Forget, if you can for a while, that Lake Champlain is one of the premier bass fisheries in the entire country.
The bass will come later. Not much later, but later.
Right now, lake trout should be your target.
Normally hugging the lake's depths, lakers this time of year can be found cruising almost anywhere, thanks to the icy water temperatures in which they thrive. And they're hungry after a long North Country winter, ready to crush a trolled spoon, a dead-baited smelt or a vertically-jigged plastic.
You don't often get a shot at these fish without elaborate gear such as downriggers to get your lure down deep, so you should take advantage of the opportunity now. You can take to the lake with a boat and usually find lakers in short order, but you can also – in some places like Begg's Park in Essex – have great luck casting spoons from shore or pitching a dead smelt out there and waiting, enjoying the scenery for a while before your line makes a beeline across the lake.
While the DEC's fishing regulations say you can fish for Lake Champlain lake trout all year, it usually isn't practical during the open-water season unless you're geared accordingly to get down deep. That's not the case now, however, so you should take advantage of this window of opportunity before the lake waters warm and the forktails head back to the depths.
And while you're pursuing lakers, don't be surprised, too, if you encounter a landlocked salmon. They're swimming well up into the water column as well, and are ready to grab any presentation a laker might devour. Chances are the acrobatic salmon will be a hefty one: the salmonids have been dining delightfully on the lake's burgeoning population of alewives.
If you get your boat prepped a little earlier than normal, you can take to the water and take advantage of Lake Champlain's early-season offering. It's well worth the effort, and will place you in great position to go after the lake's plentiful smallmouth and largemouth bass when that season opens – which, in fact, it never closes, since there's a catch-and-release, artificial lures-only season outside the "regular" bass season.
Or you can find a public shoreline spot where there's a good dropoff and the lakers are stacked. Any reasonable cast should put your Little Cleo or similar spoon into the strike zone. There's a three-fish daily limit on lake trout, as well as a 15-inch size minimum. For landlocks, it's two fish daily and a 15-inch minimum.
Enjoy it while you can, because the lakers and landlocks will eventually go deep.
And the bass will be waiting when you're done.
Visit the Fishing Page for more information on fishing in the Lake Champlain Region