PLATTSBURGH, N.Y. – While many of the top pros at Lake Champlain this week were scouring the flats looking for spawning smallmouths to catch, Tracy Adams turned his eyes toward the bank and its quarry of big largemouths to win the $100,000 Pro Division title at the final regular-season stop of the 2006 Wal-Mart FLW Tour.
Trailing leader Dion Hibdon by just 2 ounces coming into Saturday, Adams caught the day’s heaviest five-bass limit – 17 pounds, 11 ounces – and defeated runner-up Kevin Vida by just under a pound and a half. Adams totaled a winning 34-7 in the two-day final round and Vida 33-1. Hibdon, who caught the heaviest stringers each of the first three days, fell off his pace Saturday, caught a limit weighing just 14-5 and finished third with a final weight total of 31-3.
Adams was part of the contingent of anglers who braved the hour-long run to the south end of Lake Champlain each day to fish for largemouth bass. All four days, while many pros stayed on the upper end of the lake sight-fishing for smallies, Tracy went down to Ticonderoga, N.Y., to fish grass and milfoil for summer-pattern largemouths. The plan worked, too, not just for Adams, but for fellow finalists Hibdon and Curt Lytle.
However, weather conditions changed the final two days. The wind switched, coming out of the north, and that altered the feeding habits of the fish on the south end. The first two days, Adams had been able to work the grass mats and catch fish with ease on his main bait, a green-pumpkin Zoom brush hog, but Friday and Saturday the bite tended to taper off when the north wind picked up later in the morning.
“I was in the grass about 8 feet deep all week, and they quit biting about 9 o’clock every day,” the pro from Wilkesboro, N.C., said. “I knew I had to do something if I was going to win, so after getting my limit in the grass early today, I picked up a jig and started flipping willow trees in about 2 feet of water.”
When he decided to go shallow, Adams had a limit in the livewell, but it weighed just 10 or 11 pounds – nothing close to a winning weight. Flipping his 3/8-ounce, black-and-blue Hotshot Lure jig with a sapphire-blue Zoom Super Chunk trailer, however, he was able pluck some good 3- and 4-pounders out of the flooded willows close to the bank. He caught some 15 keeper largemouths Saturday, including a kicker fish he estimated at around 4 pounds, 2 ounces, and culled up to his moneymaking weight.
The veteran Adams utilized one of the lake variables this week that many pros talked about coming into the event. The water level on big Lake Champlain was much higher than the anglers had seen in tournaments past, about four or five feet, and that turned out to be the winner’s salvation when that north wind picked up speed Saturday morning.
This was Adams’ first victory on the FLW Tour, and it was a long time coming. He’s fished the tour since its inception in 1996 and has four prior top-10 finishes to his name – including a runner-up – but victory had eluded him until his fifth trip to the finals this week.
“Man, it feels pretty good. It just kind of feels like, finally, it happened,” he said. “It just shows you how hard it is to win with 200 guys out there. I mean, the competition is just so strong.”
Vida caught a hefty sack of smallmouths that, fishing a green-pumpkin Mizmo tube, he picked off from spawning beds up north on the flats. His catch Saturday – 17 pounds, 4 ounces – was the second-heaviest of the day, and his second-place final total weight of 33-1 earned him $36,000.
“I had a great day today. I couldn’t do anything wrong. I had my limit within the first 25 minutes, and I just went up to the north end and caught them all day long,” the pro from Clare, Mich., said. “This is, no doubt, the best all-around fishing lake in the country, and not just for bass. Everybody here is very lucky to have what you have, so please take care of it.”
Like Adams, Hibdon’s largemouth efforts down at Ticonderoga fell off after the first two days. However, he didn’t quite adjust as well as the winner, and Hibdon finished third, collecting $25,000.
“I just never had a big one bite me today,” said Hibdon, who stuck to pitching a Lucky Strike jig with a Guido’s Bug trailer in the grass. “With that north wind, they just don’t like it very good after 9 o’clock, so the last two days were pretty frustrating for me. But I had a great week, and I’m tickled to death.”
The defending FLW Tour Lake Champlain champion from 2004, Scott Martin of Clewiston, Fla., rallied with a 16-pound, 14-ounce limit Saturday but could only muster a fourth-place finish. His final-round weight was 30 pounds, 9 ounces, and he earned $20,000.
“I went south today. I couldn’t believe it. I found those fish, like, eight days ago, and I didn’t think they’d be there with all the people that have been fishing out there this week,” said Martin, who weighed in his first pair of largemouth bass of the week Saturday. “That’s the first largemouth I’ve weighed in in three events here, but I told them I’d catch a largemouth today.”
Shinichi Fukae of Mineola, Texas, finesse-fished his way into a 15-pound, 12-ounce limit Saturday and finished the finals in fifth place with a total weight of 30-3. He earned $18,000.
Rest of the best
Rounding out the top 10 pro finishers in FLW Tour competition at Lake Champlain:
6th: Scott Dobson of Clarkston, Mich., 29-8, $17,000
7th: Thomas Lavictoire of West Rutland, Vt., 28-0, $16,000
8th: Keith Williams of Conway, Ark., 24-12, $15,000
9th: Jerry Williams of Conway, Ark., 21-9, $14,000
10th: Curt Lytle of Zuni, Va., 13-2, $13,000
Matt Herren of Trussville, Ala., was second with 1,002 points and Jim Moynagh of Carver, Minn., third with 985.
Onto the championship
The next Wal-Mart FLW Tour event is the FLW Tour Championship, scheduled for Logan Martin Lake at Birmingham, Ala., Aug. 2-5. The top 48 pros and co-anglers in the year-end standings will compete for a $1.5 million purse. The pros are gunning for a half-million-dollar winner’s payout at the championship.