Tackle Warehouse 2014 ICAST Video Coverage 2014 ICAST Award Winners

Shin Fukae Wins Lake Champlain Northern Open

Shinichi Fukae had a hunch the area around Ticonderoga would receive a good bit of fishing pressure when the Lake Champlain Bassmaster Northern Open got under way last week. He was right. He was also correct in his calculation to avoid making the lengthy run south from Plattsburgh, N.Y., where the tournament originated. Instead, he headed north and steered clear of the crowds while uncovering several fertile areas that produced mixed bags of largemouth and smallmouth throughout the tournament. "At the Rayovac (Series), a lot of guys were fishing Ticonderoga, but when I came here before practice, a lot of guys headed south," he said. "I decided to fish north. I started up north and I stayed up there." His finesse approach helped him average nearly 19 pounds a day to win his first B.A.S.S. event with a 3-day total of 56-13. The victory comes on the heels of a very solid FLW Tour campaign that saw him finish 14th in the Angler of the Year standings and will certainly give him a bump in confidence heading into next week's Forrest Wood Cup. More importantly, though, the win clinched Fukae a spot in next year's Bassmaster Classic at Lake Hartwell. "I was so excited because I won the tournament and made the Classic," Fukae said. "That's been my dream and it's starting to come true right now."

Fukae committed 4 full days of his practice session to areas north of Plattsburgh. He had plenty of smallmouth spots from his many previous visits to Champlain, but he knew it would likely take a mixed bag each day to contend for the win. "The first day I covered a lot of water because I didn't know what depths and what stage the fish were in since they were a little behind," he said. "I wanted to fish for largemouth this year. I usually only fish for smallmouth there, but I knew I couldn't win on them alone." He found an area that had some decent largemouths in about 5 feet of water, but he sensed there weren't many there. He then slid out to the 8- to 10-foot range on a big grass flat and uncovered the area that would be crucial to his tournament success. "The largemouths were deeper than I expected," he said. "It was a huge grass flat, but I only fished a very small spot." From there, he formulated his plan around trying to catch a limit of largemouths early on, then sliding out to some nearby smallmouth spots, which were mostly offshore rock piles or humps. "I don't like to fish in crowded areas so I didn't go to Ticonderoga at all," he said. "I also knew they were having a local tournament down there Saturday so it made my decision easy." He opted to stay off the water last Wednesday on the eve of the tournament to get rested for the event and get his tackle in order.

Competition:

The tournament opened with a strong wind out of the south, which churned up the lake. Fukae said 12 tournament boats required assistance from the TowBoatUS service and he even helped another competitor back to the ramp. He'd set a goal of 15 pounds for day 1, but after he boxed 17 pounds in 10 minutes off his key largemouth spot, he knew he was off to a good start. "I made seven casts, caught six keepers and had 17 pounds," he said. He mostly junk-fished for largemouth to start, mixing a jig with a ChatterBait, dropshot and a wacky-rigged Senko. "I didn't know the largemouth spot had the quality it had," he said. "I'd only fished it a couple minutes during day 2 of practice and then left. I didn't know what was there." He eventually culled out two of his smaller green fish in favor of two smallmouths that helped him get to 18-13. "I think that wind helped me because one of my largemouth spots was in only 10 feet of water," he said. Fukae said he and his wife went back out on the water Sunday for some fun fishing and without any breeze, they couldn't catch anything in the same area he'd fished during the event. "Every time I come to Champlain, when I get rough water, I catch them good all the time," he added. The wind subsided somewhat on day 2 and he started to get a little more dialed in on his largemouth presentation. "I tried to catch the same weight, but I only caught five for 8 pounds on my first largemouth spot," he said. "They weren't biting a moving bait so after I came back to it, I slowed down and went to a dropshot and wacky worm and they ate it."

He caught a couple 4-pounders, a 3 1/2-pounder and two others around 2 pounds each. He upgraded with two smallmouths in the 3 1/2-pound class to get to 19-03 and move into 2nd place, just 1 pound, 2 ounces behind Scott Siller, who led after days 1 and 2. He said his smallmouth spots were mainly in 25 or 30 feet of water with the fish holding on irregularities in the hard bottom. He would move between the two areas numerous times throughout the day. He moved around in the afternoon on day 2 hoping to locate some new water to fish on the final day as he wanted to have other backup areas where he could catch some smallmouths. "I knew the final day was going to be tough so I wanted to find some new water," he added. He stuck with his morning largemouth strategy on day 3 and it resulted in a 3 1/2-pounder on his second cast. Again, moving baits weren't productive so he went exclusively with a wacky-rigged Senko and added another 3 1/2-pounder and a smaller fish before going to his smallmouth spot where he finished his limit. "I had a limit, but the size wasn't enough to win," he said. In the final hour, he decided to target only smallmouth and wound up catching two upgrades that propelled him to the win. He wound up weighing three largemouths and two smallies on the final day. "I didn't have any idea and I didn't talk to anybody else during weigh-in," he said. "Everybody was so tight after the second day. I wasn't sure I could win." Fukae said the victory helped atone for a narrow 2-ounce loss to Joey Rodrigues back in 2005 at the Oneida Lake Northern Open. "I was waiting for another opportunity to win," he said. "I didn't think about making the Classic. I just wanted to win."

Winning Gear:

Dropshot gear: 6' 10" medium-light Shimano Expride spinning rod, Shimano Stella 2500 spinning reel (6.0:1 gear ratio), 14-pound YGK G-Soul SS112 sinking braid (main line), 8-pound YGK NWaker fluorocarbon line (leader), #1 Gamakatsu G-Finesse Swivel Shot hook, Gary Yamamoto Custom Baits Shad-Shaped Worm (green-pumpkin/watermelon or green-pumpkin/purple), unnamed 3/16-, 1/4- and 3/8-oz. tungsten dropshot weight.

Wacky-rig gear: 7' medium-action Shimano Expride casting rod, Shimano Metanium casting reel (7.4:1 gear ratio), 12-pound YGK NWaker fluorocarbon line, 3/16-oz. Gamakatsu G-Finesse wacky head, 4" Gary Yamamoto Custom Baits Senko (green-pumpkin/watermelon).

Main factor: "Not going to Ti. I didn't want to fish in the crowd, plus I saved on gas money (laughs). From the Rayovac event a couple weeks ago, I knew the fishing was good, but it wasn't my style. I've been there in the past, but haven't fished down there recently so I didn't have much confidence going down there."

Performance edge: "The Gamakatsu G-Finesse Swivel Shot and wacky jig. I designed them and have great confidence in those pieces of tackle. Also, my Ranger and Mercury combo were crucial because to fish at a big lake like Champlain, boat rigging is very important because of the long runs and big waves. Everything, from your hooks to your boat and motor had to work to win such a very competitive event."

Lake Champlain Winning Pattern Bassfan 8/5/14 (Todd Ceisner)