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Exploring Champlain with Strelic

Exploring Champlain with Strelic
Wade Strelic

Living about as far as possible from Champlain, Wade Strelic is looking to finish his rookie season strong at the FLW Tour finale. Hailing from Alpine, Calif., near San Diego, Strelic is sitting 28th in points and has made the check cut in three out of six events so far – another good derby will lock him in to the FLW Cup.

Back in 2016, when the Tour last hit Champlain, no fewer than four rookies made the top 20 cut, so even if folks like Scott Martin and David Dudley have an edge Champlain can be kind to the uninitiated. Keen to see how he approached the big northern lake, I was happy to hop in with Strelic for the second morning of practice.

 

Wade Strelic

Wade Strelic

Wade Strelic

We meet at about 5:20 a.m. up at the very top of the lake, in Rouses Point, N.Y., and Strelic dons his bibs to ward off a slight morning chill before quickly slipping the Ranger in the water. After fishing farther south and exploring the Inland Sea to start practice, Strelic is planning on checking out entirely new water today.

 

Wade Strelic

Wade Strelic

After a short run, Strelic pulls a few rods out and starts working along a flat with scattered vegetation, sand and rock. Alternating between a drop-shot and a swimbait, he garners a nip or two from perch, but no bass. As he fishes, I ask about how he feels his season has gone.

“I’ve done a little better than I thought I would do,” says Strelic, whose father, Jon, fished the FLW Tour Western Series, but only fished one year back east. “I mean, I’ve never been to any of these lakes. This year my goal was just to make the top 100 to stay in. And the way it started out, it was easy. And then I went to Seminole, and that’s a hard lake to figure out – I got humbled there pretty well.”

Now, he’s on the cusp of qualifying for the Cup and far from worrying about a top 100.

“It’s awesome,” says Strelic of the prospect of the FLW Cup. “My dad has fished the Cup twice, and I went to them with him when I was young. There’s nothing like it – it was cool just being there.”

 

Wade Strelic

Wade Strelic

Wade Strelic

Wade Strelic

Wade Strelic

Making a short move to go a little shallower, Strelic picks up a hard-fighting smallie on a spinnerbait in short order. It’s a good sign, jiving with a couple of blade bites he got the day before, and a welcome way to get the morning rolling.

 

Wade Strelic

Wade Strelic

Wade Strelic

Wade Strelic

Continuing along, Strelic quickly garners a few more bites and unfortunately breaks off the best of the bunch. Nonetheless, it’s a true joy to watch feisty smallmouth bow up his rod and then jump around with wild abandon.

 

Wade Strelic

Wade Strelic

Wade Strelic

After his breakoff and another odd moment or two with his line, Strelic sits down to inspect his setup. Something isn’t quite right, and he’s chewing his line up at an alarming rate. Unable to figure it out exactly, he stows it and grabs another setup. Pretty quickly, he’s back in business, and the smallmouths are still liking his blade.

 

Wade Strelic

Wade Strelic

Wade Strelic

Changing this up, Strelic makes a move to some nearby largemouth-looking water. Pulling a vibrating jig and a flipping bait out of the locker, he eases up to a reed edge and begins working back into a pocket.

“I only did it a little,” says Strelic of his day one largemouth attempts. “But, they were eager to bite.”

Garnering one follow from a largemouth, Strelic quickly breaks his vibrating jig off on a big pike right at the boat, thereby forcing a re-tie. After going along the reeds a bit more, he edges out into a patch of milfoil and loses a 3-pounder. Unfortunately, he’s not getting a lot of bites and the largemouth foray ends fairly quickly.

 

Wade Strelic

Wade Strelic

Wade Strelic

Heading back out to a smallmouth flat, Strelic begins to pop around to a few likely looking areas. He says the fish tend to bite when you find them, so he’s moving fairly quickly, trusting that a drop-shot or a swimbait will show him what’s living there in short order.

As he fishes, I ask about his decision to fish the Tour this year and how he likes it. Because he’s from California, Strelic essentially spent from January – May living at various lakes with his wife and dog in a camper.

“This was something I’ve always wanted to do and it was getting now-or-never,” says Strelic, whose “real life” work is in plumbing. “I had to get a camper and all that stuff without knowing if I was even in. It was a commitment.

“It’s been better than I thought it would be,” he adds. “The living part is not bad, and having my wife with me is a huge help.”

 

Wade Strelic

Wade Strelic

Wade Strelic

Moving again, Strelic continues to work south, stopping on another mid-depth flat and plying the swimbait and the drop-shot. Striking out on fish, he tries a bit with a flogger, occasionally bending down looking at rocks and also just lying on his stomach and running the trolling motor on constant for a bit. It’s his first time with a flogger, and he says he still hasn’t seen a fish with it, but he’s already had a few ideas for it back home in California.

 

Wade Strelic

Wade Strelic

Wade Strelic

Strelic’s next move is farther down the lake, and he surprisingly hits some really cool water. When we stop, the temperature is no longer in the 60s, but rather the low 50s. After striking out with the drop-shot some more, he pulls out a jerkbait. Pretty soon, he hooks a decent one in the back that followed it up to the boat. Then, he garners another follow.

 

Wade Strelic

Wade Strelic

Wade Strelic

Moving across the lake and staying in cold water, Strelic pulls up to another rocky stretch of bank. So far, he’s not particularly enamored with his practice day, but he’s not pulling the plug on this section of the lake yet. Still firing the jerkbait, he managed a couple more smallmouths, but they’re pretty dinky.

Between fish, I quiz him on his career plans: Does he want to be a pro angler long term? Would he be fine spending half his life out of California or trying to move?

“It’s something I’ll have to decide over the course of more than one year. I’m keeping an open mind. I’ve been around a lot of professional fishermen, even growing up, and if you’re successful it’s a great thing,” muses Strelic, who has plainly thought about it a lot. “I’m gonna fish for three years and then make a decision. You can’t do anything in just a year.”

 

Wade Strelic

Wade Strelic

Wade Strelic

After pulling the trolling motor and idling a point, Strelic pulls out the drop-shot again and and then breaks it off. After a re-tie, he gets back up to soak the point a bit more, but without any result. When he’s fishing a spinning rod, Strelic has the habit of holding his line in his hand for extra sensitive. Though it may not make much of a difference on the hard-charging Champlain smallies, it’s probably a good habit to be in out west.

 

Wade Strelic

Wade Strelic

Finally, around 11 o’clock, Strelic decides to pull the plug on the cool water. Running me back north, he drops me off and heads out to scout some more. So far, day two of practice made day one look better, but the Champlain motherlode has yet to be found.

Tags: jody-white  pre-tournament  2019-06-27-lake-champlain 

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