PLATTSBURGH, N. Y. — Lake Champlain's magical reef that had sustained so many anglers during the first two days of the CITGO Bassmaster Northern Open officially died at 7:45 a.m. Saturday, just as the final day of competition was really heating up.
At least that's when New Hampton, N.H. angler Joe Lucarelli felt the end had finally come, so he left. Lucarelli, in second place just and just 4 ounces behind leader William Roe, had only two bass in his livewell when he raced to deep sand and rock a mile away but still within sight of the first reef.
By 9 a.m. he had caught more than 17 pounds of smallmouth from the new spot and from there he cruised to his first Bassmaster Tournament Trail victory. He finished with 56 pounds, 7 ounces, after catching a final day total of 19-5.
William Roe had to settle for second with 54-10, after fishing the reef for 1½ hours without a strike after Lucarelli had left. Mark Zona, co-host of the ESPN television show, "Loudmouth Bass," claimed third with 54-2; Kotaro Kiriyama finished fourth with 53-7; and Joe's father Steve Lucarelli finished fifth with 53-2.
Lucarelli fished three different lures and techniques en route to victory: a black 3-inch Berkley Power Leech on a drop shot; a green pumpkin Berkley Power Lizard on a Carolina rig; and a 5-inch watermelon-colored Gary Yamamoto Senko rigged wacky style and worked through grassbeds.
"If there was a key to winning this week," noted Lucarelli, 26, "it would have to be in recognizing how the bass changed as fishing pressure increased, and then adjusting to that change.
"On the reef, for instance, the first day there I caught my first bass in 24 feet, but I caught my second one at nearly 30 feet. More boats had come in by then and the bass moved into one of the deeper depressions.
"You could still catch some bass shallower, but the larger fish were definitely deeper. Yesterday I saw the same thing happen, and today even the deeper fish just finally stopped biting."
Lucarelli's backup spot, where he'd caught a 4-punder the first day of competition but hadn't visited since, was basically a high spot on the side of a long underwater point. The sandy bottom was broken up with rocks, and the fish ranged from 23 to 26 feet deep.
His third spot, the point of an underwater grassbed in 10 feet of water, also produced some quality bass for him the first day. He rigged the Senko with a Falcon Weedless Wacky Hook, which allowed him to let the lure sink through the grass to the bottom and then rip it through the vegetation without getting snagged.
"Overall, the bass were doing just what I hoped they would be doing in August, which was congregating in 25 to 30 feet of water where I could use either a drop shot or a Carolina rig, which are my favorite techniques," Lucarelli said."Fortunately, I found them in several places. I didn't work my lures any special way, except slowly."
Roe, a siding contractor in Norton, Mass., caught his fifth bass at the reef at 7:40 a.m., but they weighed less than 13 pounds, not enough, he knew, to win the tournament. Still, he stayed at the spot throughout the day, finally finishing with 17-4.
He was Carolina rigging both Zoom and Yum lizards, and like Lucarelli, had noticed how the bass moved into the deeper water after fishing pressure had increased, even though they were more than 20 feet deep.
"It's tough to leave a place like that reef because even though the bass aren't biting, you know they're still there," he said. "You had to work the depth changes by watching your depthfinder, and there were places where the graph turned black with all the baitfish.
"Literally hundreds of pounds of bass were taken from that single reef this week, and a lot of others were hooked and lost. I think we finally wore it out."
Zona, Kiriyama, and Steve Lucarelli relied heavily on drop shot rigs, working structure and rock cover in water as deep as 38 feet. Zona fished a deep flat and shellbed where he and other anglers caught more than 100 pounds of fish from a single 30-yard long stretch during the tournament.
"It's just an unbelievable fishery," the popular television personality noted, "but this week it was really important to be able to read a depthfinder because of the way the bass were relating to specific structure. I actually saw the majority of the bass I caught."
On the non-boater side, Doug Wilson of Calais, Vt., claimed top honors, bringing in 15 bass weighing 45 pounds, 8 ounces and edging runnerup Joe Rizenthaler of Ohio by 13 ounces. During the tournament he was paired with pros Mike Leblanc, Shinichi Fukai, and Rick Morris, and all of his bass were caught on drop shots or Carolina rigs.