Round 2 of the Lake Champlain Bassmaster Eastern Open was all about the 20-pound mark, and only two anglers in the massive 194-boat field caught limits of bass weighing 20 pounds or more both days. One was the new tournament leader, Bryan Labelle of Hinesburg, Vt., who backed up his day-1 catch with five bass weighing 21-10. The other was day-1 leader Bobby Lane, who brought in 20-4 on Friday.
The two are separated by a little more than a pound with one day left to fish, but they’re separated by more than weight. Labelle is a local angler and Champlain expert. Lane, on the other hand, is an Elite Series pro from Lakeland, Fla., who’s never cashed a check at Champlain despite a half-dozen previous attempts.
Third place currently belongs to another Floridian, Rich Howes, who weighed back-to-back sacks of about 19 1/2 pounds (19-09 today). Howes trails leader Labelle by a little more than 4 pounds.
Of the 15 bass weighed by the top 3, only two were smallmouth – one for Labelle, one for Lane —but for most of the field, the largemouth bite started to fade on day 2. The popular spots down south in Ticonderoga burned out, and the top 3 caught their fish well north of the Plattsburgh weigh-in. The lack of sun Friday harmed the largemouth bite, as well as the smallmouth bite, because the largemouth weren’t positioned to shade, and the deeper smallmouth weren’t firing like they do under clear skies.
Labelle said he’s fishing north, in Missisquoi Bay, where he’s targeting largemouth in grass.
“I didn’t have a game plan today – I was just fishing around – and I ‘burned’ all my fish,” Labelle said. “I was around some boats, but they weren’t very close. Tomorrow, I will need more of a game plan, but I’m going to stay in the same part of the lake – I’ll just fish a different area around there.
“I’m strictly power-fishing and I caught 20 keepers today. I think I’m going to target smallies tomorrow. I don’t know if I can catch enough weight with them to win, but I think I need to change the area and change the technique.”
Lane’s three biggest fish – two yesterday and one today – came off a single small spot. He only caught 16 to 18 pounds there today, so he went and fished several different areas, he said. He’s been flipping a Berkley MaxScent The General soft stickbait in black/blue – he likes darker baits on cloudy days – and he's also frogging.
“I’ve fished here five or six times and never even come close to cashing a check, so this is a real joy,” Lane noted. “Last time when we fished the Elites here, I was around two of the guys who made the top 5. They never left the area. I learned from that. You need to stay around your fish here and just continue to work through them.”
Howes is making a long run up north to target largemouth, and he said his day went pretty much the same as the one before, except it took him two hours longer to catch his final weight (he finished at 1 p.m. today vs. 11 a.m. Thursday).
“They definitely weren’t biting like yesterday,” Howes said. “I’m fishing topwater baits and they were choking on it yesterday, but today they were missing, so I was following up with a soft plastic."
Here are the totals for the 12 anglers who advanced to the final day:
1. Bryan Labelle: 43-02
2. Bobby Lane: 42-01
3. Rich Howes: 39-05
4. Greg Dipalma: 38-15
5. Buddy Cipoletti: 38-13
6. Hunter Eubanks: 38-09
7. John Cox: 38-07
8. Wesley Strader: 37-13
9. Kurt Mitchell: 37-13
10. Brandon Lester: 37-06
11. Carl Jocumsen: 37-03
12. Dakota Ebare: 37-02