Updated: Nov 30, 2020
This trip was a long time coming, and was the brainchild of good friend and fellow kayak angler Elliot Thomas. The original date for this trip was for a few weeks earlier, but thanks to the rapid spread of COVID-19 in the northeast, we postponed until last week. The six of us who went on this trip have been doing our best to social distance and and remain healthy leading up to the new date we had set. I, for one, was a little reluctant about staying in an Air B&B with 5 other guys for obvious reasons, but at some time, I feel we must return to (semi) normal life while being responsible about it. The numbers of new cases in Connecticut are way down, and the area we were traveling to in Vermont is rather isolated and sparsely populated.
Lake Champlain is known for it's 90 something species of fish, diverse fish habitat, excellent fishing, and wind. It seems like there are fish just about everywhere in the lake, but it is a true test of an angler's versatility to be able to effectively fish all these varying habitats. Our main target species on this trip were largemouth and smallmouth bass, pike, and bowfin. Champlain is famous for putting surprises at the end of your line. There are some oddball species such as longnose gar and drum, and catching a large channel catfish on a lure is not unheard of. The bass fishing is phenomenal, but the possibility of a strange bycatch makes it that much more interesting. With six guys who all have their own approach, we felt good about breaking down water and figuring out patterns from kayaks on this giant lake.
Day 1 6/24
The car was packed the night before, aside from the cooler. With a couple cups of coffee and unrelenting excitement fueling my morning, it was time to hit the road. I had been checking weather, studying Google Earth and Navionics charts for days leading up to my departure, to try and come up with a game plan for the first day of the trip. I wanted to pick a spot relatively close to the house we were staying in, but other than studying satellite images and charts, this section of Champlain was sight unseen for me. Knowing how windy this vast body of water can be at times, I had my sights set on a few sheltered bays and small tributaries that fed into the main lake. Wednesday was calling for SW winds of 8-15 mph.
Most of the guys had planned on arriving later in the afternoon or the next day, but I wanted to get a solid day of fishing in. Originally, Addison Carter was going to make the morning trip with me, but ran into a few things he needed to take care of before leaving for 5 days. So, with the decision on where to go being 100% up to me, I chose to check out the Lamoille River. I wasn't sure if this river held bass or any other species I would be interested in catching, but I've always been drawn to small rivers such as this one. From my experiences fishing other areas of Champlain in June, alewife seem to run these rivers and/or get pushed into rivers by schooling bass.
As I pulled into the parking area of the launch site, I was pleased to see rocky banks on either side of the river and a slow current. I got out of the car, stretched a bit, and walked down to the ramp to check water clarity. It wasn't clear, but it wasn't muddy either. The wind was almost non existent and the sky was overcast. I pulled the kayak off the roof rack and geared up. I tied on a typical mix of what I would fish for local river smallies: Whopper Plopper, Ned Rig, Spinnerbait, Zoom Fluke, and Finesse Jig.
As I launched I immediately noticed that the channel in this small river was on the opposite side, so I zoomed straight across to a rocky shoreline. My second cast with the Whopper Plopper 90 was met by a feisty 13" smallmouth bass. Nothing to get too excited about, but I was on the board quickly and it gave me confidence in the spot. I worked my way down river, drifting with the slow current. I threw the entirety of baits I had tied on with not much else to show for my efforts except a few bumps.
As I continued to scour this unfamiliar water, I started to notice baitfish being pushed to the surface here and there, but no visible predations. I figured this was the unweighted Zoom Fluke and spinnerbait's time to shine, but I couldn't get touched on either presentation. As I kept casting around the schools of bait, I started to see smallmouth hitting these baitfish on the surface sporadically. I quickly went into my topwater box and found a white Yo-Zuri walk-the-dog style bait. My first cast was popped by a smallie several times but I didn't get a hook in it. The next few casts were either hit or at least investigated (much like a striped bass would), but no hookups. I was starting to get frustrated, but kept throwing the spook bait whether I was seeing surface action or not, but was having trouble getting a reaction.
I had drifted down river quite a ways and decided to poke out into the main lake to check how windy it was. Too windy, so I went back up the river as the sun started to poke in and out from the clouds. As I headed back up, I continued throwing the Yo-Zuri spook bait. I finally got another take, but lost the fish on a jump. A good fish, but not one I was going to lose sleep over. The next cast was a different story. This smallie absolutely exploded on my bait, jumping 3 or 4 times almost 5 feet in the air, and as I got it close to the kayak, it felt like this fish was digging for China. I got out of my seat and kneeled on the deck of my kayak to get into position to land this fish. I knew lipping the fish would be problematic with those trebles, so the plan was to "scoop" this bass by the belly. As this beautiful bass came up yakside, it regurgitated it's breakfast, a few alewife in the 6-7" range. I made a grab at the fish and it was in the kayak. 3 lbs. 8oz. of pure bronze muscle. I was very pleased with this fish, and hoped to see more in that size range, but this would be my best fish of the day.
I worked my way back up the river, beyond where I had launched, hoping to find more action and explore this beautiful river. I picked away at the smallies, catching one here one there, most around 2 lbs. or just under. The pike were interested in the topwater presentation as well. Directly in front of the launch, I had one explode on the bait, and as I got this pike close to the kayak, I noticed something strange on it's back. It had a very obvious injury, and it looked fresh. As the fish was fighting, I happened to notice something odd hanging off of the back of this pike near the injury. It was a lamprey, which Lake Champlain is riddled with. I was determined to land this pike, not only to get some photos of my first pike of the trip, but to help it live a better life without a parasitic fish basically eating it alive. I got the pike close and gave it the old squeeze behind the gill plate and slid my hand into it's gill to secure the fish. As I took it out of the water, I noticed yet another lamprey secured to it's side, right behind the pectoral fin! I quickly removed both lamprey from this poor fish, took a few photos, and sent it on it's way. Aside from the scarring on it's back, a beautiful fish with great markings.
Knowing my time was short, I didn't go up the river as far as I wanted to. The scenery on the Lamoille is beautiful from what I got to see, with big rock bluffs and overhanging trees. I was determined to go up as far as time would allow. The water temps started to drop the further I went up, which I thought to be good, considering the lower stretch was around 78°F, but as the afternoon sun started to burn off the cloud cover and the lack of obvious bait in the area, the fishing started to slow down. I got off the water around 4pm with around 20 smallmouth and 3 pike to show for my efforts. It seemed the alewife schools running the river were paramount to catching the smallies. Addison, Elliot, and Tom Mee had just arrived at the house we were renting, and I decided to go meet up with them, get settled, and get ready for the next spot.