CASCO, Maine — All week, Laurence Hogue had been waiting for the bigger smallmouth to move into their late-summer/fall feeding areas and today, he leveraged the new arrivals to complete a tournament total of 31 pounds, 8 ounces.
It was good enough for a victory in the TNT Fireworks B.A.S.S. Nation Eastern Regional on Sebago Lake. He earned $5,000 and a spot in the B.A.S.S. Nation Championship, Nov. 6-8 on Lake Hartwell.
Hailing from Kennebunk, Maine, Hogue placed second on Day 1 with a five-bass limit that weighed 11-2 and then took the lead on Day 2 by adding a similar catch of 11-13.
Largemouth dominated his first two days’ catches. But Friday, he added three hefty smallmouth that weighed 7-15 and finished with a dominant margin of victory of almost 9 pounds.
“The smallmouth are just starting to move up,” Hogue said. “We checked some spots I’ve been checking all week and they were starting to move up. We saw some fish that were bigger than what we caught swimming around.
“I couldn’t get the largemouth today. I think there’s been a lot of pressure on them.”
Weather played a role in this week’s competition. Day 1 brought a cloudy, rainy start, followed by warm, windy conditions. Day 2 was partly cloudy and cooler, with Day 3 bringing the calm and sunny “bluebird” conditions of a post-frontal day.
Fishing was noticeably tougher Friday, but Hogue said his 30 years of fishing Lake Sebago told him to persevere.
“I was just fishing the best spots, slowing down and trying to get bites off the key areas.”
Hogue responded to the changing conditions and increased fishing pressure by targeting different scenarios. Day 1 saw him cranking rocks and wood at the mouth of a bay with a rainbow trout color Mudbug. That bait produced four of his keepers. The fifth, he caught on a drop shot with a Berkley Max Scent 45.
On Day 2, he flipped docks and shallow grass with a Zoom Brush Hog and a jig. In the final round, Hogue caught his smallmouth on a Tennessee shad-colored Super Spook and a drop-shot rig.
Hogue was the top boater for the Maine B.A.S.S. Nation state team, which finished first in the event’s team competition.
Brandon Morris of Harrisonburg, Va., finished second with 22-9. Morris placed first on Day 1 with 11-8 and moved into second on Day 2 after adding 6-1. Day 3 offered only two bass that totaled 5 pounds.
Morris caught all of his fish on a Booyah Pad Crasher frog. He targeted shallow grass and found Day 3 his toughest.”
“The lake’s been beaten up for three days — or seven days, considering practice,” Morris said. “I got two bites today and was fortunate enough to get them in the boat. I stuck with largemouth until about 12, and then I ditched that and tried to catch a keeper smallmouth but it never worked.”
Al Gambardella of North Haven, Conn., finished in third place with 21-6. After placing 15th on Day 1 with 7-12, Gambardella weighed 6-5 on Day 2 and moved into fourth, before adding 7-5 today.
“I caught my fish on a black 2.8 Keitech swimbait on a 3/16-ounce head and a spybait over shallow sand flats in 4-8 feet,” he said. “When it gets slick calm, I like to throw the swimbait and when it’s choppier, I like to throw the spybait.”
Edwin Bartlett of Casco won the Phoenix Boats Big Bass award with his 8-7.
Aaron Russell of Hoschton, Ga., held commanding leads in the co-angler division for the first two days and completed his wire-to-wire win Friday with a three-day total of 22-6. His Day 1 catch of 11-4 gave him an opening-round advantage of 5-15 and buoyed is tournament.
Russell retained his lead with a Day 2 catch of 4-7 that increased his edge to 7-12. The final round yielded two plump smallmouth that weighed 6-1 and pushed him across the finish line by a margin of 8-12.
“I caught most of my fish on a 3/8-ounce Rock Crawler jig with a dirty plum Yamamoto Hula grub,” Russell said. “Today, I caught one of my fish on a drop shot with a blue crawler Robo Worm and a wacky-rigged green pumpkin magic Senko.”
Russell won the Phoenix Boats Big Bass award among co-anglers with a 5-4.