With Fathers Day just around the corner, the 28th annual Lake Champlain International Father's Day Derby is rapidly approaching. Presented by Yamaha, the LCI is the longest running, family oriented fishing tournament in the country.
Recently, while reading a promotional story about the derby, I was intrigued by a quote advising anglers that "a boat isn't always necessary to compete. All rivers defined as Lake Champlain waters by New York and Vermont are open - and winning fish have come from the banks before."
Fishing rivers, exclusively from the banks, was something I had never considered for derby competitors. However, the potential for catching a large fish on the river or at their mouth is considerable.
Area rivers, currently running with high, cloudy waters are full of food. They are certain to attract fish from the big lake.
I think it would be great if some kid and his dad took a trophy fish that topped the LCI leader board, while sitting on a river bank.
Bass on the Fly
While growing up in Elizabethtown, I had few opportunities to fish for bass. Sure, there was great bass fishing nearby on Lake Champlain or Lincoln Pond, but it required a boat.
Since my major means of transportation was a bicycle - and later a motorcycle - the likelihood of trailering a boat was rather slim.
I didn't have much experience with bass until my senior year in high school, when I worked as a lifeguard at Lincoln Pond campsite. It was the first time I had easy access to a boat and I took advantage of the situation often.
Bass responded quite well to my usual offerings of crayfish, frogs, night crawlers or a Mepps Rooster Tail, my "go to lure." Some days, a slab of perch and a bobber was all that was required.
At the time, there were no professional bass tournaments. There weren't any million dollar prizes to be won by anglers decked out in fancy uniforms speckled with their sponsor's logos.
Bass boats weren't even considered a type of boat. Bow mounted trolling motors and 200 hp motors the size of a washing machine hadn't been popularized.
A bass boat was defined as something that could carry an angler or two and floated. No flippin' sticks or jerk baits. No NASCAR with a propeller.
Back then, bass fishing was simply an alternative to trout fishing. I pursued bass when the waters were too warm for trout. And, I never considered pursuing bass with a flyrod until much later. I just didn't think they would be attracted to a fly.
I was finally introduced to flyfishing for bass by a guest of mine, early in my career.
The gentleman, Mr. C.L. Gaines, Jr., hailed from Birmingham, Alabama, where he operated the Shook and Fletcher Supply Company.
Staying at a local resort on the Saranac Lakes, he hired me for a week to take him flyfishing for trout and over the course of several days, we worked both branches of the Ausable and the Saranacs, the Boquet, the Salmon and the Chateaugay.
By the afternoon of our fifth day on the water, Mr. Gaines asked, in his slow southern drawl, "Have you got any bass in these waters, boy?"
"Yes, sir," I answered, "We sure do. But I thought you preferred trout?"
"Whaaale," he responded, "I generally do. But, by God boy, there's nothing more exciting on the end of a flyrod than a big, ol' bass. Ya'all come by in the morning and we'll fill a boat with 'em."
The following morning, as we left the lakeside resort in a small aluminum rowboat, Mr. Gaines produced a large collection of bass poppers.
The lake surface was a pane of glass, still and calm. There wasn't a breath of wind. As he tied a popper on the end of a short leader, he proclaimed, "You're about to have the most fun a man can have while sitting down."
Handing me the flyrod, he instructed, "Cast it to the shore wherever there is a log, stump or underwater brush. Let it settle and then give it a good yank, so it'll pop. Then, hang on boy!"
Always the ready student, I followed his lead and was startled by the results.
I made a long cast to a shoreline littered with debris. As soon as I twitched the bumblebee shaped cork popper, the calm waters exploded as if someone had tossed a cinderblock.
At the end of the flyline, a three pound smallmouth bass danced across the surface, tail-walking. It startled me!
It took me a while to land the fish, but it was the first of many to come.
In the years since that experience, flyfishing for bass has become an obsession.
While it will never replace the joy of fishing for brookies on a small stream, it offers a thrilling alternative when the weather is warm and the ponds are quiet.
My collection of poppers now includes imitations of mice, bumblebees, dragonflies and even a small redwing blackbird.
And, I never look at a glassy lake or pond without hearing Mr. Gaines' query, "Any bass in these waters, boy?"
Boy, am I glad he asked!
Joe Hackett is a guide and sportsman residing in Ray Brook. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org