Top 10 baits from the Invitationals event on Lake Champlain - Major League Fishing

Top 10 baits from the Invitationals event on Lake Champlain

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Minnows were the order of the day at Champlain. Photo by Rob Matsuura.
June 19, 2024 • Jody White, Rob Matsuura • Invitationals

PLATTSBURGH, N.Y. – Tackle Warehouse Invitationals Stop 5 Presented by 7 Brew ended up being a two-day event due to weather, but it was still an important addition to Lake Champlain lore. Historically, June events on Champlain are won with spawning smallmouth, or at least a game plan heavily featuring spawners. This week, that was not the case – the top three anglers all ‘Scoped hard for offshore fish, and there were probably more largemouth weighed by the Top 10 than spawners.

Maybe July just came fast this year, or maybe it’s a new normal. Whatever the reason, it was a good couple of days on one of the most prolific fisheries the North has to offer.

1. Fresh fish carry Walker

Considering the event was only two days, Jacob Walker dominated the tournament. The only person to catch 21 pounds or better two days in a row, Walker exploited a group of fish in the Alburg Passage that nobody else found.

For his jig and minnow, the Alabama pro used a 5- or 6-inch Deps Sakamata Shad, mostly in the silver shiner color. He rigged it on a 3/16-ounce Owner Range Roller head and used 16-pound mainline and a 10-pound fluoro leader with a G. Loomis GLX 863.

2. Hatfield drops the hammer on Day 2

The only person other than Walker to catch 21 pounds in the event, Nick Hatfield hit a home run on Day 2. ‘Scoping smallmouth off the bank, he relied on Malletts Bay (like many others) as well as some offshore grass in the Inland Sea.

“I did do the bed fishing deal, I looked,” he said. “I played around with it and caught some fish and saw a lot on beds, but like everyone else, it was hard to find one over 3 1/4 pounds. I started looking for other things, and until the end of Day 2 of practice, I didn’t really find a lot.”

In the afternoon of the second practice day, Hatfield eased into Malletts Bay and found fish and bait – that afternoon, he caught eight smallmouth and his best five went over 22 pounds on the Bubba.

“I started there in Day 1; the wind had been blowing pretty hard, and it had got colder overnight,” he said. “It was trickier than I expected on Day 1. I had to move around a bit.”

Day 2, Hatfield started swinging the bat early and often in Malletts before making a call that ended up being the difference between second and third place.

“In my mind, I thought they might cancel Day 3; with the weather I had looked at, it was in the bank of my mind,” he said. “I decided to run to the Sea and I ran some of those isolated grass patches I found. I upgraded once, and lost another nice one. I tried to pull out all the stops in case it was a two-day derby.

Throwing a Scottsboro Tackle Co. Sniper Shad Pro Series and a Deps Sakamata Shad on 3/16- and 1/4-ounce heads, Hatfield used a Doomsday Tackle J-D.A.M. Series spinning rod.

3. Morrison tightens the AOY race at home

Sitting in second in the Fishing Clash Angler of the Year race, Alec Morrison was a tournament favorite for Champlain, his home waters. This week, he ran a postspawn-forward pattern, snatching up bass with a variety of minnows.

Though he used a range of minnows and a drop-shot for a few bedding bass, his bread and butter was a 5-inch Deps Sakamata Shad on a 3/16-ounce head for higher fish and a 5-inch Z-Man Scented Jerk ShadZ on a 3/8-ounce head for deeper fish. He fished pretty much every minnow on either a FinesseFreak or BassFreak spinning stick from Millerods.

On Day 1, Morrison started in an area and ended up catching most of his fish without the presence of bait. He re-found the bait on Day 2 for a big catch.

“Even if the fish aren’t actively feeding on bait, when you’re around it, it still is easier to get 4-plus-pound fish to bite when there is bait present in the area,” Morrison said. “I knew that was a huge key, and I really looked around for where the wind may have shifted that bait. I was running to one stretch I found, and I decided to hit another stretch I hadn’t hit since last year. I was able to land on one stretch with a lot of bait – once I started seeing bait, I was able to see some good quality fish, and they bit a lot better than the first day.”

Though this event didn’t really fit with history on Champlain, Morrison wasn’t surprised by the outcome and the prominence of postspawn fish.

“We’ve been on this trend the last five years; I really wasn’t surprised with where things were at,” he said. “They’ve just been slowly getting further and further ahead in the spawn every year, just spawning earlier due to the water temp, and the light winters have a lot to do with that.”

4. Largemouth carry Mitchell

Another good bet on Champlain, Kurt Mitchell has historically done well fishing for largemouth and sometimes smallmouth down on the southern end of the lake. This week, he practiced there for a bit, and then defaulted to a largemouth-forward pattern on the north end.

On Day 1, the Delaware pro caught his fish on a War Panda Baits Nasty Nugget glide bait, which he makes himself. Targeting the cribs and causeways, Mitchell ran standard largemouth stuff and was able to generate bites with the wind. On Day 2, with slicked off conditions, Mitchell used a Yamamoto Senko and a 1/2-ounce Missile Baits Mini Flip (brewgill) and a Missile Baits Chunky D to pluck green bass off docks.

5. Becker works with postspawn smallies

A former Keystone Stater, Matt Becker basically always does well at Champlain, and he’s done his damage in a real variety of ways. Sometimes, the smallmouth expert can be found running buoys, beds, or even docks. This week, the reigning Bass Pro Tour Angler of the Year minnowed for postspawn smallmouth.

“I started up north, and I guess the bait moved, or my fish moved, so I had to adjust my gameplan,” he said. “I went to run my largemouth stuff, and Kurt (Mitchell) was on it, so I made the run down to Malletts and set up camp there for the next day and half.

“I pretty much caught them from 15 to 50 foot, as far as depth of water,” he said. “One of them was on the bottom in 50 foot, but most of them were up cruising. They would come up and go back down, but I weighed a 4-2 that was definitely on the bottom. I threw at another one, and he came up off the bottom and ate it.”

Becker’s primary baits were a 4-inch RAID Fish Roller on a Core Tackle Hover Rig for fish higher in the water column and a Yamamoto Scope Shad (Becker’s grape juice) on a 1/4-ounce head. He used 8-pound Seaguar Tatsu for his leaders, paired with 18-pound Seaguar PEX8 braid and a Favorite Hex spinning rod.

6. “The pond” produces for Gill

Throwing a minnow in outer Malletts Bay, which he calls “the pond,” Drew Gill knocked out another impressive finish.

“I was fishing for postspawn fish primarily,” Gill said. “The first day I fished in 15 to 20 feet primarily for small schools and single roamers on breaks and transition areas where it would go from grass to nothing. The second day, I fished a shallow sand flat that was 8 or 9 feet. And I caught a few off standing pieces of wood. It was just a hodgepodge of minnow shaking.”

Gill used a Big Bite Baits Scentsation Slim Minnow and a Big Bite Baits Jerk Minnow on 1/4-ounce heads for his baits. He used an 8-pound Seaguar Tatsu leader, Ark Reinforcer Series spinning rods and 2500 Ark Gravity spinning reels.

7. Campbell gets back on track

After a couple of uncharacteristically tough events, Brody Campbell got back in the game at Champlain.

On Day 1, the Ohio pro caught spawning smallmouth with a Berkley PowerBait MaxScent Lil’ General on a 5/16-ounce Ned head. On Day 2, he picked up a Strike King Baby Z-Too on a 3/8-ounce head and started ‘Scoping.

“I used the flogger and the Ned on the first day to catch a couple nice ones on bed,” he said. “Day 2, I literally went fishing free, and ran into a big school of them on a point and caught three 4-pounders in four casts. To say I was excited to get back out there would be an understatement.”

8. Shuffield steady again on Champlain

Spencer Shuffield is basically a Top 10 lock in any smallmouth event, and he cruised into contention again this week on Champlain. Fishing mostly in Malletts Bay, which has been one of his favorite haunts, the LiveScope expert fished a drop-shot and a minnow.

“I spent 11 days up there two years ago at the exact same time (of year), and there were a bunch of smallmouth on beds then,” he said. “One of those days, I went into Malletts and it was incredible, the 4-pounders I caught shallow – not on bed, you could see them cruising on ‘Scope. Going into that tournament, I was excited to go into Malletts.

“This time, I go in there, expecting them to all be shallow, and they were,” Shuffield said. “The buoys, the chains, the boats, anything – there were tons of them, but they would not bite. I tried everything, but it was not easy to get the shallow ones to bite. So, I went out to where I caught them in the Pro Circuit event, deeper, and boom, they were all over the place.”  

Shuffield’s minnow of choice was a Z-Man Scented Jerk ShadZ on a 3/8-ounce Black’s Custom Lures Tungsten FFS Head, and he followed it with a drop-shot with a Berkley PowerBait MaxScent Flat Worm with a 1/2-ounce Ark drop-shot weight. For both setups, he used 15-pound Yo-Zuri SuperBraid and an 8-pound Yo-Zuri SuperFluoro leader.

9. Magic spots buoy Eubanks  

Bucking the smallmouth trend, Hunter Eubanks milked a few key docks and a sand patch for big bags of largemouth.

“There’s a point that kind of kept the wind blocked, and in practice it was slick, and I could see what the potential was,” Eubanks said. “Behind the point, there’s a sandy spot, and there were probably seven to eight big largemouth there.”

In addition to the juice sand, Eubanks had one dock that he caught multiple big largemouth off of – for sure unusual, but certainly effective.

His best baits were a Yamamoto Senko, wacky rigged and sometimes sporting an Epic Baits Nail Weight, as well as a Zoom Trick Worm on a Buckeye Spot Remover shaky head.

10. Lawrence keeps the AOY lead with a Top 10

Catching 19 pounds on Day 2 put Jake Lawrence back in the lead for AOY after a slight stumble on Day 1, and it sets up a fascinating showdown at the season finale on the Detroit River. This week, Lawrence minnowed for smallmouth like others and shared the winning area with Walker.

“In the Inland Sea, in practice, there were big ones out there, but there wasn’t really much bait,” he said. “So, they weren’t really in a good mood – you had to throw by 100 of them to find one that was gonna bite. If you could find them around that bait, they’d eat.”

Lawrence used a floating 5-inch Yamamoto Shad Shape Worm on a jighead until he ran out, and then swapped to a prototype Yamamoto swimbait with the tail cut off. The Tennessee pro used a 3/16-ounce head for the most part and a Dobyns Kaden 700SF rod.