June 25, 2011 by David A. Brown
PLATTSBURGH, N.Y. - Stubborn commitment to a spot often straddles the border of foolishness and brilliance. Well, on a lake straddling the border of New York and Vermont, Adrian Avena displayed a brilliant plan as he swept the EverStart Series Northern Division event on Lake Champlain.
Grabbing the lead on day one, Avena held off all challengers and entered the final round with 37-13 and a pound advantage. Today, he pushed that total to an even 58 pounds and secured the victory by a margin of 3 pounds, 12 ounces to earn $29,153.
Each day, the Vineland, N.J., pro joined several of his competitors in the 70-mile-plus run to Ticonderoga at the lake's south end. There, he focused most of his efforts on a small drain running out of a creek. A natural travel lane with submerged wood and lots of grass created an ideal postspawn feeding zone that frequently replenished.
"Every day was different for me," he said. "There was a lot of fish in my key area, and I just had to mix up my presentations and make them eat."
On days one and two, Avena used an assortment of baits, including swimbaits, buzzbaits, Senkos and flipping baits. Day three saw him do most of his damage with a Storm Wiggle Wart.
"I started off with the Wiggle Wart today, and I just went to town," Avena said. "I just wore them out. At one point, I caught two 2-pounders at one time on that crankbait. I probably caught 30 fish on that in the morning, and then I had to switch it up to something else."
That something else was a 1/2-ounce All-Terrain grass jig with a black-blue Whiskey River craw. This bait produced two of his keepers and the other three bit the Wiggle Wart. Avena said he had a solid limit of about 19 pounds by 8:30. A last-minute decision to try one more spot before heading back led to him catching one of his biggest fish, which enabled him to cull up and gain more than a pound.
Avena opened his Champlain campaign with a day-one weight of 21 pounds, 3 ounces. That first-round bag included a 6-12 that won the Big Bass award. He slipped a little on day two, but managed to keep his lead with a limit that weighed 16-10. With his third-round limit of 20-3, Avena became the event's only angler to break 20 twice.
"When you're in the zone, you're in the zone, and days one and three, I felt like I was in the zone," he said. "I made all the right decisions. Day two, I slacked a little bit, but I was fortunate to get the bites I did and I'm blessed."
A 20-year-old Chestnut Hill College Junior and National Guard FLW College Fishing standout, Avena said he was overjoyed at securing a victory at his age.
"My goal was to try and win one of these events before I turned 21," he said. "FLW has great tournaments, and I'm excited to be fishing them."
Wessels storms into second
For Aaron Wessels of Watervliet, N.Y., the Lake Champlain event was one of big moves. On day two, he earned a final-round berth by jumping from 56th place to 10th. Today, he climbed eight spots to finish second with 54-4 and earn $9,995.
Wessels caught most of his fish on a on a Strike King KVD HC 2.5 crankbait in the orange-belly-craw color. He fished his crankbait on 10-pound Berkley Trilene Big Game line.
"I went light on the line because I needed to get a little deeper to reach the grass I was fishing in about 5 feet," Wessels said. "The key to the presentation was that the bait had to get into the grass. I had to get it into the top of the grass and pop it out. The fish would eat it as it would pop through the top of the grass. If it didn't hit the grass - no bites."
Wessels said his tactics yielded tremendous results. "In three days of fishing, I'd have to say that I caught 150 to 160 fish. And just to let you know how durable those baits are, I got through all three days with one bait. It's beaten up and there's very little paint left on it, but it was one bait all three days."
Essential to his performance, Wessels noted, was maintaining the right distance from, and angle to, his fish. He accomplished this by employing a Minn Kota Talon shallow-water anchor.
"Boat positioning was absolutely key," he said. "Without that Talon, I wouldn't have caught half the fish I caught."
Babineau swims his way into third
Glenn Babineau of Mechanicville, N.Y., started the day in third place, and when the dust settled, that's where he remained, earning $8,330. After weighing 18-4 and18-6 the first two days, he added another solid limit of 17-4 to tally 53-14.
Throughout the week, Babineau caught his fish by flipping a 3/4-ounce Stamina jig with a Zoom Super Chunk Jr. trailer and slow-rolling a Strike King Shadalicious swimbait in sexy-shad color. Today, he mostly threw the swimbait.
"I fished it really slow, just dragging it along the bottom of the grass," he said. "It wasn't fast at all, but when they eat it, they eat it really good."
All three days, Babineau ran south to Ti, but the exceptionally rough water of day two left him with a broken boat. A stressful evening of juggling his own boat repairs and coordinating a day-three loaner concluded with him comfortably squared away - thanks, he said, to the exceptional response of Ranger representatives.
"The support that Ranger gives fishermen is second to none," he said. "For them to go out of their way to do what they did for me is just incredible."
Lucarelli drops to fourth
Joe Lucarelli of Center Harbor, N.H., also suffered day-two boat issues - his, a lower-unit issue that sidelined his Ranger. Fortunately, his father, Steve - also a tournament competitor - loaned his boat so Joe could compete in the final round. The younger Lucarelli started the day in second place, but slipped two spots to fourth. His day-three weight of 16-12 gave him a 53-9 tournament total and a check for $7,497.
Lucarelli caught his fish on a Strike King KVD HC 2.5 crankbait in chartreuse/black back. The kicker fish he found on days one and two eluded him today.
"I couldn't find any (big) fish in the grass, and I couldn't find any spawners," Lucarelli said. "I fished down in Ti and I normally catch smallmouth, but those fish just didn't work for me."
Lavictoire stays close, takes fifth
Thomas Lavictoire of West Rutland, Vt., knew there were big fish down in Ticonderoga, but his Champlain experience told him that the area was not yet in its prime, so he decided to forgo the long run and fish the lake's north end. Sight-fishing with a Texas-rigged Zoom Speed Craw, he worked rock/sand bottom in about 5 feet of water and targeted smallmouths. He caught a nice sack of brown fish that weighed 16-10 and gave him a fifth-place total of 50-14 worth $6,664.
Best of the rest
Rounding out the top 10 pro leaders at the EverStart Series Lake Champlain event:
6th: Michael Wolfenden, Warwick, R.I., 50-0, $5,831
7th: Adam Singer, Brookfield, Conn., 47-12, $4,998
8th: Craig Townsend, Mt. Holly, N.J., 45-11, $4,165
9th: James Schneider, Watervliet, N.Y., 44-10, $3,332
10th: Chris Adams, Rutland, Vt., 44-10, $2,499