PLATTSBURGH, N.Y. – When Scott Martin came across a series of offshore rock piles in practice, he stopped to investigate. These isolated sweet spots, located on a Missisquoi Bay flat, were loaded with largemouth bass hiding in a mix of healthy grass, and Martin thought they could potentially go the distance. Clark Wendlandt, however, had no intentions of winning the tournament. His sights were set on becoming the first to win three Angler of the Year titles.
Both pros had their game plans come to fruition on day four of the Walmart FLW Tour event on Lake Champlain. For Martin it was special because he was fishing with a heavy heart this week as his maternal grandmother passed away the day before the tournament began. He said he dedicated his third FLW Tour title to her and could feel her presence with him on the water. After weighing in four bass, Martin needed one more keeper to knock off Anthony Gagliardi.
He looked into his bag, reached down for his fifth fish and said, “She wasn’t just a top-10 grandma, she was a championship grandma.”
The Clewiston, Fla., native later elaborated on the win.
“I have such a peace about this,” said Martin, the son of legendary angler Roland Martin. “If I could keep this confidence and peace the rest of my life, I think I could win every tournament. What I envisioned this week was flying to Oklahoma (site of funeral arrangements) with a trophy in hand. Hopefully that will provide some joy in a sorrow time.”
Of Martin’s three victories, two have came on Champlain, the other on the Pascagoula River. In 2004, the National Guard pro sight-fished exclusively for spawning smallmouths. Since that tournament, no angler has won a tour-level event on Champlain with entirely smallmouths. He located some bedding brown bass this week, but he caught and weighed only one of them. Instead, smallies were a backup for his brilliant largemouth strategy.
Sitting in 5 to 8 feet of water, Martin’s postspawn fish were gravitating to a healthy mix of milfoil and eelgrass. Martin said the grass was critical because Lake Champlain and the Adirondacks region have experienced a cool and wet spring. The grass Martin found was about the best the northern portion of the lake had to offer.
His three main baits were a Texas-rigged Berkley Chigger Craw (green-pumpkin), a Lucky Craft Fat CB B.D.S. 3 crankbait (Tennessee shad) and a Strike King Series 5 crankbait. On the crankbaits, he tied 12-pound Trilene 100% fluorocarbon line and he used the same line, but in 17-pound-test, on the creature bait, which was pegged with a 3/8-ounce Tru Tungsten weight.
During the two-day opening round, Martin said half the fish came on the Chigger Craw and half on the crankbaits. On day three, the percentage moved to 75-25 in favor of the crankbait, and on the final he estimated it was 90-10.
“It seemed like the bigger fish wanted the moving baits as the tournament progressed. I used the crankbait as a search tool as a way to find them and get them going, and then I thoroughly combed through the area with the Chigger Craw.”
Martin finished the final round with a total weight of 36 pounds, 4 ounces – superseding his 2004 winning weight of 32-8. The latest $125,000 check put his career earnings with FLW Outdoors past the $1 million mark.
“They’re all special,” Martin said of his victories. “This puts me in a class with only a few other guys.”
Wendlandt first to win three AOY titles
It was his goal all season, but undoubtedly it wasn’t as easy as he made it look. After watching his AOY counterpart Luke Clausen stumble on day three, Wendlandt knew the Land O’Lakes Angler of the Year title was his if he could just stay consistent.
Resisting the urge to run south on day three in stiff southerly winds, Wendlandt calmly punted and scraped together 12 pounds, 12 ounces up north. With much calmer seas on day four, the Leander, Texas, native returned to Ticonderoga, the area he had been fishing during the opening round. Today, he caught a workmanlike 15 pounds, 11 ounces and put the finishing touches on his third AOY campaign. Throughout the week he was throwing a Berkley Hollow Belly swimbait and flipping a Gambler Cricket.
“Coming into this event, I felt I had to make the top 10 to have a chance,” he said. “I figured Brent (Ehrler) or Andy (Morgan) or Luke would catch them, and they did. I have a great amount of respect for Luke, and since we both made the top 10, we both deserved to win.”
Wendlandt expressed gratitude to his sponsors and said the key to his latest title was never bombing at any of the six qualifiers. He also thanked Castrol pro Mike Surman, his friend and roommate during the season.
“AOY is about being consistent. To me, it’s about figuring them out at every lake we go to.”
With 1,096 points, five more than Clausen, Wendlandt takes home $25,000, a Ranger 198VX powered by a 200-horsepower Yamaha outboard and another $25,000 for winning Ranger Cup.
“Winning AOY is my goal every year. I think it’s the most impressive achievement in bass fishing.”
Gagliardi climbs to second
Gagliardi had his best performance of the four-day tournament, but it still wasn’t enough to pose a serious threat to Martin. Throwing a Lucky Craft Sammy 100 in ghost-brown color and a drop-shot rig with a Lake Fork Hyper Finesse Worm, Gagliardi caught a stout 19-12. Four of the fish were smallies – one a healthy largemouth. The three biggest came on the Sammy. When the wind blew yesterday, he Carolina-rigged with a Lake Fork Baby Creature. He presented these baits in 12 to 14 feet of water.
“Coming into this tournament, my sights were set on just making it to Pittsburgh,” he said. “After bombing at Kentucky Lake, I just didn’t want two bad tournaments in a row.”
Gagliardi’s best spot was within the Windmill Flat area, and he oftentimes fished within sight of Clausen. Although the bite was slow in tough conditions Saturday, he knew bringing in only four bass had cost him any chance at winning the tournament.
“I lost a 5-pounder yesterday, and I knew that was it. I just needed one more. There’s no other way I could have done it. Today went great, but there just aren’t enough 5-pounders.”
For 33 pounds, 9 ounces, he earned $50,000. Like Martin, Gagliardi also surpassed the $1 million mark in career FLW Outdoors earnings.
“I had a decent practice,” Gagliardi added. “I wouldn’t say it was a great practice by any stretch. That happens a lot with me. A lot of times I catch more fish than I think I’m catching in practice.”
Hardin climbs to third
The heaviest limit of day four came from Mark Hardin, as did the heaviest limit of the entire tournament (22-2 on day one). Hardin’s smallmouth area, located south of Rouse’s Point, turned back on with the better weather Sunday. The Jasper, Ga., angler caught five bass weighing 20 pounds, 2 ounces.
“I really thought the opportunity was there,” Hardin said. “It was one of those magical places where there are just tons and tons of fish. The wind hurt me yesterday, but it hurt everybody.”
Hardin’s key baits were Mega Bass and Lucky Craft jerkbaits as well as a Carolina rig with a Zoom Speed Craw. Hardin worked these baits over a slight elevation on a flat that went from 16 feet to 14 feet.
For a final-round total of 33-3, he finished third and earned $40,000. If not for a culling error yesterday, he would have finished second. This was the first cut Hardin has made since the 2006 FLW Tour event on Lake Okeechobee.
Yelas retains fourth
If the tournament title went to the pro that caught the most keepers, then Jay Yelas would likely be holding the cardboard check above his head. Yelas said he averaged roughly 25 keepers per day in the Missisquoi Bay area. Like Martin, he used a Chigger Craw, but he threw it on the 1/2-ounce signature Berkley Gripper flippin jig. He chose this set-up when flipping clumpy milfoil mats and skipping docks.
He also worked in a 10-inch Berkley Power Worm in blue-fleck color, which he dragged over a protected rock pile, which was similar to Martin’s. While both pros fished in Missisquoi, Yelas stayed on the lower-middle end.
Today his program worked to the tune of 17 pounds, 8 ounces. Combined with his day-three weight of 14-5, he finished with a final-round total of 31 pounds, 13 ounces. He earned $30,000.
“My goal was to be in the top five and have some momentum going into the Cup. The Forrest Wood Cup is the only major title I haven’t won.”
Mabrey slides to fifth
Lake Champlain is known for extremely tight leaderboards, so Kyle Mabrey knew he had to have a banner day in order to catch Martin, who started 2 pounds, 4 ounces ahead of him. Like he has all week, Mabrey ran 75 miles south of the takeoff site, and his final destination was just south of Ticonderoga.
Mabrey did a little bit of flipping, but his bread and butter was casting a Lucky Craft Fat CB B.D.S. 3 crankbait in chartreuse-shad color on the edges of milfoil. He started the tournament with a Bomber Fat Free shad, but felt the lure made too much noise. On day two he switched to the Lucky Craft 3 and caught 20 pounds, 10 ounces. Tied to his crankbaits was 30-pound Spiderwire braid.
“To me, the key was throwing a crankbait that made no noise. This was not a reaction bite – they were eating.”
The McCalla, Ala., pro actually caught two fish on one cast today as a pair of largemouths each grabbed one of his treble hooks. Overall, the bite was slower on day four even with more fishing time.
“I lost two good fish today that were probably between 4 and 5 pounds.”
Ultimately he placed fifth and earned $20,000.
Rest of the best
Rounding out the top 10 pro finishers at the FLW Tour event on Lake Champlain:
6th: Dave Lefebre of Union City, Pa., 29-4, $19,000
7th: Wendlandt of Leander, Texas, 28-7, $18,000
8th: Greg Pugh of Cullman, Ala., 27-14, $17,000
9th: Mike Hawkes of Sabinal, Texas, 27-9, $16,000
10th: Clausen of Gainesville, Ga., 20-2, $15,000
The $2 million Forrest Wood Cup is scheduled for the Three Rivers in Pittsburgh, Pa., July 30-Aug. 2.