Few of this year’s Bassmaster Elite Series pros have yet to compete on massive Lake Champlain. In fact, many of them have been casting for cash on the sixth Great Lake for longer than 20 years, so while it might not offer many surprises, it nevertheless presents certain landmines.
Do you fish for green bass, brown bass or both?
Do you make a long run or stay close?
How will the weather factor into your gameplan?
The question is not whether the field will catch solid limits of bass, but rather who will distinguish themselves with the extra 1/4 pound or 1/2 pound per fish. You can’t make up ground by catching an 8- or 9-pounder like on Guntersville or Fork, so you have to attack the competition with ounces and hope you don’t get stuck with a midget in your bag.
Of course, with this being one of only two Elite Series tournaments left on the schedule, there is additional pressure, whether it be in competing for Bassmaster Angler of the Year, a Classic berth or a spot back in the 2022 field. These guys are all professionals, used to the game day pressures, but you’ll want to pick solid decision makers who won’t get rattled by the high stakes.
BUCKET A: CORY JOHNSTON
My pick: Cory Johnston may be five spots behind his brother Chris in the AOY race, and they’re both hammers not only on northern smallmouth venues, but also flipping grass for largemouth. In fact, they’re so similar in so many ways that it’s hard to pick one over the other, but Cory’s Champlain track record at B.A.S.S. (eighth and ninth) is better than the 30th- and 38th-place finishes has posted.
Solid backup: Duh. Chris Johnston, although their running buddy Feider wouldn’t be a bad option either.
BUCKET B: KENNEDY
My pick: Steve Kennedy has been all over the map at Champlain – third, 17th and 62nd, but it’s a venue that fits his preferred techniques – a Senko, a swim jig, and his ride-or-die glides that sometimes get him into trouble. If he can make them work here they could be a difference maker. Coming off the pain of his Ray Roberts stumble, he no doubt desperately wants to qualify for next year’s Classic, and at 31st in AOY he’ll need to keep his foot on the gas to ensure a spot.
Solid backup: Brandon Lester has been solid in past efforts at Champlain, with two top-six finishes. He’s further inside the Classic bubble than Kennedy, but not safe by any means.
BUCKET C: HARTMAN
My pick: The change-of-address label may read Arkansas, but Jamie Hartman is Empire State to the core, and he has likely spent as much time on the big pond as anyone in the field. He was third here last year and has been solid in his other B.A.S.S. tournaments on Champlain.
Solid backup: If there’s a grass flipping bite to be had, bank on Chad Morgenthaler, who’s spent ample time over the years on Champlain and loves to punch the green stuff. Right now he’s an undervalued pick.
BUCKET D: CANTERBURY
My pick: Last year then-reigning AOY Scott Canterbury finished an impressive 11th at Champlain. Combined with his ample experience there during his lengthy and productive career at FLW, he knows when to zig and when to zag, and he is a bargain in Bucket D. He needs two really good finishes to have a shot at the Classic.
Solid backup: Bernie Schultz always seems to do well in New York and has ample experience both with northern smallmouth and grass-based largemouth.
BUCKET E: DEMARION
My pick: At 87th in the AOY race, Destin DeMarion is not in the position he envisioned for his sophomore campaign, but if the Pennsylvania pro is going to get back on track there’s no better place for him to do it than two highly-productive northern fisheries.
Solid backup: Former Classic qualifier Garrett Paquette is another competitor who’s not punching his weight this year, but his last two events at Champlain have produced money finishes, so this is an opportunity to improve upon an otherwise forgettable season.