Champlain is Smallmouth Bass Heaven; Panfish & Pike Add to the Fishing Fun
Updated: Feb 24
It sometimes seems my life isn’t complete without one good spring smallmouth fishing trip to the home waters of Lake Champlain -- on the Vermont side. The cold, clear water in this massive glacial lake is home to an abundance of bass, pike, panfish and more. Rocky bottom features, ledges and other habitat nuances make the lake a haven for hard-fighting smallmouth bass.
My trips usually center on fishing with my younger brother Dana, an avid bass fisherman since he was a little kid and a part-time pro who’s placed well in numerous B.A.S.S. and FLW tournaments, including a 3rd place finish on Champlain in a B.A.S.S. Northern Open.
Catching and releasing spring smallmouth bass is a lot of fun. I certainly prefer releasing them immediately where they’re caught when these fish are actively finding spawning beds.
I’d just fished Lake Ouachita in Arkansas a couple weeks ago, where we used Old Town Predator PDL kayaks and a variety of LiveTarget and Z-Man lures. While fishing Ouachita, I couldn’t help but realize how the LiveTarget Emerald Shiner 115 jerkbait would be great to try on Champlain smallmouth bass. Another bait, the 1/16th-ounce Nedlockz HD and Power Finesse ShroomZ jigs baited with Z-Man Finesse TRD ElaZtech baits in a pattern called “The Deal” also worked well with the little spotted bass of Arkansas. I was certain this set-up would also entice bigger smallmouths. The Finesse TRD could be rigged like a conventional worm or wacky rigged for quick follow-up casts after fish struck and missed the jerkbait. Both ways caught fish in Arkansas.
Although I didn’t try them in Arkansas, Z-Man also makes a drop shot lure they call Trick Shotz. These, too, had to be winners with Vermont smallmouths.
Here's how it went down in Vermont. The first day of fishing was incredibly windy. The broad lake had 3-foot whitecaps. Tossing the jerkbait into semi-protected eddies around islands and sheltered points or against windblown shorelines resulted in countless hook-ups. The second day, with much-improved weather, saw us still using the jerkbaits, but also tossing the Ned Rigs and Drop Shotz.
My first cast of the second day almost resulted in a fight with a northern pike that had to be 40 inches or more long. The huge fish chased the jerkbait right to the boat, then stopped. I gave it a tug on the line, the pike swirled inches below the surface and knocked the lure, and then swam away. Smaller northerns were more cooperative, walloping the lures with aggressive hook sets. Smallmouth bass continued to be raving fans of whatever we tossed. By early afternoon, I switched from the jerkbaits and was immersed in "Nedrigging," catching fish with incredible consistency. It was another Lake Champlain trip for the record books, almost as fun as one I made several years ago with the late Larry Thornhill, a fixture in the fishing industry. On that trip, Larry, my brother and I had simultaneous hookups with 5-pound-plus smallies. Talk about an exciting few minutes!
If you like seeing a bunch of bronzebacks coming into the boat, check out the video at the top of this blog.
Lake Champlain is also loaded with tasty yellow perch, a favorite fish to catch through the ice in the winter. It also has a bounty of beautiful, and also delicious, pumpkinseed sunfish. On day 1 of the smallmouth fishing, my brother and I decided to take a break from the windy conditions and head toward St. Albans Bay where we could ease into a creek known as Mill River. The lake’s water levels were a couple feet high this May and much of the timber along Mill Creek was flooded.
Several boats were there when we arrived. As we slowly crept through the channel, our polarized sunglasses let us see pockets of dozens to hundreds of pumpkinseed and bluegill. For 90 minutes we casually tossed small jigs tipped with ¼-inch pieces of nightcrawler and proceeded to nearly fill a 5-gallon bucket with these succulent panfish.
Catching small panfish may not be quite the adrenaline rush of hooking a powerful smallmouth (any fish over 3 pounds can get me sounding near orgasmic – hah, hah), but there is something infinitely satisfying about watching a bobber go down. It captivates me today as much as it did decades ago. I hope I never tire of that feeling.
Next, I joined up with Winooski, Vermont, native Brian Latulippe, a local angler with an earned reputation for reliably catching all kinds of fish, from walleye to bass to pike and crappie. Latulippe took me to Shelburne Pond, a sizable piece of water that might be called a small lake in many states. He likes to find pre-spawn crappie along structure near the shoreline. Catching slab crappie on light spinning gear is a blast.
We almost missed the window, but it wasn't a complete, "You should have been here last week" scenario. Most fish we caught were almost spawned out but there were still enough on the downed trees and brush piles to keep it interesting.
Latulippe uses his trolling motor to ease in close to the structure and then pitches, flips or gently cast his lure. He uses a light braid line, tied directly to a 1/16-ounce Road Runner jig. He swaps out the Road Runner soft plastic body for a small Bobby Garland shad lure, preferring a light purple color.
Latulippe says friends ask him why he uses the Road Runners versus a simpler jig head or similar crappie lure. He says the reason is flexibility. He likes that the Road Runners slender blade lets them be fished like a small spinner when needed, or he can totally slow it down and fish the lure jig-like in and out of cover. There’s no arguing with his success.
Latulippe is a consummate outdoorsman and he’s happily introducing his girlfriend Ashley to the ways of the woods and waters, including helping her get her first deer and wild turkey. I think another spring trip to Vermont, maybe for some turkey, walleye and smallies may be in next year’s plan. Talk about an outdoors trifecta!
A short video of our sunfish and crappie expeditions is below.
Have fun and, as Larry used to say, “Enjoy the Outdoors.”