CELEBRATION, Fla. — The basic foundation of the inaugural CITGO Bassmaster Elite Series is to put the nation's best anglers on the country's top bass lakes at prime times of the year. Nothing epitomizes that more than visiting New York's Lake Champlain in the summertime.
Season after season, the sixth largest freshwater lake in the United States usually creates more excitement and anticipation among pros than any body of water. And that is particularly true of the ninth stop on the Elite Series season, the Champion's Choice, July 13-16.
"It's going to be phenomenal," said Michael Iaconelli, leader in the CITGO Bassmaster Angler of the Year race and a veteran of more than a dozen tournaments on Lake Champlain, including a 1999 BASS victory. "It's going to be classic Champlain.
"I don't know of another lake in the country where you can catch that many fish of a good size and have both species. You can have a 60-fish day with 30 smallmouth and 30 largemouth and they're all 3 to 4 pounds. There are not very many lakes in the country where you can do that."
Lake Champlain begins on the Canadian border near Quebec and stretches 110 miles south to the Ticonderoga area. In the process, it splits New York and Vermont by 12 miles at its widest point, covers more than 300,000 surface acres and has a maximum depth of about 400 feet. Its 585 miles of picturesque shoreline is still largely undisturbed by developers.
Iaconelli expects Lake Champlain to be its usual cooperative self during the Elite Series event.
"The guys really caught them this week (in a national tournament) with a lot of 15- to 20-pound bags," he said. "Right now when the bass are in the spawning phase, they're spread out a lot. More than half of the top-10 in that tournament was sight-fishing exclusively for smallmouth this week."
But the pros likely won't be able to rely on the same techniques and locations that produced during past BASS visits to the lake.
"Every time BASS has been there, it's been in the fall," Iaconelli said. "Things are going to be different because those tournaments relied on a fall feed, which is when the smallmouth get shallow and start gorging themselves on bait before the winter.
"But this time we're going to have fish in their summertime pattern, which is what I call deeper-thicker. The smallmouth will be focused on the bait, but they're going to be a lot deeper on isolated stuff. And then the largemouth are going to be in the thicker cover."
Joe Lucarelli of New Hampshire won the last BASS tournament on Champlain with a three-day total of 56 pounds, 7 ounces in 2005.
Iaconelli, the 2003 Bassmaster Classic champion, emphasized that the winner will need to catch a combination of species to prevail. In fact, Iaconelli couldn't recall a major tournament on Oneida won exclusively on smallmouth or largemouth.
Smallmouth, he said, will be caught by anglers power fishing deep with Carolina rigs, dragging a tube and drop-shotting as well as jerkbaits and spinnerbaits. Largemouth will fall for baits that can probe thick cover, like a 1-ounce weight with a craw, a jig or a weedless soft-plastic stickbait.
In addition to the $100,000 top prize, at stake are valuable points toward the 2007 CITGO Bassmaster Classic on Lay Lake in Birmingham, Ala. The Elite Series is a top-tier circuit featuring highly credentialed tournament pros who have earned the opportunity to compete in 11 high-profile events.
Daily launches and weigh-ins are free and open to the public at Plattsburgh Boat Basin, 5 Dock Street, in Plattsburgh. Anglers launch at 5:30 a.m. ET and weigh in at 3 p.m. ET.
Fishing fans can catch the action from the Champion's Choice on the CITGO Bassmasters on Saturday, July 22 at 10 a.m. ET on ESPN2.
Local sponsors include the City of Plattsburgh.
Sponsors of the CITGO Bassmaster Elite Series include CITGO Petroleum Corp., Toyota, Busch Beer, Purolator, Triton Boats, Mercury Marine, Berkley, Lowrance Electronics, MotorGuide, Advance Auto Parts and Theraseed®.