PLATTSBURGH, N.Y. – Clark Wendlandt proved today why he is one of the best bass anglers in the world. With his back against the wall and the Land O’Lakes Angler of the Year title on the line, Wendlandt scratched out a 19-pound limit of largemouths to qualify for the final round and push the Angler of the Year drama into the weekend.
While Clausen calmly caught a good limit of smallies on the north end, Wendlandt had to sweat things out down south. Until he caught a 6-pound kicker at 1 p.m., the Folgers Big Bass of the day, his AOY hopes were in serious jeopardy. Plus, he had to complete a 70-mile trip back to Plattsburgh in stiff south winds.
Wendlandt said the bite down in Ticonderoga was much better this morning than it was yesterday. He wouldn’t categorize it as “on,” but the better bags were mainly largemouths today. The two biggest sacks, a 21-5 from Mike Hawkes and a 20-10 from Kyle Mabrey both came from the area of the lake known as “Ti.”
Of the 10 pros who made the final round, exactly four are trekking to Ti. The anglers making the long run would be extremely disappointed to hear that the wind is supposed to blow from the south tomorrow at 20 mph. That could make getting there or getting back a problem.
“I’ll have to take a serious look at the forecast,” said Wendlandt, the two-time Angler of the Year. “My upside is just so much greater down there. If things were to go perfect, I could catch 23 pounds. If things just go good, I could catch 20 pounds.”
Today Wendlandt culled five times by flipping mats in one area he and friend Mike Surman found in practice. To return to that area, the Leander, Texas, pro says he needs roughly four hours of fishing time.
“I’d really like to go. If it’s (the wind) not really bad, I’m going to go. It’s a long drive but only the first 30 miles are bad and then its starts to bottleneck down.”
Clausen ready for two more days
With AOY on the line, Clausen decided during practice he would simply try to win the tournament and let the cards fall where they may. After catching a nice limit early in the day he knew he was going to make the top 10. He finished the opening round with 38-5, which was good enough for third overall. But the Chevy pro also had a gut feeling that Wendlandt would be accompanying him.
“At noon I left my spot because I didn’t want to burn my fish,” said Clausen. “But then I got more and more worried I wasn’t going to make the cut. To be honest, I was more concerned about me making the cut than I was about Clark.”
Since both anglers qualified for the final round of 10 boats, their weights will be zeroed tomorrow morning. That means that although Clausen had a 6-point lead last night, as of tomorrow he trails Wendlandt by the same two points he did before the tournament began. It’s even conceivable that if Clausen wins the tournament, he could still lose AOY to Wendlandt. For that to happen, Wendlandt would have to finish second or third. The tiebreaker for AOY is most weight accumulated throughout the season and Clausen has caught 145-5 to date while Wendlandt has tallied 161-6.
Although Wendlandt has regained the lead, Clausen is confident – mainly because of the forecast.
“I actually like it blowing. I hope it blows hard – those were the days I caught 19 or 20 pounds in practice.”
If the blustery weather does prevent the largemouth anglers from running to Ti, it isn’t like they are simply going to surrender. For the better part of a decade Wendlandt has been crushing the Lake Champlain smallies. This is the first time he has ever targeted their green counterparts.
Clausen claims his smallmouth area is getting more and more populated as the fish complete the reproduction cycle. He’s targeting postspawners that are cruising on a flat. When it’s windy, his fish congregate more on grass lines and drops on the flat. Today he used mainly a tube to catch his fish, but he would prefer to use reactions baits.
“Early in the morning they kind of school and you can occasionally see them. There are literally hundreds and hundreds of smallmouths where I’m fishing and seeing them just reaffirms to me that there’s a pile of fish there.”
Hardin maintains lead despite hectic day
Pro leader Mark Hardin went through a few frustrating moments today, but he still managed a 17-pound, 12-ounce limit of smallmouths that pushed his two-day total to 39-14.
The VERSUS television crew was out on the water and spotted Hardin. Knowing he was the leader, they wanted to mic him up and get some on-the-water footage. During this ordeal, while losing valuable fishing time, the game warden stopped and made a routine check on Hardin. His boat was in a sandwich of other boats, but thankfully there were no issues and the Jasper, Ga., pro eventually caught what he needed to make the cutoff.
Like yesterday, he threw jerkbaits in the morning and then slowed down with a Carolina Rig and a Zoom Speed Craw. Hardin’s area, which he found on the last day of practice, is located 25 miles from the takeoff in Plattsburgh. While looking at his flasher, he noticed an interesting elevation on a well-known smallmouth flat. While subtle, a particular 100 yard stretch of the flat went from 16 feet up to 14 feet. The fish are stacking up in 14 feet in a mixture of rock and grass.
“It was a little tougher today,” Hardin said. “Yesterday I caught like 15 or 20 keepers and today I caught only eight or nine. But the fish are still there – when you throw the jerkbait you can see them following.”
This is the first cut Hardin has made since the 2006 FLW Tour event on Lake Okeechobee.
“The last two years I’ve had good tournaments and I’ve been right there to make the cut. To finally do it again feels great.”
Hawkes soars to second
Also benefiting from a better Ticonderoga bite was Hawkes, whose 21-5 was the heaviest limit of the day and the second heaviest of the tournament. Hawkes finished the opening round with 38 pounds, 11 ounces. Today, he quit fishing his best water at 10 a.m.
“The fishing was good yesterday too I just didn’t get any really big bites,” he said. “I’ve pin-pointed three areas that have big fish, but that doesn’t always mean they’re going to bite.”
Hawkes is flipping mats in 9 feet of water with a 1-ounce black and blue Oldham’s jig with a blue Kicker Craw trailer. Yesterday he was out-fished by his co-angler partner who used a 1/4-ounce weight and a tube.
“I think yesterday they must have been suspended or just very timid. Today the reaction bite was back. When I caught one, I’d usually catch two or three more from the same spot. I don’t know what makes them go to certain places, but they’re in tight little schools.”
Like Wendlandt, Hawkes desperately wants to head south tomorrow.
“If the wind doesn’t blow and I get to go down there I’m going to put a hurting on them. But if it blows bad I might have to go to Plan B. That would be disheartening, but it’s the chance you take when fishing down there.”
Pugh sight-fishes for fourth
“Yesterday I was done at 9:30 a.m. and today I was done by 10:20,” he said. “The wind kind of made it tough to see but I still managed.”
Coming into the tournament, Pugh was simply seeking a top-25 finish to solidify his berth into the Forrest Wood Cup. This little area he found in practice has proved to be just what he needed. But it might be capable of more.
“At first I thought this area was a one-day deal but I think this might be able to go the distance now.”
Pugh said that the day before the tournament there was a full moon and fish continue to filter into this area from that full moon.
“At first it was tough to tell if they were beds. Instead of being big and bright they are brown with just two or three shells on it. Then I pitched in there, they ate it and I saw their tails were bleeding. Now I’m positive they’re still spawning.”
Lefebre’s gamble pays off
Needing a consistent finish to qualify for the Forrest Wood Cup at the Three Rivers, a fishery that is just a few hours from his Pennsylvania home, Dave Lefebre threw caution to the wind and ran south to Ti in search of giant largemouths.
On day one it resulted in 17-10 and today he caught 19-4 for a total of 36-14.
“In practice I caught a lot on a frog but I haven’t caught one during the tournament like that yet,” said Lefebre, who is flipping mats.
Lefebre is fishing the same general area in Ti as Wendlandt, his Kellogg’s teammate. While Wendlandt is camped in the thick stuff, Lefebre is fishing scattered grass on a point.
“My gut was telling me to go down there so I just went for it. And to ease my worries I had a couple of boats run with me in case of an emergency.”
Rest of the best
Rounding out the top 10 pros after day two at Lake Champlain:
6th: Wendlandt of Leander, Texas, 36-14 (two-day total)
7th: Mabrey of McCalla, Ala., 36-6
8th: Jay Yelas of Corvallis, Ore., 36-6
9th: Scott Martin of Clewiston, Fla., 35-13
10th: Anthony Gagliardi of Prosperity, S.C., 35-4
Lucas looking for first FLW Tour win
Co-angler Justin Lucas of Folsom, Calif., has four FLW Series Western Division wins and he nearly won the 2009 FLW Tour season opener on Lake Guntersville. He’ll have another crack at winning his first tour event tomorrow. Currently, he leads the Co-angler Division with an opening-round total of 10 bass weighing 33 pounds, 3 ounces. Of course, he will start tomorrow from zero just like the rest of the finalists.
“We ran to the same area I caught them yesterday,” said Lucas, who has won more than $197,000 in his FLW Outdoors career. “I kind of knew how the area laid out, so that made it nice. But the fishing was tough. I struggled all day and caught only five keepers.”
All those keepers were smallmouths and they came from the Windmill area of the lake. To catch his fish, Lucas used a drop-shot rig with a 3-inch Berkley Gulp leech in olive color in 8 to 11 feet of water. He tried a jerkbait, but they wouldn’t touch it. His biggest bass weighed 4-7, but he said his second-biggest fish was the most crucial.
“I was frustrated and had 30 minutes to go. I needed one more bite. I looked down and there was a bass swimming next to the boat – right under the prop. I flipped my bait over the side, shook it a little bit and he pops it. It was a 3-pounder.”
Lucas is focused on claiming his first FLW Tour title tomorrow.
“After losing at Guntersville it put the taste in my mouth – its time to win one on the tour.”
Day three of the FLW Tour event on Lake Champlain will begin Saturday at 6:30 a.m. at the Dock Street Landing located at 5 Dock St. in Plattsburgh. Saturday’s weigh-in will take place at the Plattsburgh State Field House located at 167 Rugar St. in Plattsburgh beginning at 4 p.m. The free Family Fun Zone opens its doors at noon.