PLATTSBURGH, N.Y. – He didn't feel well enough equipped for a long run to Lake Champlain's fertile southern grass beds of Ticonderoga, but Bryan Labelle showed that he has the tools necessary to take over the EverStart Series Northern Division lead.
"I have a smaller boat – 18 feet, 150-hp engine – so I'm not going to make the long run to Ti," the Hinesburg, Vt. pro said. "There's good fish up north so I'm going to stick with them."
Clearly, Labelle located those "good fish," as his day-two limit of 21-15 was the tournament's largest thus far. Adding this to his first day's weight (17-5) gave him a two-day total of 39-4 and moved Labelle up 22 spots to first place.
Fishing the New York side of upper Champlain, Labelle caught all of his fish on a green pumpkin jig with a Zoom speed craw trailer. With a solid game plan of where he'd fish, Labelle said he hit four spots within relatively close proximity. Green fish were his main target, but he ended up with a lone brown bass.
"I targeted all largemouth, and at the end of the day I knew where there was two good (smallmouth) so I went after those and I got one of the two," he said.
Labelle described the key to his effectiveness as: "Keeping that jig on the bottom. It was a very slow presentation."
"The morning was slow and then the afternoon really picked up," he said. "Everything became more active – the baitfish and (other fish) were more active."
Those who fished down in Ti found the ride to and from the south end greatly improved over yesterday's rough conditions. Day one saw a passing cold front unleash a strong north wind on the lake. Those who've fished Champlain on windy days know that a blow from the north runs right down this narrow lake and generates choppy waves that test an angler's resolve. Day two delivered nearly flat water, so anglers enjoyed easy transit.
Thompson improves to second
Three weeks after notching a top-10 finish at the FLW Tour Majors event on Champlain, Joseph Thompson, of Landenberg, Penn. finds himself knocking on victory's door. Improving on his seventh-place day-one weight of 19-15, Thompson added 19-3 today and gained five spots to take second with 39-2 – just 2 ounces off the lead. His have been the most consistent weights, but today's sack required a lot of moving.
"I had a decent bag, but I struggled, I really had to scramble for the fish," Thompson said. "They didn't appear to be anywhere I practiced so I just ran around and hit dozens and dozens of places. I caught about 30 fish but it would be like every so many spots I'd finally get a good keeper."
Some of his fish bit on the outside grass edges, while others were tight to the bank. Hustling for fish was the name of the game and while there were no great flurries of activity, Thompson said he sweated through a practically dead period from 11 a.m. to 12:30. Keeping his head down and looking for that next group of aggressive fish was his only course of action.
Thompson's certainly not complaining about today's pleasant conditions, but in retrospect, he wishes he had been a little less conservative with his time: "Yesterday was so brutal coming home that today I left early to allow myself plenty of time and I (arrived) with an hour left but nowhere really around here to fish. So, I might have been able to do a little better."
Swim jig puts Greenblatt in third
Florida pro Matt Greenblatt broke out of yesterday's three-way tie for fourth place and gained one spot to third. He followed his first-round weight of 20-8 with 18-2 today and earned his final-round berth with a 38-10 total.
"It was a little colder last night than it has been (recently) and that dropped the water temperature," Greenblatt explained. "It was a little slow this morning and they didn't want anything. I had to slow down (the presentations), but as the water warmed up, the bite got better."
Greenblatt caught his fish on a black/blue Bass Assault swim jig with a Reaction Innovations Skinny Dipper as a trailer. He spooled his reel with 60-pound Seaguar braid – an essential element for ripping his bait through the grass and dislodging hooked fish from the heavy vegetation.
Belinda, Waltz take fourth, fifth
After starting off with a second-place, day-one weight of 20-13, Tom Belinda, of Holidaysburg, Penn. gave up two spots on day two. His second-round weight of 17-5 puts him at 38-2 going into the final day of competition. Belinda has been making the long trek to Ti each day and he'll likely commit day three to the shallow grass routine, as well.
Following by 10 ounces, Thomas Waltz, of Fairfax, Vt., also ran to Ti and sacked up 17-13, which moved him up three spots to fifth place with 37-8. Waltz experienced serious engine problems on day one, but fortunately he was able to borrow a boat and keep himself in the hunt.
Today, he caught his fish on a crankbait and a jig. Unlike day one, Waltz said the second-day's action was narrowly confined.
"Yesterday, the bite was good right off and then I had a mid-morning period when I really smoked them," he said. "Today, I caught them between 8 and 10 o'clock and then it was over. I didn’t cull after 10 o'clock."
Best of the rest
Rounding out the top-10 pro leaders at the EverStart Series Lake Champlain event:
6th: Dave Lefebre, of Erie, Penn., 36-14
7th: George Lambeth, of Thomasville, N.C., 36-14
8th: Glenn Babineau, of Mechanicville, N.Y., 36-9
9th: J.T. Kenney, of Palm Bay, Fla., 36-6
10th: Joe Lucarelli, of Center Harbor, N.H., 36-3
Roger Hensley earned Snickers Big Bass honors with his 5-pound, 11-ounce largemouth.
Alspaugh's versatility keeps him atop co-angler field
Yesterday, he fished the southern shallows of Ticonderoga; today, it was deeper, clear water spots in Champlain's upper reaches. In both scenarios, Manchester, Vt. co-angler Brian Alspaugh got the job done and today's limit catch of 14-2 gave him a total weight of 33-14 and enabled him to retain the co-angler lead for a second day.
"It was a completely different side of the lake today – we went all the way up by the Canadian border," Alspaugh said. "You have to be versatile up here. It was a baitcaster all day yesterday and a spinning rod all day today."
Day two saw Alspaugh fishing 4-inch Senkos wacky rigged on dropshots with light line in clear water. Slow presentations were necessary for attracting bites in the high visibility. He ended up with four largemouth and a lone smallie.
Cecil Wolfe, of Cross, S.C., placed second with 32-2, Kenneth Roderick, Jr., of Putnam, Conn. slipped a notch to third with 31-6, while Carl Alexander, of Hampton, N.Y. took fourth with 30-7. Billy Carrol, of Fayetteville, N.C. was fifth with 30-4.
Best of the rest
Rounding out the top-10 co-angler leaders at the EverStart Series Lake Champlain event:
6th: Dan Tesch, of Elkton, M.D., 30-2
6th: Stephen Kocell, of Waxhaw, N.C., 29-3
8th: Matt Randles, of Gallipolis, Ohio, 29-1
9th: Edward Pecore, of Plattsburgh, N.Y., 28-15
10th: Derek Bigford, of Cicero, N.Y., 28-12
Papagouras earned Snickers Big Bass honors with his 5-pound, 4-ounce largemouth.
Day three of EverStart Series Northern Division action on Lake Champlain continues at Saturday’s takeoff, scheduled to take place at 6:00 a.m. (Eastern) at Dock Street Landing located at 5 Dock St. in Plattsburgh, N.Y.