PLATTSBURGH, N.Y. – He was well aware of his options, but the calendar told Straight Talk pro J.T. Kenney which route would most likely lead him to the day-one lead in the EverStart Series Northern Division tournament on Lake Champlain.
Like all who’ve plied these sparkling waters in various seasons, the seasoned angler from Palm Bay, Fla. knows that Champlain holds impressive quantity and quality of both smallmouth and largemouth bass. Kenney focused solely on the latter to amass his leading catch of 21 pounds, 8 ounces.
“In all of the times I’ve been coming up here, if it’s a June or July tournament it seems like largemouth dominate, and if it’s an August or September tournament it seems like smallmouth dominate,” he said. “I think the smallmouth spawn later and they don’t group up until later. I love coming up here and smallmouth fishing, but with these tournaments that are earlier in the year, I’ve gotten my eyes beaten in enough to know (not to focus on smallmouth).”
A shallow water grass specialist, Kenney headed down to Ticonderoga where dense hydrilla and milfoil harbor loads of green fish. There’s no lack of habitat, but as the leader noted, not every clump of grass will yield the quality needed to weigh a big sack.
“They’re really grouped up in the outside edges of the grass,” Kenney said. “I have three places down there that are pretty good and I caught all of my fish off one spot in about 45 minutes. I think they would have bit all day, but I got there early (this morning).
“They’re definitely grouped up, so if you’re going down a grass bed and get one bite, you’d better (stop on that spot) and keep throwing in there.”
Kenney caught his fish on a combination of baits, mainly a weightless Senko, a swimbait and a jig. For Kenney and the many others who made the hour-plus run to Champlain’s slim southern end, the easy drive of a calm morning belied the hull-crashing, bone-jarring, teeth-rattling misery that would ensue during the afternoon return – dead into a north wind. For those unfamiliar with Lake Champlain, look at it this way: The lake is like a beautiful, lovable, adorable two-year-old child – mostly a treasure, but a holy terror when the “terrible two’s” stuff sets in. On Champlain’s narrow, up-and-down orientation, a north wind is that “terrible two’s” stuff.
Fortunately, Kenney and most of his fellow competitors know to allow ample time for return trips and today required every bit of the cushion that experienced pros build into their schedules. The north wind was the byproduct of a mild cold spell that passed through the area and lowered air temperatures to a very pleasant low- to mid-70’s range. Most agreed that the weather fluctuation stymied some of Champlain’s summer action, but the improving outlook should unleash more of the lake’s potential over the next two days.
Belinda sews up second
Also fishing south in Ti, Tom Belinda, of Holidaysburg, Penn. enjoyed a productive morning as he amassed a second-place limit of 20-13 by 11 a.m. Flipping a black and blue jig with a Strike King Rage Craw trailer was his preferred tactic. Belinda found most of his fish around scattered rock piles within the grass beds.
“Usually, when the grass doesn’t grow, it’s because there are rocks there, so you just have to find those holes,” Belinda said. “I just had a couple good areas. I think there are a lot of fish biting down there and it’s just a matter of getting those bigger bites. You can catch those 2 1/2- to 3-pounders all day long, but you have to get those 4- and 5-pounders. That’s what I tried to key on.”
Belinda said he caught about 30 fish today. Of those, about half were the quality he sought. Happy with his catch, Belinda left Ti with what he thought was more than enough time to reach the check-in point. As it turned out, he was ok on time, but the rough afternoon ride took longer than expected.
“It definitely got rough coming back – I’m glad I came back when I did,” Belinda said. “I gave myself two hours and it was bad the whole way back.”
Frog takes Tindall to third
Also working the Ti grass, Curt Tindall, of Brandon, Vt. caught 20-10 and took the third-place spot. Cranking and flipping produced several keepers, but most of Tindall’s weight came on a black/blue Spro frog.
“I started out flipping a Berkley Chigger Craw and then I got on some thicker weeds and the frog works best in the thicker weeds,” he said. “Then I went to a secondary spot where I tried to get a big fish and that was a crankbait spot.
“The frog worked best – that’s what usually gets me my biggest fish. My smaller fish came off the crankbait.”
LeFebre, Greenblatt, Hancin tied at fourth
When the dust settled on day one, a trio of anglers – Dave Lefebre, Matt Greenblatt and Mike Hancin – would share the fourth-place spot with equal bags of 20-8. Lefebre, who notched an FLW Tour Majors win last month on Kentucky Lake, fished Ti and caught his fish on reaction baits. Lefebre said he stayed on the move today and tried to conserve his fish, in hopes of a final round shot.
“I didn’t catch more than one of my keepers on the same spot,” he said. “I have a good group of fish that I was trying to save. I touched it today, got my biggest fish and then left. But this is a three day tournament and I was thinking it was four days (like FLW Tour events). It just dawned on me that this is three days, which makes a big difference so tomorrow, I think I’ll start on that spot where I caught that big one and maybe just live there.”
Greenblatt also joined the Ti parade, but found the fish unwilling to eat the frog that he thought would yield his best bites. Instead, he caught his fish on a ¼-ounce black/blue Bass Assault swim jig with a black/blue Reaction Innovations Skinny Dipper. Rigging his bait on Seaguar braided line, he’d throw into grass cover and rip it out of the vegetation to trigger strikes.
“They weren’t on the frog down there so I threw out the swim jig, hooked up with a 3 1/2-pounder and said ‘Ok, let’s continue to throw this.’ In the morning, they were on the outside edges and as the sun came up, they moved in really tight.”
Best of the rest
Rounding out the top-10 pro leaders at the EverStart Series Lake Champlain event:
7th: Joseph Thompson, of Landenberg, Penn., 19-15
8th: Thomas Waltz, of Fairfax, Vt., 19-11
9th: Frank Ippoliti, of Mercersburg, Penn., 19-5
10th: Glenn Babineau, of Mechanicville, N.Y., 19-4
Ron Wolfarth, of Oakboro, N.C. earned Snickers Big Bass honors with his 6-pound, 1-ounce largemouth.
Slow and steady puts Alspaugh in co-angler lead
“It was location – my angler took me to some good spots and it worked out just right,” he said. “The deeper weeds were the best – we were focusing on the deeper stuff. I was catching my fish in about six feet.”
Kenneth Roderick, Jr., of Putnam, Conn. placed second with 17-15, while Jeff Zeisner, of Arva, Ont. took third at 17-12. In fourth place, Dennis Carnahan, of Cazenovia, N.Y. had 17-1 and Carl Alexander, of Hampton, N.Y. was fifth with 16-13.
Best of the rest
Rounding out the top-10 co-angler leaders at the EverStart Series Lake Champlain event:
6th: Thomas Shafer, of Pine City, N.Y., 16-11
6th: Cecil Wolfe, of Cross, S.C., 16-11
8th: Dan Tesch, of Elkton, M.D., 16-1
9th: Brian Stockl, of Glassboro, N.J., 15-9
10th: Didier Papagouras, of Cote Saint-Luc, QC, 15-6
Papagouras earned Snickers Big Bass honors with his 5-pound, 4-ounce largemouth.
Day two of EverStart Series Northern Division action on Lake Champlain continues at Friday’s takeoff, scheduled to take place at 6:00 a.m. (Eastern) at Dock Street Landing located at 5 Dock St. in Plattsburgh, N.Y.