PLATTSBURGH, N.Y. – Angler after angler brought in literally tons of fat, feisty smallmouth bass at Lake Champlain this week – enough to break tour weight records in the EverStart Series Northern Division. So what does Craig Workman do? He wins the tournament with a sack full of largemouths.
The 2004 Northern Division and EverStart Series season finale was one for the books. Until Saturday, the September weather couldn’t have been more agreeable in upstate New York, with bluebird skies, balmy temperatures and relatively light winds. On top of that, weight records fell as the sublime bass fishery known as Lake Champlain coughed up almost four tons of fish – 7,529 pounds, 12 ounces – to the anglers over the first two days of competition.
The bulk of that weight, of course, comprised Champlain’s vaunted smallmouths. But with the money on the line Saturday, Workman, a pro out of Fort Worth, Texas, decided he’d bank on the familiar tug of largemouth bass on the end of his line.
Workman had been catching mainly largemouths all week long, but thought he might switch over to smallies Saturday. Friday’s top three leaders were all from Michigan and are all known smallmouth specialists.
“This morning I got worried because these guys were on the smallies so bad. I was going to change my game plan. I had a few smallmouth areas where I could make a milk run and, yesterday, the big largemouths didn’t bite,” Workman said. “But when I got here and looked at the direction the wind was blowing, I said, ‘I can’t go on a milk run.’ I hit three different spots but it was too windy. I didn’t actually go to my (largemouth location) until 8:30.”
As it turned out, Saturday’s windy, gloomy conditions worked in Workman’s favor. Blown off his open-water smallmouth strategy, he tucked back into the outer feeder creeks in the Missisquoi Bay area and began fishing the weeds that had provided him – and scores of others – cut-worthy largemouths all week long. Since the area had been fished heavily by tournament anglers throughout the week, Workman didn’t know how many big ones were left there.
“I thought, ‘You know, there are so many largemouths in here, there might be a slim chance they didn’t catch them all,’” he said. “So I pulled into my largemouth spot and my co-angler partner (Mark Grahn) sticks a good one and loses it. Then all of a sudden it was like wham, wham, wham! They were there and they were big.”
Flipping a Texas-rigged brush hog along grass lines in 8 to 14 feet of murky water, Workman caught five keepers in 45 minutes and eventually culled out his limit to 17 pounds Saturday. Added to the 15-9 he posted Friday, he finished with 32-9 in the final round and won the Pro Division at Lake Champlain.
For the victory, Workman collected $10,000 plus a new Ranger 519 VS with all the trimmings. Total package value: $41,900. It was the second pro-level victory of his career; the first was a Texas Tournament Trail win at Lake Amistad in 2003.
Charlie Hartley of Grove City, Ohio, nearly finished the 2004 Northern Division season with the biggest bang possible, but he ultimately fell a pound and a half short. After securing the 2004 Northern Division pro standings title in the opening round at Champlain, he nearly won the tournament but came in second behind Workman after catching 31 pounds, 9 ounces in the finals. He collected $10,000.
“It was rough out there today,” said Hartley, who caught a limit weighing 15 pounds, 15 ounces Saturday. “I was exposed to the wind and fishing 40 feet deep. We were running two drift socks and really riding the trolling motor. Our arms and backs are worn out.”
Hartley was steady in Northern events all season long – respectively finishing 21st, 39th, 11th and second in the four tournaments. He won the standings with 731 points.
“I had a great time,” he said. “I’m just glad I was able to finish the season in the top 10 so I could re-qualify for the FLW Tour.”
Scott Dobson of Waterford, Mich., finished third in the Pro Division and won $9,000 with a final weight of 30 pounds, 13 ounces.
While he, Mark Zona and Art Ferguson led the Michigan smallmouth charge on Friday, he and the others had trouble with the wind on the open water Saturday.
“I couldn’t go to my fish,” said Dobson, who caught the bulk of his smallmouths on a jerkbait. “I was fishing a bay up north, but I knew it would be too treacherous this morning, so I went to a bay a little south of here (Plattsburgh). I caught 20 keepers, but I just couldn’t cull anything.”
A perennial top-10 finisher throughout the BFL, EverStart and FLW ranks, Dobson was a little disappointed that he came up short of his first win here at Champlain, but he gave credit to Workman for a tournament well fished.
“If a guy can catch largemouths here like that, he’s going to win,” Dobson said. “Getting 17 or 18 pounds with smallmouths is tough.”
Pro Mark Zona of Sturgis, Mich., the 2003 Northern Division standings champ, made name for himself as Mr. No. 2 with three second-place finishes last year. So it was almost strange to see him contend here at Champlain and finish in fourth place with a weight of 30 pounds, 9 ounces.
“Well, I’d like to be No. 2 right about now,” said Zona, who claimed $8,000. “But this place is amazing. I’ve caught 60-some pounds of bass and I caught them in four different spots.”
After leading days two and three, pro Art Ferguson of St. Clair Shores, Mich., also had wind troubles Saturday and couldn’t maintain his torrid pace. He caught a limit, but it weighed just 11 pounds, 3 ounces. He finished the tournament in fifth place and collected $7,500 with a final weight of 28-14.
“Yeah, I couldn’t fish my main areas today,” he said. “I probably missed 10 or 15 fish, too, but that happens.”
Rest of the best
Rounding out the top 10 Pro Division finishers in EverStart Northern competition at Lake Champlain are David Wolak of Warrior Run, Pa., with a final-round weight of 28 pounds, 13 ounces (6th place, $6,500); Terry Baksay of Monroe, Conn., with 27-11 (7th, $5,500); Steve Clapper of Lima, Ohio, with 27-11 (8th, $5,000); Steven McGahan of Gales Ferry, Conn., with 26-15 (9th, $4,500); and Nick Gainey of Charleston, S.C., with 26-0 (10th, $4,000).
All 10 pro finalists caught limits both days of the final round.
The 2004 Northern Division season is done, as is the entire EverStart Series regular season. Next up is the EverStart Series Championship, which will be held at Lake Cumberland near Burnside, Ky., Nov. 3-6.
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