UPCOMING EVENT: TOYOTA SERIES - 2020 - Lake Erie

Wal-Mart FLW Tour saves the best for last

After visiting some of the best bass fisheries in America, the 2001 Wal-Mart FLW Tour has saved the best for last. As if anglers did not have their monofilaments stretched enough this season at places like Okeechobee, Beaver Lake, Red River, and St. Clair, the FLW Tour Championship is holding its year-end finale on what many pros consider the best lake in the country - Lake Champlain.

But not all of the FLW Tour's regular season competitors are getting to sample Champlain's fantastic action. Only the Tour's top 50 pros and top 50 co-anglers are invited to this year-end Championship.

According to two-time FLW champion Gary Klein, combining high caliber anglers with a top-notch lake will mean high weights. "We have fifty of the nation's best anglers on the nation's best fishery," says Klein. "It is going to be quite a show. I'm thinking that it will take about 34 to 36 pounds to make the top ten cut and then someone will have 19 to 21 pounds on Saturday to win.

Lake Champlain lies between New York and Vermont and is 120 miles long and 12 miles wide at its widest point. The lake features 435 square miles of water, 587 miles of shoreline, 71 islands, and an average depth of 68 feet.

Canadian water is off limits to competitors, which means that the extreme northern quarter of the lake will be unfishable.

Of the massive amount of water that is available to anglers, much of it holds large quantities of fish. What makes Champlain such a good fishery is that it contains a generous mix of big smallmouth bass and chunky largemouth bass.

According to FLW Tour angler Danny Correia of Marlboro, Massachusetts, this tournament will not be about simply finding fish; it will be about finding plenty of quality fish. Correia did not make the Championship this year but fishes Champlain frequently. He knows what it is like to catch 16 pounds a day in a tournament and still not cash a check.

"Strategy is important here," says Correia. "I think a guy will need 20 pounds of largemouth to win the tournament on Saturday but surviving the elimination rounds may be possible with 17 to 18 pounds of smallmouth per day."

Correia contends that targeting smallmouth and largemouth requires two different approaches. He says the largemouths prefer the large beds of shallow vegetation that line the lake's bays, while smallmouth tend to live out deeper on the rock shoals and reefs.

"I do not believe a guy is going to win the tournament fishing exclusively for one species all week," suggests Correia. "Largemouth patterns are not likely to hold up for four days in a row, but banking entirely on smallmouth may leave an angler a little short on the final day. It is going to take a combination of species to go all the way."

Correia also says the lake is about 2 feet lower than normal and that water temperatures are around the 70 degree mark. "Due to the low, warm water I do not think the smallmouths have really moved up on the flats yet," he adds.

With $250,000 going to the winner, Gary Klein extended his practice time for the Championship. "There are fish out here that have never seen a lure before," comments Klein. "This is such a vast fishery that many areas get little pressure."

2000 FLW Tour Angler of the Year Clark Wendlandt agrees, "Most of the places we fish, seven out of every ten fish will have hook marks in their mouth. Here, seven out of ten fish have never been hooked before."

Though Wendlandt says he is not real confident about his chance to weigh-in tremendous strings each day, he too believes largemouth will win and that an angler will have to lean on smallmouths to get there.

Many anglers say the weather will play a crucial role in this tournament. Champlain lies north to south, sandwiched between the Adirondack Mountains and the Green Mountains. Even a gentle north or south breeze can get the lake rocking.

"And you can't get away from the waves when it's starts blowing," says FLW Tour angler Bernie Schultz. "This lake has very few flat shorelines to absorb the waves. It is vertical rock so the waves just reverberate and bounce around making it rougher than normal."

Anglers hint that the wind, especially a north wind, could put a lot of Champlain's best largemouth fishing on the extreme southern end out of reach. "Going south is at least a one hour ride in flat water," says Correia. "If it gets rough, it is simply out of the question."

But anglers agree that even a strong wind is not going to drop the weights significantly. "There are so many fish out here and so many ways to catch them that wind may keep people from running, but big stringers will still be caught," adds Wendlandt.

Klein says that the co-anglers are going to have a ball at Champlain as well. "Don't be surprised to see co-anglers with 18 and 19 pound bags here, too," says Klein. "Most of this is open water fishing and the guy in back is just as likely to hook a few 4 pounders as well."

Competition starts Wednesday with take off slated for 6:30 A.M. at Mooney Bay Marina in Plattsburgh, New York.

Tags: rob-newell  pre-tournament  2001-09-12-champlain 

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