Walker wins weather-shortened event on Champlain - Major League Fishing

Walker wins weather-shortened event on Champlain

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Jacob Walker earned a convincing win in two days on Champlain. Photo by Rob Matsuura. Angler: Jacob Walker.
June 17, 2024 • Jody White • Invitationals

PLATTSBURGH, N.Y. – It wasn’t a total shock when the final day of Tackle Warehouse Invitationals Stop 5 Presented by 7 Brew on Lake Champlain was called off Monday morning. With a lot of wind at takeoff and more in the forecast, it was setting up to be a rough day on the lake. With a 2-pound margin on his competition, Jacob Walker hoisted the trophy in the parking lot around 8 o’clock in the morning, while gulls wheeled overhead and most folks were clocking in or starting their morning coffee.

With a two-day total of 42 pounds, 5 ounces, Walker caught more than 21 pounds each day of the event to win handily. In second, Nick Hatfield had 40-5, and Alec Morrison weighed 40-4 for third. For the win, his first with MLF, Walker pocketed $80,000 and locked up a trip to REDCREST next year in his home state of Alabama.

Untapped fish let Walker dominate the tournament 

Jacob Walker had the luxury of fishing relatively fresh waters this week. Photo by Jody White

Walker still wants another day of fishing, but winning by 2 pounds on Champlain is a lot, and catching 21 pounds a day in June is basically unheard of. While the stats show a two-day win, and you never know what could happen, this is about as convincing as it gets.

Well-schooled with a jig and a minnow, Walker is a first-timer to Champlain, but he was in his element as far as the fishing goes. Perhaps the biggest thing that set him apart this week was his location, which he shared with Jake Lawrence but otherwise had to himself. Walker fished in the Alburg Passage and could pick and choose what he caught with little competition.

“The first day of practice, I wanted to try to find some spawners to get an idea of what stage the fish were in,” he said. “I was running through the Alburg Pass, and the wind was blowing, and it was a little calmer in there.

“I pulled over and I cruised down the bank for 15 minutes and saw probably 30 empty beds. I had a feeling that those fish had probably spawned a good ways before we got there – I knew they couldn’t be far. I was on the phone with my buddy Mark (Condron); told him I saw some beds, and I was on the phone and I trolled out there, off the flat into that channel. As I trolled out, I saw a smallmouth sitting on that break – made a cast, and it was a 3 1/2-pounder. I could tell by how she acted, there had to be a lot of them around, to be so aggressive and eat so easily.”

Walker could have cranked his Mercury to leave. Instead, he trolled and looked at the screen. The rest is history.

“I cruised around for a second, saw another, caught it, and it was a 3-15,” he said. “They were both fat, so I knew there had to be some bait around. I put my rod down, trolled around for a second and saw some bait and some groups in the bait and I left. I was in there no more than 10 minutes.”

After re-checking the area on the final day of practice, Walker was feeling pretty good.

“I knew it was a safe bet I could catch five in there and probably guarantee myself a check,” Walker said. “I had no clue it would be like that. I had no clue that bigger-than-average fish would be in there. It makes sense now that I’ve spent so much time in there – if I wanted to, I could catch over 100 fish per day.”

The winning recipe

Two days of fishing added up to a big payday for the Alabama pro. Photo by Rob Matsuura

Throwing a 5- or 6-inch Deps Sakamata Shad in the silver shiner color on mostly a 3/16-ounce Owner Range Roller head, Walker whooped up on the bass every day he went fishing.

“It’s identical to the alewives, and it looks like the smelt,” Walker said of his bait. “I could have gone through 100 of them a day if I wanted to. I caught an alewife yesterday (that) I showed the cameraman. It’s incredible how similar it really is – it’s identical.”

Using 16-pound-test mainline and a 10-pound-test fluoro leader, Walker went with a G. Loomis GLX 863, which he thought was the perfect rod for the task.

“It’s a medium-heavy, but it’s extremely parabolic,” he said. “So, I have the backbone to carry that big bait, make a good cast with it and pin the fish. But it’s very parabolic, so I don’t lose them. If you see in pictures, a lot of that rod is bending, but it’s still strong enough to where I can pin them and put a hook in them, especially those real big ones.”

As far as catching the fish, Walker had his boat in 20 to 35 feet most of the time but caught fish throughout the water column. A big part of his success was making very precise presentations and sometimes trying to wait for bigger fish to show themselves or become available.

“I run my LiveScope at 80 feet because I can really see a fish and really decipher where the fish is,” Walker said. “It’s a big deal with how you present a bait. A lot of times, I think if your bait is too close to them, and you come over their backs, it spooks them. The real big ones, the smart ones, if you spook them, you might catch some; but a lot of times they’ll spin around and they’ll look at it but they know it’s not natural.

“How many times does a bologna sandwich hit you in the face? It never happens. Most of the time, I try to present my bait first, very high, and get an initial reaction to get them to come up and eat it. If it’s too high and they don’t see it, I’ll make a cast closer to them, but maybe 5 or 10 feet to their left or right. I’m very patient – I don’t just see a fish and bomb on it.”

To hear him tell it, Walker could have been burning through 100 bass a day, but he took a more considered approach.

“At some point, I had to stop,” he said. “I would sit on a group of fish and wait until I knew I could get a good cast on a 4-pounder. When my trolling motor was in the water, very rarely was I not looking at fish. I had to really be patient and understand that if there’s a group, there’s a big one in there, and I had to watch them and try to pick them out.”

With the wind whipping at takeoff and a trophy in hand, Walker was adamant that he wanted to win it all the way.

“It’s not over yet – I’m going up there today, and I’m proving it to myself,” he said.

Still, he knows the win is a big deal.

“It’s a big move; it’s a very big deal,” he said. “It’s not real yet. When I get back home to reality, it’ll probably set in. It’ll set in eventually, but I just want to go do it again. I love bass fishing.”

Top 10 pros

1. Jacob Walker – 42 – 5 (10) – $80,000
2. Nick Hatfield – 40 – 5 (10) – $50,000
3. Alec Morrison – 40 – 4 (10) – $20,000
4. Kurt Mitchell – 39 – 1 (10) – $19,000
5. Matt Becker – 38 – 11 (10) – $17,000
6. Drew Gill – 38 – 11 (10) – $16,000
7. Brody Campbell – 38 – 2 (10) – $15,300
8. Spencer Shuffield – 38 – 1 (10) – $14,000
9. Hunter Eubanks – 37 – 14 (10) – $13,000
10. Jake Lawrence – 37 – 12 (10) – $12,000

Complete results