Tough finish at Lake Champlain

The eighth stop of the Bassmaster Elite Series took place this past weekend out in New York, at Lake Champlain. It was my fourth time visiting this big body of water known for its excellent bass fishing and ever since the schedule was announced last year I had been excited for this one. My results in the past have been good at Champlain and of all the places that I’ve fished in the U.S., this lake about an hour south of Montreal probably feels more like I’m fishing around home than anywhere I’ve ever been.

The three day practice went pretty good. I had fun exploring around some of the areas where I’d caught fish in the past and was excited to get the tournament going. Carl Jocumsen is one of my best pals that I’ve made fishing in these tournaments and we talk once or twice a day during the practice days to compare notes. We help each other out when we can and it works out well. Most of the anglers in the field have a buddy that they do this with. The three day practice goes by quick so sometimes it’s nice to get a little tidbit to help get on the right track when you’re having a tough time.

On the second day of practice Carl figured out that a lot of the smallmouths were suspended away from the structure, chasing bait. You could use the forward facing sonar to look ahead of the boat and see these fish that were not visible in the past, it’s pretty amazing technology. I ended up getting on this program as well and was excited heading into the tournament.

Much like the St. Clair tournament back in July, I caught some decent fish but was below the pace it took to make the top 50 cut after two days and finish in the money. My five fish limits weighted 15 and 17 pounds, landing me in 68th place, which I consider unacceptable when we visit these smallmouth fisheries. Having as much experience as I do fishing for smallmouths, I need to take advantage of these stops.

As it turned out, the suspended smallmouth deal was what most of the anglers were focused on who did well in this tournament. I guess I just wasn’t in the right part of the lake, though there were some anglers who fished the same area as me who still did well. I just got out fished by some of these guys. It was also disappointing because most the anglers were catching their fish on the same soft jerkshad rigged on a jig head that is popular in our region and that I used back in March to win the Bassmaster Classic.

Our second day of the event was cancelled due to strong winds and the tournament was pushed back a day so as I write this, the top ten anglers are competing on the final day. Japanese rookie Kyoya Fujita carried a three pound lead into the final day and is looking good to win his first tournament in the U.S. He has had a great season, including four top ten finishes in eight tournaments. Very impressive stuff. He might be the best angler in the field at utilizing forward facing sonar. I’m not sure how he is using them all, but I’ve heard he has four live transducers on his boat. All I know is that he is very good at utilizing this sonar to catch smallmouths. Maybe somebody will come from behind and knock him off but I wouldn’t bet on it.

We are back at it again this week for the final event of the season at the St. Lawrence River, another of the best smallmouth fisheries in the World. I’m excited for this tournament but I have to do a better job of making sure I’m in an area where I can catch the right quality of fish. The weights are going to be big and we definitely don’t want to be bringing in any fish that are under four pounds.

Thankfully I’ve already qualified for next year’s Bassmaster Classic from winning it this past year. Because of my last few bad finishes I’m in 50th place in the points race, outside of the top 40 cut to qualify for our big event. My goal this week is to have a good tournament and earn my spot through the points. I’m going to have some fun and try to enjoy getting to fish this awesome place.

Like most anglers, Jeff Gustafson used sonar in deeper water to find bass at Lake Champlain.