Lucky Craft Tour Journal
Lucky Craft pros Charge for Championship at Champlain
Plattsburgh, NY (July 12, 2009) - After somewhat of a lackluster performance at Kentucky Lake in June, the Lucky Craft National pro staff on the FLW Tour righted the ship at Lake Champlain. Three of the four-man pro staff cashed a top-50 check at the FLW Tour's last stop in New York, and three of the four pros are now headed to Pittsburgh for the 2009 Forrest Wood Cup.
Going into the final Tour event on Lake Champlain, there was a lot on the line. For starters, both Anthony Gagliardi and Gabe Bolivar were biting their fingernails over qualifying for the Forrest wood Cup.
Gagliardi was trying to stop a horrendous backslide that began at Beaver Lake and continued through Kentucky where his near-bottom finish left him in 32nd place in the points going into Champlain.
Bolivar's up and down year had him mired down in 35th place in the points.
Also at stake was a possible FLW Tour Angler of the Year title for Brent Ehrler who led the points race going into Champlain.
With post-spawn fishing on Lake Champlain on fire, these pros knew they were going to have to bring the heat to meet their challenges.
|Anthony Gagliardi, 2nd|
With a Cup berth at stake, Anthony Gagliardi pulled up his boot straps and went above and beyond qualifying for the Cup: He nearly won the Lake Champlain event. Instead he finished runner-up.
"Coming into this event, I was just trying to stop the bleeding," Gagliardi said. "After my last two tournaments I went from eyeing the Angler of the Year title to sweating the championship. So I came into this tournament looking to just put some decent fish back in the boat and get my footing again."
With that in mind, Gagliardi chose to play it conservative and fish the north end of the lake for smallmouths in hopes of getting 15 or 16 pounds a day to hold his position in the yearly points standings.
An unusually calm practice period made the surface of Champlain slick, which led Gagliardi to start casting a Sammy 100 (ghost brown) across smallmouth flats in the north end. After several big smallies crushed his topwater, Gagliardi began to feel like his own familiar fish-catching self again.
"Finding that topwater pattern in practice really restored a lot of my confidence," he said. "And when the first day of the tournament dawned calm and windless, I really got excited about fishing again. I couldn't wait to get out there.'
The Lucky Craft pro blasted 18-1 in smallmouth on day one with the Sammy 100, which featured his own hand-tied chicken feather treble on the back. He also relied on little help from a Lake Fork Hyper Finesse worm on a drop-shot that day.
On day two, he caught 17 pounds, 3 ounces to qualify 10th with a two-day total of 35-4.
Of course, calm conditions never last long on Lake Champlain and by morning three it was blowing 20 mph out of the south, whipping up solid two and three footers on Gagliardi's best area.
"That's the day I just had to drop back and throw a Carolina rig on my best places," Gagliardi said. "That's about all you can do in weather like that."
His "best places" featured rock and clumpy grass on flats in 10 to 12 feet of water in the Rouses Point portion of the lake.
Gagliardi survived the wind-whipped day with 13-13, leaving him in 5th place after day three.
On day four, the calm returned and he was once again able to score handsomely on his topwater pattern.
"The whole key for me with that topwater was to watch for those calm, slick periods during the day," he explained. "Every now and then the breeze would die down and the water in my area would get still enough to throw the Sammy and they would smash it."
Gagliardi hauled in 19-12 the last day to jump to second place in the tournament, lifting him to 16th in the points to secure another Forrest Wood Cup berth.
"I'm really looking forward to the Cup in Pittsburgh," Gagliardi said. "I know it's going to be super tough, but catching little fish does not bother me at all."
|Brent Ehrler, 22nd|
Brent Ehrler entered the Lake Champlain event with a three-point lead in the Angler of the Year race and left the event finishing third in the race, missing the prestigious title by 12 points.
Some might think Ehrler dropped the AOY ball at Champlain, but that's not the case at all. He finished 22nd in the tournament, so it's not like he choked and left the title on the table.
"I was fine with my Champlain performance," Ehrler said. "I made good decisions and fished well there; Champlain is not where I screwed up my Angler of the Year chances. If I had to pinpoint where I lost AOY it would be the first day at Kentucky Lake when I lost a 4-pounder at the boat and weighed in just four bass that day. That was the only day all season (during qualifying days) that I did not weigh in a limit. That was the AOY-losing fish because it cost me probably 35 or 40 points in the race. I should have left Kentucky Lake with a huge lead."
Going into Champlain, Ehrler still had a shot at holding off his closest AOY pursuers. He felt his best shot at doing so was staying up in the northern portion of the lake where he could bounce back and forth between smallmouth water and largemouth water.
"I had a smallmouth pattern going around shallow, scattered rock and a largemouth pattern going around matted milfoil and tules," Ehrler said. "When fishing for the largemouths I was throwing a green pumpkin chatterbait and flipping a Berkley Mud Critter creature bait around the shallow grass."
For the Chatterbait he relied on 16-pound test Sunline FC Sniper fluorocarbon on a Lucky Craft heavy-action cranking rod. For flipping he went with 20-pound test FC Sniper and a Lucky Craft flipping stick.
Ehrler ran the smallmouth gig with a Slender Pointer 112 in an exclusive bluegill pattern made only for Cabelas. He also used a Berkley Hollow Belly swimbait weighted with a belly weight.
"I bounced back and forth between the two species, but I probably spent more time fishing for largemouths," he confirmed.
As for Pittsburgh, Ehrler is looking forward to the possibility of winning another Forrest Wood Cup.
"I'm pretty excited about it," he said. "It's going to be a super tough tournament, but I've got some special Lucky Craft baits that a lot of other guys don't have and I think they are going to be a real plus for me there."
|Joe Thomas, 38th|
Joe Thomas was the only member of the Lucky Craft team who did not qualify for the 2009 Forrest Wood Cup. He finished in 60th place for the year and missed a berth by just 20 points.
Thomas, however, ended the season on an up swing, with a 38th place finish at Champlain worth $10,500.
He caught 14-13 on day one and 16-9 on day two for a two-day total of 30-12.
At Champlain, Thomas employed a classic summer smallmouth pattern, fishing over 12-foot flats with scattered rock and grass up in the north end of the lake.
"It was a Lucky Craft tournament for me all the way," Thomas said. "My two main lures were a Slender Pointer 112 in green perch and a Sammy 115 in ghost sunfish. I fished the Pointer when it was windy and the Sammy whenever it would get calm enough for topwater.
|Gabe Bolivar, 53rd|
After a tumultuous season, team member Gabe Bolivar came through when it counted the most, finishing 53rd at Lake Champlain and giving him enough points to clutch another Forrest Wood Cup Berth by finishing 36th for the season.
"Man, I'm really glad to make another FLW championship," Bolivar said with relief "This is my fourth one in a row so I'm pretty happy. It's so depressing when you don't make it because you feel like your whole season and all that work is for nothing."
Bolivar tried to give his Forrest Wood Cup berth away on day one when he weighed in just 11 pounds, 13 ounces.
"I had a terrible first day," he explained. "It got slick and calm, my fish quit biting and I just panicked. Instead of settling down and getting my head situated like I should, I started running around fishing every spot I knew and I got spun out. Then I ended up losing two big fish; one broke me off, which never happens to me. That first day was horrible and I was sure I had given up my Cup slot after weighing in just 12 pounds."
On day two, Bolivar got his head put back together and fished the way he needed to.
"The breeze picked back up and my water looked like it did in practice when I did so well," he said. "The biggest thing was that I settled down on my water and stayed put. I never cranked my big engine. I got into a groove and got back in tune with my water."
Bolivar's two key baits were an RC 1.5 in tomato shad and a Berkley 4-inch Hollow Belly swimbait on a jig head. He fished the two lures on a 12-foot flat that featured tall stalks of vegetation, which was located up north on the New York side.
"The key was to get the 1.5 or the Hollow Belly hung up in those stalks and then snap it free," Bolivar said. "As soon as the bait popped free, those smallmouth would thrash it pretty good. It was a pretty neat pattern because I did not see anyone else in the area doing it. So I was kind of happy to figure a little something out up there and used it to make the Cup."
Article & Photo by Rob Newell, Provided by Cox Group