Insider: Everything you need to know for Lake Champlain - Major League Fishing Insider: Everything you need to know for Lake Champlain

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After winning a Toyota Series event on Champlain last June, New York native Brett Carnright will be a popular Phoenix Boats Fantasy Fishing selection this week. Photo by Jody White. Angler: Brett Carnright.
June 13, 2024 • Mitchell Forde • Invitationals

Happy smallmouth season. The Tackle Warehouse Invitationals circuit is headed north to Lake Champlain for Stop 5 Presented by 7Brew starting Saturday, which means two things: We’ve hit the home stretch of the season, and MLFNOW! viewers can expect to see anglers wrestling with lots of big brown bass. 

Historically, largemouth have played a part in most tournaments on Champlain. While we will likely see a few green fish brought to the scales this week – and finding the right one or two each day could be a good way to create separation in what figures to be a tightly packed leaderboard – smallmouth have stolen the show in recent years.  

In fact, the biggest question entering this event isn’t largemouth or smallmouth, but ‘Scopers or spawners – whether sight-fishing for smallies on beds or using forward-facing sonar to chase them in open water will be the way to win. At the Toyota Series event last June, cousins Brett Carnright and Ryan Latinville (both in this week’s field) sight-fished their way to a 1-2 finish, but some locals believe a warmer spring and shorter practice could benefit those chasing postspawners with forward-facing sonar. 

Quite possibly the strongest Invitationals field of the season, the group of 150 competitors is loaded with anglers who excel at both. Here’s everything you need to know to sift through the options and pick a winning Phoenix Boats Fantasy Fishing roster. 

Ride the momentum

After proving his forward-facing sonar skills can travel, Alec Morrison will compete on his home turf during Stop 5 at Lake Champlain. Photo by Jody White

While Lake Eufaula shook up the Fishing Clash Angler of the Year standings, the top handful of anglers in the points continue to excel just about everywhere. Given that they’re all adept with forward-facing sonar, that seems likely to continue this week. 

Alec Morrison has to be the hottest Fantasy Fishing selection for this event. The New York native grew up fishing Champlain and has logged a Phoenix Bass Fishing League win and numerous high finishes on the fishery. Throw in his success just about everywhere he launches his boat (Morrison is currently second in the AOY race), and you can’t leave him off your roster. 

Even though the other anglers in the top five don’t have Morrison’s northern roots, they should also be popular picks. With nine Top 10s in 11 events across the past two years, Jake Lawrence is in the midst of a mythical run. Colby Miller is fishing great and has tasted some success on Champlain, finishing 10th in the 2022 Toyota Series event. Drew Gill is Drew Gill. The one question mark might be Marshall Hughes, who has never competed north of Table Rock, but he’s been so solid this season, it’s hard to doubt him now. 

Don’t overlook the locals

Bryan LaBelle is one of the most accomplished anglers ever on the waters of Lake Champlain. Photo by Charles Waldorf.

This field features several accomplished local anglers, and given the vast size of Champlain, they could have a legitimate edge. Considering their dominance around this time last year, Carnright and Latinville have to be at the top of the list. If there are smallmouth on beds, expect the duo to find them – that’s their specialty.  

Then there’s Bryan LaBelle and Kurt Mitchell, who might be the best bets to do find something truly off the wall and make it work. No one has a better track record on Champlain in recent years than LaBelle, with wins at the BFL, Toyota Series and Bassmaster Open levels. He’s typically done it by targeting mixed bags. Mitchell spent seven seasons traveling the country with the FLW Tour/Tackle Warehouse Pro Circuit, but northern smallmouth are his specialty. The Delaware native finished seventh in the 2022 Pro Circuit stop on Champlain among a litany of other strong showings. 

Strong BPT options

Matt Becker should be in his element chasing smallmouth with forward-facing sonar on Champlain. Photo by Jody White

There’s always a handful of Bass Pro Tour anglers that hop into each Invitationals event. Since they’re not fishing for points, they carry some risk as fantasy selections. But this week, there are four BPT pros who can’t be ignored thanks to their history on Champlain. The tricky part for Fantasy Fishing players will be figuring out which ones to pick, as all are in Flight 2. 

Adrian Avena launched his career with a Toyota Series win on Champlain back in 2011. He’s always in the mix when smallmouth are the target species and could be particularly dangerous if the winning bass are on beds; he won his first Bass Pro Tour event on Cayuga Lake last summer by sight-fishing. Ron Nelson will also hope the spawn is in full effect. One of the best sight-fishermen in the game, Nelson won a 2018 Toyota Series event on Champlain and has finished in the Top 10 a few times since. 

Meanwhile, if forward-facing sonar proves to be the way to win, watch out for Matt Becker and Spencer Shuffield. Both are elite smallmouth anglers anywhere in the country and have strong track records on Champlain. The past three times he’s competed on the fishery, Becker has finished second, fourth and 13th. Shuffield finished 11th in the 2022 Pro Circuit stop and third in a Toyota Series event in the same year.

Other names to know

Kyle Cortiana has taken a liking to Lake Champlain. Photo by Charles Waldorf

We’ve probably included too many names already (again, this field is loaded). But a couple other anglers who have to be mentioned — and who could be slightly sneakier selections given where they live — are Kyle Hall and Kyle Cortiana.  

Outside of LaBelle, there might not be anyone with better history on Champlain than Hall. He won the Pro Circuit event there in 2022 and has finished in the Top 10 in three consecutive Toyota Series events on the fishery. While the Texan hasn’t had the 2024 season he might have hoped for, he should be able to put his LiveScope skills to good use this week.

Cortiana is another non-local who has taken a liking to New York smallmouth. The Oklahoma native has a pair of Top 10s at Champlain plus two Top 10s on the St. Lawrence River since 2022.