PLATTSBURGH, N.Y. (July 18, 2021) – Toyota Series angler Stephen Estes of Auburn, New Hampshire, brought a five-bass limit to the scale Saturday weighing 21 pounds, 15 ounces to win the three-day Toyota Series Presented by A.R.E. at Lake Champlain in Plattsburgh, New York. Estes’ three-day total of 15 bass weighing 61-3 earned him the win by a 2-pound, 3-ounce margin over second-place angler Matt Becker of Finleyville, Pennsylvania, and earned Estes the top payout of $44,000 in the first tournament of the 2021 Toyota Series Northern Division.
Estes fished the dream on Lake Champlain, weighing in all smallmouth and averaging more than 20 pounds per day. Looking hard for the mother lode, Estes said he started his four-day practice period with 90 hours on his motor – by the time he was back at the dock after Day 3 of the event, he had over 126 hours logged.
“I was just doing a lot of looking and trying to find something special,” said Estes. “I don’t like to fish around other people and I felt like that was the deal and I just happened to stumble across it. I was idling around and I saw bait and decided to drop the Lowrance ActiveTarget down. I wouldn’t have known the fish were there without the ActiveTarget.”
Estes said he set his target range out to 120 feet, catching fish anywhere from a long cast away to right under his boat. One of his keys on the first two days when it was windy was an independent pole mount from Cornfield Crappie.
“I bought that mount maybe a year or so ago,” said Estes. “I started with LiveScope on the trolling motor, then I changed trolling motor brands and now I’m running all Lowrance. The Lowrance isn’t quite as easy to line your bait up, because the arrow isn’t perfect, but the whole point of the independent mount is when you’re on Anchor Mode, you can independently control it – that was huge the first two days. I keep a remote in my pocket and it has foot pedals.”
Throwing a drop-shot on a 6-foot-9, medium action Hammer Rods spinning rod with 10-pound Vicious No-Fade Braid and an 8-pound Seaguar Tatsu leader, Estes went with a ½-ounce Eco Pro Full Contact Drop Shot Weight and a drop-shot bait from Hawg Pours Hand Made Bass Baits called the Hawg Teaser.
“Every fish was different,” he said. “I caught some fish suspended, I’d watch my drop-shot fall, I’d see it stop falling and set the hook. I would never feel the fish bite. I’ve been doing that for three years and I’ve learned to watch my bait real close.
“Some of the fish I was catching 100 feet out from the boat – I can’t make a cast with a drop-shot further than 100 feet according to ActiveTarget,” continued Estes. “There was no rhyme or reason and I can’t tell you how many fish swam up to my bait and didn’t bite it. I just kept my head down and kept fishing and put it in front of a lot of fish.”
Though he had to relocate his fish a bit each day, Estes definitely hit the mother lode daily throughout the event. His co-anglers nearly always caught big weights as well, and doubles from the front and the back were common. Given the fish he found and his skill with electronics, it would have been a feat to beat Estes this week.
“I had a feeling [after Day 1] but I chose not to acknowledge it,” said Estes. “This is just an awesome feeling. I never expected this at all, this group of anglers is so good.”
The top 10 pros on Lake Champlain finished:
2nd: Matt Becker of Finleyville, Pa., 15 bass, 59-0, $18,000
3rd: Bryan Labelle of Hinesburg, Vt., 15 bass, 57-13, $12,750
4th: Dakota Ebare of Brookeland, Texas, 15 bass, 57-7, $10,750
5th: Kyle Hall of Cleburne, Texas, 15 bass, 57-7, $9,750
6th: Bryan Thrift of Shelby, N.C., 15 bass, 56-9, $8,625
7th: Martin Villa of Charlottesville, Va., 15 bass, 55-7, $7,300
8th: JJ Judd of Saint Albans, Vt., 15 bass, 54-4, $6,300
9th: Joseph Thompson of Coatesville, Pa, 15 bass, 53-14, $5,300
10th: Jason Bacon of Nutting Lake, Mass., 15 bass, 53-1, $4,200
Becker took home an extra $1,000 as the highest finishing Phoenix MLF BIG5 Bonus member. Boaters are eligible to win up to an extra $35,000 per event in each Toyota Series tournament if all requirements are met. More information on the Phoenix MLF BIG5 Bonus contingency program can be found at PhoenixBassBoats.com.
Kyle Gelles of Pingree, Idaho won the Strike King Co-angler Division Saturday with a three-day total of 14 bass weighing 48 pounds, 10 ounces. Gelles took home the top prize package of a new Phoenix 518 Pro bass boat with a 115-horsepower Mercury outboard motor.
The top 10 Strike King co-anglers on Lake Champlain finished:
2nd: Ted Kephart of Philipsburg, Pa., 15 bass, 48-3, $5,375
3rd: Jeff Crowley of Goodrich, Mich., 15 bass, 46-5, $4,300
4th: Carter Wijangco of Naperville, Ill., 15 bass, 45-10, $3,650
5th: Stephen Draghi of Sparrowbush, N.Y., 15 bass, 45-8, $3,350
6th: Jakob Labelle of Hinesburg, Vt., 13 bass, 37-15, $2,650
7th: Sakae Ushio of Tonawanda, N.Y., 12 bass, 37-11, $2,150
8th: John Detweiler of Harleysville, Pa., 11 bass, 35-12, $1,825
9th: Tommy Sikes of Como, Texas, 12 bass, 35-8, $1,530
10th: Romano Duncan of Andover, Mass., 11 bass, 33-7, $1,290
The 2021 Toyota Series presented by A.R.E. consists of six divisions – Central, Northern, Plains, Southern, Southwestern and Western – each holding three regular-season events, along with the International division. Anglers who fish all three qualifiers in any of the eight divisions and finish in the top 25 will qualify for the no-entry-fee Toyota Series Presented by A.R.E. Championship for a shot at winning $235,000 cash, including a $35,000 Phoenix MLF BIG5 Bonus for qualified anglers. The winning Strike King co-angler at the championship earns a new Phoenix 518 Pro bass boat with a 115-horsepower Mercury outboard.
The 2021 Toyota Series Championship presented by A.R.E. will be held Oct. 28-30 on Pickwick Lake in Counce, Tennessee, and is hosted by the Hardin County Convention and Visitors Bureau.
For complete details and updated information, visit MajorLeagueFishing.com. For regular updates, photos, tournament news and more, follow MLF’s social media outlets at Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.
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Founded in 2011, Major League Fishing (MLF) brings the high-intensity sport of competitive bass fishing into America’s living rooms on Outdoor Channel, Discovery, CBS, CBS Sports Network, World Fishing Network, Sportsman Channel, and on-demand on MyOutdoorTV (MOTV). According to Nielsen ratings, Major League Fishing remains the number one series on Outdoor Channel for five years and MLF premiered as the number one outdoor show in their time slot on Discovery in 2019.
In 2019 MLF acquired FLW, which expands their portfolio to include the world’s largest grassroots-fishing organization, including the strongest five-biggest-fish format professional bass fishing tour, the MLF Tackle Warehouse Pro Circuit presented by Bad Boy Mowers, as well as the MLF Toyota Series, MLF Phoenix Bass Fishing League presented by T-H Marine, MLF Abu Garcia College Fishing presented by YETI, and MLF U.S. Army High School Fishing presented by Favorite Fishing.