Chris Adams has been fishing Lake Champlain his entire life. He has a ton of tournament wins on the Lake to his credit and also a lot of high place finishes. We talk to Chris about fishing both ends of Lake Champlain. He shares some of the secrets to his success.
How long have you been fishing Lake Champlain?
I’ve been fishing Lake Champlain since I was a little kid, but specifically for bass and in bass tournaments since I was about 16. I am 32 now and started out fishing some local club and team tournaments with my dad, Don Adams. He fished a lot of tournaments when I was a kid and now tends to do more guiding than tournament stuff.
I am fortunate to have had him to expose me to the sport and give me the basic tools and knowledge to develop a solid base before I got a boat and started fishing events on my own. In past years I’d say I would fish the lake once or twice a week, some more some less, between June and October. This year I’ve had a lot going on outside of fishing and haven’t fished as much as in the past, so maybe once every two or three weeks now. Hopefully I get more time on the water this fall and into next year. Time on the water is critical on a lake of this size and is absolutely key in my success.
You have had a lot of success on the Lake tournament fishing. What is it about this lake that lends itself to success for you?
I’ve been very fortunate to have had some really good days on Champlain. The lake has given me a ton of opportunities that I am so thankful for.
It hasn’t always been easy, but it’s certainly a place where if you put your time in and prepare, you can have a lot of sustained success and have things be somewhat predictable. On the flip side of the coin, there can be quite a bit of dead water. It can be overwhelming at times in terms of trying to cover all the different sections of the lake leading up to a tournament.
Not to mention maybe the biggest factor of all, the weather. Anyone who has been to Champlain knows that you can have the best group of fish or best game plan going into an event and have to scrap it all and fish on the fly if the wind trashes your main plan or limits your ability to get somewhere. That is not easy to do.
Additionally, it’s that good of a fishery where you could also just show up and go fishing without any practice and win. Personally, I’m a practice guy and the tournament days are the easy part. I like to know exactly what the “core” of my day will be and how much weight I’ll roughly have from the core area or areas. I then have an idea of what moves I can make on top of the core areas to push me over the top to a win.
I think personally the lake sets up well for me because I consider myself to be fairly versatile. I don’t identify one thing or another as a particular strength. I’m comfortable with doing mostly whatever it takes for a given event to do well.
One week it might be flipping heavy cover, cranking or frogging, another week it might be sight fishing up shallow, and at other times it might be drop-shotting or Carolina-rigging in 40 feet of water. For example, I’ve won four Champlain Bass Series tournaments and two Ram Open Series events of which three wins were all smallies, two wins were all largemouths, and one was a mixed bag. This gives just a quick idea of the range of strategies that can factor in on the lake.
I also think a lot of the guys who consistently do well on Champlain are versatile because the lake forces you to be like that. Whether its because of weather and wind, or because certain areas and patterns dominate at different times, you have to be willing to adjust in order to be successful. You see some anglers who might win a certain way at a certain time, but then struggle in other events at different times. I try to be decent at doing a lot of different things and more often than not that leads to some level of consistency.
Given the lake’s diversity, its actually surprising that you don’t see more full-time pro’s that come from growing up on Champlain and developing that well-rounded skill set. But then again, most people who live and fish here have very little reason to leave since the fishing is that good and hard to walk away from!
What is your favorite section of the Lake?
Boy this is a tough one, and one that I truly can’t answer. For me, I like different sections of the lake at different times of the year. A certain area can be hot for say two or three weeks, and then all of a sudden another area that had been slow picks up and starts kicking out winning fish.
Aside from the wind, that can be the biggest challenge. You have to decide which section you think will be most productive and dedicate your time to practicing and fishing in that area. You have to do this while also keeping an open mind to other areas or options.
That being said, the Ticonderoga area is pretty special to me just because that’s where I learned to bass fish, and the north end – the Inland Sea & Main Lake area, has grown on me a lot over the years because I enjoy fishing clear water and like being able to bounce back and forth between smallmouths and largemouths at various times during a tournament day. To me, a perfect day on the lake is catching a real solid base of smallmouths and then going hunting for a kicker largemouth or two. So, I’d probably have to lean toward the north end, if I absolutely had to pick a preferred section.
Do the major areas on the lake that have mostly community spots or are you able to find your own water to fish most days?
There’s no doubt that both the south, Ticonderoga, and north sections have plenty of productive community holes that you can build into your game plan if needed. But I try to get away from the crowds on most days and do my own thing.
There is so much untouched and untapped water on our lake that even with the increased pressure in recent years, you can still find winning areas that you have all to yourself. I would say that those areas are becoming harder and harder to find each year, and even more difficult to keep secret with the rise of social media and internet information. Some days I might fish 75% “sneakhole” spots that most others don’t fish or know about and 25% community holes, while on other days it might be the exact opposite. It just depends on what each area is producing for numbers and quality.
How do the North and South ends on Lake Champlain fish throughout the seasons?
I find the south end area to be a bit more consistent throughout all seasons just because of its features and habitat, shallow grass, rock and wood etc. Other than largemouth out deep early or late in the season or fish that use the channel to follow bait, most of the productive areas are shallow and can be fairly consistent throughout the year.
On the other hand, I find the north end of the lake to be a bit more variable in terms of seasonal patterns and fish movement. I think on a year-to-year basis the north is more predictable and patternable than the south, but on a seasonal basis the north changes more during our short fishing season.
What I mean by that is the grasslines in the south can change a lot from year to year, whereas the grass seems to be pretty consistent each year on the north end. On the other hand, the north has a lot more deep, off-shore structure for both species and the fish are constantly moving to different depths at the north end depending on water level, temperature, bait movements etc.
Of course, productive areas always change on the lake at both ends, but hopefully that gives some insight to my opinion on seasonal changes at both ends. The lake is very dynamic as a whole, so season patterns apply everywhere. But the south end seems to concentrate fish maybe a little more in certain areas throughout the entire year than the north. Not to mention, it’s a lot smaller of an area.
What do you consider the mix of largemouth and smallmouth at both ends?
I’m not a biologist and have no data to support this, but I’d have to guess the south end is maybe 70% largemouth and 30% smallmouth, whereas the north end as a whole is probably the opposite, 70% smallmouth and 30% largemouth. These percentages may be more even than I realize, but this is the general idea.
Of course certain areas, for example Missisquoi Bay at the north end would be dominated by largemouth, but as a whole the smallmouth population is far greater in the north. Quality throughout the lake is pretty consistent with good tournament-class smallies and largies both being in that 3.5 to 4.5 pound range, with the occasional 5-plus pound kicker fish. It’s such a strong fishery that you have to ignore the 3 pound fish and really commit yourself to finding the next tier of fish closer to that 4-pound range in order to compete.
Without giving away any tournament secrets, what do you consider your two favorite baits to throw for largemouth bass at both ends of Champlain?
I’ll give you a quick rundown on two baits that you’ll find me throwing for largemouth bass throughout the year in both areas. You’ll always find my 7” Heavy Shimano Zodias flipping rod rigged up with a ½ or ¾ oz. V&M grass jig, regardless of whether its June or October. This is a confidence bait for me and a lure that can imitate crayfish, bluegills and other baitfish that Champlain largemouths feed on at both ends of the lake. I’ll typically throw this on 50 lb. braided line on a Shimano Curado 70 reel
I rig it with either a twin-tail/craw type trailer or a beaver type trailer. I’m pretty basic with my colors. I throw black and blue or green pumpkin, simple as that. Nothing too fancy here. I use this jig to pick apart shallow grass using short pitches and trying to keep the presentation as vertical as possible, unless of course I need to send a cast further out under a dock or toward an isolated piece of cover.
You’ll also find me with a basic ½ or 3/8 oz. Z-man Chatterbait tied on. This bait allows me to cover water quickly and locate active schools of largemouth throughout the year around various types of cover including grass, wood, rock etc. I throw this bait on both braided line and Gamma Edge fluorocarbon on Shimano Zodias rods and Shimano Curado 200K reels. I will vary the pound-test depending on the depth and cover I’m fishing how I want the bait to run around that cover.
Similar to my flipping jigs, I’ll generally use black, green pumpkin or white for colors, and tip my Chatterbaits with either a craw, shad, or boot-tail style trailer. Again, nothing revolutionary here, just staples in my arsenal that I’ll always have ready to go.
One key for me with this bait has been to see how the lure reacts to and deflects off different cover with different types of line. Sometimes I like the braid and other times I prefer the flouro. This just comes with trial and error.
What do you consider your two favorite baits to throw for smallmouth in these areas?
This is a bit more challenging just because smallmouth on Champlain can be found at both ends of the depth-spectrum really at any time of the year. You’ll always have some fish out deep, and some fish either up shallow or on a breakline between shallow and deeper water. As a result, you need to have baits ready to target multiple different depth ranges.
That being said, my two favorite Champlain smallmouth baits for the north end are probably a Lucky Craft 112 Slender Pointer jerkbait, and a basic drop-shot rig. I actually prefer to throw the jerkbait on a spinning rod – a 7” Medium Shimano Zodias and a Shimano CI4 spinning reel. It might seem a little odd, and it can be tiring, but I like the action that I can put into this jerkbait with a spinning rod setup as opposed to a baitcaster. Probably more personal preference than anything, but it works for me so I don’t change much. I will rig a jerkbait on a baitcaster also if I know I’m going to be throwing it all day long and that helps with fatigue, but for the most part I use the spinning rod.
I throw this bait on 10 lb. Gamma Edge fluorocarbon, make real long casts and keep it moving. I will adjust the cadence based on water temperature, clarity and the mood of the fish etc., but for the most part I like to move it pretty quick with hard jerks. I like to fish this jerkbait over boulders, along breaklines and around scattered grass growing on hard bottom areas, typical northern smallmouth water.
For the drop-shot, I also do things a little different than most. I don’t use braid backing as mainline and a fluorocarbon leader as is ultra-common today. I am a bit old school and go straight fluorocarbon. No leader, no connection knot, no swivels, none of that.
I like the efficiency and speed of retying with fluorocarbon only. I retie a ton during the course of a tournament day to avoid a potential break-off. I like to have a little bit of give in my set-up, and find quality fluorocarbon to be plenty sensitive in gauging different bottom compositions.
I also prefer to have a single connection. The line to the hook only, as opposed to multiple connection points and potential points of failure. Again, just personal preference, but the straight fluorocarbon works for me. I don’t lose fish and have plenty of sensitivity with my Gamma line.
I will rig my drop-shot on 8 pound or 10 pound Gamma Edge fluorocarbon, and use either a Gamakatsu Shin Fukae Swivel Shot or Roboworm Rebard hook depending on what I’m throwing for a bait and the cover I’m fishing. And while I will occasionally throw the cyclinder-style drop shot weights, I generally like the tear-drop or ball-shaped weights. I think I get better bottom contact and feel with these although they do tend to get hung up a bit more in the rocks.
For soft plastic baits on my drop shot you’ll find a few regulars – a Yamamoto Shad Shape Worm, a Jackall Crosstail Shad, a Yamamoto Senko, an X-Zone Slammer or Gajo Baits Spirit Shad, a Keitech swimbait and a few other niche baits from time to time.
I generally fish my drop-shot two ways. One being fan casting it around grass, rock etc., and the other deliberately just dropping on fish I see on my graph around deep structure. Other than that, nothing really that special or unique. It’s more about the areas and historical knowledge than the technique or bait. It’s Champlain and if I put it in front of them, they usually eat…not always, but usually.
Overall what are 5 pieces of advice that you have for anyone fishing north and south end of Lake Champlain?
Below are some general tips that can be applied to both the north and south areas of the lake. I spend more time than I probably should contemplating strategies and seasonal patterns. Ask my family…haha. I think about what will give me the best chance to win in different areas at different times. These tips and themes are constantly running through my mind, and have helped to guide my approach to fishing the lake and ultimately led me to some success over the years.
- Do your homework and understand how the various sections set up, which species is dominant in each area and what types of cover are most productive for the different times of the year. If you understand these high-level themes, you’ll ultimately be more efficient and successful.
- Plan for the weather. Whether your tournament fishing or fun-fishing, check the recreational lake forecasts regularly leading up to a trip to the lake and be ready. Prepare your boat accordingly. Tighten your bolts, carry a drift sock and anchor, have multiple trolling motor straps etc. You want to prevent mechanical issues in order to maximize fishing time, but you also want to be safe. Also strategize your practice and tournament days around the wind forecasts, directions etc. to maximize efficiency and give you the best chance to be successful.
- Don’t bite off more than you can handle. If you don’t have a ton of experience on the lake, look at past tournament results to see which species factors most at different times of the year, and then use maps to identify areas you might want to concentrate on. There’s so much water that you can end up scrambling and running all over the place if you try to cover multiple different sections of the lake in a short period of time. Most of the time this can be detrimental to success. Select and area or two, and pick them apart.
- Prep your tackle and have a pile of rods ready. Most practice days you’ll find me with a mess of different rods on my front deck prepped for covering both largemouth and smallmouth water and the varying types of cover and depths that I might be targeting. Some of my best tournaments have come from making a quick stop at an “oddball” type spot during practice and having the right bait to quickly test that water. Again, it’s Champlain and if you get around the fish with the right presentation, they will certainly let you know they are there. But, what if you opt to drive by something that might look intriguing just because you aren’t rigged up with the right tackle to fish the spot? I say have it all ready and at your disposal even if you only make one cast with a certain lure, because that one cast could tell you a lot.
- Be versatile. This might be the single biggest tip for anyone coming to fish Champlain. Depending on the weather and how fish can move and change their feeding habits quickly, it’s important to be able to adapt. One day you might be flipping for largemouths in a beautiful grass bed on the north end and then the next day, or even a few hours later, there can be 4 foot waves crashing in on that spot making it unfishable. I’ve had plenty of tournaments where I maybe started up shallow for largemouths, the wind came up fast, and I had to go out and drag for deep smallmouths in order to do well. You might get away with sticking to a single pattern, spot or lure and sometimes that can be the key to winning, but you’re playing with fire a little bit if you’re one-dimensional. Be ready to do a lot of different things if needed in the event that conditions or the fish change, which can happen fast. I just fished a tournament recently where my deep fish weren’t biting all that well so I moved to a shallow spot and quickly caught a key 4 pounder on a jerkbait. I then went back out deep later on and the deep fish were firing, so things ended pretty good, but that 4 pounder up shallow was a critical bite to keep the day progressing. If you’re versatile, your results will be a lot more consistent. You might not always win, but you’ll likely have a lot more solid finishes if you can do a lot of different things.
Who are your sponsors?
I have a few companies that I’ve been fortunate to develop relationships with over the years. First and foremost, Turner Piping & Refrigeration has been my main sponsor for the past four years.
They are a Vermont-based commercial refrigeration company that does a lot of big projects for grocery stores, supermarkets, restaurants, convenience stores etc. They do everything from refrigerated supermarket rack systems, refrigerated cases, walk-in coolers and freezers, and keg coolers, to air conditioning and air handling and dehumidification systems. They really do it all and provide 24-7 emergency service and maintenance on top of the design and install work.
They’ve been a tremendous supporter of my fishing endeavors and they are a real pleasure to work with. I know how hard their crew works on projects, and I always try to match that effort on the water to represent them well. Folks can learn more about them at www.turnerpiping.com.
I have a bunch of additional key supporters who I work with that are instrumental in me being able to compete at a high level on the lake from equipment support to financial support. I recently started working with Shimano Fishing through Chris Bielert, who I’ve known since I was a teenager doing BFL events together. I can’t say enough about the quality of their products, as well as their service.
In today’s fishing world it seems that marketing and advertising can help companies see some inflated short-term success, but a company like Shimano has stood the test of time and been consistently successful over many decades because of the true quality of the equipment they produce. Their rods and reels are durable to stand up to the beating Champlain can dish out, yet light and high performing. I can’t get over the sensitivity and lightness of the Zodias rods I’ve been using, the ultra-smooth drag of the Stradic CI4 spinning reels and the all-around performance of the different Curado baitcasters I use.
And have you seen the new Curado DC? Reel is incredible. It does things that don’t seem possible. Just top notch equipment ,and I’m thankful to work with them.
I’ve also worked with Gamma Fishing Lines for a while now, about nine years I think, and really trust their products when money is on the line. I use a lot of fluorocarbon and their Edge fluoro is the strongest on the market in my book. I can’t remember the last time I broke off, and I’m constantly around zebra mussels and sharp rock on Champlain.
I also just started working with Vermont Field Sports, a local Vermont fishing and hunting shop. They have a great selection of baits for fishing Lake Champlain, as well as a lot of the Shimano products I use.
Additionally, the folks at Keitech have reached out recently and provided some help. I use quite a bit of their stuff, and their lures have absolutely factored into some of my success on the lake over the years.
A few other local organizations including Maple Sugar & Vermont Spice – maybe one of Vermont’s most iconic breakfast and lunch restaurants located in Mendon, Vermont. Also Green Screen Graphics are a talented graphic design and installation group in Rutland, Vermont that takes care of all my boat graphics etc. They have been tremendous supporters as well.
Not to compare one sponsor to another as they are all critical in their own ways, but I really can’t overstate the importance of good equipment on Lake Champlain, particularly your boat and motor. Champlain can really dish out a beating on a lot of days, and your equipment needs to hold up for you to do well and to keep you safe.
I’ve run a Ranger for as long as I’ve been fishing and know that their boats will hold up to Champlain’s rough water year in and year out. Not only do their boats fit my preferred storage and layout style, but they are built like tanks and hold their value so well. Not to mention their service has always been unmatched and they’ve always been there to help me out over the years, whether its with parts overnighted to me in a pinch or giving me a loaner boat to use when needed. Just a great company to work with.
And, on the power end of things my last two motors have been Yamaha’s and all I can say is wow. I currently run the Yamaha 250 SHO and the reliability and responsiveness of that motor is critical for running around Champlain in big water and driving the waves. I’m never afraid to make a big run through brutal water if I need to in order to get to my fishing areas, because I know I’ll get there and get back because of my Yamaha SHO.
Prior to that, I had one of the older carbuerated motors and its honestly scary to think about the number of hours I put on that motor, making long runs in big waves, all without a single issue, ever. That motor is still running strong today. The reliability of their outboards is just incredible. Similar to boats, there are other great motors on the market today, but I can’t say enough about Yamaha’s products and service and how they’ve stepped up to support me at different times during my career.
And to maintain my equipment, I like to work with the folks at Reynolds Garage & Marine in Connecticut. I tend to do some of the more simple maintenance myself, but if there’s anything that needs a little more attention or expertise, I go see Tom Reynolds and his crew. They are angler. they know bass boats. They do a great job. Plus, they are a full line Ranger and Yamaha dealer with a deep inventory of new and used boats, as well as accessories, at all times. Another great organization that I can rely on, whether it’s an urgent equipment question after hours or a routine maintenance visit.
Thank you Chris! Will be following all of your Lake Champlain and tournament success on Instagram @cmavt14.