I never thought Iíd have so much fun missing out on a check!

Usually there is no enjoyment associated with missing the cut, but at the recent Bassmaster Northern Open on Lake Champlain my enjoyment of the fishing eclipsed the disappointment of leaving without that much-needed layer of cash in my wallet.

My trip ended with 75 fish caught over the 2 days of competition, and losing a three-way tie for the last check, settling in at 41st in the 180-boat field.

Tiíd Up

My practice period was shortened due to a mechanical issue with my boat, so I found a replacement boat in one of the Shimano Experience Teamís Skeeter/Yamaha rigs. The transition to the new boat was pretty seamless, but the delay kept me off the water for a couple days.

With a shorter practice period my plan was to focus on Ticonderoga, where I knew I would feel comfortable breaking down vast expanses of milfoil to find groups of "greenies." The first partial day of practice went okay, and I caught a good number of fish with ChatterBaits and flipping a 2X-HD jig. After getting off the water, I felt like I may be able to get something going.

During the next day of practice I tried to expand upon what I had found the day before, but found that the right areas were getting more and more rare, and other competitors were becoming more and more prevalent. I just had a gut feeling that Ti wasnít quite fishing right and with my limited experience in the popular area I would have a hard time competing with the seasoned Ti veterans.

I launched my boat on the final day of practice in Ticonderoga once again, but after about an hour of my gut telling me I needed to change, I made a run back to the ramp, loaded the boat and headed for the Plattsburgh ramp.

One Extreme to the Other

Though I really hadnít heard much about Missisiquoi Bay, I knew that I still wanted to find an area where I could catch some largemouth, and Missisiquoi was my first stop.

Once there, the first area I came to was the mouth of one of the rivers dumping into the bay. The area had some pads and reeds in shallow water and I immediately started catching fish burning swimbaits through the grass.

With a little bit of a feel for how the Missisiquoi bass were setting up, I continued to find areas where I could potentially catch some quality largemouth. After that, I went searching for some schools of quality smallmouth that I could use to cull up in a pinch. I was able to find three separate offshore areas that had some big smallies.

I was feeling pretty decent.

Day 1

Going into day 1, I knew that I had enough strong largemouth areas that I was going to catch a lot of fish, but 4-plus pounders were few and far between in practice, so I wasnít sure what to expect.

My starting area turned out to be the first area I visited in Missisiquoi during practice.

The area didnít disappoint as far as numbers of fish, and by 7 a.m. I had already culled several times. I was able to work the area quickly with the swimbait, and by the time I made one pass through the best stretch I had already caught multiple limits worth of bass. But the size wasnít getting much bigger, so in an effort not to burn any more keepers, I decided to go check out my other areas.

Iím still not sure exactly what happened in my other areas but in 4 hours of fishing I wasnít able to upgrade at all, and decided before I left the bay for my smallmouth areas that I would make one more pass through what now had become my "A" area. That resulted in about four more culls, and I was able to leave the largemouths and head out to my smallmouths.

With a storm arriving, my first offshore shoal had 4-foot waves rolling through it, which made the fishing hard. After trying to keep the right drift on that area for about 20 minutes, I decided that I needed to hit another area that was slightly sheltered from the wind, but had just enough exposure to it for a good drift

It took about 30 minutes to locate the quality smallies, but once I did I was able to cull three times by ripping a suspending jerkbait as fast as I could in the wind and the waves.

My bag for the day ended up weighing 16-07, putting me in 20th place.

Day 2

Leaving the docks on day 2, I wasnít quite sure where to start. Iím usually not one to just go for a limit early, but in this case, with no luck in my other largemouth areas, I felt I needed to go back to my primary area to at least get some momentum going.

The morning was much cooler than it had been the last few days, and when I arrived the water temps were a few degrees cooler and I knew the bite would be slower. By 7 a.m. I had only two fish in the well and I knew that I needed to let it rest until the water warmed up, so I once again ran to my other areas in Missisiquoi.

Unfortunately the bite in these areas was just as dead as the day before, but after a couple hours the sun had started warming the water and I felt the time was right to get back to my primary area.

Once back in my starting area the action was hot and I filled out my limit and started culling in less than 15 minutes after arriving.

I spent a couple hours in the area, culling several times on each pass, without the action showing signs of slowing. However, the potential to cull more than a few ounces was looking pretty slim, so I decided to leave for my smallmouth.

I ended up spending over 2 hours in my best smallmouth areas but was never able to entice any upgrades. I left for the weigh-in knowing I would be really close to a check.

In the end, I watched my name plummet in the standings until I held strong at 40th place until the very last person to weigh in Ė who ended up bumping me out of the money. The last person!

Too Much Fun to Frown

Yes, it sucks to miss out on a paycheck, especially at a time that I really needed to add something to my bank account. Yes, missing a check by such a narrow margin stung.

But as I reflect on this event I cannot be too unhappy with the experience. I followed my gut, caught a ton of fish, never lost a single one that I thought would help, and I finally got a taste of Lake Champlain. I canít complain.

(Miles "Sonar" Burghoff chronicles his quest toward becoming a tour-level angler in his Sonar Sound-Off column. To visit his website, click here. You can also visit him on Facebook and Twitter.