Winning Patterns at Champions Choice – Lake Champlain

Denny Brauer has fished 251 Bassmaster and 36 FLW Tour events since 1980. Only on a very few occasions has everything come together as well as it did at the recent Champlain Bassmaster Elite Series.  The flipping master from Camdenton, Mo. notched his 16th tour-level victory with a 4-day total of 80-03. It was nearly 8 pounds more than runner-up Brent Chapman of Kansas and included a massive 23-04 sack on day 4.

Here’s how he did it.

Brauer has made his reputation (and more than $2 million) primarily by catching shallow-water fish, so there was never any doubt that he’d focus on largemouths at Champlain. Even the smallmouth experts had a tough time getting on bronzebacks last week as they seemed to be in a post-spawn funk.

The water was about 4 feet above full pool and the shallow vegetation was brimming with bucketmouths. In spite of the lake’s reputation as a smallmouth mecca, it was obvious that green fish would be the ticket to the top.  He spent the first of his 3 practice days in Ticonderoga at the far southern end of the lake, where Tracy Adams won the Champlain FLW Tour last month and Dion Hibdon averaged more than 20 pounds over the first 2 days of that event. He caught a 20-pound sack, so he stayed away for the remainder of the pre-fish period.

He traveled in the opposite direction to Missisiquoi Bay on each of the next 2 days, and liked what he found there as well. He’d had success up there in the past and had a good idea of where the top-quality fish would be.

“It felt a little bit better to me up there,” he said. “There weren’t as many boats, and on the third (practice) day I was able to expand on what I had there.  He was one of eight Top-12 finishers who ended up fishing the same square mile of reed-laden water.

> Day 1: 5, 19-05
> Day 2: 5, 18-10
> Day 3: 5, 19-00
> Day 4: 5, 23-04
> Total = 20, 80-03

Brauer began the tournament with a specific plan that he thought would allow him to weigh a strong bag each day: He’d fish until he had 18 pounds, and then spend the rest of the day expanding his water.  It worked brilliantly, despite all the company he had in his general vicinity. He stayed close to the lead over the first 3 days, then whacked a tournament-best sack on day 4 to win going away.  He had to make a slight adjustment on day 1 because a steady north wind muddied up the area he’d planned to start in. That ended up being the only day that it blew from that direction.

“I relocated about a hundred yards and whacked them over there,” he said. “Then when the wind changed to the south the next day, they were back to where I thought they would be the first day.


He fished his day-4 area, a patch of reeds and grass about 100 yards long, off and on over the first 3 days, but saved the heaviest of the heavy cover for the final day. On a day 4 that he described as “magical,” he used a 3/4-ounce Strike King Denny Brauer Premier Pro-Model Jig tipped with a Strike King 3X – Denny Brauer Chunk to catch 4-pounders on both of his first two casts.

Over the course of the day, he added a trio of 5-pounders that went to the scales with them.  “One of the keys for me was realizing there were a lot of big fish in that one patch of reeds. I really bore down and fished it slowly and methodically, and I was able to get quite a few of the better-quality fish.  “I started to penetrate the cover farther and farther as the tournament went on, and (on day 4) I ended up dead-sticking the jig a lot of times. I’d just let it sit and wait for one of the big ones to come pick it up.

Winning Gear Notes
> Jig gear: 7’6″ Team Daiwa flipping and pitching rod, Daiwa X-Series casting reel (6.3:1 gear ratio), 60-pound Mustad braided line, 3/4-ounce Strike King Denny Brauer Premier Pro-Model Jig (black/blue), Strike King 3X – Denny Brauer Chunk (black/blue flake).
> He also used a 1/2-ounce jig (same model and color) for vegetation that wasn’t as thick and in clearer water. He threw it on 20-pound Mustad Thor, which he said will be introduced this week at the ICAST show in Las Vegas.

> Main factor in his success – “Having so much confidence in what I was doing and where I was doing it. I was really focused and I had a very efficient tournament.”


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 7-8′ sticks.

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 Flukes 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.

> 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, 5/8oz Terminator Pro 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 Bait Jerker Hooks, Zoom Flukes (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.”


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, 3/8oz Red River Tackle jig (brown), Zoom Ultravibe Speed Craw trailer (green-pumpkin).
> Spinnerbait gear: 6’6″ medium-heavy American Eagle rod, same reel, 50-pound
Power Pro Braided Line, 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.”

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’s 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.

“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 occasions when the wind was stiff & 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 Tungsten Sinker, Zoom Brush Hogs (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.”


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.

He switched to Missisquoi 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), 3/8oz Tru-Tungsten Tungsten Sinker, 4/0 Reaction Innovations hook, Reaction Innovations Sweet Beaver 4.20 (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.”

Well they have both they NY lakes on next year’s schedule, maybe the big smallies will play a larger impact then.


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