MORNING RESET: New-School Champlain is Showing Out for Stop 6 - Major League Fishing
MORNING RESET: New-School Champlain is Showing Out for Stop 6
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MORNING RESET: New-School Champlain is Showing Out for Stop 6

Image for MORNING RESET: New-School Champlain is Showing Out for Stop 6
Lake Champlain's productivity this week is coming in some surprising places and patterns. Photo by Rob Matsuura. Angler: Matt Becker.
July 31, 2022 • Jody White, Joe Sills • Tackle Warehouse Pro Circuit

PLATTSBURGH, N.Y.  Generally speaking, tournaments on Lake Champlain don’t feature a wave of 20-pound bags. Certainly, you expect good fishing, but a full dozen pros brought 20 pounds or more to the scale on Day 2 of Covercraft Stop 6 Presented by Wiley X, and it was on a day with cloudy weather and windswept conditions – far from the prototypical perfect smallmouth conditions.

Perhaps more than any event on Champlain in recent years, the Tackle Warehouse Pro Circuit Presented by Fuel Me season finale is showing how the cream of the crop can catch smallmouth on this fishery. With the help of forward-facing sonar, a booming alewife population and the willingness to burn some gas, a few notable patterns are making waves in the Top 10 – patterns that a few years ago might not be on the radar.

The “B&B Pattern” is Strong

Running mostly south from Plattsburgh, Kyle Cortiana has built a lead based on buoys and boats, targeting smallmouth that are happy to float around any object they can find. It’s a pattern that isn’t uncommon across the north, but was most notably and successfully pioneered by Austin Felix in last year’s Bassmaster Elite Series event. Matt Becker then ran it for a Top 10 in the Toyota Series event following it, and he’s in the Top 10 again this week running the same program.

The B&B pattern isn’t something extraordinary – a “tour of the lake” where an angler hits every buoy in range is not an uncommon path to success on Lake Ontario. But the region on Champlain that the anglers are in is pretty interesting. Historically, running south of Plattsburgh meant you were headed to Ticonderoga for largemouth – now, it might mean a pro is set to crush 20 pounds or so of brown bass.

Forward-Facing Sonar in Play (Of Course)

Of course, the running crew is being kept honest by a slew of anglers using forward-facing sonar to pick off smallmouth in grass and chasing bait. Up north, Kyle Hall and Dakota Ebare are doing their best work with fish lit up by the laser beam of LiveScope. Again, they’re building on 2021 success, when Chris Zaldain blasted smallmouth chasing alewives and then the Toyota Series anglers and Jacob Wheeler kept it rolling.

If you slip down the standings a little to 13th and 16th with Spencer Shuffield and Joey Cifuentes, the forward-facing trend continues, in another historically interesting section of the lake. Malletts Bay isn’t bad by any means, but a lot of times it’s overshadowed by the Inland Sea or other parts. Now, at least four pros have caught better than 19 pounds out of Malletts, doing most of it with mid-depth smallmouth they hunted down with forward-facing sonar and a drop-shot.

For locals watching MLF NOW! this week, the tournament hasn’t revealed how Bryan Labelle is dominating the largemouth game, but it has been pretty impressive. It’s shown off a really special top end to the smallmouth fishery, and proved that playing by the old rules on Champlain isn’t necessarily going to be successful going forward.

-Jody White

Angler of the Year Runs Through Michael Neal’s Hands

Can “Real Deal” Michael Neal win back-to-back Angler of the Year awards? If current patterns continue, the defending champion seems destined to repeat one of the most respected feats in fishing.

Neal came into Stop 6 with his foot on the gas pedal and has only hammered down harder since putting 19-2 on the scales to start the event. Neal bettered the effort with 20-1 bag on Day 2 one that he said took all day to cull up to. The Dayton, Tennessee pro currently sits in eighth place in the event. His closest competitor for the AOY trophy, Justin Lucas, is not far behind in 15th. Lucas is a famously adept smallmouth angler, and Neal claims to still be a novice, though the leaderboard would suggest otherwise.

Still, both of these Top 20 pros could still claim the AOY crown this weekend. For that to happen, Neal would need to miss the Top 10, opening up the door to Lucas but only if he manages to make the cut on the final day.

Lucas has quietly put together a solid tournament that would be the envy of many anglers on any body of water. He started the event off with an 18-4 limit on Day 1 and backed it up with 19-8 on Day 2. It just so happens, however, that this year’s AOY race is concluding on what is shaping up to be an all-time derby for Champlain.

Whether the big weights shaking up the field this week play into his hands or Neal remains in control of his own destiny remains to be seen.

-Joe Sills