July 27, 2002 by Jeff Schroeder
New York pro wins EverStart Lake Champlain, collects $15,000 and a new Ranger
TICONDEROGA, N.Y. - One of the biggest strategic decisions facing anglers in a four-day tournament is this: Do I save my big fish for the last day or don't I? If you save the big ones, they could put you over the top in the all-important final round. But if you leave them alone, the fish might leave the area and leave you twisting in the wind. Tom Dolin faced that dilemma this week, and he nearly got burned by the choice he made.
In Friday's semifinal round, the pro out of Palatine Bridge, N.Y., made the decision to lay off the bass in a prime spot he had scouted on Lake Champlain. He already had some 15 pounds in his livewell, and he wanted to save his big fish for Saturday's finals.
Problem was, Dolin nearly missed the cut into the finals.
"That was a gamble I took on my part," he said. "I saved those fish all week long. I just said I was going to take a chance here because I already had 15 pounds. But who would have thought there would be 10 guys with a per-fish average over 3 pounds?"
As it happened, Dolin's 15 pounds, 2 ounces Friday barely squeaked him into the finals in 10th place. But he made it, and that's all that mattered. Saturday, Dolin won the Pro Division of the second EverStart Series Northern Division tournament of the year with a five-bass weight of 18-2. He collected $15,000 and a new Ranger boat for the victory.
"This is incredible," said an emotional Dolin, whose previous best finish was sixth place at a Wal-Mart BFL Northeast Division tournament. "I can't wait to call my wife, and I'm probably going to cry when I do."
Dolin went to his coveted fishing hole, which was located just five miles north of the takeoff point near Fort Ticonderoga, and quickly accumulated a limit worth 18 pounds Saturday morning. He said he caught all of his bass - all largemouth - using a ¾-ounce Lunker Lure Monster grass jig, the same bait he had used all week - mostly.
"What I realized the day before yesterday after I already had a limit was that I needed to go to a ¾-ounce jig," he said. "I had been using a 1/2-ounce jig, but I went to a ¾-ounce because I had to trigger a bigger bite. If you put that 1/2-ounce on there, it's like (the bass) had time to think about it."
He found that the faster-falling jig did indeed trigger bigger bites - sometimes almost too big.
"Believe it or not, I'm a little disappointed because I lost two big fish. I thought that would hurt me," he explained, saying the fish he lost probably weighed close to 4 and 6 pounds, respectively.
With the lost fish eating at him, Dolin was the first pro to weigh in Saturday afternoon. One by one, the nine other pro finalists weighed in their fish after him, and this time no one beat him. The gamble had paid off.
"Oh, this is a big deal," Dolin said. "I'm still shaking."
Limbaugh lands second
The pro that Dolin beat for top honors was the man who caught the biggest stringer of the week, Jeff Limbaugh of Sikeston, Mo., who placed first in Friday's semifinals with a 20-pound, 5-ounce catch. Saturday, Limbaugh finished second and collected $10,000 for five bass that weighed 16-9.
"If you have 16 1/2 pounds and you get beat, what can you say? You just get beat," said Limbaugh. "I had one good fish on today that I lost that, if I would have boated him, would have given me about 18 1/2 pounds. But I don't regret a minute of it."
No doubt about that. Limbaugh sat on one single, tiny fishing hole along a weedline all week that he said yielded more than 120 pounds of bass in four days of fishing.
"This place was about as big as that bleacher over there," he said.
Champlain: Heaven on earth
Limbaugh, by no means, was the only angler making hay at Lake Champlain this week. Nine out of 10 pros caught five-bass limits in the finals. Many anglers professed to catching well more than a hundred bass during the week. Without exception, every single competitor came in singing the praises of this unbelievably productive bass fishery:
"Write this down: This lake is a factory. I hope nobody ever does anything to disturb the nature of this lake," said Dolin. "I know its capability, and it's scary."
"Aw, man, it's so great. I probably caught at least a hundred (bass). Maybe two hundred," said sixth-place pro Tom Monsoor of La Crosse, Wis., who caught 13 pounds, 4 ounces in the finals.
"It's funny when you can say 15 pounds was a tough day," said pro Kevin Bishop of Hilton, N.Y., who finished in fourth place and collected $8,000 with a limit weighing 15 pounds, 2 ounces.
"I've probably caught more fish here in four days than I have at home in a whole year," said co-angler Scott Jones of Louisville, Ky., who finished in ninth place.
"I'm from the South. I don't know. I can't count that high," laughed co-angler Homer Stephens of Noblesville, Ind., when asked how many bass he caught this week. Stephens finished in third place in his division.
And pro Craig Powers of Rockwood, Tenn., who finished the tourney in ninth place despite having to resort to what he called "junk-fishing" throughout the week, emphatically told the weigh-in crowd, "You guys have no idea what a piece of artwork that lake is. It's as close to heaven as there is on earth."
Rest of the best
Rounding out the top five finishers in the Pro Division were Marcel Veenstra of Newtown, Pa., (third place, $9,000) with five bass weighing 15 pounds, 6 ounces; Bishop; and Steven McGahan of Gales Ferry, Conn., (fifth, $7,500) with five bass weighing 14-10.
The next EverStart Series event is a Northern Division tournament to be held at Thousand Islands in Clayton, N.Y., August 21-24.
Wehr's the champion
Day-three weigh-in story
Day-two weigh-in story
Day-one weigh-in story