Beatin' the Bank with Bernie Schultz - 2017 Lake Champlain BASS Elite

After an exhaustive week of competition on the St. Lawrence River, I made the drive to Lake Champlain — site of our seventh Elite Series event.

Arriving in the village of Plattsburgh, NY shortly after sunset, I caught up with fellow Florida pro Cliff Prince and his family. They had booked a room for me at a low budget motel on the outskirts of town, and though it was rough, it would serve as interim lodging until we could move into our lakeside cabin for the remainder of the week.

That night, Cliff and I discussed a strategy for scouting the lake. We decided to drive south to Ticonderoga and look for largemouth, then continue our search in the upper sections of the lake the following two days.

It proved to be a good plan.

Getting started

We reached “Ty” around 7am. The drive took longer than expected, so we agreed to stay late to make up for it. Once the boats were in the water, we went our separate ways.

My first stop was to a familiar grassbed near a steam plant — a place I had scored on in the past. In one drift I caught two hefty largemouth and shook off numerous others — all of them struck a Yamamoto Fat Baby Craw in green-pumpkin, rigged Texas style with a ½-ounce Terminator tungsten weight.

From there I traveled toward the mouth of the river to another familiar grassbed. Again, I scored. There were even more fish in that area but they seemed smaller in size.

By afternoon I had worked my way back toward Fort Ticonderoga where I fished until dark.

On day-2 of practice Cliff and I headed to Missisquoi Bay — another part of the lake known for its largemouth. We found fish, but the boat pressure was too much. So we moved to the Inland Sea to look for smallmouth.  Other than connecting with a few stray fish here and there, the afternoon was pretty much a bust.

On day-3 we ventured to the northwest corner of the lake … again searching for big smallmouth. I caught quality fish in several spots, but only singles. No schools.

Sometime around noon I noticed a problem with a transducer, so I headed to the service yard. Once the repair was complete it was time for registration.

Competition Time

The wind was howling out of the south when we arrived at the take-off site on day-1. Soon there was talk of a possible cancellation … at least among the anglers. But the tournament officials seemed bent on going.

Sunrise on Lake Champlain, day-1 of the competition.

Sunrise on Lake Champlain, day-1 of the competition.

It wasn’t until protests from pros Hank Cherry and Jacob Powroznik that the tournament director decided to put things on hold. And after a brief scouting trip out to the main lake, they elected to postpone.

It was a wise choice.

The wind blew hard from the south all day, building massive waves. I was so relieved; I knew there was no way I would have made it to Ticonderoga. The rest of the day was spent resting and snacking — something we all needed after two hard weeks on the road.

The next morning it was a go. One by one, competitor boats filed out of Plattsburgh Boat Basin. When my number was called, I followed suit until reaching the outskirts of the marina. Then I turned south for Ty.

More than an hour later I was at the steam plant making my first pitches. Nearby was Chris Zaldain, the only other competitor I noticed in the area during practice. He was on the outside of the weedbed. I worked the interior.

More than an hour run from take-off, I'm finally fishing at Ticonderoga.

More than an hour run from take-off, I'm finally fishing at Ticonderoga.

The minutes turned to hours and neither of us caught a single fish. We were both scratching our heads. Where could so many quality fish have gone?

At 9:30am I made a move. There was little time for mistakes and I was already behind the eight ball. My next stop yielded two fish: a bare keeper and a 2½ pounder. By that time, the wind was beginning to blow and I was concerned. How much time should I leave to get back?

I raced to a nearby marina to refuel, then to the spot where I had so many smaller bites in practice. It was my best move of the week!

Having only an hour to fish, I tried to remain calm and composed. In minutes, I scored several keeper fish, filling out a limit. Although modest in size, it brought tremendous relief. Checking the clock, I still had enough time to improve my weight.

A second pass produced several 3-pounders, and then it was time to run.

Back at the scales, I scored just over 14 pounds. It wasn’t a lot, but I still had a chance. The cut was within reach and I believed I had enough fish left to make it.

Striving for the Weekend

Conditions were calm the next morning. I raced directly to the place where I had left off the day prior. When I arrived, I could see there was another tournament going on, but, surprisingly, no one was on my best stretch of grass.

My first pass produced a respectable stringer. The second gave up a 5-pounder. I knew then that I was close … I just needed a couple of solid fish to make it. After culling through countless 2-pounders, I finally added the fish I needed. Then it was a race to Plattsburgh.

The ride north was brutal. Besides a developing chop from the northeast, there were huge boat wakes to contend with. We took a pounding.

When I finally reached the scales, the weighmaster called out my weight — “18 pounds, 13 ounces!”

I moved up 40 places in the standings and was a sure bet for the weekend. Yes!

This 5-pound kicker carried me through to the weekend.

This 5-pound kicker carried me through to the weekend.

The next morning, it felt like I was on autopilot. Same time. Same conditions. Same routine. This time, however I was much more relaxed. The pressure was off.

After a short delay in our flight, the bottom half of the Top-50 were released from take-off.

All the way south, I wondered if anyone would be sitting on my little grassbed. I knew several people in the other tournament watched me catch and cull countless fish … I figured the temptation to pirate the spot would be too great. To my amazement, no one was there when I arrived.

I told my Marshal, today would be all about the points. And, with that, I went to work.

Beneath the boat is a mother lode of largemouth hiding in thick milfoil.

Beneath the boat is a mother lode of largemouth hiding in thick milfoil.

The hours quickly passed and by weigh-in time, I added another 14 pounds of Ticonderoga largemouth to my overall weight — enough to move me up 8 spots in the AOY standings. The northern swing through New York was complete and I was satisfied. It was time to go home.