When to Hold 'Em

PLATTSBURGH, N.Y. — The temptation to pursue smallmouth bass on Lake Champlain is obvious. Even though the Champion's Choice presented by Toyota Tundra has caught the bronze-brown fish post-spawn, when they're not as aggressive, most of the Bassmaster Elite Series anglers in this field could catch them by the dozen, if so inclined.

 But as the tournament will be decided on weight, catching dozens of a smaller fish is not only redundant, it's counterproductive when other anglers will be sacking fewer yet fatter largemouth.

 "It's the mystique of catching smallmouth" that drives many anglers to chase those fish around a lake such as Champlain, angler Kevin Short said on the dock before take-off Friday morning. "For a guy from Georgia, Alabama — there are very few lakes with smallmouth in them."To me, it's a no-brainer. Why are you going to fish for a lighter fish?"

 The answer to that question, at least for some of the experienced smallmouth anglers in this tournament field, is that smallmouth are catchable.

 "I believe you fish your strengths," said Charlie Hartley (98th place, 10 pounds, 9 ounces). "This lake allows you to do that. I'm a good smallmouth fisherman. I'm not going to go fish for largemouth in the grass against Denny Brauer."

 A practiced smallmouth fisherman from central Ohio, Hartley still believes that an angler who could catch 17- or 18-pound smallmouth sacks daily would be in contention, in part because largemouth replenish less quickly than smallmouth.

 That said, as he spoke Friday morning, he was re-rigging many of his rods on the deck of his boat. He was loading for largemouth. "I'm going for broke," he said. "Another little bag of smallmouth isn't going to do me any good."

 Kevin Wirth (7th, 17-11) and Steve Daniel (12th, 16-15) found the most success targeting smallmouth on Day One. And both are going right back out for smallmouth on Day Two.

 Daniel has noticed that nearly all his smallmouth are suspended in perhaps 10 feet of water, but feels confident that he can catch just about any fish he can see. Like Hartley, he believes he must play to his strengths.

 "Those guys catching largemouth, one slip and everyone goes right past you," he said.The danger, though, is that the largemouth fishing in Champlain has gotten good enough that the largemouth anglers may be able to weather a drought.

 "I'm here to win," said Dean Rojas (15th, 16-11), who is targeting solely largemouth. "It's not about having fun. You always hear guys, 'Oh, it's so fun to fish for smallmouth.' Sometimes that can get in the way of winning."

 Kenyon Hill (37th, 15-8) came to the same conclusion when he chose to target largemouth, even though he has invested hours into looking for smallmouth in Champlain. He knew he could catch a limit of smallmouth, and make a check, but opted instead to pursue largemouth."I want to do better than just make the cut," Hill said. "I decided to gamble and see if I couldn't move up the food chain."

 Editor's note: Check in daily during the tournament for live video of the weigh-ins and a realtime leaderboard at 3 p.m. ET Thursday through Saturday. ESPNOutdoors.com will air Hooked Up, the live Internet shows, on Sunday at 8 a.m., 10 a.m. and noon ET on Sunday. The 45-minute Hooked Up show begins at 3 p.m. ET on Sunday, leading into the final live weigh-in and a realtime leaderboard at 3:45 p.m. ET.


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