Bryan Labelle of Hinesburg, Vt., began Saturday's final round of competition at the Lake Champlain Bassmaster Eastern Open with the firm belief that he could catch 18 to 19 pounds.
He felt that’s what he needed to hold off 2nd-place Bobby Lane. Turns out the fishing was tough across the board and Labelle caught just 15-08, which was the sixth-heaviest limit among the final top 12 anglers. Still, it was enough to best 2nd-place Buddy Cippoletti of Wading River, N.Y., by 2-03 and deliver Labelle the first significant win of his career.
Cipoletti weighed a 17-10 limit, Lane weighed just 14-02 and finished third. Only half of the final 12 pros bested the 15-pound mark.
“I’m super excited, obviously – I didn't think I had it,” Labelle said. “It was my worst day ever on Champlain. I thought I had 12 1/2 or maybe 12 3/4 pounds. I didn’t realize I had 15.
“This is my first big win. I was real nervous in line. Bobby (Lane) made it pretty hard on me. He was going through the weights back and forth – what we needed. For me, I think the most important thing was sticking to my game plan. I made a big mistake today, trying to target smallmouth to start. I was second-guessing myself all day, but once I changed to largemouth, I stuck with that all day.”
Labelle noted he has thousands of waypoints on the lake. He ran and gunned, stopping and dropping for about 10 minutes at each spot in search of largemouth. He weighed four largemouth and one smallmouth on Saturday.
Labelle’s key bait was a 1/2-ounce Dirty Jigs Scott Canterbury Flipping Jig tipped with a Zoom Flippin’ Blue trailer. He was flipping and pitching grass areas in Mississquoi Bay at the north end of the lake.
Cippoletti spent his tournament fishing largemouth on rock bottoms in Ticonderoga. He said he had an area to himself that was “loaded with fish.”
“I hate to say I’m disappointed, but I am disappointed,” Cippoletti said. “I had the goal of catching at least 19 at a place I call home (Champlain). I thought I did that today, but they weighed a little less than I thought. But just to be in a position where I can chase down the leader when I’m 4 or 5 pounds back was a thrill. My adrenaline’s pumping. It’s an amazing feeling.”
Lane said of his finish: “It’s as frustrating as it gets. I needed 16-09 and I had 14-02. I lost a lot of key fish this week, but the way I was fishing, that happens and it just wasn't meant to be. Champlain is phenomenal, though. You can target any species you want. What a great week it was.”
Here are the final totals for the top 12:
1. Bryan Labelle: 58-10
2. Buddy Cipoletti: 56-07
3. Bobby Lane: 56-03
4. Brandon Lester: 55-11
5. Greg Dipalma: 54-12
6. Kurt Mitchell: 54-00
7. Rich Howes: 53-14
8. Dakota Ebare: 53-13
9. Hunter Eubanks: 52-06
10. Wesley Strader: 50-15
11. John Cox: 49-09
12. Carl Jocumsen: 49-00