July 19, 2014 by Dan Johnson
PLATTSBURGH, NY—Michael Marini’s relentless run up the leaderboard ended in victory as the Slingerlands, N.Y., pro put together a five-bass limit weighing 19 pounds, 14 ounces for a 57-pound, 7-ounce three-day total to score a comeback win at the Rayovac FLW Series Northern Division event on Lake Champlain.
“This is an incredible feeling,” he grinned after claiming top honors and $38,664. “Fishing-wise, it’s one of my biggest accomplishments so far.”
Marini roared out of the gate on day one with a 19-pound, 1-ounce limit that landed him in ninth place. Like many of the 142 pros competing in the tournament, his catch dipped on day two. But the 18-8 bag was big enough to spark a rally that pushed him to fourth with 37-9. As the field narrowed to the top 10 pros on day three, along with the top 10 co-anglers, he ground out his biggest limit of the event to storm the winner’s circle.
Throughout the tournament, Marini focused on largemouths lurking in the lush weedbeds of the fertile, soft-bottomed Ticonderoga area well to the south of Plattsburgh. “I ran down all three days,” he said. “With this weather, it’s a doable run.”
Five-inch, bright-colored Yamamoto Senkos were his weapon of choice, either Texas- or wacky-rigged. “I fished them in milfoil in 4½ to 6½ feet of water,” he said. As it turned out, a single fish-rich area fueled all three of his beefy limits.
“I got all of my fish there all three days,” he said, noting that the bass became decidedly more tight-lipped on day three. ”The bite today was very tough, very soft, and I had to weed through a lot of small fish to get to the big ones.”
While a large local tournament launching in the south added intense pressure to a number of areas around Ticonderoga, Marini dodged the main armada. “I had one boat from another tournament around me today, but he was respectful and we worked around each other,” he said. “There were never any issues.”
Johnston Rises To Second
Chris Johnston of Peterborough, Ont., survived a rough start on day three to finish a strong second. “My first fish of the day got off,” he said. “I thought, ‘Oh, no, here we go again.’ I’ve led and been in second before, but it never ended up working out too well.”
Johnston rebounded by boating a pair of small bass, but then suffered more missed opportunities.” I lost two or three more fish and thought, ‘This isn’t good,’” he said. "Then it started to turn around. I got some keepers and eventually got into the big fish.”
Johnston’s go-to tactic was flipping small jigs into 5- to 6-foot-deep weedbeds located 70 miles south of the Plattsburgh weigh-in area. He had alluded to a secret strategy earlier in the event, and it turned out to be a 9/16-ounce black mini-jig, tipped with a black chunk trailer brightened with a splash of chartreuse dye. “Most of my big fish came on the jig,” he said.
Johnston also relied on a Z-Man Original ChatterBait to supplement his catch, and turned to a Senko late in the day when the bite came to a halt. “It was slow and painful, but I upgraded one fish late on the Senko,” he said.
Like Marini, Johnston’s second-place Champlain finish capped an impressive comeback run. He landed in 17th on day one with 17 pounds, 7 ounces; rose to third on day two with a monstrous 20-3 limit of largemouths that boosted his tally to 37-10; and advanced again the final day with a 19-1 limit.
The Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes pro from Erie, Pa., topped the leaderboard the first two days. He set the bar high on day one with a 21-8 limit, and followed up with 19-13 the following day. His two-day total of 41-5 provided more than 3½ pounds of breathing room between himself and his nearest rival.
However, Lefebre worried after the day-two dust settled that rising fishing pressure on the southern weedbeds he was targeting could cause problems the final day. As it turned out, his predictions held true.
“I couldn’t get on my spot this morning,” he said. “A couple of the guys that followed me yesterday were on it. That messed me up right away, which isn’t good. Everything went opposite of the way I wanted. I was kind of prepared, but it was still a rough deal.”
Lefebre’s tactics hinged on fishing jigs and soft-plastic trailers for largemouths. “I caught most of my fish on a green-pumpkin Terminator jig and Yamamoto Double Tail Grub trailer,” he said, adding that many bass fell for a 4½-inch Storm swimbait as well.
“I had the bites to blow it away today,” he continued. “I lost eight fish that were bigger than anything I ended up with in my livewell. It’s just one of those days.”
Before calling it a day, Lefebre ran back to the vicinity of the weigh-in for one last shot at Champlain’s abundant smallmouths. “With 10 minutes to go I culled two largemouths, so it definitely helped,” he said. In the end, he weighed 14 pounds, 12 ounces for a total of 56-1.
Despite falling to third, Lefebre still recorded a respectable finish, and took the lead in the Rayovac FLW Series Northern Division Angler of the Year race with 395 points.
The strategy served him well early on. A red-hot morning bite in a shallow feeding area on a grassy point north of Plattsburgh yielded banner bronzeback action. He rounded out the top five on day one with a hefty 19-pound, 9-ounce limit, and climbed to second on day two with an 18-3 limit that pushed his total to 37-12.
“But today our morning bite wasn’t nearly as good,” he said. “We pulled a lot of fish off that spot the first two days, and it really slowed down.”
When the morning bite was brewing, Lee threw reaction baits to trigger strikes. He credited his day-one co-angler for turning him on to 5-inch fluke-style jerkbaits. Fished weightless, Texas-rigged on a 4/0 hook just under the surface with a slow-falling presentation, they produced bites when other baits wouldn’t. “That’s what I caught my better fish on,” he said.
“Today was more of a topwater bite,” he said. Transparent and bone-colored Heddon Zara Spooks were the ticket. Thanks to upgrades on this surface program, he racked up a final day limit weighing 17 pounds, 13 ounces for a 55-9 total.
Olson Rides Centipedes To Fifth
Derick Olson of Honey Brook, Pa., started strong with a 20-pound, 2-ounce limit that left him in second on day one. He followed up with 17-3 on day two and fell to sixth. “I struggled and fought all day to catch a kicker, but the bigger bass just weren’t eating,” he said. His 16-5 day three bag yielded a 53-10 total that was good for fifth place.
“I was fishing centipedes on a drop-shot rig, dipping the tail in dye,” he said. “My key spots were hard-bottom areas in weedbeds—small spots where every half hour to 45 minutes you could catch limit after limit.”
No fan of finesse, Olson wielded heavy superbraid mainline and stout casting rods for horsing beefy largemouths out of the jungle. “If big bass wrap you up in the stems with light line, you’re going to lose them,” he explained. The technique, however, required a lighter hand. “I had to work it slow,” he said. “You’d pitch it out, let it sit for 15 to 20 seconds, then just see a ‘tick’ and a fish would be on it.”
Olson noted that day three was the slowest of the tournament, producing 25 keepers. “I didn’t get a big bite today,” he said. “I lost a couple of fish that felt good, but who knows. I still had a great time up here, it’s an awesome place.”
Best of the Rest
Rounding out the top 10 at the Rayovac FLW Series Lake Champlain event:
6th: Glenn Babineu, Mechanicville, N.Y., 52-12
7th: Mark Daniels Jr., Fairfield, Calif., 52-00
8th: Mike Neilson, Markham, Ont., 49-8
9th: Mike McDonald, Randleman, N.C., 47-12
10th: Cory Johnston, Peterborough, Ont., 47-3
For complete results, click here.
Young gun Zachary Francis of Abingdon, Va., topped the 142 co-anglers with a 46-pound performance. He finished strong with a 15-6 limit of largemouths fishing with Marini, capping a 12-3 day-one bag and 18-7 day-two catch.
The 16-year-old, who recently won the 2014 Virginia State High School Fishing Championship on Smith Mountain Lake, was elated at the Rayovac FLW Series win—and collecting the Ranger Z117 first prize. “It’s unreal,” he said. “The FLW pros are great guys. It’s an awesome experience.”
For complete co-angler results, click here.