By Jim Gildea
August 23, 2012
To those of us who know Joe Lucarelli, and have fished against him for years, his recent Northern EverStart win at 1000 Islands is not much of a surprise. The only surprise is that he hasn't won more events. Joe has been a very consistent tournament angler, balancing a day job as a salesman for HK Powersports, while regularly cashing big checks on Lake Champlian and Erie.
Joe won a BASS Top 150 back on Champlain in 2005, but the top slot has eluded him since then. He and his father, Steve Lucarelli, famously finished first and second several years ago on Champlain, but the elder Lucarelli edged his son at that event. “It’s always tough to finish second, but it was great for Dad and I to finish one-two” Joe said, though he admitted, “To be so close so many times was starting to get to me.”
“I don’t think I’m cocky, and it might sound that way, but I fish to win”, he says, quietly. “Sure, making a top ten is great, but for me, I really, really want to win, and I was struggling the last few years, knowing that I was in the hunt to win, but just not putting the ball in the end zone.”
Last week, he broke through, and is confident that it will give him the mental boost to take his game to the next level. He called his dad during the practice and told him simply, “I think I have this thing wrapped up.” To those of us who know Joe, he usually doesn’t feel this way, but his practice was so good, and he had so many things working for him that he felt it was his time to win. As it turned out, he was right.
Joe has always had good lake fish at 1000 Islands, like many guys who fish there. The problem is, when the waves are 8-10 foot, it’s tough to get to them or fish them effectively. He spent his practice period dialing in the river.
“I found a few spots using side imaging that the big smallmouth would get around in the current”, he noted. In practice, he was catching 4-pound smallmouth pretty easily in the river.
On the last practice day he launched at 6:20AM and by 9:30AM his boat was back on the trailer after he caught two smallmouth over 4 lbs. “I felt like I had a great plan, and was afraid that any additional information might actually hurt me,” he said.
Joe started in the river and boated a quick 17 lbs. His first spot was pretty close to the ramp and he didn’t want the other guys to see where he was fishing during practice. He spent the first couple of hours on the spot and produced a couple good fish.
With good weather on his side, he headed to his main lake fish and got a couple of solid fish over three pounds, bumping him up to 19-6. While he was happy to be in contention, he felt he could do better, and was hoping that he could improve the next day.
His tackle choice was the same for the river as well as the main lake and he stuck with it all three days. “I had four identical rods rigged up and I stuck with that setup the entire tournament”, he said. Joe used the Gary Dobyns DX703 with a Shimano Sustain. “You need a long, strong rod for these fish”, he noted. He used 15lb braid with about a fifteen foot 7lb Sunline leader.
One of the baits he utilized was the Yamamoto Shade Shape Worm in Green Pumpkin (297), Natural Shad (306), and Baby Bass (305). He used the darker green pumpkin in low light, the Baby Bass when it got a little lighter, and Natural Shad when it was bright sun.
“The fish were just inhaling that Shade Shape Worm”, he said. “Once I got it near the fish, it was game over.”
The second day was windy, and this is where his river fish really put him in contention. With 20 mph winds out of the west and 8-10 foot rollers, the river was the place to be. The current was stronger in the river due to the wind, and it pushed the fish to position behind the rocks he had found.
“It was a great deal”, Joe said. “I could dial in where the fish were going to be and just drop that Shad Shape Worm right on their head”. Joe used a ¾ ounce drop shot weight and was fishing anywhere from 20 to 40 feet deep. When he found the right kind of current breaks, the fish could not resist eating.
“There is just something about that Shad Shaped Worm” he noted. “The bulky body combined with the thin tail really triggers them to bite.” He didn’t need to impart any action of his own, he’d just drop down on the fish, let the weight make bottom contact, and keep a tight line. The bait would do the rest.
He finished day two with 21-15 and knew he was in position to win.
“When it’s your time, it’s your time”. How often have you heard a pro say this? It was Joe’s time on day three. Every decision he made was the right one, every spot he stopped on was the right spot, and every fish was the right fish.
By now he had the river fish figured out. He had 20lbs in the first few hours on the river. “By now, I knew the best spots and current breaks for the better fish”, he said, “and with the field cut to ten, I wasn’t worried about anybody else seeing my deal.” His prime spot was only a mile from the ramp, and he had been a little nervous the first two days about showing the rest of the field there was a 20lb bag of fish so close by.
Once he had his 20lbs, he headed for the lake. “I wanted to win, and I knew that I had to go for it. I had a couple of spots in the main lake that had the potential for big fish, and I had to give them a chance”.
Joe ran 25 miles to his best big fish spot in the lake. As soon as he got there, he saw a big arch suspended off the bottom. He dropped down on it, and it never made it to the bottom. He set the hook and a 5lb Smallie was airborne. He quickly culled a 3-0, putting his life jacket on while his co-angler looked on in disbelief. “You just drove for 40 minutes, took one cast, and now we're out of here?” he asked. Joe answered, “I just got the fish I needed.”
On their way back to weigh-in, Joe stopped at his river spot right near the ramp with 20 minutes left. Two casts later he had a 4-7 and was culling out a 4-0. “When I looked at my cull board and saw every fish was over 4-0, I knew I had done all I could do. If someone beats me, they beat me, and I’ll shake their hand.”
As it turned out, everyone had to shake Joe’s hand.