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Tournament Interview

Classic Lake Champlain August 29/30, 2009

        On August 29th and 30th, the Bergen Bassmasters conducted their annual 2-day, weekend Classic.  Once again Lake Champlain was selected by the membership as the tournament locale but this year’s event had a slight twist.  In the past, the club has launched out of Mallets Bay, Point Au Roche, South Bay, and most often, Ticonderoga.  This year, however, we used Port Henry as the base of operations.   With Champlain being so large, launching out of different areas opens up parts of the lake never fished before and to compensate, many members ventured up as early as Monday to pre-fish and explore these new waters.  That extra time seemed to pay off as two of the top five finishers had nearly a week’s worth of pre-fishing to nail down their selected hot spots.  With Port Henry being just north of the Crown Point Bridge, members still had the option of fishing in the Ticonderoga area and many did so.  In fact, quite a few made the long run to South Bay in hopes of filling their livewells with big largemouth.  Others traveled north to the Northwest Bay area to boat some quality largemouth and smallmouth.  One thing would be certain, the gas station attendant in town was sure to be happy as a parade of boats lined up each day to refill their 48 gallon gas tanks!
    The two day event poses a challenge unique on the schedule in that an angler must manage his fish and not bang them too hard in practice or on day one of the event.  Results usually show strong catches on day one but often a drop off with day two weights.  This was not the case this time around as numerous anglers dramatically improved on their day one totals and we would see one team, behind by over 15 pounds after day one, make a charge to claim the team competition by a mere five ounces!  A few other anglers also staged their own individual charges to try to capture the title but the top anglers after day one held on strong with repeat efforts on day two. 
     Sitting in second place with a 14 pound 1 ounce limit on day one, Eric Lehmann improved on that weight day two with his 15 pound 6 ounce catch.  With the heaviest limit on day two, Eric moved up to claim the title of Classic Champion for the second straight year.  Only once before has an angler won back-to-back Classics and in 20 years prior, Eric had not placed higher than second in any Classic.  Arriving on the prior Monday, Eric dissected the upper portions of the lake and fished an offshore hump, nearly ¼ mile off the banks.  That hump produced some nice smallmouth on Rico’s on day one and a few keepers as well on day two.  However, each day, Eric was able to explore the bays north of Port Henry to locate largemouth that anchored his catches.  The final day, Eric boated three nice fish within sight of the launch ramp and by culling up, he secured his victory by nearly a 2 pound margin.  Eric’s two-day total was 29 pounds 8 ounces. 
     With his highest ever finish not just in a Classic but in any prior Bergen event, non-boater Robert Curtis experience some of the best fishing of his young tournament career.  In two day events, it’s increasingly difficult for a rider to place as one good day is usually not enough.  Fishing day one with his “other half”, John Ernest, the pair combined for over 25 pounds of fish and sat in 3rd and 4th places respectively.  Not satisfied with one great day, Robert improved upon his 12 pound 9 ounce day one total with over 15 pounds on day two.  The second highest catch on day two vaulted Robert up to the runner up spot and also added fuel to fire up his team’s charge to eventually capture the team win.  Flipping weeds with senkos loaded up the boat and he added a nice topwater fish on day two late in the day to accumulate his total of 27 pounds 11 ounces.
     Day one was a struggle for many anglers.  After nearly ever day being sunny and warm, day one presented overcast, chilly and rainy conditions throughout the day.  It didn’t phase Bill Vella one bit as he boated 12-15 keepers on the day and had his limit by 8am.  Fishing mainly north of the ramp, he concentrated on weedlines in 6-9 feet of water, which is like deep sea fishing for the oft-shallow water minded Billy.  His 15 pound 1 once total was tops for day.  Fishing the same areas on day two however, under sunny skies, was not nearly as productive.  After an early 4 pounder in the boat, he burned through some gas running and gunning, junk fishing along the way.  Fishing as far north as Northwest Bay and as south as Ticonderoga, Billy managed four nice fish on day two to still bring in a respectable 11 pounds 3 ounces bringing his total to 26 pounds 4 ounces and securing third place overall for Bill.  As captain of his team, his determination and hard work paid off. 
     John Ernest’s consistency paid off.  After a very successful day one where John brought in 13 pounds of fish, he followed it up with an 11 pound 4 ounce catch on day two to hold off some late charging anglers and lock down fourth place in the tournament.  Flipping weeds paid dividends for John who arrived Friday night and had no practice time at all prior to the event. Fishing mainly from Port Henry and a little south, John went with familiar patterns and locations and it paid off for both him and his partner each day. 
     Consistency also was critical for Scott Mitchell who placed fifth overall.  On some big fish in practice, Scott had no trouble boating a limit on day one although the big bite proved more elusive.  His 11 pound five ounces had Scott within striking distance and a 16 pound plus bag is never out of the question at Champlain.  Flipping weeds with miniscule bait and light weight was quite successful for Scott.  On Day two, bites were harder to come by and Scott scaled down even smaller.  With some nice fish late in the day, Scott culled up to a 12 pound 8 ounce limit to take fifth and hold off a late charge by 6th place finisher Mark Scocco. 
     Having three of the top four finishers on your team is great but it cannot win the team competition alone.  Each member must contribute and in this tournament the “never give up” attitude was never so prevalent.  Behind by over 15 pounds after day one, the team of Bill Vella, John Ernest, Lance Cahoon, Doug Giachino, Robert Curtis, John Williams, Robert Burton, and Jack Erdei went to work.  Bill, John, and Rob Curtis of course continued their day one success but it was the improved catches of Lance, with over 10 pounds, and Doug with over 14 pounds, along with improved weights by John Williams and Rob Burton, that allowed this team to make up lost ground and edge out Team Hayden by a mere five ounces.  The ultra-slim margin of victory was the smallest any for any prior team competition.  After a couple of recounts just to be sure, Team Vella was declared the winners to top off a hugely successful classic overall. 
    Overall, the event was quite successful.  With a terrific BBQ Saturday event at the Family Fun Cabins, and some pretty good catches all around, Port Henry proved to be a good choice to mix it up a bit.  A highly economical Classic in terms of cost to the club, It’s hard to imagine that we will not be back here at some point in the future.