Denny Brauer, perhaps the best flipper on the planet, won the Champlain Bassmaster Elite Series with the long rod. The anglers who finished right behind him also spent the majority of their time holding sticks that, if stood on their butts, would extend over the heads of most NBA centers.
Champlain, the big lake that runs along the New York/Vermont border, was 4 feet above full pool, which put a ton of quality largemouths in the shallow vegetation (primarily reeds and willows). Four of the Top 5 focused on the same square-mile area in Missisiquoi Bay at the north end of the lake.
2nd: Brent Chapman
> Day 1: 5, 19-02
> Day 2: 5, 16-05
> Day 3: 5, 18-15
> Day 4: 5, 17-15
> Total = 20, 72-05
Brent Chapman of Kansas improved by 141 places on his finish at the FLW Tour event here last month by switching his focus from smallmouths to largemouths.
"My first day up there I knew I wanted to try (Missisiquoi) Bay," he said. "I wanted to stick a couple to get my confidence up, and I caught a few 3- and 4-pounders. Then I bent the hook on my jig (intentionally) and shook off 30 or 40 more."
He fished a jig in the reeds and buckbrush and a Zoom Fluke around willow trees.
His 17-15 bag on the final day was second-biggest behind Brauer's tournament-best 23-04 stringer. He thought it might give him a chance to win, but Brauer didn't give him the help he needed.
"At about 1:00 I culled a (2 1/2-pounder) with a 3 1/2, and I knew that gave me about 18 pounds. At that point I was thinking that if the right guys stubbed their toes, there was a chance, but Denny ended up getting the right bites."
> Jig gear: 7'6" heavy-action All-Star Platinum flipping stick, Pflueger Supreme casting reel (6.3:1 gear ratio), 25-pound Gamma Edge fluorocarbon line, 5/8-ounce Terminator Pro's Top Secret jig (black/blue), Zoom Super Chunk trailer (blue sapphire).
> Fluke gear: 7'6" medium-heavy All Star Platinum pitching rod, same reel, 20-pound Gamma Edge fluorocarbon, 4/0 weighted (1/16-ounce) Falcon Lures hook, Zoom Fluke (watermelon).
> Main factor in his success – "Confidence in the area and confidence in the lures. I used the best big-fish baits and I was putting them in the best places for the big fish."
Terry Butcher was extremely consistent in his Champlain debut.
3rd: Terry Butcher
> Day 1: 5, 19-02
> Day 2: 5, 17-03
> Day 3: 5, 17-01
> Day 4: 5, 16-15
> Total = 20, 70-11
Oklahoma's Terry Butcher, who'd never been to Champlain before, discovered the Missisiquoi Bay community hole late on the first practice day (Monday).
"I looked for mainly laydowns or reeds," he said. "I was both flipping and pitching, but mainly pitching."
Most of his fish bit a jig, but he also caught a few on a spinnerbait. He caught a big bag the first day, and his next three were all within 4 ounces of each other.
> Jig gear: 7'3" extra-heavy American Eagle flipping stick, Bass Pro Shops Qualifier casting reel (6.3:1 gear ratio), 65-pound Power Pro braided line, 3/8-ounce Red River Tackle jig (brown), Zoom Ultra Vibe Speed Craw trailer (green-pumpkin).
> Spinnerbait gear: 6'6" medium-heavy American Eagle rod, same reel, 50-pound Power Pro braid, 1/2-ounce Red River Tackle spinnerbait (white/chartreuse).
> Main factor in his success – "I'd say the water being up as much as it was. It put the fish up there in places there not at a lot of the time."
Mark Tyler didn't have a great practice, but everything came together for him when the tournament got under way.
4th: Mark Tyler
> Day 1: 5, 18-15
> Day 2: 5, 15-01
> Day 3: 5, 18-13
> Day 4: 5, 16-09
> Total = 20, 69-06
Arizona'a Mark Tyler needed a strong finish to get back into the hunt for a Bassmaster Classic berth (he moved up to 43rd in the points). He was the highest finisher who didn't fish in Missisiquoi Bay.
He went south to Ticonderoga, where three of the Top 10 finishers in last month's Champlain FLW Tour (including winner Tracy Adams) assembled strong bags of largemouths.
"I fished for smallmouth in the north lake on the first (practice) day, and that didn't work out," he said. "So I went down (to Ticonderoga) the next day, and between me and my girlfriend, we probably got 15 pounds. It was nothing to write home about.
"Then on the short day (the third practice day) I got six or seven bites and never stuck anything, so I went in just hoping for 15 pounds. I just got on more and more fish and found more areas as I went along. Things really started to click, and it probably helped that I had no expectations."
He had two flipping sticks rigged with Zoom Brush Hogs – one with a 1/4-ounce weight, and the other with a 1/2-ounce for occasion s when the wind was stiff on the vegetation was especially thick.
> Brush Hog gear: 7'6" Kistler Magnesium flipping stick, Pflueger President casting reel (6.3:1 gear ratio), 20-pound P-Line fluoroclear, 1/4- or 1/2-ounce Tru-Tungsten bullet weight, Zoom Brush Hog (pumpkin).
> Main factor in his success – "Patience. I fished very slowly and didn't get ahead of myself. I made the most of the few spots I had."
Tommy Biffle didn't catch them where he thought he would, but he caught them good anyway.
5th: Tommy Biffle
> Day 1: 5, 18-09
> Day 2: 5, 19-00
> Day 3: 5, 15-09
> Day 4: 5, 15-11
> Total = 20, 68-13
Oklahoma's Tommy Biffle was in search of back-to-back wins after his triumph the previous week at Oneida. He was in contention at the midway point, but fell back a bit with a light bag on day 3.
After missing the cut at the Champlain FLW, he stayed over an extra day and found a big bunch of fish in the grass in Ticonderoga. However, he discovered on the first day of practice that they'd moved out.
"I thought I was really going to murder them in that grass," he said. "I didn't know that the water had come up even higher and scattered them and messed them up."
He switched to Missisiquoi on the final practice day. "I already knew the area and the banks that were good. I just missed the bank that Denny was on."
He caught all of his weigh-in fish by flipping a Reaction Innovations Sweet Beaver.
> Beaver gear: 7'6" extra-heavy Quantum Tommy Biffle signature series flipping stick, Quantum PT Burner casting reel (7:1 gear ratio), 25-pound Stren High Impact line (clear), 3/8-ounce Tru-Tungsten weight, 4/0 Reaction Innovations hook, Reaction Innovations Sweet Beaver (black neon).
> Main factor in his success – "The water was up and the fish were up shallow in the bushes. It suited my style of fishing and what I do best."