The main question preceding the 2009 Northern Open tournament at Lake Champlain was the same as it is at every tournament here: Would the tournament be won with largemouth, smallmouth or a mixed bag? Champlain teems with both species. Largemouth have dominated in recent years. Would smallmouth play a bigger role at this event?
After the three official practice days, Pete Gluszek of Franklinville, N.J., believed a mixed bag would prevail. Gluszek has fished many tournaments here and usually does well. However, he said Champlain was fishing differently than he had ever experienced it in mid-August.
The largemouth and smallmouth were in places where Gluszek doesn't normally find them. This was possibly due to unseasonably cool summer weather. However, Gluszek predicted a strong winning weight of 58 to 62 pounds. Part of this was based on the feedback he was getting from other fishermen.
"It's the first time I've ever fished here that I never heard one person complaining before the tournament about not catching fish," Gluszek said. "I assumed that the lake was fishing good from coast to coast."
Gluszek's final tally was 51-4, good enough for 11th place. On all three days of the event, he fished the north end of the lake and weighed in four largemouth and one smallmouth.
"The bass were feeding on yellow perch," Gluszek said.
Gluszek's biggest largemouth were scattered 8 to 12 feet deep in milfoil with cabbage grass mixed in. He picked off the bass by pitching a black 1/2-ounce Buckeye Mop Jig dressed with a black Baby Paca Chunk.
For smallmouth, Gluszek fished sparse cabbage grass growing on rocky bottoms 10 to 15 feet deep. He triggered strikes by casting and stroking a compact 1/2-ounce black Keitech Jig dressed with a Baby Paca Chunk.
Two days after the tournament, Gluszek's wife delivered a baby boy, Jake Peter. It was a challenge for Gluszek to keep his mind on fishing because his wife was due to deliver at any minute.
"I had everything arranged so I could leave the tournament on a moment's notice if I got the call," Gluszek said. "My wife's timing was perfect."
Frank Scalish, who finished second with 53-13, also found bass in places where they weren't supposed to be during midsummer. In past tournaments here, he found smallmouth bass stacked up on rock piles and rocky ledges 20 to 30 feet deep. He could catch dozens of bass by sitting in one spot.
This time, he was catching bass 10 to 15 feet deep on flats that had submerged milfoil or cabbage grass. The milfoil was holding largemouths and smallmouths, while the cabbage produced mainly smallmouth bass. Scalish presciently predicted it would take a mixed bag and a weight of 56 pounds to win. Jason Knapp, of Uniontown, Pa., finished first with nine largemouth and six smallmouth that totaled 56 pounds, 3 ounces.
Scalish's bass were scattered in the grass, and he had to cover loads of water to find them. He hustled to get 15 bites a day, whereas he normally catches 50 or more bass a day here.
Retrieving a 5-inch Basstrix swimbait over the grass produced Scalish's biggest bass in practice, but it failed to entice a single bite during the tournament. Pitching a 3/4-ounce jig and casting a drop shot rig produced every bass he carried to the scales.
Drop shotting was the most productive smallmouth tactic at Champlain. Dragging tubes and football jigs was also strong, as was the Carolina rig. Zoom's Speed Craw is the hot Carolina rig bait with locals at Champlain. It carried Dana Perrotte of Winooski, Vt., to third place with 53-12. He dragged the rig 20 to 30 feet deep. A Carolina rigged Speed Craw helped Steve Lucarelli, a hot stick from Meredith, N.H., finish in 23rd place. He dragged it over rocky flats with sparse grass in 14 to 15 feet of water.
Pitching jigs was the deal for largemouth anglers, as it always is at Champlain. Knapp pitched 1/2- and 3/4-ounce jigs to bulrushes on the final day to sack 22 pounds of largemouth and make a dramatic leap from 19th place to the top spot.
Elite Serious standout Michael Iaconelli, who has been on fire lately, pitched a 1-ounce Tru-Tungsten Professional Tungsten Jig to isolated grass plumes in 10 to 12 feet of water at Ticonderoga. The frog, another consistent largemouth producer at Champlain, also duped some bass for Iaconelli. He dropped to seventh place after being in second place Day 2. Anglers fishing another tournament crowded Iaconelli on the final day.
Ish Monroe also made the long run to Ticonderoga. "All you need down there is a heavy jig and a frog," he said.
It's hard to argue with Monroe. He finished sixth and caught the biggest bass of the tournament on Snag Proof's Perfect Frog. The largemouth weighed 6-1.