Carnright closes strong to win Champlain Toyota Series event - Major League Fishing

Carnright closes strong to win Champlain Toyota Series event

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Brett Carnright cemented his name among the Champlain greats with a win in the biggest Toyota Series event to date on the lake. Photo by Jody White. Angler: Brett Carnright.
June 24, 2023 • Jody White • Toyota Series

PLATTSBURGH, N.Y. – Brett Carnright has been fishing Lake Champlain since he was young, and came close a number of times in big events on his home waters. This time, he got it done, weighing 19 pounds, 4 ounces for a 59-11 total to win the Toyota Series Presented by Phoenix Boats Northern Division event. For the win, Carnright takes home a long-sought trophy and $90,500. Earning second was Carnright’s cousin Ryan Latinville, with 59 even, and Champlain master Bryan LaBelle finished third with 58-3.

When it comes to Champlain, especially during the spawn, it’s hard to talk about tournament fishing without bringing up Latinville and Carnright. Between them, they’ve raised the bar on what wins in June, and this tournament certainly fell into their wheelhouse. So, to see the cousins finish 1-2 is no surprise.  Though winning with 59-11 is a little shy of some recent Champlain events, considering the time of year and the size of the field, the Carnright’s winning weight is nothing to sneeze at.

It was made possible by a quirky spring that put a lot of big fish right where Carnright needed them.

“I thought it was going to fish a little lighter, just because of where I checked the first day of practice,” Carnright said. “Then, all of a sudden, we had a huge wave come up. We had some really cold weather two weeks before the tournament, I think it shut down a wave of fish that were coming, I checked some areas where they spawn a week prior and there was no evidence of any fish spawning. We got some warm weather, calm weather, the water got hot, and fish started showing up. About a week before the tournament, we started finding some big ones. Originally, I thought 59 was going to be right there, but by the tournament, Ryan and I both thought it would take well over 60.”

Rain, shine or dirty water, Brett Carnright put spawners in the boat. Photo by Jody White

Bed fishing strategy pays off

Plenty of other pros tried to bed fish to contend with Carnright, but only Latinville really came close, as the others who leaned hard on sight-fishing dipped out of the picture day by day. Meanwhile, Carnright actually improved his weight on Day 2, and caught the third-biggest bag of the final day.  

“What helped me the most, which I thought would hurt me the most, was there was a massive amount of clear water and dirty water shifting around the north end of the lake,” he said. “Guys were talking about not being able to see 7 feet deep, and then next day you could see 17 feet deep. I was focusing on 8 to 11 feet of water, and I was able to find all my 11-foot beds prior to the weekend. Over the weekend, we had some bad weather that muddied up the water, so all my fish were protected from people being able to see them. People were coming around me into the area of the lake I was fishing, and I kept seeing less and less boats.”

Dirtier water protected many of his fish from the prying eyes of the competition, but it did make them harder to catch. So, in addition to using a flogger, Carnright had to catch some with his ActiveTarget alone.

“Luckily for me, I had good waypoints, and I was able to utilize my electronics,” he said. “I had to catch those fish, if I don’t, I don’t win the tournament. So, I knew my best bet was to sit there with ActiveTarget and catch those fish. I was able to catch all the fish I had marked, and I actually found a few bonus ones.”

Carnright lives for the smallmouth spawn, and has put days and days into the pursuit. In good shape and willing to go up and down with a flogger all day, he’s also lucky to have a really good eye for what might be a bed.

“It’s a lot of strategy, you have to find your fish before the tournament, finding them during the tournament is really difficult,” he said. “You have to be really strategic with which fish you catch. You have to hope they’re not leaving, and during this tournament a lot of fish acted like they wanted to leave. Over the years, we’ve noticed the spawn shifts earlier into June, so when this was announced, I didn’t think it would be a spawning event. But, with the cooler weather this spring, probably the biggest wave of fish the lake had came this week.”

To catch his bed fish, Carnright used a Berkley PowerBait MaxScent Flat Worm on a drop-shot. He also used a swimbait on a 3/16-ounce head to catch postspawn fish, which was a critical piece of his strategy.

“Day 1, I had one postspawn fish and four fish that were on beds,” he said. “Day 2, I had all bed fish. Today, I had all bed fish, and I caught one postspawn fish that was the same size as my smallest fish.

“When practice started, (the postspawn) fish were easy to catch,” he said. “As the week went on, I think more guys found it. It got a lot tougher, I think a lot of guys put pressure on those fish. They would run up, look at it and not eat it. That was something I figured out before the tournament – I knew I needed something other than bed fish. It was either going to be largemouth or catching postspawn smallies. We had a huge heat wave in April, and I think a lot of smallmouth spawned then. I think those fish went postspawn and started feeding up, and I knew that would be my bonus.”

With a looming Fourth of July celebration, basically, the entire Carnright and Latinville families were in town to celebrate. Photo by Charles Waldorf

Carnright finally has his trophy

Edging out his cousin Latinville, plus good friend LaBelle, Carnright has been on the cusp a number of times. Just this spring, he led the ABA championship on the Red River before coughing up the lead. In Toyota Series past, he’s finished fourth, second and fifth on Champlain.

This week, things aligned for Carnright, and also Latinville, to do what they do best on Champlain.

“Spawning fishing is really weird, it’s more like hunting fish, rather than fishing for them,” he said. “You’re looking for them nonstop, looking at rocks, looking at the bottom, hoping you can find some cleaner water where you can see. And it always wins. There really aren’t any major tournaments in June where bed fishing isn’t the major player. So, knowing that, we have to put a lot of time into it. After the 2017 Toyota, and the next one in 2018, that’s when we really got dialed in to bed fishing. If you look at the weights from then to now, it’s astronomical. The field is also learning, but we’re able to dial it in each year better and better. We’ve been able to win some pretty big local events with heavy 21-pound bags or 22 sometimes.”

Still, despite the previous success, Carnright didn’t go into the final day thinking he’d win. With LaBelle ahead of him, he knew things would have to break right.

“Bryan Labelle has been telling me I’m gonna win this tournament since the schedule came out,” he said. “What a way to do it, there’s not a more skilled angler to beat on the final day than Bryan. I’ve been saying for years he’s the best angler to ever fish this lake, I thought the mountain was unclimbable.”

Top 10 pros

1. Brett Carnright – 59 – 11 (15) – $90,500 (includes $35,000 Phoenix Bonus)

2. Ryan Latinville – 59 – 0 (15) – $22,000

3. Bryan LaBelle – 58 – 3 (15) – $15,250

4. Garrett Rocamora – 57 – 6 (15) – $13,250

5. Ron Nelson  – 57 – 1 (15) – $12,250

6. Alec Morrison – 56 – 11 (15) – $9,625

7. Brayden Federer – 56 – 10 (15) – $8,300

8. Tyler Woolcott – 56 – 6 (15) – $7,600

9. Brian Green – 55 – 15 (15) – $6,300

10. Kyle Hall – 55 – 13 (15) – $4,700

Complete results