Walker keeps up the pace on Champlain - Major League Fishing

Walker keeps up the pace on Champlain

Alabama pro will carry 2-pound lead into final day on Monday
Image for Walker keeps up the pace on Champlain
Jacob Walker has been on a mission to catch every smallmouth bass in the lake. Photo by Rob Matsuura. Angler: Jacob Walker.
June 16, 2024 • Jody White • Invitationals

PLATTSBURGH, N.Y. – Through two days, Jacob Walker has been in command on Lake Champlain. Sacking up more than 21 pounds on Day 1 and 21-1 on Day 2 for a 42-5 total, the Alabama pro is handily leading Tackle Warehouse Invitationals Stop 5 Presented by 7 Brew.

Leading the way with LiveScope and smallmouth bass, Walker has an impressive cast in pursuit. Also ‘Scoping for smallmouth, Nick Hatfield and Alec Morrison are both over the 40-pound mark and on his heels. In fourth, with 39-1, Kurt Mitchell is relying on largemouth from docks and rocks, and there are some other notable largemouth anglers in the hunt as well (plus the usual cadre of folks looking at screens). Day 2 on Champlain did put one pattern pretty much to bed – it looks like the smallmouth spawn is about wrapped up.

“I’ve got a place that nobody is fishing”

Jacob Walker has had room to work this week and the skills to take advantage of it. Photo by Jody White

Over the last few years, with the development of the open water bite on Champlain, fishing with company has become more common than ever before on the big lake. It makes sense – you can see a long way, and smallmouth are not sneaky about being hooked. But, it might make finding something new – or an untapped area – all the more valuable. This week, Walker has been able to fish in relative peace and quiet, and he seems to have a lot of fish at his disposal.

“It was a little slower start than I expected,” said Walker, who works for a tackle shop in Alabama. “I wasn’t nervous, I was just excited, I was kind of rushing myself, I think. I lost a couple. On one particular rod, I had the drag at a certain point, and then I changed it last night – I think that’s why I was losing them. It was too loose, and they were eating it, and I would swing on them and it would peel. I tightened the drag down and hit ‘em with it hard, I lost a few more, but I caught a lot more.

“I don’t know at what point I had 20 (pounds), I feel like it was probably pretty early, 10 o’clock or so,” he said. “Today was a game of numbers. I swung on a lot more today to try to catch as much as I could – I caught at least 60 today. The last place I found, I caught at least 25, and they were all over 3 pounds. But, I was trying to catch one over 4, to make a big difference, and I did, eventually.”

Fishing a few areas in a couple of miles of water, Walker isn’t doing anything groundbreaking from a technique standpoint. But, he’s doing it well, and he’s on the cusp of a huge win.

“I still don’t feel like I’m leading,” he said. “It’s really hard to get excited when I catch one, because they’re all pretty close, and I can’t really tell how big they are. If I knew it was a 4 1/2, I’d probably be screaming. I’m not anxious or nervous or anything like that, but I still have to catch them. They’re going to catch them even if I don’t – the job’s not done, so I’m not fired up yet.”

Walker has finished runner-up in a Bassmaster Open on Lay Lake, his home fishery, and he’s had a lot of success this season, and some close calls along the way. Now, he’s a day away from his first high-level W.

“Not that I doubt myself, or that anyone doubts me, but it’d prove it – to myself and everybody,” he said. “It would be a big deal for sure, but, I don’t know what it’d mean – I hope I can tell you tomorrow.”

Morrison and Hatfield in hot pursuit

Alec Morrison is one of the top hands on Champlain. Photo by Rob Matsuura

A 2-pound deficit is a lot on Champlain, but the folks chasing Walker are the exact anglers capable of closing the gap. A Bass Pro Tour pro and a transcendent angler wherever he dumps the boat, Hatfield is one to watch. An ounce behind him, Morrison is challenging for Fishing Clash Angler of the Year on the Invitationals and one of Champlain’s best anglers.

Exclusively ‘Scoping, Hatfield discovered a secondary area this afternoon.

“I feel really good about what I’m doing, there’s a lot of big fish around me,” Hatfield said. “I went and fished the (Inland) Sea in the afternoon, and lost a great big one, caught a 4-pounder and caught several other fish. I just went and sampled some grass stuff, and had some really good bites. Hopefully, if the wind isn’t too bad, I can use both areas to get back around 21 or 22 pounds tomorrow.”

Morrison feels off the pace, but he’s totally capable of breaking out a low-20s bag to steal the win.

“The tournament has been good, it’s been successful,” he said. “I feel one bite short the last two days, but that’ll happen. I’m really just going to push hard tomorrow and see what I can come up with.”

With strong south winds in the forecast for Monday, particularly in the morning, it should be pretty raucous out on Champlain, which has both Hatfield and Morrison concerned.

“Primarily, I hope the wind lays back a little bit and makes it a little bit easier to run around,” Morrison said. “It might not – it’s looking pretty bad to be honest.”

Regardless, it should be a good day of fishing to finish things out, but the weather might make the winner really earn it.

Fishing Clash Angler of the Year update

Heading into the event, Jake Lawrence had a slim lead in the Fishing Clash Angler of the Year rankings, and he dropped that lead on Day 1. However, 19 pounds of smallmouth moved Lawrence back into the Top 10 on Day 2, which allowed him to re-take the lead over Morrison. With the cut made, Lawrence looks good to hold the lead going into the season finale at the Detroit River, but he likely will have a very slim lead, and we may not know who wins AOY until the last day of the season.

Top 10 pros

1. Jacob Walker – 42 – 5 (10)
2. Nick Hatfield – 40 – 5 (10) 
3. Alec Morrison – 40 – 4 (10)
4. Kurt Mitchell – 39 – 1 (10) 
5. Matt Becker – 38 – 11 (10)   
6. Drew Gill – 38 – 11 (10)           
7. Brody Campbell – 38 – 2 (10)           
8. Spencer Shuffield – 38 – 1 (10)       
9. Hunter Eubanks – 37 – 14 (10)           
10. Jake Lawrence – 37 – 12 (10)           

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