PLATTSBURGH, N.Y. — Angler of the Year points leader and bass angler nonpareil Kevin VanDam owes some of his uncharacteristically low 27th-place finish at the Champion's Choice presented by Toyota Tundra to his outstanding practice.VanDam stuck to smallmouth fishing all week — a strategy that carried exactly no one to the top-12 cut. Smallmouth are more abundant in Lake Champlain, but they're also smaller, on average, than largemouth. And as VanDam's week demonstrated, they're also tougher to land.
"I just didn't get them in the boat," he said. "They're hard to keep on. Smallmouth are fussy. They move around a lot. It takes eight or 10 good bites to land five. On a good day."His final sack of 13 pounds, 4 ounces did not include a 5-plus-pounder that VanDam said was the biggest smallmouth he had ever beheld on Lake Champlain. After a five-minute fight, it broke off.Asked whether he underestimated Champlain's largemouth population in targeting smallmouth, VanDam insisted he didn't. It was just that during practice, he "caught a dozen great big" smallmouths, and convinced himself that they might be enough to win the tournament. With a worse practice, he said, he would have pursued largemouth. But he admitted also: "I'm hardheaded about it, too."
And speaking of AOY
With Skeet Reese fishing in the final day on Champlain, it has yet to be seen just how many points he'll add to his Angler of the Year race total. But anyone following the race between him and VanDam will be interested to know that it's back to being a virtual tie.Unofficially, if Reese maintains his hold on the sixth-place position, he'll be only eight points behind VanDam for the AOY title (1,897 to 1,889). If Reese improves to finish in fourth place or better, he'll regain the AOY points lead that he relinquished just one tournament ago, at Oklahoma's Grand Lake.Said VanDam: "That's cool. I'm good with it."Said Reese: "I did what I need to do. I feel good about that."
Three Elite Series events apparently will determine the race: next week at a potentially treacherous Lake Erie, where neither man has previously fished; at the Potomac River and at Lake Tohopekaliga. Stay tuned.
Roum for improvement
If any of the leaders going into Day Three were talking a game good enough to make a move on Timmy Horton, it would have been Fred Roumbanis. On both Day One and Day Two, he said, he eased off his spot, thinking that his sacks would keep him in solid contention. Instead, Horton's lead kept expanding.
On Saturday, Roumbanis brought only 14-5 to the scales — the smallest bag of any angler still in the top 12—– and fell to fourth, nearly 13 pounds off the lead.The best he could figure, a two-degree drop in water temperature and lake levels several inches higher thwarted his topwater bait."The potential for getting a 25-pound bag is there" on his spot, Roumbanis insisted. Had it to do over, he might have gone flipping.
Lake of plenty
Mississippian Cliff Pace didn't hide his disappointment in talking Friday about the decision by BASS not to return to Lake Champlain in 2008. Saturday he talked more about the reasons why most pro anglers actually enjoy hauling their rigs near the Canadian border to cast for cash."A lot of lakes you have to manage your fish, but I've got a few places where I keep thinking, 'There's no way on earth there's another big fish on this spot.' And sure enough, there's another one," Pace said. "This place is just incredible."
Mo' smallmouths, mo' problems
No angler fell as far as Steve Daniel did Saturday, but it wasn't because his fish vacated his area or he burned them too much the first two days. It was simply a case of smallmouths being smallmouths.
"I could have had 16, 17 pounds today, and every one of my big fish jumped off," Daniel said. "I had one jump five or six times before he jumped off. They just went ballistic today."
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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