By Gary Haraguchi
As we made the long drive north for our final stop of the 2016 FLW Tour season on Lake Champlain, Jimmy spotted a BBQ place so of course we had to eat there. At this point in the season, I’m pretty sure I've eaten so much BBQ that if you cut me I’d bleed sauce.
On Friday night we arrived at the Shamrock Motel in tiny Peru, NY settled into our room. Early the next morning we did a chapter 11 reorganization: we removed everything from the back of the truck (guess who got to climb into the back to do that?). Thank goodness for the BedRug that Jimmy got from Top This at the beginning of the year - it was a life-saver on my knees.
As we unloaded, we chatted a bit with other competitors staying at the Shamrock and discovered that the place was like the "money house", as a lot of the previous top finishers stayed there. We hoped it was a good omen.
The first day of practice we went to Ticonderoga which would be about 70 miles south of the take-off. It’s an area known for big largemouth and lots of grass. We got about eight bites with the biggest being about four pounds. The bite seemed to be a bit off, possibly because of the lower than normal water conditions. I’m not 100% sure aboutthat, but that's my story and I'm sticking to it. We caught the majority of those fish on a jig tipped with a 4.5" Flappin’ Hog in black and blue (FHL-05-021) and Bama Bug (FHL-05-952).
The second day of practice we headed north to Missisquoi Bay which is home to some of the best largemouth action in the entire north end. Jimmy started with a chatterbait with a green pumpkin prototype trailer (the Zako) designed by Brett Hite. Keep an eye out for this one, guys (it’ll be available in the fall), it catches bass. I threw a Heart-Tail in Goby (128-05-967) and we caught bass and pike as well. Boy those pike love a Heart-Tail. It was a good morning and we found an area that Jimmy eventually would start day one on.
We jumped around and worked our way south and continued to catch fish with the chatterbait and Heart-Tail along with a 5" Senko in green pumpkin (9-10-297) and green pumpkin with red flake (9-10-318).
The last day of practice we fished the mid to upper lake and concentrated on smallmouth. Jimmy cast out a Senko on a rocky point and while reeling it in, noticed a couple of big smallmouth following it. He figured out that the bass were spawning and he could use the Senko as a way to locate the beds, then throw a California Roll in green pumpkin (130-10-297) on a 1/4oz Frenzy Nail to catch them.
It was our best day numbers wise with a lot of fish in the 2- to 3-pound range. I caught topwater fish using the Tate' Pencil in chartreuse with black back (82-TAT-76-607) and Sexy Shad (82-TAT-76-603), as well as on a dropshot with a 4" single tail grub in baby bass (40-20-305) and 5' Senkos.
Lake Champlain not only marked the end of the regular season for the FLW Tour, but also the last place for pros to earn enough points to qualify for the Forrest Wood Cup coming up in August. The top 35 in points qualify and Jimmy was currently sitting in 41st place and on the "bubble", 12 points out of 35th. I guessed he would need a top 30 finish and around 16-17lbs a day.
Jimmy started the first day of the tournament on the largemouths in Missisquoi Bay and then went after smallmouths, ending up with 16lbs even. On day two he decided to fish strictly smallmouths and ended up with 16-7, giving him a total of 32-7 and a 39th place finish. That moved him into 33rd place in the standings, qualifying him for the big dance. Congrats, Jimmy on making the Forrest Wood Cup!
As you probably know by now, I'm fishing The Tour as a co-angler and fish two different days with two different pros so I have to be prepared for everything. We're allowed to bring 7 rods. After our prefish on Champlain, I decided to bring the following rods:
- A Powell Inferno 734 CF with a Tate' Pencil in chartreuse with black back for fishing north, but if we went south I would be able to use that same rod with a frog, a YamaFrog or Heart-Tail
- A Powell Max 3D 764 CF with a Flappin’ Hog in Bama Bug
- A Max 3D 6104 CB with a 4.5" Heart-Tail in Goby (128-05-967) - I could also throw a chatterbait or topwater on this rod as well
- A Max 3D 712 MLEF for a dropshot with a 5" Thin Senko in Baby Bass (9M-10-305
- Two Max 3D 713 MEF, one with a 5" Senko in green pumpkin with red flake and one rigged with a 1/4oz Frenzy Nail Shakey Head with a 4' single tail grub in Baby Bass
- My final rod was a Max 3D 711 LEF, just in case I was in a very pressured area and felt that I would need to go super lite line.
With these setups I felt whether I fished north or south I could adapt and catch fish.
On day one of the tournament we headed north and fished for largemouth in the grass. I caught a limit early of about 11- to 12-pounds with a 5" Senko and a dropshot. We continued to fish the grass but the bite had slowed with just a few fish here and there.
Around 1:00pm my pro decided to try a smallmouth spot offshore. I picked up the grub and immediately caught a 3-pounder, catching a 4+ a little later on the same grub. Sweeet! I ended up with 15-15 for the day which had me sitting in 4th place.
On day two we headed north again and fished grass. I started out with the Tate' Pencil and caught some short fish but no keepers. I switched to a Senko and caught a few keepers. The fishing was slow but steady. Around 11:00am we made a move to try for smallmouths. We caught fish at every stop but no real big ones. We pulled up to a flat and I cast out my Senko and caught a 3 ¾-pound largemouth, and with an hour to go we headed back to the area we started and I caught a 3-pound smallmouth on … you guessed it, a Senko.
I weighed in 14-11 on day two which gave me a total of 30-10 to finish 3rd. That finish moved me up to 2nd in the AOY standings for my first season on the FLW Tour. What a blessed year and I couldn't have done it without the support of my sponsors. Special thanks to Gary Yamamoto Custom Baits, Powell Rods, Top This, and Frenzy Baits.