belief, I do no fish Champlain as much as I should and I haven't fished it in July since I won the Bassmaster Weekend Series tournament in 2011.
That was a very special pattern I was on in 2011 and it was more of a post spawn bite than a full blown summer pattern. Based on the reports I read, I knew this would be more of a summer tournament. In that event, I really haven't been on Champlain in those conditions ever really. I knew I had some learning to do.
I practiced for my club tournament on Saturday 6/26. My first stop was some flooded trees where I was able to get a small chunk of a bass flipping a jig. I then decided I would concentrate on grass for some time. I did without much success. I fished different areas with different baits and tactics and I really couldn't get much going. I changed pace and decided to focus on areas with rock and caught a 6 pounder right off the rip. I hit another area with rock and wood and caught another tournament sized fish.
I spent a great deal of the day running the lake and just looking for similar areas. I finished off the day by practicing around grass for a back up plan with a little more success than earlier.
On tournament day I started on a spot that is really more of a spring spot than a summer spot but I believed held fish year round. I picked up a few moderate keepers to get me going and decided to hit my rock and wood. Every spot I hit as long as it had wind blowing on it I caught fish, and caught them well. By 8 am I had 2 fish over 5 lbs and 1 fish over 4 lbs in the well. I also had a 3 pound fish and a two and a half. I decided to leave that stuff alone and concentrate on grass fishing the remainder of the day.
I pulled up to a grass bed that I had practice on and started hammering away at them. I caught another 4lb class fish and was able to cull my two and a half. I caught a ton of fish but was unable to cull that last three pounder. When the day closed I weighed in 21.79, enough to capture the tournament win. I was also very excited about next weeks Federation tournament as I felt I had something really good going on.
Initially, I had planned on practicing up north for the Federation tournament (north meaning Plattsburgh area). However, my recent findings had me spending my first practice day down near Ticonderoga. I decided to check a few areas I did well on the week prior and immediately upon pulling into any area caught quality fish. I spent the rest of my first practice day expanding on my grass pattern and was able to put a few more 4 pound class fish in the boat.
On a side note, I hear a lot of people like shaking off fish in practice. That really isn't my style and I will explain why. The first reason is that I like to know how big my fish are and what quality of fish I am on. The second is that I want to find areas that are loaded with fish. If I stick one or two fish out of an area with hundreds of bass, it really won't impact my bite the next day. Now, I wont sit there sticking fish all day long in practice. I will just stick a few to let me know what I am dealing with. Generally, if I can get a few quality bites pretty quickly, that will tell me I am onto the right thing.
On my second practice day, I wasted a lot of time trying to figure out the grass fish again. I am starting to realize that pin-pointing fish in grass is not my strong suit. I will argue that when it comes to the actual technique of pitching a jig or T-rig, I am extremely tough to beat. I struggle with understanding why fish are in certain parts of a grass bed at certain times (IE, when they utilize the inside edge vs outside edge, when to pitch to a hole and when to pitch to a clump, when they are on the edge or buried in the middle of the mat, etc.). It's one of my weaknesses and I fully intend to work on it. The tough part about Champlain is that many of the mats are different. Some are shallow. Some are deeper. Some have clearer water while others are dingier.
Another tough aspect about Champlain is that the grass seems to change every day. On the night before the Federation tournament, the lake level dropped over 1 foot. Many of my primary areas were no longer holding fish so I had to adjust back to the grass. Many areas I had success in during practice were now filled with stained water. I thought maybe if I had adjusted to the inside edge where I could find cleaner water, I might find more quality fish. I was mistaken apparently. Maybe I was in the wrong grass mat.
At this point, it was tough to fish anything else but grass as the 100+ boat field had consumed many of the other cover options. At days end I only weighed in 10.19lbs worth of Champlain Largemouth. At the time this had felt like a major setback for me and I am more embarassed than anything else. Great fishermen don't have days that bad.I have not fished a tournament this poorly in a long, long time. Today, I am viewing it a little differently. After any bad tournament I have had in the past, I have always come back strong. Mainly because I felt the urge to learn from my mistakes.