PLATTSBURGH, N.Y. – In a dramatic see-saw battle against a formidable opponent, Jason Ober of Johnstown, Pa., made a critical adjustment and secured his victory in the Stren Series Northern Division event on Lake Champlain.
Locked in a close contest with Chris Baumgardner – the Snickers pro from Gastonia, N.C. – Ober took Baumgardner’s day-one lead in the second round, but gave it back on day three. Entering the final round in second place, Ober caught a limit weighing 17 pounds, 4 ounces and tallied a tournament total of 74-5.
Prevailing against not only Baumgardner, but an entire field of accomplished anglers was very meaningful to Ober.
“I’m overwhelmed – this is the highlight of my life,” he said. “To fish against (pros such as) Chris Baumgardner, Mike Iaconelli and Pete Gluszek is unbelievable.”
Ober spent the entire tournament working waypoints where he had marked large groups of smallmouth bass. In open water depths of 12 to 14 feet, the smallies were following dense pods of yellow perch, so locating the food meant locating the predators.
Crankbaits and topwater plugs had delivered the majority of his bites during the first three days of competition, but when the hard baits’ productivity declined, Ober took an essential cue from his co-angler, Thomas Shafer, who also won his division. Shafer was using a green-pumpkin candy Chigger Craw on a drop-shot, and when the bait hit paydirt, Ober knew what he had to do.
“My co-angler is the reason I won today,” Ober said. “I was saving one little honeyhole for today, and I went there at the end of the day. My co-angler caught a great big one, and then he caught another great big one. Finally, I said, `Look, I am hard-headed, but I’m not that hard-headed – show me the deal.’
“I tied up (with Shafer’s bait), and we caught them on every cast from then until it was time to go. I caught two of my weight fish (with that bait) that I’m sure made the difference for me.
“I went from throwing topwater plugs, to cranking to drop-shotting to seal this deal. Drop-shotting is what just won me this (tournament).”
Second-place Baumgardner let down by lay-downs
Running 25 miles from the launch site, Baumgardner started out throwing a 1/2-ounce black/blue ChatterBait with a Zoom Speed Craw around lay-downs in creek bends. For the past three days, targeting suspended fish in 3 to 5 feet of water had consistently produced big stringers, including his top effort: a 20-pound, 10-ounce bag on day three.
However, Baumgardner said his creek pattern produced only two keepers – probably due in some part to the heavy rains that fell the night before. Dingy water pushing through the lake’s arteries affected visibility, while swift current hindered fish and fisherman.
“With all the rain we had, my spot got trashed,” he said. “The current was twice as strong (as the day before).”
Baumgardner said he worked his creeks until about 11 a.m. and put two keepers in the well. He then moved to a “community hole” where he finished out his limit by drop-shotting for smallmouths.
“I fished the creek until my trolling wouldn’t go anymore; the current was that strong,” Baumgardner said. “I tried to go with the current, but it was just to fast. You couldn’t fish it.”
Baumgardner weighed 16 pounds, 3 ounces on day four and ended with 73-15.
Voyles feeling froggy in third
Entering the final round in fifth place, John Voyles of Petersburg, Ind., ran south to the fertile grass beds of Ticonderoga. Green-and-black Spro frogs fished over matted vegetation in 3 to 4 feet produced his 16-pound, 7-ounce stringer (63-11 total) and some of the most exhilarating strikes he’d ever seen.
“When those bass came up and hit that frog, it’s like watching and alligator coming out of the water,” Voyles said. “It’s phenomenal.”
The key to working the frog, Voyles said, was maximum action with minimal forward progress. “I was snapping it on a slack line. I was really trying to make it pop on that mat.”
Working an area overrun with hungry bass, Voyles said he could have abandoned his technique and still caught fish. “There was such a good school of fish underneath (the mat), I really didn’t need to pop the frog. I mean they were fighting over it.”
Voyles said he discovered the hot frog action during practice, but the intense bite wore down all but one of his frogs. He had to make that lone amphibian imposter suffice for the first day of the event, but fortunately a friend back home in Indiana was able to overnight reinforcements to Plattsburgh so Voyles could continue his pattern.
Seal sticks it out, takes fourth
Starting day four in seventh place, Gregg Seal of Eldred, Pa., rose three places with a limit catch of 15 pounds, 15 ounces, which gave him a 62-14 total. Starting his campaign with a 38th-place effort on day one was not favorable to his confidence, but Seal persevered.
“I dropped the ball a little bit the first day, and I thought I was done, but I just stuck with it,” he said. “I’m proud of the adjustments I made.”
Seal used dropshot tubes earlier in the tournament, but eventually discovered a good topwater pattern that produced several of his weight fish.
Lakey finds his fish (again) for fifth
Like most, Lakey was keying on areas with large schools of yellow perch and the smallmouths that were gorging on this forage. He turned in two bags of 16-plus pounds on days one and two, but stumbled on day three with just 13-8.
“I was on a big wad of fish this week,” he said. “I lost them yesterday, but I found them again today.”
Best of the rest
Rounding out the top 10 pro leaders at the Stren Series Lake Champlain event:
6th: Mike Iaconelli of Runnemede, N.J., 60-11
7th: Brian Gates of Mendon, Vt., 60-9
8th: Chad Pipkens of Holt, Mich., 60-1
9th: Pete Gluszek of Franklinville, N.J., 59-7
10th: Atsushi Nakahigashi of Chester, Va., 58-11