2015 FLW Rayovac Lake Champlain Recap

By Mike Mueller

I love the camaraderie of our sport! People’s willingness to help never ceases to amaze me!

The second leg of the NE Rayovac up at Lake Champlain, NY started like most of my tournaments have this season…trying to figure out how I was going to be successful and catch fish on a body of water that I have never seen before.

About a week or so out, I did a little more research than normal. After my top-40 showing at the James River in June, I knew I had to do well to stay in the hunt for the Rayovac Championship. I read a plethora of articles outlining typical summer presentations, looked at historical tournament results, and watched a bunch of online videos that showed old tournament coverage, so I could visualize what needed to be done, and get into a positive frame of mind.

I left Northern Virginia around noon on Monday and enjoyed the very scenic drive through the Adirondack Mountains, as I made the 9 1/2 hour trek North to Plattsburgh, NY. I arrived around 9:30pm and settled in for the night, as I made plans to meet my practice partner for the next morning.

mm1Day one of practice began at 5:00am and did not end until 8:30pm. The patterns up north were typical and what I expected for smallmouth – we spent most of the day slinging Snack Daddy Elite tubes and dropshots as we tried to cover new water and find new schools. We had a pretty successful day, with my best 5 coming in around 15-16#’s. I did learn about the topwater pattern that could entice the smallies under the right circumstances. We came across an active school late in the day that decided to smash our topwaters for about 10 minutes, including three 3-pounders on 3 consecutive casts for me!

For day 2, we made the long run down to Ticonderoga – about an 80-mile trip by water. We drove down there and put in at about 5:30am. My partner had found some good fish flipping weed clumps in about 6-8′ of water. Word was that the largemouth were on down there, and that it would be won by someone that was willing to lose half their day driving there and back. We had the plan to check to see if the fish were still in his spots…as normal for the final day of practice, the plan was to not set any hooks that day. About 10 minutes into his first pass, my partner had a good tap. As much as he tried, he couldn’t shake the fish free and ended up having to boat a 6 1/2-pound largemouth…his fish were still there! The rest of the day we used our screw-in Hitchhiker hardware to keep all of the presentation hookless. The remainder of the day resulted in many shake-offs. Needless to say, he was pretty excited about making the long run the next morning.

As I sat in the pairings meeting, I felt pretty good, as I had two strong practice days and was able to put together strong patterns on both the North and the South end of the lake. As I get my pairings for the next day, I’m feeling even better as I get boat number 6 and I’m paired with a great gentleman from Maine with a long history of fishing B.A.S.S. events. He tells me that we are staying North and fishing for largemouth in the weeds early, then moving to the deep smallies.

As with just about every tournament known to man, the weather went from absolutely perfect in practice to challenging on Day 1. A large front came through that brought high winds and rain on day 1. With our early number, we were able to secure the best spot on a community hole weedbed, and it didn’t take long to get started. My boater was flipping jigs to the visible cover and rocks, so I was trying a different approach. During my day 2 practice, I keyed on subtly swimming a 5″ Snack Daddy Snack Stick – a soft plastic stickbait – with a small 2/0 hook with a 1/4 oz. Eco-Pro Tungsten weight pegged to it. It was a very subtle presentation that worked well for me in the highly pressured waters.

As my boater went down the bank flipping the visible cover, I made a long cast with my Team Lews BB1 and my Razr Rod 6-6 MH rod to the deeper weed edge, and slowly crept it through the weeds. Within the first 2 minutes, I yelled “Fish On”, and was able to fight a scrappy 2 1/2-pound largemouth into the boat. I was off to a good start! As I slipped her into the livewell, I was happy with my choice in presentation – especially with how fast my boater was moving down the bank.

After I make two more casts, I set the hook again – this time into a much better fish. This fish dug deep into the weeds, then made a charge to the deeper water. I told my boater that it was probably a Pike, as they were prevalent on the waters of Champlain. My demeanor as I finally got the fish to the boat and a largemouth decided to break the surface! I kept my calm and promptly boated a nice 4 1/2-pound largemouth. In less than 10 minutes, I’m already sitting at 7 pounds, when many boats are still going by us.

We work our way to the end of the weedbed with no more action, so we decide to hit some of his smallmouth spots. We arrive at his main-lake spots and the wind is too strong to allow us to fish them. Luckily his experience on the lake allowed for us to hit some areas that were protected from the wind. We fished a series of “shelves” or what this former southern guy call ledges. They topped out at 8′ and dropped to 20′ and had weeds down to about 12-14′. We rotated through a few of these spots, and I was still using my trusty 5″ Snack Daddy Snack Stick with the 1/4 oz Eco Pro Tungsten, but this time on a Team Lews Gold Spin spinning reels on my 7′-0″ Medium Razr rod with 8# Seaguar tied to 20# Seaguar Smackdown braid since we were chasing smallmouth. By 10:30am I had filled out a small 10-11# limit, but my boater could only manage one small keeper on his dropshot.

Going out boat #6 is great in that you can get on your best spots, but the disadvantage is that we had to come in at 2:00pm. That makes for a super short day, and the guys in the last flight get about 1 1/2 more hours of fishing time.  By noon, the rain had us soaked and the fish had stopped cooperating. We circled back through our most productive areas several times, but we were still searching.

With about an hour left, we hit the jackpot as we found a school of nice smallies that were laying in a deeper cut that jutted in to the shallow water area. For the next 45 minutes, my boater was able to fill out his limit, which included a 4+ smallie and I was able to cull several times – but I could not get rid of that 2 1/2-pound largemouth I caught first thing in the morning. It was fun, as well as productive, as we also had 3 doubles – all keepers – during that flurry.

As we go to weigh in, I’m thinking I have 15 pounds as I was doing the math in my head. As good as I was feeling about my day, it was about to get better. After we checked in, I got out my phone and I saw that FLW had already sent the pairing text for day two. As the luck of the draw would have it, I drew out my practice partner for day 2! And, he had already made the decision to fish day 2 up North, as he was going to hit his fish hard down South on day 1.

I weigh in 14-15 on day one and I’m sitting around the top 20 after day one. I’m on an emotional high right now, knowing what I had, and knowing that I will be around the good smallmouth we had in practice. How quickly that can all change…

As I’m waiting for my practice partner to weigh in, I don’t see him cross the stage – surely he didn’t blank? I continue to wait patiently for him. Then I begin to hear rumblings of someone that broke down and couldn’t make it back. I decide to call my buddy, and sure enough, he was broke down – blew his motor. He and his Co-Angler both had good bags, but had to dump them as they couldn’t make it back.

My high quickly turned to low as I realized that if he can’t fish, I can’t fish! Panic mode set in as I figured out that our only hope is to find us a loaner boat. I start to make a couple of phone calls and put out a desperate attempt of a post out on social media in hopes of finding us a boat…and this is where the amazing stuff started to happen.

My plea for help spread like wildfire among my social media connections, and within two hours, I had several people call me offering to lend us their boat – complete strangers offering to hand over their boats to complete strangers, in order to help out other anglers in need. It was truly special to see. Not only was that happening, but my practice partner, who could’ve easily packed it up and went home, offered to stay and take me to all of his best spots on Day 2 and not fish, so as not to get in the way of me trying to make the cut. In addition to that, I got information that one of the Co-Anglers who had a poor day 1 finish, was offering to drop out so that I could take his spot and fish.

I was overwhelmed by the outpouring of support of the angling community to try to help us out. At 9:30pm, I received a call from the FLW tournament director telling me that a Co-Angler ended up having to drop out due to an injury, so I ended up not needing any of the assistance that was offered to me, but it was so humbling to see and be a part of.

Unfortunately, my day 2 did not end up great, as the wind wreaked havoc on my partners deep, open-water spots and we had to fish shallower protected water. We tried to get out on the deep smallies, but it was next to impossible. I only brought in 4 fish that weighed just under 8 pounds. Although it was not the miracle finish I was anticipating after the challenges of the night before, my finish did allow me to move up into the top 30 in the AOY standings, well within the range to make the Rayovac Championship on the Ohio River out of Paducah, KY during the last week of October. This is a body of water that I’m very familiar with, and with my comfort zone of Lake Erie coming up next, I’m feeling pretty good, but I cannot let up as I keep my eye on the ultimate goal of making the year-end championship!

Bio:

Circuits fished: Central Pro Am, LBL BFL, Michigan BFL, Everstart Series

Years co: 25

Favorite technique: Flipping a jig

Hobbies aside from fishing: Watching my kids play sports

Sponsors: 5X3 FishingLew’s ReelsBass Craft CrankbaitsJewel Bait CoRazr RodsRudy Project EyewearSnack Daddy LuresElite Rod SleevesBionic Custom BaitsBlue Water LED, The Pond Pro, G2 Gemini