Entering Toyota Stage Six Presented by Googan Baits, one of the key questions was “Smallmouth or largemouth on Lake Champlain?” It turns out that the answer was “both” as 1,002 scorable smallmouth and 925 largemouth made it onto SCORETRACKER®.
In the end, though, smallmouth were the difference-maker for Jacob Wheeler. The Team Toyota pro landed 27 smallies to the tune of 88 pounds, 2 ounces to dominate his second Bass Pro Tour event in a row (he also won Stage Five on the St. Lawrence River). That said, it was a diverse week on Champlain, with multiple baits producing both brown and green bass for the BPT field.
Here’s how the Top 10 caught ‘em on Lake Champlain:
Wheeler worked his way through the Qualifying and Knockout Rounds with a mix of baits (a 13 Fishing Loco Special was key early in the week), but when it came down to “money-making time” it was all about classic smallmouth plastics.
Wheeler’s most effective setup was a Googan Baits Rattlin’ Ned in Smelt and Green Pumpkin Goby fished on a No. 2 VMC Finesse Neko Hook and a 3/8- to ¾-ounce VMC Tungsten Teardrop Drop-Shot Weight. He fished that on a 7-2 Duckett Fishing Jacob Wheeler Signature Series spinning rod and a Duckett Fishing 2500-size Paradigm reel spooled with 8-pound Sufix NanoBraid and 8- to 10-pound Sufix Advance Fluorocarbon.
Gallelli committed to Ticonderoga from the get-go, spending all four of his competition days targeting largemouth with a jig and frog.
Gallelli caught the majority of his fish on a 1/2-ounce green pumpkin jig with a 3-inch green pumpkin Berkley PowerBait Pit Boss. He fished that on a 7-3 heavy 13 Fishing Envy rod and 13 Fishing Concept C2 reel spooled with 17-pound Sufix Advance Fluorocarbon. He also connected with several scorable fish on a black Booyah Pad Crasher that he threw on a 7-4 heavy 13 Fishing Omen rod and 13 Fishing Concept C2 reel with 50-pound Sufix 832 Advanced Superline.
DeFoe started the tournament fishing the main lake, but scrapped that plan after a lackluster first day and committed to cranking Ticonderoga for largemouth.
He caught a handful of scorable bass daily on a Texas-rigged purple/brown Bass Pro Shops Magnum Fin-Eke Worm but did the majority of his damage with a pair of crankbaits: a Rapala OG Slim in Helsinki Shad, Hot Copper Green Shad and Bream, and a Rapala OG Tiny in Hot Copper Green Shad.
DeFoe fished the OG Slim on 7-foot medium-heavy Bass Pro Shops Crankin’ Stick and a 8.8:1 Johnny Morris Platinum reel spooled with 14-pound XPS Fluorocarbon; he used the same reel for the OG Tiny but scaled down to a 6-6 medium Bass Pro Shops Patriot rod and 12-pound XPS Fluorocarbon.
Horton also started the week off targeting smallmouth but abandoned the main lake for Ticonderoga his second qualifying day. That decision paid off immediately as the Alabama pro stacked 56-5 on SCORETRACKER® (all largemouth) his second day and eventually advancing to the final round.
Horton caught the majority of his fish flipping a 4-inch Klone Crawsome in Blizzard (green pumpkin with iridescent blue) on a 1-ounce Swampers Tungsten weight and a 5/0 Lazer Trokar Flippin’ Hook. He used a 7-6 heavy Duckett Pro Series rod that he designed and a Team Lew’s Custom Pro reel in 8.3:1 gear ratio.
Thrift caught a mixed back of largemouth and smallmouth throughout the tournament but relied solely on largemouth in the Championship Round. The Damiki pro’s most dependable baits were Texas-rigged 4- and 5-inch Damiki Stingers (watermelon candy and green pumpkin) on a ¼-ounce weight and a 5/0 Berkley Fusion19 Worm Hook. He fished those baits on a 7-0 heavy Fitzgerald Stunner rod and Abu Garcia REVO STX 7.3:1 reel spooled with 17-pound P-Line Tactical Fluorocarbon.
Lee put on a stick worm clinic on Day 1 of the tournament when he flipped up 103 pounds of largemouth on a perch-colored Yamamoto Senko. The Alabama pro also caught fish on a Lucky Craft Gunfish, but the Senko was his key in the tournament, both Texas- and Ned-rigged.
For the Texas rig, Lee used a 7-6 heavy action Quantum Vapor Casting Rod paired with an 8.1:1 Quantum Smoke S3 baitcasting reel spooled with 17-pound Seaguar InvisX fluorocarbon. He employed a ¼-ounce tungsten weight and a 5/0 ¼-ounce Tungsten weight with a 5/0 Owner Worm Hook. His Ned-rig setup included a 7-foot Quantum Smoke spinning rod paired with a size 30 Smoke S3 spinning reel spooled with 20-pound Seaguar Hi-Vis Braid for his main line and a 12-pound Seaguar Tatsu fluorocarbon leader. He used a 3/32-ounce nail weight and No. 2 Owner Sniper Hook.
Lucas lived by the principle of “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” leaning heavily on the bait and technique that have helped put him at the top of the food chain in smallmouth tournaments the past couple of years: Drop-shotting a black Berkley PowerBait MaxScent Flat Worm.
Lucas’ drop-shot rig consisted of an 7-0 medium Abu Garcia Fantasista Premier rod and size 30 Abu Garcia REVO Premier spinning reel loaded with 6-pound Berkley X5 Braid and 8-pound Trilene 100% Fluorocarbon leader. He fished 3/8- and ½-ounce weights and a No. 2 drop-shot hook.
It’s probably safe to say that Kelly Jordon had the most fun of any angler in the field on Lake Champlain. The Texas pro caught every one of his Championship Round fish on a single bait: a brown SPRO frog that he finally retired toward the end of the day, after Champlain’s largemouth had worn the paint nearly clean off.
Jordon fished a prototype 7-0 Duckett Fishing Pro Series rod and an 8.3:1 Duckett Paradigm reel spooled with 40- and 50-pound braided line.
Strader mixed it up with multiple baits on Champlain, but his staples were a 3/8-ounce swim jig with a Zoom Medium Speed Craw trailer and a 3/16-ounce BOSS Brent Ehrler Flipping/Casting Jig with a Zoom Speed Craw trailer (green pumpkin/orange claws, black).
The Tennessee pro fished those on a 7-6 Powell Endurance rod and Lew’s Pro Ti reel spooled with 16-pound Sunline Shooter fluorocarbon.
Ehrler caught the majority of his fish drop-shotting a goby-colored Yamamoto Shad Shape Worm and a Roboworm on a No. 1 Gamakatsu Drop-Shot hook and a 3/8-ounce Ark Tungsten Drop-Shot Weight. His drop-shot rig consisted of a 7-1 Daiwa Tatula Elite Brent Ehrler Drop-Shot Rod matched with a 4000-size Daiwa Tatula LT reel loaded with 12-pound Sunline Braid and a Sunline Sniper FC Fluorocarbon leader.