This month, BASS returns to the smallmouth paradise of Lake Champlain out of Plattsburgh, N.Y., for the Aug. 20-22 Northern Open, the second of three 2009 tournaments for the division.
The United States' sixth-largest freshwater lake, loaded with quality-sized smallmouth and largemouth bass, Champlain promises excitement among the anglers as well as fishing fans.
At stake for the pros is a top prize of $45,000 and valuable points toward qualifying for the 2010 Bassmaster Elite Series season and two berths in the 2010 Bassmaster Classic, set for Feb. 19-21 on Lay Lake out of Birmingham, Ala. Co-anglers compete in the Opens for the top prize of a boat/motor package valued at $32,000. After Day Two, the field will be cut to the top 30 pros and co-anglers, who will advance to Saturday's final day of competition.
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.
Champlain is a favorite stop for Charlie Hartley of Grove City, Ohio, a Bassmaster Elite Series pro who boasts a wall full of trophies from events on the massive fishery. He said the Northern Open this month could result in a win on smallmouth or largemouth.
"It really could go either way," Hartley said. "A big tournament there last month was won with largemouth, but both will come into play. The fish will be postspawn, but not as far along.
"I've won there fishing as deep as 45 feet for smallmouth, but you can also catch them from 8 to 12 feet on the grass lines. They call it the 'sixth Great Lake' — you can fish deep with tubes and drop shots or you can fish shallow, even on topwater baits. I'd like to think I'm a good smallmouth fisherman, and in 40 feet of water I usually have them to myself, so that's my plan. When I can find them, they're all mine."
Another Northern-based Elite Series pro, Mark Burgess of Norton, Mass., felt that smallmouth would play a larger role than normal. He said that swimbaits, tubes, jerkbaits, spinnerbaits and a variety of topwater lures would all be key to catching smallmouth.
"The wind should be decent at this time of year, but you never know," said Burgess. "If we get a weather front, the wind could play a huge role in the outcome."
Burgess felt that toads, frogs, flipping baits and heavy jigs would be best for largemouth and Hartley added that the largemouth usually fish more on inside grass lines and could also come on soft stick baits.
"It's a unique fishery — I've seen 21-pound bags of smallmouth and 23-pound bags of largemouth," said Hartley. "If you stick with it, smallmouth several days in a row can move you up. But if largemouth come into play, 16 pounds of small might not be enough."
Hartley said he thinks making the cut to the top 30 will require about 14 pounds a day, and maybe — maybe, he said — about 56 pounds will win the three-day event.
In 2007, Alabama's Timmy Horton, a veteran Bassmaster Elite Series pro and the 2000 Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year, ran away with the victory on Champlain at an Elite event with an advantage of nearly 13 pounds over second-place finisher Skeet Reese of Auburn, Calif., the reigning Bassmaster Classic champ. The whole of Horton's 83 pounds, 10 ounces came on a Booyah Football Head jig.
Fans are invited to the Open's Thursday-Saturday takeoffs and weigh-ins at Plattsburgh Boat Basin at
5 Dock Street, Plattsburgh, N.Y. Anglers will launch their boats at 5:45 a.m. ET and the weigh-ins are scheduled to begin at 2:05 p.m. All activities are free and open to the public.
Up next is the final stop in the Northern Open division, the Sept. 24-26 event on Lake Erie out of Sandusky, Ohio. Dave Mansue of Robbinsville, N.J., leads the Northern Open points standings on the strength of his circuit-opening victory on the Chesapeake Bay. Frank Scalish of Cleveland, Ohio, is close behind in second while Elite anglers Kotaro Kiriyama of Moody, Ala., (fifth) and New Jersey's Mike Iaconelli (eighth) are within striking distance.
The City of Plattsburgh is the tournament host at Lake Champlain.
Official Sponsors of the 2009 Bassmaster Opens: Toyota Trucks, Berkley, BOOYAH Baits, Evan Williams Bourbon, Mercury, OPTIMA Batteries, Skeeter Boats, Yamaha Marine.
Supporting Sponsors of the 2009 Bassmaster Opens: Bass Pro Shops, Triton Boats.