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The Great Lake, Champlain

12/29/2006

PLATTSBURGH, N.Y. — So far this year, there's been a Battle, a Shootout, a Showdown, a Challenge, a Pride, a Run, a Brawl and a Chase. Now we have the Champion's Choice.

That sounds less combative; maybe a chance to catch our breath. Don't count on it. The fishing should be fast and furious on this great lake that really isn't a Great Lake but once was a Great Lake. I'll explain.

What makes Champlain a great lake?

Some say it's the oxygen. There's a lot of it, produced by billions of trees with the Green Mountains to the east and the Adirondacks to the west. The ice on the lake in winter oscillates the water every year as well, adding more oxygen. Oxygen makes for happier fish that eat more and grow faster.

Also, you can find almost any type of bass habitat here — clear water, stained water, rocky points, channels, laydowns, lily pads and bulrushes — a huge lake with lots of variety.

What makes Champlain a Great Lake?

Champlain is not one of the Great Lakes, but a 100-mile long, 14-mile wide and 405-foot deep natural lake that forms much of the border between New York and Vermont. The Great Lakes are Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie and Ontario.

Why did I think that Champlain is one of the Great Lakes?

You may be living in 1998, when Congress briefly declared it to be one of the Great Lakes. This was sort of like waking up one morning and declaring that Canada is a continent. There was quite uproar and the designation was rescinded.

What else is great about Champlain?

It's great that most of the lake and northern New York are part of the United States. That might not be the case if a small United States force had not crushed the British Army and Navy at the Battle of Plattsburgh Bay. This defeat turned the tide in the War of 1812 and scotched the British plans to annex the whole area. If things had gone the other way, the tournament director this week might have been a guy in a red coat and white wig, instead of Trip Weldon.

That's great. Plus there are no monsters in the lake, other than the bass, right?

Not so fast. The legend of Champ is widely told. Champ, known as Champy here on the New York side is said to be an overgrown serpent that inhabits Champlain. Samuel de Champlain is the French explorer who discovered the lake in 1602, and his reports include sighting a 20-foot long swimming creature with a head like a horse and as big around as a keg.

Since then, more that 300 "documented" sightings have occurred, producing photos of a long creature in a body of water that could be Champlain or could be an above-ground swimming pool.