Bassmaster Elite Series
Union Springs, NY
71st place / 10 fish, 24-00
The official practice period was the first time I’d ever launched my boat at Cayuga, but nevertheless I felt like I had a pretty good handle on what to expect. After all, I’d been to Oneida before, which fishes quite similarly, and I’d done a fair amount of homework about what it would take to win on Cayuga. Without any real history there, I expected to be able to fish on instinct and that’s often when I do best.
My pre-tournament research told me that most of the fish were either in the far upper region of the lake or the far lower region. Certainly there are fish in between, but usually tournaments are won on one end or the other. I also knew that most tournaments there are won on largemouths. I’d heard that the smallmouths tend to be good-sized, but they’re less plentiful. I wouldn’t turn down an opportunity to fish for either species, depending on what my practice dictated.
I’d estimate that on the first day of practice 75 percent of the competition went north of the ramp. There was only five miles of water up there so they must’ve been pretty tightly packed. I went south and stayed there the whole day, gradually working away from the ramp. I didn’t catch much but the ones that I caught were quality. Specifically, I had three smallmouths in the 3-pound range and a couple in the 2- to 2 ½ pound class. That would’ve made for a decent bag and they all came from the same general area. Using my Aqua-Vu camera in that area, I saw several more smallmouths, which led me to believe that the spot had potential. After that, it was a long, slow day, with one fish here, one fish there.
On Day Two of practice I wanted to fish north, so I spent my time pecking around and probably had 40 bites. I mixed my time up, fishing some deep offshore grass and then going shallow, hitting docks and other shoreline cover. The shallow bites were typically better, most of them over 2 ½ pounds while most of the deeper fish weighed less than that. Given what Day Two produced, I elected to spend the third day of practice north as well, with very much the same results – I’d determined that the bites I needed there were up shallow. I figured that I’d start on my smallmouth spot and then spend the rest of the day hitting other places where I’d caught quality fish.
I drew out Boat #12, which meant that I’d have first crack at my smallmouth spot and I got right on it. On my first drop, I lost a 2-pounder. A couple of casts later, I lost another. Two casts after that, I caught a 2-pounder. Then I caught a 2 ½ pound largemouth, which surprised me. After that I caught a smallmouth that weighed nearly 3 and another that was about 2 ¼ but in between those I lost several more. In total, I’d estimate that I hooked 11 bass on a dropshot and landed only four of them. I saw a few that were small, but I know that some of the ones I lost after a few seconds of pulling were quality fish. I could’ve had a good bag in about an hour and been set for the day, but instead I left with just four fish. I’m still scratching my head over that one – I’ve never had such a bad hook-to-land ratio as that.
After leaving my smallmouth spot I bounced around, hitting my offshore grass spots. I managed to catch a couple of small fish on a Rapala DT10 before landing one close to 3 pounds. The pike were pretty fierce and you never knew what you had on the line when they first struck. I kept moving and caught a couple more short fish before landing one about 2 ¾ . That meant I had a decent bag, over 13 pounds, by 9:30.
Sometime around 10:30 the bite slacked off and the sun got high. At that point I decided to run my key docks, but I didn’t realize how many people had already beaten them to death. The best fish I caught was a 2-pounder, but that didn’t help. I spent two hours doing that and had nothing to show for it so I went back out to the grass and cranked and pitched for what seemed like a long time without any real results. Then I went back to the dropshot and with 15 minutes left I boated my best fish of the day. It weighed about 3 ¼ pounds and increased my weight by about a pound.
My 14-07 had me in 39th place and all in all I was pretty happy with the way my day went. Sure, there were some missed opportunities early, but I adjusted with the fish in the afternoon and the decision to switch to the dropshot late paid off. That gave me confidence heading into day two.
Unfortunately, Day Two did not play out as planned. Once again I started on my smallmouth spot, but only managed one bite, a 2-pounder that went into the livewell. After that I wasn’t marking fish and didn’t get any more bites, so in less than an hour I left. I ran up to the grass and continued to struggle. I had a limit sometime between 10 and 11 o’clock, but it was one here, one there.
About that time it got real slick and I had a feeling I could pick the area apart with a dropshot like I did before, but it never happened. I never landed a fish over 2 ½ pounds doing that.
I elected not to go back to my docks after the bad first day experience there. That was probably a mistake on my part because some other anglers did well on them. The bass must’ve replenished. The decision that hurt me even more was to head up to a canal at the far upper end of the lake. I’d gone there one day during practice and caught several fish, including a good one. I figured I’d head up there during the slow part of the day. It took a lot of time because of a long idle zone and it didn’t pay off. I feel like it was a bad call and I would’ve given myself a better chance of turning my tournament around if I’d decided to grind it out in the grass. That was the worst decision I’ve made in a while. When I got to the scales I had 9-09 and slipped to 71st place.
A few words on my tackle: While I fished a big worm a little bit, my primary tools at Cayuga were a dropshot and a Rapala DT10 crankbait, two of my yearlong workhorses. On the dropshot I used a Berkley Powerbait Twitchtail Minnow (green pumpkin) and I fished it on a 6’10” medium-light Fenwick Elite Tech spinning rod paired with a size 35 Pflueger Patriarch reel. It was spooled with 10 lb. test Berkley Trilene braid with an 8 lb. test leader of Berkley XL Pro Grade 100% Fluorocarbon, which is the limpest fluorocarbon around. I fished the DT10 (Disco Shad) on a 7’10” medium-heavy Fenwick Elite Tech rod paired with a Pflueger Supreme (5.4:1) spooled with 12 lb. test Trilene 100% Fluorocarbon.
The other piece of equipment that played a huge role for me was my Humminbird 360. I know that my performance wasn’t stellar, but I would’ve caught less without my incredible electronics. I used it to find the taller grass clumps that a lot of the fish were using and it enabled me to cast to them with pinpoint accuracy from 60 to 80 feet away.
The full-field portion of the Elite Series season has ended and I’m in 32nd place with only a 50-man event in Michigan left to go. It hasn’t been a bad year, but it hasn’t been a really good one, either. Yes, I won the Open at Douglas and punched my ticket to the Classic that way, but I haven’t made any Elite 12 cuts and that bothers me. I need to get back to where I was just a couple of years ago, avoiding the decisions that kept my year from being great. Fortunately, I’m hungry to make it happen and willing to put in the work to get the job done.