Inevitable LaBelle slides ahead on Day 2 at Champlain, Carnright and Latinville also over 40 pounds - Major League Fishing

Inevitable LaBelle slides ahead on Day 2 at Champlain, Carnright and Latinville also over 40 pounds

Image for Inevitable LaBelle slides ahead on Day 2 at Champlain, Carnright and Latinville also over 40 pounds
Bryan LaBelle isn't giving anyone room to slack off this week. Photo by Charles Waldorf. Angler: Bryan Labelle.
June 23, 2023 • Jody White • Toyota Series

PLATTSBURGH, N.Y. – On Day 2, the best tournament angler Lake Champlain has ever seen moved into the lead of the Toyota Series Presented by Phoenix Boats event. Sacking up another 20-pound bag, 20-3 this time, Bryan LaBelle slid up from third to first with a 40-15 total. In second, 8 ounces behind, Brett Carnright added 20-6 to this Day 1 for a 40-7 total.

LaBelle has won a Bassmaster Open and last year’s Toyota Series event on Champlain, and he’s now poised to earn his third major win on the iconic northeast fishery. Both Carnright and third-place Ryan Latinville are also over the 40-pound mark but neither of them seem to think a comeback is likely – LaBelle with a lead is simply unassailable. If you look at the weights, almost anything is possible on the final day. But, if Carnright, Latinville or someone below them pulls off the win, they’ll have accomplished a truly herculean task.

Mixed bags power LaBelle to the top

On Day 1, LaBelle weighed four smallmouth and one largemouth – Day 2 saw the Champlain veteran bring three green bass to weigh-in. Today, things didn’t really go to plan for the Vermont angler, which didn’t appear to slow him down at all.

“I started off on beds, but my first two were gone, two of my better ones,” he said. “My third better one was there, which was great. I kind of scrambled around, looked a little more, I found one other good one and had a few chickens. Then I said I was going to fish largemouths and try it.

“I covered a lot of ground for it, but I figured if I wanted a chance of boosting my bag up I needed to. I had 18-15 with smallmouth, I figured I might as well try the largemouth. The beds are definitely going the other way for me.”

For the final day, it sounds like LaBelle is done playing the spawning game.

“I think I can go fishing and do better,” he said. “So, I’m just going to go fish. I’ll fish a good chunk of the day for smallmouth, then go fishing for largemouth. The grass isn’t that good; it’s just starting out, I don’t want to lean on just largemouth. I think I can capitalize on a smallmouth bite in the morning and go from there.”

Also, though he could simply be overcome with humility, LaBelle doesn’t seem as sure of the win as everyone else is.

“I think Brett is going to win, that’s what I think,” he said. “I’ve got some fish, for sure, we’ll see how it goes. But, it’s his time, I told him that, I just feel like it’s his time.”

Brett Carnright has taken a very strategic approach to the event so far. Photo by Charles Waldorf

Carnright moves up from sixth

Inching up the leaderboard by the day, Carnright and LaBelle alone have sacked 20 pounds back-to-back days. Fueled by bedding smallmouth and Pizza Hut, the Plattsburgh native is once again right in the hunt for a Champlain win, something he’s done dozens of times in local events, but never on the big stage.

Always very strategic, Carnright has weighed all smallmouth so far, and mostly relied on bedding fish.  

“I had 13 over 4 (pounds) marked in practice, and I evaluated which ones were more visible to be found on Day 1, and which ones were going to be sneaky,” Carnright said. “On Day 1, I planned on using my five that were more visible, and on Day 1 I lost a 4.6 to another angler because of my boat draw. That hurt, but I was able to catch a couple fish on ActiveTarget, and I burned four beds.

“Today, the water that I’m fishing was way too dirty,” he said. “I was relying solely on ActiveTarget to catch them on beds. I had a 4.4 and a 4.14, and I had two I had not caught yet, that I’d just looked at. When I went to my two mystery fish, one of them was a 4.45, that was a huge boost. So, to start my morning, I had three for 13 pounds, and I went and looked for Day 3, to assess, and then caught two off beds around 3.8 to finish my bag.”

Then, Carnright’s master plan went a little awry.  

“I went largemouth fishing, which probably really hurt me in this tournament,” he said. “I only caught a 3.6, which didn’t help. I could have been using that time to ActiveTarget for postspawners, which, I’d like to think I could have caught one to help me to get a little closer to LaBelle.”

An Angler of the Year on the ABA circuit, and a consistent contender in anything on Champlain, Carnright has been a little snake-bit when it comes to Toyota Series events. Mathematically, this is one of his best opportunities to seal the deal on a big win – but, LaBelle is in the lead.

“I’m in second place, I’m right where I want to be, the goal is to move up every day,” Carnright said. “But, he’s the scariest guy in the field, nobody has ever been better than him on this lake. He’s the best tournament fisherman that has ever lived on Lake Champlain. So, the tallest task is for me to come back on him with an 8-ounce lead. To have Bryan LaBelle catch less than 20 pounds is almost impossible, so it’ll take a miracle for me to catch him.”

Ryan Latinville stayed in the hunt despite a tough morning. Photo by Charles Waldorf

Spawning smallies keep Latinville in the hunt

Dropping from first to third, Latinville added 19-2 on Day 2 to keep his nose above the 40-pound mark.

“I feel pretty good, I worked my butt off today trying to find more for tomorrow, but it didn’t happen,” he said. “I feel good knowing I have a couple more out there waiting for me, but I feel I need a couple more big ones. Pending they’re all there, I’ll have another good day tomorrow – but I need more big ones.”

Latinville’s day was a good indication of the waning bed bite, as it looks like the spawning game is getting tougher by the minute.

“My first three stops were all brutally tough to catch,” he said. “I think they were guarding fry, I could see the little fry above the nest. When they get like that, they get very finicky; they’ll dart in and out of the nest. It was frustrating; it slowed me down, it took me like 2 hours today to get three of them. I almost gave up on one, but I did a couple switcheroos and made him bite.”

As far as a winning weight, Latinville doesn’t see things slowing down.

“I feel like it’s got to take 60 (pounds), that’s just the new Champlain,” he said. “Everybody has figured it out. In 2017, I might have been one of 40 boats with a flogger. Now, every single boat, using it or not, has a flogger. It helps, obviously to see deeper fish, but we’ve always been able to catch big bags. It’s efficiency, it speeds the process up.”

In that vein, Latinville isn’t convinced the bass are bigger on Champlain, no matter how many alewives they chow down. He just thinks the anglers are better.

“I don’t think the fish are bigger in this lake,” he said. “Some people may think so, but I think we’re just getting better and understanding that the fish live in different places we never knew they lived. Big tournaments, people having good success, people start to figure stuff out.”

A LOT of people have figured it out this week on Champlain – 15 pounds a day was good for 135th. But, the top three come as no surprise to anyone – they’re unquestionably some of the cream of the crop on Champlain.

Top 10 pros

1. Bryan LaBelle – 40 – 15 (10)           

2. Brett Carnright – 40 – 7 (10)         

3. Ryan Latinville – 40 – 5 (10)          

4. Gary Miller  – 38 – 13 (10)  

5. Brayden Federer – 38 – 10 (10)      

6. Shayne McFarlin – 38 – 4 (10)      

7. Tyler Woolcott – 38 – 3 (10)         

8. Andrew Bechard – 38 – 2 (10)      

9. Erik Luzak – 38 – 2 (10)     

10. Austin Felix – 38 – 2 (10)

Complete results