PLATTSBURGH, N.Y. – It's nice when a plan works, better when it exceeds expectations and awesome when you have leftovers. That's how day one of the FLW EverStart Series Northern Division tournament on Lake Champlain turned out for pro leader Tom Lavictoire Jr.
First, a little scene setting: The opening day saw mostly sunny skies with winds light and variable. Champlain's a long, narrow lake that kicks up easily, but today's calm conditions left it nearly flat. The water's still high from recent rains, but the level's dropping daily as this week's lack of rain has allowed lake managers to start regulating the volume by dumping water.
So, Lavictoire launches into a calm day and finds pleasant conditions for his long run down to the fertile grass beds of Ticonderoga at the lake's southern end. He arrives at his historic stomping grounds and gets to work. It's clear that the high water has repositioned the fish, but with over two decades of Champlain experience, Lavictoire said his understanding of the area allowed him to easily adjust.
"A lot of the fish I was catching were on 15- to 20-year-old waypoints," he said. "They're still in the same old spots – the water's just a little higher and you just have to look a little harder for them. They're not as bunched-up as they normally are because the high water disperses them, but there are still plenty of them to catch."
Lavictoire, whose 20-pound, 4-ounce bag was the only one to break 20, said he caught all of his bass by power fishing – actively moving among his key spots and flipping/pitching Texas-rigged soft plastics into holes in the grass. He didn't reveal his bait specifics, but he did say that what he's using is making the difference between catching a few fish and catching good numbers with a few big ones here and there.
"I have a couple of key areas that I'm keying in on, I'm hitting several spots and during the course of the day, I'm filtering through a lot of fish to get to the big ones," the Vermont pro said. "It was really consistent all day. I probably went through 75-80 fish today."
The bite was so good that Lavictoire said he stopped fishing at 1:00 and leisurely made his way back to check-in.
"I wanted to catch all I could catch today," he said. "I actually caught more than I expected and I actually left my fish biting. The fish I was catching (at the end of the day) weren't helping me any. They were all about the same size and I didn't want to burn them up for tomorrow or if I made the cut on Saturday."
Lavictoire said he saved fish for a possible return later in the event. Given the forecast for thunderstorms and strong winds up to 30 mph on day two, Lavictoire said he'll likely forego another run to Ti. He'll probably stick to the lake's upper end and, if he makes the final cut, he'll consider returning south if the weather's more amenable.
Mixed bag puts Schwenkbeck in second
Lauding Champlain's diversity, second-place pro Darrin Schwenkbeck said the ability to shift gears from largemouth to smallmouth helped keep his day alive. Sticking to the lake's upper end, he caught a mixed bag of green and brown fish that weighed 18-6.
"I had a flipping bite going and I was fortunate to get one big bite early," Schwenkbeck said. "That was my plan – to roll in there and get those fish. I did get a 4-pounder, but then things changed. I wasn't even getting 3's and the bite was tough. I had four flipping fish and I knew I had other flipping stuff on the lake, along with smallmouth spots, so I decided to roll out of there without a limit. I usually don't like to do that, but it paid off.
"I switched it up and went smallmouth and largemouth fishing. I was mixing it up, but I was getting a reaction bite on the big smallmouth and I was flipping for largemouth. I ended up weighing two largies and three smallies."
Schwenkbeck held his cards low on the smallmouth bait, but he said he was flipping a Texas-rigged soft plastic stick bait with a pegged weight. The latter's compact form slid smoothly through the grass.
Grigsby's third by ounces
Nipping at Schwenkbeck's heels is Keystone Light pro Chad Grigsby, who sits just 3 ounces behind second with a third-place weight of 18-3. Grigsby made the run down to Ti and made the most of what he had found in a short practice.
"I only got one day of practice and I just had a couple of little spots where I caught a couple of big ones," Grigsby said. "I just concentrated on those and beat them up pretty good. You'd catch pound-and-a-halfer, pound-and-a-halfer and then you'd catch a 3 ½ and then you'd catch a 4. I caught a lot of fish. I caught maybe three limits."
Grigsby caught his fish by flipping a Texas-rigged green pumpkin Senko with a 3/16-ounce tungsten weight and a 5/0 flipping hook.
"It's not easy and it's a grind," Grigsby said. "There's a lot of dead water. I just got lucky yesterday and found some spots that are holding some big fish. I hit five spots and I caught fish off of four of them.
Lefebre flips into fourth
Frosted Flakes pro Dave Lefebre got off to a slow start on day one, but he was able to regroup and put together a limit of 17-13 that landed him in fourth place. Lefebre said his main objective was an area of shallow structure that ended up mostly drained by the falling water.
"It was a shocker for me," Lefebre said. "I went down to Ti a couple of days ago in practice and, today, when I got to where my main area was going to be, the water level had fallen like a foot. That just ruins everything. I went from thinking I was going to catch 100, to hoping that Plan B was going to work."
Plan B comprised flipping weed mats with an undisclosed Gary Yamamoto plastic bait. Fishing slowly and methodically with a heavy Texas rig delivered the fish he needed.
Olson, Parmer tied at fifth
Derick Olson, of Coatesville, Pa. said he dialed in on a particular tactic and rode that bus all day. Throwing Texas-rigged plastics in thick grass and reeling them slowly produced 17-8, good for fifth place.
"The key was finding the right kind of grass," he said. "You find one and they're schooled up."
Olson, who also fished Ti, said his was a mix of flipping and punching presentations.
"The depth of the weeds is more important than what's on top," Olson said. "I was catching them from 8 to 11 feet. The bigger fish are roaming around the outside edges. Later in the day, they pull up tight, but you can catch good ones outside."
Joel Parmer, of Saint Regis Falls, N.Y. tied Olson for fifth with his own bag of 17-8
Best of the rest
7th: Ryan Powroznik, of Prince George, Va., 17-3
8th: Chris Flint, of Potsdam, N.Y., 17-2
9th: Lon Fleming, of Piedmont, S.C., 17-1
10th: Dave Wolak, of Wake Forest, N.C., 16-15
Chris Blanc took Big Bass honors with a largemouth that went 6-1.
Giannini drops into co-angler lead
Giannini caught his fish while dropshotting a black worm along the edges of grass beds in 12-18 feet of water.
Of his presentation style, Giannini said this: "I think largemouth like it still and smallmouth like it moving, so I kept it still."
Scott Shafer, of Glenville, N.Y., took second place with 16-4, while Gary Walker, of Amesbury, Mass., placed third with 16-3. In fourth place, Frank Miller, of West. Nanticoke, Pa., had 15-11. Joseph Bona, of Kersey, Pa., was fifth with 15-5.
Best of the rest
6th: Greg Linscott Jr., of South Hadley, Mass., 15-4
7th: Paul Steiner, of Levittown, Pa., 14-15
8th: Ben Seaman, of Colchester, Vt., 14-13
9th: Jareth Mielec, of Kearny, N.J., 14-11
10th: Michael Stevens, of Libertytown, Md., 14-10
Day two of EverStart Series Northern Division action on Lake Champlain continues at Friday’s takeoff, scheduled to take place at 6:00 a.m. (Eastern) at the Dock Street Landing in Plattsburgh, N.Y.