July 20, 2013 by David A. Brown
PLATTSBURGH, N.Y. - During the long run from the Ticonderoga region of southern Lake Champlain back to the EverStart Northern Division tournament site at Plattsburgh, N.Y., Thomas Lavictoire Jr. had the worst feeling that he had blown his 2-day lead. He was wrong.
Stepping to the scale, with a pair of FLW Tour studs - Frosted Flakes pro Dave Lefebre and Keystone Light pro Chad Grigsby - currently sitting in first and second, Lavictoire seemed to be staring down his own personal David-and-Goliath scenario.
"If it's meant to be, it's meant to be," said the Vermont pro. "But this is the most nervous bag of fish I've ever weighed."
After unloading four solid bass, Lavictoire proudly hoisted a 5-pound kicker, but quickly recessed into a trepidation that seemed hopeful for the best, yet prepared for the worst. With Lefebre tallying 51 pounds, 14 ounces, Lavictoire was clearly unsure of what was about to happen, but when Tournament Director Ron Lappin announced his winning weight of 53-1 the usually even-keeled Lavictoire was clearly overcome with emotion borne from the enormity of what he had just accomplished.
"This isn't going to sink in for a while," he slowly began. "For me, the money's great - everybody needs $35,000 (the top prize), but I'll tell you what, just to win against these guys - I don't know what to say. They're Tour pros; they're the best at what they do. I'm just a guy who goes fishing every now and then."
Each day of the event, Lavictoire made the long, grueling run to and from Ticonderoga to fish the fertile grass beds at the lake's narrow lower end. Champlain boasts healthy populations of largemouth and smallmouth bass, but Ti, as it's known offers the best shot at the hefty largemouth that typically win summer events.
Day one saw nearly flat calm conditions making the Ti run downright pleasant. Days two and three, however, brought strong winds and Champlain showed her cranky side, as 4- to 5-foot waves made for bone-jarring rides. Nevertheless, Lavictoire soldiered on and put in his diligent best. But after weighing 20-4 on the first day and 18-2 on the second, he managed only 14-11 in the final round. This, he worried, had torpedoed his hopes.
"It takes a lot of guts to go down there and back every day," Lavictoire said. "When I rode home today, in my mind I had lost this tournament. I don't know what happened. It was divine intervention."
Lavictoire said he caught all of his bass by power fishing a black/blue jig and a black with a black/blue Chompers trailer and a green pumpkin/purple flake Bass Pro Shops Magnum Flipping Tube on a 5/0 Gamakatsu wide gap hook. Arming himself with a stout rod and 40-pound braid, he fished with a take-no-prisoners mentality.
"I was just (beating) on 'em - no net," he said. "I was just (slinging) 4-pounders, 5-pouners right over the side of the boat - just get out of my way."
Lefebre rises to second
Lefebre was the most consistent top-10 finisher, with daily weights of 17-13, 17-7 and 16-10. Also running to Ti, he got off to a frustrating start on day one, when falling water pulled fish off the shallow spot he had identified in practice. After trying to force the issue for a couple of hours, he pulled out to the deeper grass and his day came together well.
On day two, he went right to the deeper grass, where he caught his fish by flipping a Kinami D Bug and cranking the new Storm Arashi Square 3. The latter produced most of his limit fish for days two and three, as the bait's tight action helped attract bites in the muddy water.
"With the wind blowing, this bait really turned on," Lefebre said. "When that wind starts blowing, they get up on the bank and you can really catch them on it. It vibrates really hard and it has a self-tuning lip. Even though Storm baits run true right out of the package, a lot of times, the eyes get bent while they're sitting in a tackle box. But this Arashi Square 3 has a floating line tie."
Lefebre said that his schedule allowed him only two practice days, so he split the time between the lake's north and south ends. The latter wasn't the only game in town, but calm day-one conditions eliminated the need for a coin toss. Securing a good first-round sack compelled him to return for two more days.
"I spent one practice day down at Ti and almost wrote it off because I didn't really do that great," Lefebre said. "I actually did better up north, but when you get no wind, I just feel like you gotta go to Ti. So I made the run, even though I had better fish up north."
Grigsby goes to third
Grigsby joined the Ti parade and caught a 14-pound, 3-ounce bag that gave him a third-place total of 49-15. The pro from Maple Grove, Minn. said the experience was largely therapeutic, following his FLW Tour season.
"It's been fun - other than the boat ride," Grigsby said. "It's been a while since I've had fun fishing. I had a couple of bad tournaments and I didn't really have a great season, but it's a lot of fun to come up here."
Grigsby was also fishing the southern grass but he also worked a semi-protected area he located toward the end of day two. He caught most of his fish on a Texas-rigged Senko fitted with a 5/0 Strike King Hack Attack flipping hook and a 3/8-ounce tungsten weight.
Targeting specific holes in the grass was Grigsby's strategy.
Wood rises to fourth
Continuing his path of improvement, Joseph Wood, of Westport, Mass. pulled out all the stops on day three by catching 17-2 - his biggest sack of the tournament and the heaviest of day three. Wood placed 26th on day one with 15-10, improved to fifth a day later by sacking up 16-1 and finished in fourth place with a three-day total of 48-13.
"That's what happens when you put in a month of practice," Wood said. "I guess you're able to find enough fish so when it's blowing like it was yesterday and there's 5-footers out there, you have areas you can run to."
Wood caught most of his fish on a dropshot with a green pumpkin Yamamoto Shad Shape Worm, but he also used a Carolina rig and a spinnerbait.
Wolack jumps into to fifth
Dave Wolak, of Wake Forest, N.C., spent the first two days in the 10th place spot, but apparently he didn't like the view because day three found him making a big jump to fifth. Wolak posted weights of 16-15, 14-3 and 16-7 for a tournament total of 47-9.
"The lake was fishing a little bit tougher than usual because it's mid-summer and we had some inclement weather," Wolak observed."But today I had nowhere to go but up so I just relaxed and fished pretty good."
Wolak fished the lake's north end and caught a mixed bag of largemouth and smallmouth on Dave's Tournament Tackle jigs with Culprit trailers and swimbaits.
Best of the rest
Rounding out the top-10 pro leaders at the EverStart Series Lake Champlain event:
6th: Aaron Hastings, of Middletown, Md., 46-13
7th: Darrin Schwenkbeck, of Keeseville, N.Y., 46-9
8th: Bryan Labelle, of Hinesburg, Vt., 46-9
9th: Rob Digh, of Denver, N.C., 44-10
10th: Todd Brunelle, of Milton, Vt., 39-5