Round Three Kicks off at Champlain - Major League Fishing

Round Three Kicks off at Champlain

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August 9, 2022 • Jody White • Toyota Series

PLATTSBURGH, N.Y. – Lately, MLF competition has hit Lake Champlain hard. With the wrap-up of the Tackle Warehouse Pro Circuit Presented by Fuel Me season last week and a Northeast Division Phoenix Bass Fishing League Presented by T-H Marine event Saturday, some of the fish have been pretty well educated for the Toyota Series Presented by A.R.E. event starting today. Still, the second stop of the Northern Division, which is presented by BoatLogix, should be another Champlain banger.

Prospective Patterns

One standout from the Pro Circuit event was how well the lake fished south of Plattsburgh. With a number of pros leaning on floating objects, forward-facing sonar and just plain old humps and flats south of takeoff, quite a few big smallmouth bags came without the need to run north or east into the Inland Sea. There’s no doubt that plenty of anglers will at least dabble south in practice, and that could result in a Top 25 that is spread all around the lake, and not just in the north as has been the trend over the last few years.

Another takeaway was the continued supremacy of forward-facing sonar. In 2021, Stephen Estes knocked it out of the park with Lowrance ActiveTarget to win the Toyota Series event pretty handily. This year, the top three in the Pro Circuit event were all locked on LiveScope. Estes also won the BFL (you can imagine what worked for him) and Kyle Hall has kept tabs on his fish from his Pro Circuit win and seen great success. Lately, it seems like chasing smallmouth that aren’t necessarily related to the map has been a consistent winner, especially in multi-day events.

Finally, the whereabouts of the largemouth will be top of mind for many this week. The largemouth fishing was really good in the spring and early summer on Champlain, but lately green fish haven’t been responsible for many wins. Still, it’s hard to count them out entirely, especially with some of the locals in the field. Between them, Bryan Labelle and Jason Bacon have caught a ton of largemouth on Champlain over the years, and they know pretty much every dock and rock one might live on. 

Estes Lays It Out

The winner of last year’s Toyota Series event on Champlain and this weekend’s BFL, Estes has turned into the preeminent smallmouth angler on the lake. Taking home over $13,000 in the BFL, he made it sound easy.

“I had like 20 ½ pounds at 8 o’clock,” Estes said. “I caught a 5, a 4 ½ and a 4 ¼ right in a row.”

Now, he’ll shoot to go back-to-back on Champlain, to match what Ron Nelson did in the 2017 and 2018 spawn-time events. Still, he doesn’t expect it to be easy, as his offshore smallmouth tactics aren’t as secret as they used to be.

“I think it’s going to be a matter of ounces,” Estes said. “I think a few of these pro guys have figured it out, I see a lot of people sitting out in the middle of nowhere that you never see on this lake. So, there’s definitely a lot of guys trying to figure it out. But, I think there’s only a handful that truly know how to do it. But for the ones that do know how to do it, it’s going to be a battle, I think closer than we’ve ever seen before.”

As far as the rest of the fishing goes, Estes thinks the lake is a little off, and some of the other typical patterns will be hard to maintain.

“The lake’s not fishing good in my opinion,” said the New Hampshire angler. “Talking to everybody that’s doing different things, a lot of people are catching 14 to 16 pounds. For largemouth, the local guys probably held back in the BFL on a lot of their stuff. I think somebody will probably smack a big bag on Day 1 and then probably drop off. I just don’t see the largemouth being that consistent.”

As for the prospect of going south from Plattsburgh, Estes isn’t planning on it.

“I spent the whole day down there yesterday, and I won’t be going back,” he said. “I found two schools of fish, and I don’t think there’s enough there. One of them ended up being where one of the guys caught them last week – I didn’t really watch any of the live stuff, but I told my buddy where I found them, and he said that was where one of the top guys caught them.”

Critical Factors

  • Catching a nickel – Winning a tournament these days on Champlain seems to take at least one big one a day. Often, it’s a 5-pound smallmouth, but a big green fish wouldn’t exactly be a surprise. It is likely that whoever wins will need to be around the right class of smallmouth for a really big one or manage at least one key largemouth on a couple of the days.
  • The weather – For this event, it looks like Day 1 will be a little blustery, but the final two days should be excellent. Still a cooling trend with rain and wind could change up the fishing (possibly for the better) and adapting to that from a hot and calm practice might be key.

Dock Talk

Despite the fish smartening up a little from a heavy run of tournament pressure, everyone expects the end results to look good. Champlain is simply too full of smallmouth right now for it to be bad, and a close tournament finish is highly likely.

Coming off a Top 10 in the Pro Circuit event, Kurt Mitchell expects the fishing to be good again, but with some caveats.

“The smallmouth have gotten a little conditioned to the pressure from the recent Pro Circuit event, and the water temperature has risen 5 to 8 degrees,” Mitchell said. “There’s still plenty of smallmouth to be caught, but they are getting wiser. There’s gonna be a lot more fish lost this week just because the fishing pressure will cause the smallmouth to eat your bait weird. With that being said, I think the weight will drop just a hair, I think 62 pounds will win.”

Local angler Alec Morrison is thinking along the same lines.

“I think it’s going to take around 18 ¼ a day to make Day 3,” Morrison said. “I think it will take 62 pounds to win.”

Matt Becker is a little higher on the potential.  

“They are getting smart from all the pressure, but it’s still Champlain and it’s gonna take over 20 a day to win,” Becker said. “I’d say around 62 to 63 pounds to win and 57 pounds for a Top 10.”

Estes is on the same track as Becker.

“I’m gonna say 62 ½ to 63 pounds is what it’s going to take,” Estes said. “Things aren’t as consistent as they were last year. The fish are moving a lot. You’re not able to hunker down in one area, in my opinion, so that’s where some local knowledge comes in.”