OCEANSIDE, Calif. (July 1, 2021) – There was never any doubt that an elite fleet of kayak anglers would pull their weight at the Hobie Bass Open Series (B.O.S.) Anchored By Power-Pole® Lake Champlain event last weekend. After all, the big lake is a bassin’ haven sporting 587 miles of shoreline and 435 sq. miles of surface water, a solid population of largemouth bass, and one of the top smallmouth fisheries in the entire USA. As the first and only Northeast stop on the B.O.S. trail this year, anglers couldn’t wait to go on the attack.
But then the wind started to blow, gusting between 15 and 20 knots at times and pushing up waves that crested over four feet high in some open water areas. “It certainly did get a little dicey out there,” chuckled Travis Von Neumann, 29, of Columbus, OH, “but we all went out and did what we needed to do. That’s kayak bass fishing. Some days, you’ve got to battle the elements as much as the fish, so you just dig in and get the job done.” That’s exactly what most of the 73 anglers did, submitting 620 fish in the two-day, catch, photograph and release (CPR) event while racking up 13 90-inch limits on day one and eight more on day two.
“These guys and gals just did an amazing job out there,” said tournament director A.J. McWhorter. “They battled Mother Nature and came out on top recording a mix of quality largemouths and smallmouths in tough conditions. But that’s what we’ve come to expect from competitors in the Hobie Bass Open Series (B.O.S.) Anchored By Power-Pole®. The competition is tough but fun, the anglers are sharp and supportive, and the results usually end up speaking for themselves.” It was Von Neumann, with the words “Smallies Rule” stenciled on his forearm, who led the charge. Fishing mostly in rough, open water, he powered his way to the win with 97.25 inches of bronzebacks on day one and 98.75 inches on day two, for a two-day limit of 196 inches worth $4,350. Hobie B.O.S. regular, and reigning FarWide Angler of The Year (A.O.Y.), Drew Gregory, of Kent, Ohio, took the $2,450 second slot check with 93.75 inches each day for a 187.5-inch total. Finishing third was Katherine Field of Ivins, UT, with her first tournament top-three finish. Katherine recorded 91.75 inches on day one and 94 inches on day two for 185.75 total inches and a $1,750 check.
Von Neumann also took home the Bassin’ Big Bass $400 prize for a 21.25-inch tank of a smallmouth caught on day two while Alan Bender of Sewell, NJ. jumped from 58th place on day one to 43rd on day two to claim the Dakota Lithium Power Move award and take home a Dakota Power Box with a 10-amp lithium battery. Each of the first three finishers also punched their tickets to the 50-angler Hobie Tournament of Champions (T.O.C.) at Lake Eufaula, Alabama, November 12 – 14.
To be sure, Von Neumann didn’t take the easy path to victory. Working a surface pattern in shallow but wide-open water, he was fishing from a kayak designed for river action. With no foot pedals or electronics, he battled four-foot waves, flipping once each day, to persevere. “I was pretty lucky, overall,” he admitted. “I didn’t lose any gear when I flipped, and I only broke one rod. I had caught a couple nice bass early the first day using a Molix Nano Jig in green pumpkin, but then I spotted seagulls diving further off the beach. With no fish-finder, I keyed on the birds and realized that big smallies were blowing up on baitfish in the swells between the waves. At that point I switched to a Berkley Bucktoothed Choppo Beaver in brown and the move really paid off. I stayed on those fish, working the nastiest, most chaotic water I could find, almost to the end of the second day before the wind began to die and the bite finally faded.”
Von Neumann, who entered the tournament without sponsorship, said the tourney was the roughest water in which he had fished from a kayak. “Still, I had a lot of confidence coming into this event since I had fished here during a college competition and had an area I liked. I was born in Plattsburgh, NY, so this also felt a little like a homecoming for me. Despite the wind I was in a good place mentally all tournament long.”
Second place finisher, Drew Gregory, was as consistent as can be – especially given the conditions and this being his first visit to Lake Champlain. Tallying 93.75 inches each day, he relied heavily on his years of bass fishing experience across the nation to figure out and stitch together several patterns that allowed him to get the most out of small areas holding limited numbers of fish.
“I enjoy river bassing,” says Gregory, “so I looked for that first but my options were limited because the tourney boundaries were restricted to the New York side of the lake and most of the major rivers drop in from the Vermont side. Still, poking around on the small river stretches I could find, I noticed some fresh beds and managed to spot a couple of fish holding on scattered cover. I fished these areas like they were buffets in the sense that I knew I had to manage my fish. I kind of sampled the bass on Day 1, grabbing a few bites here and a few more there, and then went back to fill my plate on Day 2 leaving nothing on the table. I picked an 18-inch smallie off a bed, saw some bait getting busted and pulled two more good ones on a Whopper Plopper, and had an 18-incher spit my popper on a jump only to have it immediately swallowed by another good fish the second the lure hit the water. I guess you could say I got a few good breaks, but I really think it was the experience that put me in the right spots with the right offerings this time around.”
Gregory was also pleased with the supportive Ticonderoga area community and the great family atmosphere in the Lake Champlain area. “This is the first tournament I’ve been able to bring my family to, and we really enjoyed being together here. The fishery is terrific, the tournament is well run, and the area is perfect for family fun. We really had a wonderful time.”
As for third-place finisher, Katherine Field, a top 10 finish – and coming in ahead of undisputed bassing all-pro Mike Iaconelli (5th place) – were the primary goals. “I didn’t really have a spot as much as two patterns,” explained Field. “I was targeting big largemouths with plastic worms in deep, offshore weed beds and looking for smallmouths around wind-blown bridge abutments with fast currents. The fishing was tough but really good, and I had my two best days of tournament bass fishing ever. The smallies in this lake are giant, chunky, trophy-class fish. I would have loved to have actually weighed my limits in addition to having measured them. I loved the competition here, the support from other anglers and how welcome the Ticonderoga area communities made us feel. What a fantastic fishery, and what a great place.”
Field, a Hobie Team member, noted that her PA14 360 played a big part in her success over the weekend. “That boat let me hold my position around the bridge abutments when the wind was really whipping. I was casting in rollers, standing up and working big bronzebacks away from zebra mussels around the bridges, and my Hobie kept me stable, protected and right on top of where I needed to be. It’s just an amazing boat. I’ve had back-to-back Hobie B.O.S. top-20 finishes but this is the first check I’ve earned on a national tourney trail – and the first piece of hardware I’ve taken home from competition. I couldn’t be any happier.”
And that’s exactly the point of the Hobie Bass Open Series, reminds McWhorter. It never hurts to be a pro, but everyone has a fair shot as long as they enter. “You just never know who’s going to show up in the top ten at these events,” he says. “You don’t necessarily need to have a fish-finder, the ultimate kayak, years of experience or even time to pre-fish. It’s all good.”
Indeed, you can even take a dunking – or two – and still come out on top. Just ask Travis Von Neumann. We’re sure he’d agree.
Next up on the Hobie trail is the Susquehanna River in Harrisburg, PA, July 31 – August 1. This location offers super smallmouth action in a mostly shallow-water environment. Set the hook here and you’re in for plenty of fun.