Estes Wins Toyota Series Event on Lake Champlain - Major League Fishing
Estes Wins Toyota Series Event on Lake Champlain
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Estes Wins Toyota Series Event on Lake Champlain

Thirty-Six States and Four Countries Represented at Northern Opener as Anglers Compete for Qualification to the Toyota Series Championship and a Shot at $235,000
Image for Estes Wins Toyota Series Event on Lake Champlain
Stephen Estes brought 21-15 of smallmouth to the scales on Saturday to earn his first Toyota Series champion's trophy. Photo by Cobi Pellerito. Angler: Stephen Estes.
July 19, 2021 • MLF • Press Releases

PLATTSBURGH, N.Y. – Toyota Series angler Stephen Estes of Auburn, New Hampshire, brought a five-bass limit to the scale Saturday weighing 21 pounds, 15 ounces to win the three-day Toyota Series Presented by A.R.E. at Lake Champlain in Plattsburgh, New York. Estes’ three-day total of 15 bass weighing 61-3 earned him the win by a 2-pound, 3-ounce margin over second-place angler Matt Becker of Finleyville, Pennsylvania, and earned Estes the top payout of $44,000 in the first tournament of the 2021 Toyota Series Northern Division.

Estes fished the dream on Lake Champlain, weighing in all smallmouth and averaging more than 20 pounds per day. Looking hard for the mother lode, Estes said he started his four-day practice period with 90 hours on his motor – by the time he was back at the dock after Day 3 of the event, he had over 126 hours logged.

“I was just doing a lot of looking and trying to find something special,” said Estes. “I don’t like to fish around other people and I felt like that was the deal and I just happened to stumble across it. I was idling around and I saw bait and decided to drop the Lowrance ActiveTarget down. I wouldn’t have known the fish were there without the ActiveTarget.”

Estes said he set his target range out to 120 feet, catching fish anywhere from a long cast away to right under his boat. One of his keys on the first two days when it was windy was an independent pole mount from Cornfield Crappie.

“I bought that mount maybe a year or so ago,” said Estes. “I started with LiveScope on the trolling motor, then I changed trolling motor brands and now I’m running all Lowrance. The Lowrance isn’t quite as easy to line your bait up, because the arrow isn’t perfect, but the whole point of the independent mount is when you’re on Anchor Mode, you can independently control it – that was huge the first two days. I keep a remote in my pocket and it has foot pedals.”

Throwing a drop-shot on a 6-foot-9 medium-action Hammer Rods spinning rod with 10-pound Vicious No-Fade Braid and an 8-pound Seaguar Tatsu leader, Estes went with a ½-ounce Eco Pro Full Contact Drop Shot Weight and a drop-shot bait from Hawg Pours Hand Made Bass Baits called the Hawg Teaser.

“Every fish was different,” he said. “I caught some fish suspended, I’d watch my drop-shot fall, I’d see it stop falling and set the hook. I would never feel the fish bite. I’ve been doing that for three years and I’ve learned to watch my bait real close.

“Some of the fish I was catching 100 feet out from the boat – I can’t make a cast with a drop-shot further than 100 feet according to ActiveTarget,” continued Estes. “There was no rhyme or reason and I can’t tell you how many fish swam up to my bait and didn’t bite it. I just kept my head down and kept fishing  and put it in front of a lot of fish.”

Though he had to relocate his fish a bit each day, Estes definitely hit the mother lode daily throughout the event. His co-anglers nearly always caught big weights as well, and doubles from the front and the back were common. Given the fish he found and his skill with electronics, it would have been a feat to beat Estes this week.

“I had a feeling [after Day 1] but I chose not to acknowledge it,” said Estes. “This is just an awesome feeling. I never expected this at all, this group of anglers is so good.”

The top 10 pros on Lake Champlain finished:

                  1st:           Stephen Estes of Auburn, N.H., 15 bass, 61-3, $44,000

                  2nd:          Matt Becker of Finleyville, Pa., 15 bass, 59-0, $18,000

                  3rd:          Bryan Labelle of Hinesburg, Vt., 15 bass, 57-13, $12,750

                  4th:           Dakota Ebare of Brookeland, Texas, 15 bass, 57-7, $10,750

                  5th:           Kyle Hall of Cleburne, Texas, 15 bass, 57-7, $9,750

                  6th:           Bryan Thrift of Shelby, N.C., 15 bass, 56-9, $8,625

                  7th:           Martin Villa of Charlottesville, Va., 15 bass, 55-7, $7,300

                  8th:           JJ Judd of Saint Albans, Vt., 15 bass, 54-4, $6,300

                  9th:           Joseph Thompson of Coatesville, Pa, 15 bass, 53-14, $5,300

                  10th:        Jason Bacon of Nutting Lake, Mass., 15 bass, 53-1, $4,200

A complete list of results can be found at

Nick Radtke of Greenwood Lake, N.Y. took home an additional $150 for the Day One Berkley Big Bass award in the pro division, with a bass weighing 5 pounds, 9 ounces. Kevin Martin of Crown City, Ohio won the Day Two Berkley Big Bass award in the pro division, bringing a 5-pound, 4-ounce bass to the scale.

Becker took home an extra $1,000 as the highest finishing Phoenix MLF BIG5 Bonus member. Boaters are eligible to win up to an extra $35,000 per event in each Toyota Series tournament if all requirements are met. More information on the Phoenix MLF BIG5 Bonus contingency program can be found at

Kyle Gelles of Pingree, Idaho won the Strike King Co-angler Division Saturday with a three-day total of 14 bass weighing 48 pounds, 10 ounces. Gelles took home the top prize package of a new Phoenix 518 Pro bass boat with a 115-horsepower Mercury outboard motor.

The top 10 Strike King co-anglers on Lake Champlain finished:

1st:           Kyle Gelles of Pingree, Idaho, 14 bass, 48-10, Phoenix 518 Pro bass boat w/115-hp outboard

2nd:          Ted Kephart of Philipsburg, Pa., 15 bass, 48-3, $5,375

3rd:          Jeff Crowley of Goodrich, Mich., 15 bass, 46-5, $4,300

4th:           Carter Wijangco of Naperville, Ill., 15 bass, 45-10, $3,650

5th:           Stephen Draghi of Sparrowbush, N.Y., 15 bass, 45-8, $3,350

6th:           Jakob Labelle of Hinesburg, Vt., 13 bass, 37-15, $2,650

7th:           Sakae Ushio of Tonawanda, N.Y., 12 bass, 37-11, $2,150

8th:           John Detweiler of Harleysville, Pa., 11 bass, 35-12, $1,825

9th:           Tommy Sikes of Como, Texas, 12 bass, 35-8, $1,530

10th:        Romano Duncan of Andover, Mass., 11 bass, 33-7, $1,290          

In the Strike King co-angler division, the $100 Day One Berkley Big Bass award winner was Geoffrey Montgomery of Seneca Falls, N.Y. with a 4-pound, 15-ounce bass, while the $100 Day Two award went to Randy Brown of Lugoff, S.C., with a 4-pound, 14-ounce bass.

The Toyota Series at Lake Champlain was hosted by the City of Plattsburgh and the Adirondack Coast Visitors Bureau. It was the first of three regular-season tournaments in 2021 for Northern Division anglers. The next event for Toyota Series anglers will take place on August 3-5 – the Toyota Series at the California Delta in Oakley, California. For a complete schedule, visit

The 2021 Toyota Series presented by A.R.E. consists of six divisions – Central, Northern, Plains, Southern, Southwestern and Western – each holding three regular-season events, along with the International division. Anglers who fish all three qualifiers in any of the eight divisions and finish in the top 25 will qualify for the no-entry-fee Toyota Series Presented by A.R.E. Championship for a shot at winning $235,000 cash, including a $35,000 Phoenix MLF BIG5 Bonus for qualified anglers. The winning Strike King co-angler at the championship earns a new Phoenix 518 Pro bass boat with a 115-horsepower Mercury outboard.

The 2021 Toyota Series Championship presented by A.R.E. will be held Oct. 28-30 on Pickwick Lake in Counce, Tennessee, and is hosted by the Hardin County Convention and Visitors Bureau.

For complete details and updated information visit For regular updates, photos, tournament news and more, follow the Toyota Series presented by A.R.E. on the MLF BIG5’s social media outlets at FacebookTwitterInstagram and YouTube.