UPCOMING EVENT: TOYOTA SERIES - 2020 - Lake Erie

2001 Wal-Mart FLW Championship final preview

2001 Wal-Mart FLW Championship final preview
Lake Champlain

Nation's top anglers set to compete for $250,000 top prize on Lake Champlain

Bolstered by decades of angling experience, some unyielding determination and savvy, tactical maneuvering, pro anglers David Fritts, Tommy Biffle, Takahiro Omori, Clark Wendlandt, Craig Powers and Larry Nixon were able to record respective victories in each of the six regular season tournaments on the 2001 Wal-Mart FLW Tour. By winning the regular season events, the six anglers won over $800,000 in total prize money and earned an automatic berth in one the year's most anticipated tournaments - the 2001 FLW Championship.

However, while this year's season featured some of the most exciting final-day weigh-ins in the history of the sport, the 2001 FLW Championship promises to be one of the most intriguing bass-fishing showcases of all. Over a four-day span from Sept. 12-15, the top-50 FLW bass anglers in the nation will compete for a first-place check of $250,000 as well as one of the most prestigious year-end titles in professional bass fishing.

If that weren't enough, the anglers will be matching wits as well as lures on one of the most beautiful and thriving fisheries in the country - Lake Champlain.

Lake facts and history

The Lake Champlain basin was first settled by Europeans shortly after Samuel de Champlain's successful exploration of the area in 1609. Over the following two centuries, Lake Champlain - which straddles the Vermont/New York border - was home to numerous historical battles including the French and Indian War, the American Revolution and the War of 1812. But despite its great historical significance, Lake Champlain is mostly known today for its stunning, scenic beauty, bountiful fishing and abundant wildlife.

Stretching 120 miles long from north to south and approximately 12 miles wide at its most engorged point, Lake Champlain claims a total surface area of 435 square miles and more than 587 miles of shoreline. While the lake's average depth is about 64 feet, parts of the lake drop off to more than 400 feet deep - a distinct feature of its glacial roots. Lake Champlain also represents the fifth largest lake in the entire United States.

With over 70 islands dotting its surface, Lake Champlain also boasts some of the richest bass-fishing and wildlife habitats in the country with more 81 species of fish, 318 species of birds, 56 species of mammals, 21 species of amphibians and 20 reptile species.

Tournament anticipation builds

Given the abundant stores of largemouth and smallmouth bass and the diversity of fishing habitats, FLW anglers can hardly seem to wait for the championship to begin.

"I'm totally looking forward to it," said bass-fishing legend Kevin VanDam, winner of the 2001 FLW Angler of the Year. "The lake is about as good as it gets. It's a great fishery. If we get good conditions, it's going to take some really big (stringers) to win this thing."

Wesley Strader, one of the 50 anglers to qualify for the 2001 FLW Championship, agrees.

"There's going to be a lot of fish caught at Champlain," he said. "I'm going to go out on a limb and say that everyone is going to catch a limit. And I think whoever catches the most 3- and 4-pounders, is going to win the championship. But it's going to come down to ounces. It should be exciting."

Without a doubt, Lake Champlain should be one of the most productive bodies of water fished on the FLW Tour in 2001.

"There's just massive concentrations of fish in this lake," said Strader. "I stopped by last year just to check out the lake, in case I qualified for the championship, and I couldn't believe how many fish there were. There are tons of largemouth and smallmouth bass in the lake."

As a result, VanDam expects the competition to be fierce.

"It's going to be a real slugfest out there," he said. "Because there are only 50 anglers competing, there is going to be considerably less pressure on the lake. It will give everyone an opportunity to find and area and have it to himself. And it's not going to come down to who catches fish - everyone will catch fish - it's just a question of who is going to catch the big ones."

Angler's say that strategy will be paramount during championship

As with many northern lakes, smallmouth bass will play a huge factor in determining the outcome of the tournament winner.

"Some guys are really good smallmouth fishermen and they're going to focus in on the large schools of smallmouth," said Strader. "But other guys are going to head straight for the largemouths. I think it's going to be a tossup, strategy wise."

Although VanDam believes that a combination of smallmout and largemouth fishing strategies will be important, he says that the largemouth catch should ultimately determine the tournament champion.

"I think it would be pretty smart to fish for a combination of both (species)," said VanDam. "But, that being said, both major tournaments I've fished up here on Lake Champlain have been won with largemouth bass. There's a bunch of largemouth in the lake between 5 and 6 pounds, but not a lot of smallmouths that size."

Wind, weather could prove major factors

Because the narrow waters of Lake Champlain snake down the border of New York and Vermont for some 120 miles, the lake can serve as a makeshift wind tunnel when the breeze starts blowing from the north or the south or vice versa. Consequently, when windy conditions develop from the north or south, fishing becomes difficult while long boat runs become nearly impossible.

"If a guy has to make a long run to get to his spot and that wind starts blowing out of the north or the south, it's going to be really tough for him to get to where he needs to go. I mean, you haven't seen wind until you've seen it on Lake Champlain," said Strader. "But if the wind blows hard out of the east or the west, you can move into the narrow parts of the lake and still fish with relatively little problem."

VanDam agrees that the wind is the one variable that can change the complexion of the tournament overnight.

"The main thing is the wind. If it's really windy, especially from the north or the south, it's going to make it really difficult to maneuver around. But if there are stable conditions, you're going to see some big-time catches."

If the weather holds, VanDam is predicting a host of bountiful stringers.

"Everyone will catch 15 pounds, the average will be about 17 pounds and you'll see a number of 20-pound stringers," said VanDam. "My best guess is that it's going to take an average of 19 pounds over the first two days to make it to the top 10 (semifinals)."

A distinct fall pattern could add to the challenge

Because the championship will be taking place during the middle part of September, the cooler air temperatures could very well impact fishing strategies as well. As the air temperature drops, the surface temperature of the lake will cool as well, causing the heavier surface water to sink toward the bottom of the lake. As the warmer water rises to the fill the void at the surface, a lake "turnover" effect will begin to take place. The result, pockets of warmer and colder water mixed up at various depths, can cause fish to scatter.

"Fishing is really unpredictable at this time of the year," said Strader. "Bass will start making the transition from deeper depths to the shallows. And you really need to figure out what depth the fish are at before you can really start being successful."

VanDam gunning for second major FLW title of the year

Success is one thing that hasn't been in short supply for VanDam during the 2001 tour. After winning this year's FLW Angler of the Year title by an overwhelming margin, the Michigan native said that he has now set his sights squarely on the championship.

"The chance to win the FLW Championship and the BASSMaster Classic in one year would be awesome. I don't think it's ever been done before," said VanDam, who finally won the BASSMaster Classic this past August after years of falling short. "I'm really looking forward to the challenge. Lake Champlain is the kind of lake that I grew up fishing. Everything about it is awesome."

Competition for the 2001 Wal-Mart FLW Championship begins at 6:30 a.m. Sept. 12 and 13 at Mooney Bay Marina in Plattsburgh followed by 3 p.m. weigh-ins at the Wal-Mart Supercenter located at 25 Consumer Square in Plattsburgh. Takeoff from Mooney Bay on Sept. 14 is scheduled for 7:30 a.m. followed by the semifinal round weigh-in at 5 p.m. at Wal-Mart. The final takeoff on June 23 is scheduled for 6 a.m. at Mooney Bay followed by the weigh-in at Wal-Mart starting at 3:30 p.m.

Related stories

Strategy will be key on Lake Champlain

Wal-Mart FLW Championship preview

2001 Wal-Mart FLW Tour year-in-review

FLW record-chasers will need big sticks in New York

Nations top bass anglers set for Wal-Mart FLW Tour Championship

2001 Wal-Mart FLW Tour Championship Pro Division qualifiers

2001 Wal-Mart FLW Tour Championship Co-angler Division qualifiers

Tags: gary-mortenson  pre-tournament  2001-09-12-champlain 

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