By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
The day when a tour-level event at Lake Champlain is won exclusively with smallmouth bass seems to be getting closer and closer. It's not here yet, though.
A couple of top-5 finishers in the recently concluded Bassmaster Elite Series derby caught bronzebacks exclusively and a third weighed just a single largemouth that he picked up near the launch ramp just before check-in. However, that trio – and 105 other competitors – finished behind two guys who each boxed a final-day largemouth that was in excess of 6 pounds.
Winner Aaron Martens had a 6-02 green fish on his Sunday stringer and runner-up Seth Feider brought a 6-04 specimen to the stage. Nine of the 15 fish Martens weighed during the weather-shortened tournament were largemouths and Feider's ratio was even higher (11 out of 15).
Here are some pattern details for Feider and the three anglers who finished directly behind him.
2nd: Seth Feider
> Day 1: 5, 17-09
> Day 2: 5, 19-15
> Day 3: 5, 20-06
> Total = 15, 57-14
Feider's combo pattern of flipping grass for largemouth and dropshotting around deep rocks for smallmouths came within a pound of giving him his first victory in a full-field event. His weights went up on each succeeding day, but in the end he couldn't quite keep pace with Martens' 23-05 mega-bag.
He fished the Inland Sea in the northern portion of the lake and had very little company all week.
"In practice I was going down a grass line flipping a jig and I found four hard-bottom places in the milfoil (where quality largemouths were grouped up)," he said. "Most of my weight came off two of those."
One of those hotspots was on a large flat and the other was on a point. Nine feet was the key depth.
His reel was spooled with braided line, but he said it was critical to attach the jig to a 3- to 4-foot fluorocarbon leader. "I couldn't get bit on just straight braid," he said.
The smallmouth were in 16 to 30 feet of water, with the 22- to 25-foot range being ideal.
> Flipping gear: 7' medium-heavy Daiwa Tatula Elite Brent Ehrler signature series rod, Daiwa Tatula SV TW casting reel (8:1 ratio), 40-pound Sufix 832 braided line (main line), 20-pound Sufix fluorocarbon leader, 5/8-ounce Outkast Tackle Stealth Feider jig (green-pumpkin), Biospawn VileCraw trailer (green-pumpkin).
> Dropshot gear: 7'1" Daiwa Tatula Elite Brent Ehrler signature series rod, Daiwa Tatula 4000 spinning reel, 6-pound Sufix 832 braid (main line), 8-pound Sufix fluorocarbon leader, No. 2 VMC Neko hook, 1/2-ounce VMC cylindrical weight, unnamed tube (clear or purple with green flake).
Main factor in his success – "Having both largemouth and smallmouth to fish for. There were times when one was biting and the other wasn't and I'd go back and forth."
Performance edge – "My Humminbird graph. I was catching those smallmouth out deep and I was able to see if the boulders had fish on them, and in the grass where I was fishing for the largemouth it helped me find the hard bottom."
Brandon Palaniuk logged his second 3rd-place finish in as many weeks.
3rd: Brandon Palaniuk
> Day 1: 5, 18-01
> Day 2: 5, 18-13
> Day 3: 5, 20-07
> Total = 15, 57-05
Brandon Palaniuk, the Angler of the Year leader who extended his points advantage from eight to 40 with his second 3rd-place finish is as many weeks, was another angler whose weights increased day by day. He was tops among competitors who weighed only smallmouths.
He's not even sure he was every around any largemouths.
"I had a 7- or 8-mile stretch I was running with five or six stops along it," he said. "It was stuff I found in practice and I learned it a little bit better every day during the tournament.
"The biggest thing for me was keeping my trolling motor down and keeping my line in the water. It seemed like those fish moved a lot to different subtle places along the stretch. I could usually find them concentrated on a different sweet spot every day."
He threw both a spinbait and a jerkbait and also employed a dropshot
"Most of the fish were in 10 to 20 feet of water and they were kind of spread out within the one general area, and I'd ease back and forth between the spots."
The majority of his locales featured a rock/grass mixture.
> Dropshot gear: 6’10” medium-action Alpha Angler Rods DSR spinning rod, Daiwa EXIST spinning reel, 15-pound Seaguar Smackdown braided line, 8-pound Seaguar Tatsu fluorocarbon line (leader), No. 2 unnamed dropshot hook, Zoom Z Drop (green weenie or green-pumpkin), 3/8-ounce unnamed tungsten dropshot weight (teardrop).
> Same rod and reel as dropshot, 6-pound Seaguar Tatsu fluorocarbon line, Storm Arashi Spinbait (green gill).
> Jerkbait gear: 7' medium-action Alpha Angler Rods Slasher rod, Abu Garcia Revo MG Extreme casting reel, 12-pound Seaguar Tatsu fluorocarbon, Rapala Shadow Rap Deep (haymaker).
> He used a Sharpie pen to draw a lateral black line on the jerkbait in an effort to better imitate a perch.
Main factor in his success – "Deciding to concentrate on smallmouths and kind of focus in on one area."
Performance edge – "My Humminbird 360. For what I was fishing, I had to make a real specific cast and it was really difficult to stay on that just going by waypoints or whatever. It wasn't a big enough drop to follow on your contour line."
Jacob Wheeler made a big move up the standings on the second day of competition.
4th: Jacob Wheeler
> Day 1: 5, 17-12
> Day 2: 5, 20-12
> Day 3: 5, 18-02
> Total = 15, 56-10
Jacob Wheeler went to Champlain knowing that he'd focus on the north end. At a previous tournament he'd made the long run to Ticonderoga at the southern end and it resulted in a poor finish, and he vowed he'd never go again.
He opted to pursue the more abundant smallmouth, as he'd watched their average size continually increase over the past several years.
"I fished out deep (in practice) and I fished the in-between stuff, and I came to the conclusion that the better quality smallmouth were in 8 to 15 feet of water," he said. "I didn't feel like the majority had moved deep yet."
He caught a decent bag the first day, and then a big one the following day (which would've been an even 21 pounds if not for a 4-ounce dead-fish penalty) that rocketed him from 30th place to the top of the standings. He came up a couple pounds shy of his 20-pound objective on the final day, and that ended up being his eventual deficit to Martens after all of the numbers were tallied.
"I was so excited to get out there on day 3," he said. "I was leading by a pound and I thought that if I caught every fish that bit, I'd have 20 pounds again and even 22 was a possibility.
"I had the bites to have 19 1/2. It was sort of a relief when Aaron busted the huge bag because I knew the two fish I lost didn't cost me a win."
He said the fish he was after traveled in wolf packs most of the time and he could pick off a couple with a swimbait. Then the packs would break up and he'd resort to a Carolina rig.
He also used a jerkbait to catch some fish from rocks that were deeper than 10 feet.
> Swimbait gear: 7' medium-action Okuma Helios rod, Okuma Helios casting reel (6.6:1 ratio), 12-pound Sufix fluorocarbon line, 3/8-ounce VMC Neon Moon Eye jighead, 3 1/2" Storm 360 GT swimbait (herring or white).
> Carolina rig gear: 7'6" heavy-action Okuma Helios rod, Okuma Helios casting reel (7/3:1 ratio), 17-pound Sufix fluorocarbon (main line), 3/4-ounce VMC egg sinker, plastic bead, 14-pound Sufix fluorocarbon (2 1/2- to 3-foot leader), 3/0 VMC offset-shank hook, Gene Larew Hammer Craw, Gene Larew Biffle Bug or Zoom Speed Craw.
> Jerkbait gear: 6'6" medium-heavy Okuma EVX rod, Okuma Helios casting reel (7.3:1 ratio), 12-pound Sufix fluorocarbon, Rapala Shadow Rap Deep (mossback shiner) or Megabass Vision 110+1 (gill).
Main factor in his success – "Sticking with the smallmouth. A lot of us didn't expect them to play as much as they did."
Performance edge – I'd say it was selecting the right rods and reels for the applications. Fishing the slower reel with the swimbait was key because it was important to keep in contact with the bottom and the shorter rod on the jerkbait let me jerk it fast with hard, erratic motions."
Kelley Jaye's 5th-place finish was his best ever on the Elite Series.
5th: Kelley Jaye
> Day 1: 5, 18-01
> Day 2: 5, 19-02
> Day 3: 5, 19-06
> Total = 15, 57-05
Kelley Jaye compiled almost all of his weight for the tournament from a main-lake point that sat just outside a spawning point in the Inland Sea.
"It was actually the last flat before you got to the main channel," he said. "Those fish were transitional – they were spawning when the (FLW Series) was there about a month ago. I was catching them in between where they'd been and where they were going."
A jerkbait was his primary weapon for the first 2 1/2 days.
"I made long casts, trying to get it down as deep as I could. For the first day and a half I was jerking it pretty hard, which you normally do for smallies. Then (late Saturday) I noticed a lot of fish following it but not eating it, so I slowed it down and just kept it constantly moving. It was almost like 'walking the dog' under water."
He switched to a large Zara Super Spook (chartreuse/white) after he'd amassed most of his weight on the final day and enticed five quality bites, but landed only two.
> Jerkbait gear: 6'10" medium-action ALX prototype rod, Team Lew's Magnesium Speed Spool casting reel (7.3:1 ratio), 14-pound Bass Pro Shops XPS fluorocarbon line, Megabass Vision 100 (perch).
Main factor in his success – "I think just knowing the fish were there and sticking with it. I knew I was going to get a good early morning bite and then it would slack off until about 12, and then I'd get another flurry. I kept my head down and didn't panic; I knew the fish would turn back on."
Performance edge – "Probably that rod for handling the jumping smallmouths, and also changing my hooks to Mustad KVD Triple Grip trebles. I lost so many fish at the St. Lawrence from fish jumping and slapping at the bait and I didn't want a repeat of that."