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FLW Tour - Lake Champlain Wrap-Up

Posted by todd on July 3, 2012

425156_329051720511886_287312004_nWhat an amazing week at Lake Champlain. It's one of the most beautiful places I've ever been, and the fishing there is without a doubt some of the best in the country.  And it's now official - we qualified for the Forrest Wood Cup!  We'll be heading to Lake Lanier in Georgia on August 9-12th to compete for a $500,000 first-place prize.  I'm having a hard time processing that in my mind, and the fact that I have that opportunity so early in my career during my rookie season.  It's an honor, and what a blessing.

We worked hard through 14-hour practice days to learn as much as possible about such a vast fishery, that flows over 100 miles in length.  During our off-day, Terrance and I spent a few hours helping the FLW crew working at a nearby area in Plattsburgh that was adjacent to the Saranac River.  It was previously utilized as a mobile home park that the city recently condemned due to constant flooding.  Rick Perry, Plattsburgh Building Inspector and bass-fishing advocate, spearheaded the project that would clear the shoreline to provide public fishing access.  So about a dozen anglers showed up to use weed-wackers, trimmers, saws, and trash cans to clear the area.  And after two hours, the mission was accomplished.  It always feels good to give back to the communities that we get to visit.

540813_385952624796052_1823671350_nHere's how the event transpired.  I chose to fish the southern end of Lake Champlain, as I felt the percentage of tournament-grade bass were there and my best chances to have a good finish.  The biggest wildcard was the wind, and whether or not I could make it there and back safely with enough time to fish each day.  Thankfully, only one of the two tournament days saw strong winds, and I've had plenty of experience driving in big waves from all of my years fishing Kentucky Lake.  So the lake didn't scare me, and I knew my equipment could hold up to the test.  I felt like I could catch 16-18 pounds per day down there and have a shot at making the Top 20.

On Day 1, I got a friendly reminder of why these guys are fishing the FLW Tour - they are flat-out good fishermen, and they know how to find the fish!  Alot of the areas I found were also found by other competitors, so I was going to have to battle through fishing pressure and make good decisions on where to spend my time.  I was hoping to save some areas for Day 2, but I quickly realized that I was going to have to use every group of fish right away to get to where I needed to be.  I culled up throughout the day and made a slight error in returning to the weigh-in about 30 minutes too early.  Had I stayed south, I may have been able to cull another time, but sometimes it's better to be safe than sorry.  I had a mediocre first day with 16 pounds, and landed in 46th place.  After Big Indiana Bass calculated the points at the end of Day 1, I was sitting in 42nd place and needed to move up to 39th.  With a much shorter Day 2, I knew that I had to focus and be as efficient as possible.  But I also knew the possibility was there to have a better day.  I didn't sleep well that night, knowing that the Forrest Wood Cup qualification and so much I've worked my whole adult-life to get in position to do was at stake.  Terrance kept the jokes going and calmed my nerves that night, and I decided to do all I could possibly do to make it happen.  But I knew that God's plan would reveal itself, and if making the Cup was meant to be, it would happen.

476612_455981347764175_1811496491_oDay 2 started out with more challenges, but I was blessed with a great partner - Doug Caldwell, the Mayor of Kane, PA.  He needeed a small limit to qualify for the Forrest Wood Cup, and I was confident we'd make that happen for him.  I caught 3 quick keepers on my first stop, but they were all small.  I also caught two big pike on my crankbait and noticed the bill had split in half.  So I rushingly tied on another, but didn't check the hooks.  I made a quick move to my next hole, and jumped off three consecutive 3-pound class fish.  My stomach about emptied itself, as I knew another 16-pound day would put me very close to where I needed to be.  But I worked through it, and made an adjustment to a River Rat Tackle jig, and mentally decided that no lost fish was going to cost me anything.  The only thing that mattered was the next bite and getting the job done - and I had plenty of time.  I rotated through my areas for a short 4-hour fishing day, and on my last stop with 16# in the box and 15 minutes to fish, the magical bite came.  I was cranking an area that was loaded up with perch and white bass, and caught two pike and a big drum in three straight casts.  My next cast never made it to the bottom, and the fight was on.  After fighting this fish for well over two minutes in heavy current, I was convinced that it was another pike or drum, and at one point, I actually told me co-angler not to worry about it.  But the Mayor, who had 15# secured and trip to the Cup and the Top 20 cut, insisted on staying close by me while I fight the fish.  He told me that had a hunch it was the fish that would put me into the Forrest Wood Cup.  So I believed him, and pretended it was - and as God always provides for us just at the right time, the fish surfaced.  It was a 4-pound largemouth that swam gracefully into the net!  We celebrated quickly, then loaded up the boat for a long, 65-mile boat ride back to Plattsburgh in 4-foot waves.

In my heart, I felt like that was just enough to get the job done.  But in my mind, I knew I had to be patient and make sure that we got back to weigh-in safely.  We stopped a few times to check on our fish and drain the water from our faces and clothes, but we arrived with 20 minutes to spare and were relieved to see the check-in boat.  The Mayor finished the day in 3rd place, and went on to secure his spot in the Cup.  My fish weighed 17-pounds, and I knew at that moment that my dream of making the Forrest Wood Cup may become a reality.  The next 2 hours were some of the longest I can recall, as I waited and watched, waited and watched.  To my surprise, many of the anglers who stood in front of me in the points race were slipping by, one-by-one.  And when the scales came to a close, my brother called to tell me he had done the math - I was in at 36th place, and FLW would work down to the 39th spot!

SexyAs I've mentioned in the past, it's great to work with sponsors who make quality products that a Tour-level fisherman can use and believe in.  This week was no different for me.  I leaned on two hot new colors from Red Dirt Spinnerbaits, Castaic Jerky J Swimbaits, Reaction Strike Revolution frogs, and River Rat Tackle football head and southern-style arkey jigs to weigh-in all 10 of my fish.  These companies are locally-owned and operated, and they've supported me to help make this year possible, along with Red Gold Tomatoes, Ray Insurance Agency, Elite Restoration and Cleaning Services, Gone Fishing Eyewear, Evinrude, and The Outdoorsman Sport Shop.  Please take time to support them!

Now it's time to let this soak in and enjoy and celebrate with my friends and family.  My brother gets married this week, so it will be a time of celebration for sure.  When that finishes up, it will be time to start focusing on Lake Lanier.  But who's kidding who - you know I've already started my preparation.  This is one of the biggest stages in professional bass fishing, and an opportunity of a lifetime that I will be working hard to capitalize on.  Much thanks to all of the support, prayers, and messages all year.  I appreciate every single one of them!  Look for my next update in August from the Forrest Wood Cup.

Here's what I used to finish in 32nd place at Lake Champlain:

  • Frog Gear - 7'2" H Rod, 7:1 Bass Pro Shops Pro Qualifier reel, 50# Bass Pro Magibraid line, Reaction Strike Revolution Frogs and Poppin Frogs 45mm and 55mm in Albino, Midnight, and Sexy colors
  • Spinnerbait Gear - 7" H Rod, 7:1 Bass Pro Shops Pro Qualifier reel, 15# Bass Pro Shops Fluorocarbon, 1/2 and 3/8 Red Dirt tandem willow spinnerbaits in Purple Shad and Golden Shiner colors
  • Swimbait Gear - 7" MH B&R Outlaw Rod, 7:1 Bass Pro Shops Pro Qualifier reel, 15# Bass Pro Shops Fluorocarbon, 3/16 swimbait head, 5" Jerky J Swim in Bluegill and Blue Shad colors
  • Jig Gear - 7" MH rod, 7:1 Bass Pro Shops Pro Qualifier reel, 15# Bass Pro Shops Fluorocarbon, 3/8 and 1/2 River Rat Tackle football and southern-style Arkey jigs in Kentucky Lake Special and Always True colors