Did you hear about the bass-fishing tournament on Lake Champlain?
No, not the FLW Tour event — that was last week. I’m talking about the Ditch Pickle Classic, a fly-fishing-only bass tournament in Missisquoi Bay on the Vermont side of the lake, not far from the Canadian border. Now in its third year, the DPC will run July 14-15.
Fly-fishing tournaments, mostly for fun and usually benefiting a good cause, seem to be more and more popular in recent years, but most of them are trout-fishing contests. So the Ditch Pickle Classic is a rare breed in a region most fly-fishers associate with trout and salmon.
“I could spend whole summers up on Missisquoi Bay and never see another fly angler,” said Brendan Hare, a graduate student at the University of Vermont and an organizer of the Classic. “I just wanted to get the word out that we had this great fishery with shallow-water bass fishing, sight fishing in some cases.”
The good fishing of Lake Champlain is no secret to the FLW Tour anglers, who consistently rate the lake among the nation’s best. Missisquoi Bay, in Swanton, Vt., offers big fish in a pristine, shallow-water setting. In fact, while other FLW Champlain tournament anglers headed for fishing holes in Ticonderoga, the eventual winner of the tourney, David Dudley, made a beeline for Missisquoi Bay and caught most of his fish in two feet of water.
There’s no livewell and weigh-in at the Ditch Pickle Classic. Partic-ipants in two-angler teams simply photograph each other’s fish next to tournament-issue rulers, a format known as catch-photo-release. A 12- to 13-inch fish is worth one point, and a 20-incher or better is worth five.
This year, for the first time, the contest will span two days, so anglers can fish until dark on Saturday and be on the water as early as they like on Sunday.
The low-light hours will offer the best shot at surface action. While the bay is known for shallow-water fishing, anglers may need to reach as deep as 25 feet to find willing fish during the heat of the day, Hare said.
The fishing is done from boats — anything from canoes to motorboats.
“We got some pretty slick boats last year,” Hare said. “No full-on bass boats with 200-horsepower Mercs, but we had guys that had flats boats that were over from Massachusetts.”
The registration fee is $25 per angler. Of that, $15 will go to the Friends of Missisquoi National Wildlife Refuge, and the rest covers the participant’s keepsake T-shirt.
Without much publicity, the Ditch Pickle Classic (the name comes from a slang term for largemouth bass) is becoming an established event. It’s also expanding interest in a great resource that’s underutilized by fly-fishers.
“A lot of people never exper-ience Lake Champlain,” Hare said. “There are a lot of people that fly-fish in Vermont, and you still hear, ‘You can catch bass on a fly?’ Not only can you, but these are four-pound smallies and four-pound largemouth bass that, to me, are a lot more impressive than the average stocked trout we all wind up catching out of the rivers.”