By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
Lake Champlain is a venue that hasn't been particularly kind to Stephen Browning over the course of the Arkansan's long career, but he thinks things might be different this time.
Browning's previous visits to the renowned fishery on the New York-Vermont border have all been for five-fish limit events. His most recent resulted in an 89th-place finish in a 2017 Bassmaster Elite Series tournament.
He returns this week for the second-to-last MLF Bass Pro Tour derby of 2021. He won't have to concern himself with limits – every smallmouth and largemouth weighing 2 pounds or more will aid his cause.
"It's a fun place to fish and I always tend to catch a lot, but those 4-pounders and heavy 3s that I've always needed have seemed to avoid me," he said. "It's still not one of those places that when the schedule came out I was saying, 'Yippee, I can't wait!', but that being said, I think I might do a little better under this format than I normally do.
"You can go anywhere on the lake and catch them and I'll be out there trying to keep putting up those numbers."
Real Solid So Far
The 55-year-old Browning has had an excellent season, advancing to the Knockout Round (top half of the 80-angler field) in each of the five events and logging two Top-10 placements. He's 9th in the Angler of the Year (AOY) race.
"I think the biggest thing for me this year is I haven't tried to overdo it," he said. "By that, I mean I've gone back to an old-school style of fishing where I find an area I feel comfortable in, get a few bites in practice and then go back during the tournament and exploit the area, so to speak. I use the tournament to get dialed in rather than putting so much emphasis on practice."
He said his 9th-place finish at Lake Travis in April (the second regular-season event) laid the foundation for his strong campaign. He opted for "numbers baits" (Ned rigs, Carolina rigs) on his first day, hoping to catch a lot of fish and come up with a fair number that were scorable. That didn't really work out.
"I lost a few fish and it just really wasn't a very good day. When I got back to the house I just tied on the baits I like to fish.
"When I look at the bodies of water we go to, in my mind I know what I need to do to catch them because I've been to all of them six, eight or 10 times. I just need to keep it simple, tie on the stuff I have confidence in and go fishing."
Flipping a jig or soft-plastic bait and throwing a ChatterBait have been his mainstays.
"I've used the JackHammer to cover water, kind of as a search tool, then when things have slowed down I've picked up something I can fish slow."
No Letting Up
Browning might not be among the betting favorites this week or at the season final next month at Lake St. Clair, but he nonetheless likes his chances.
"I'd really like to make one more Top 10 and I'd love to have a chance to win one of these things," he said. "I usually haven't been great at St. Clair, but I was one time years ago in a September tournament (a 4th-place finish in a Bassmaster Top 150 in 1999). I really blasted them.
"I feel like I'm going to do well this week. I think I'm going to catch a lot of fish."