I love to fish. Can’t say I’m any good at it, but I do enjoy trying. Fishing Lake Champlain is rather like treasure hunting. With over 90 different species of fish, you never know what you may pull out of the water. At least that is the case with me.
Fishing without a boat on Lake Champlain
Not having a boat in my life right now, I fish from shore. One of my favorite places to fish is the Port Henry Pier which is adjacent to the Village of Port Henry’s campground and the NYS DEC boat launch in what is known as, Powerhouse Park. The pier was originally built as a dock for barges; to unload huge supplies of fuel I believe. It extends into the lake about 200 feet giving you great lake access for fishing. I’m guessing the water is about 10-15 feet deep near the end and for much of the length along the south facing side.
Fishing on the Pier
Sometimes this pier gets rather congested with people fishing, but often I have the entire place to myself. Last year, I caught a very handsome small mouth bass off the end and I wanted to try for another a couple of weeks ago; not long after the season opened. I asked my good friend John if he like to go with me there after work. John is an avid bass fisherman. It’s not unusual to see him pull several out of the water in a very short period of time. I was hoping to grill a fresh bass for dinner and figured with him along my odds were better to not end up disappointed.
That evening I was trying a new reel; the closed type. I needed to practice my casting with it. My former reel was the spinner/open type, and I often got frustrated with numerous bird’s nests. Straightening things out seemed like such a waste of good fishing time. I was hoping the new closed reel would make better use of my time.
More often than naught, I fish with a worm on a fair sized hook. It makes it easier to “load”. I immediately fell in love with my new reel and had a good time trying to get some distance on my casts. I spent quite a bit of time just casting out, letting the worm sink a bit, then reeling in trying different “speeds” and hoping for that characteristic tug on the line. There appeared to be nothing interested at all.
John heard a fish jump just to the north of the pier and we saw the evidence in ripples that there were fish out there. He was not having much luck either. I was on the side of the pier, about two-thirds of the distance to the end when I decided to sit down as it looked like it might take a while. Never is patience more of a virtue than when fishing. After more time I was reeling in one of what I had decided was going to be my final casts. I hadn’t been paying much attention to this cast and had no idea how far out my worm was at this point. John was about 15 feet off to my right. All of a sudden movement in the water caught my eye. I saw the light underbelly of quite a large fish off to my left about 6 feet off the edge of the pier.
“LOOK!” I shouted to John pointing at the water. Bingo! At that same second the end of my pole arced sharply down toward the water and I felt it pull severely down. Instantly I started cranking and was sputtering all kinds of phrases to express my excitement. It felt like a whale as it headed erratically toward bottom. “Set the hook! Set the hook!” John shouted at me. I gave the line a short hard tug to the left while continuing to crank on the reel. Whew! I hadn’t lost it. It was still there pulling every which way for all it was worth. The reel was making a loud grinding sound. The end of the pole was jerking all over the place and I didn’t think I was making any progress in raising this fish. Then I saw it. It was right beneath the surface, but although I was cranking as hard as I could, I couldn’t seem to raise it.
Of course we didn’t have a net with us. I continued to fight with it, without success. After a few seconds John offered, “do you want me to take it?” For a very split second I was unwilling to give it up, but I was so afraid I was going to lose it and I had no idea what it was. I desperately wanted to identify this whale and see it out of the water, so I said “YES!” I passed him the pole, stood up and got out of the way.
John carefully kept the fish on the line thrashing just beneath the surface of the water, while he stepped out of his shoes and headed toward a pier ladder a couple of feet away. He stepped down into the water a rung or two, reached in and nabbed the fish under his gill. Plop! The beast flopped on the dock and instantaneously spewed an empty hook. Oh my! I was afraid he’d bounce back into the water. I immediately dropped to my knees and reached out, put both hands around his body and pinned him to the concrete deck. He was wide and rather smooth. He appeared to have fine scales. “Keep away from its mouth. They have teeth”, John informed me. “What is it!?” I asked him.
“It’s a bowfin,” he replied. What? I had never even heard of a bowfin, but I was impressed with the size of the thing. It was the biggest fish I ever caught. Thank goodness for John’s skill and fishing knowledge. I would never have known what I, no doubt, would have lost.
I researched bowfin a bit and discovered that they have been around for a while; 150 million years or so! Their name comes from the long dorsal fin along the back. Not really knowing whether he was a candidate for the grill, I decided he better go back. John took a quick pic of me holding him with the cell phone and back into the water he went. He’s still out there if you want to try for him.