2016 Elite Series
Union Springs, NY
13th Place / 15 fish, 53-01
When the Elite Series visited Cayuga in 2014 I had a subpar tournament, but I knew that this season’s event was taking place at a different time of year, and coming off a good finish at Texoma I wanted to keep the momentum going. Last time around the lake proved itself to be a very good fishery and with the possibility that some fish would still be spawning I believed that this time it could be even better. Also, last time around smallmouths barely played any role at all. I was one of the few anglers who weighed some in. Perhaps this time that wouldn’t be the case.
I’d never fished the south end of the lake before – not in practice, not in the tournament – but I knew some guys did well there last time around so I headed straight there on the first day of practice. I started getting bit very soon, and some of them were big healthy fish that didn’t appear to have spawned yet. I also saw some paired up and spawning.
Three or four docks in particular had schools on them of 15 to 30 fish apiece, but it seemed like most of the action was confined to a 200 yard stretch of water and it threatened to fish very small. I didn’t write the area off, but I hoped that I wouldn’t have to go back. There was a very real threat that if you got down there and found several boats in the key spots you’d end up twiddling your thumbs.
On the second day of practice I went north. I spent much of that time chucking a big swimbait, and while a few bass ate it my primary goal was just to locate them. I ended up finding over a dozen good looking smallmouths in the 3 to 4 pound class, exactly the type of fish I’d need to do well.
On the last day I looked at some different areas, spending a lot of time on the trolling motor slinging that swimbait trying to find concentrations of fish. I never slowed down to throw a dropshot or a wacky worm but I still found what I was looking for. There was no need to make them bite in practice – I’d figure that part of it out during the tournament.
On the second day of practice I’d caught some good fish up north on a topwater, so with a good boat number in the twenties that’s where I started on the first day of competition. I assumed that I would put a few in the livewell, possibly a limit, and then go bed fish the rest of the day. After 30 or 40 minutes of fishing, though, I didn’t catch a single bass, so I headed down to my smallmouth areas. Unfortunately, I was last in line to look at them. I had lost any advantage of the good boat number because there were already multiple boats everywhere I wanted to stop
I stopped on one little stretch of bank where I knew there were some fish and found one about 3 ¾ pounds that had just pulled up. Two hours into the day I landed my first keeper on a VMC marabou jig. I saw several more fish up shallow, but they weren’t on beds and I couldn’t get them to bite so I decided to go largemouth fishing up north where I had raised several with the swimbait.
At about 10 o’clock, Andy Montgomery pulled up next to me. He had 18 pounds to my one fish. I knew that I needed to bear down so I got out a wacky worm and pretty quickly managed to catch a 2 ¾, a 2 ½ and two keepers to finish out my limit by 11 o’clock. After that I continued to cull with the wacky worm and used the swimbait to locate more fish. Fortunately one about 3 ½ pounds decided to commit to it. If they followed it or bumped it I’d throw back with the wacky worm and usually they’d eat it. There were several other boats around but none of them were catching the quantity or quality that I was catching.
At 1 o’clock I had 18 pounds and figured I needed to save a few fish for the next day, so I went to check out some other places that didn’t help. When I returned with an hour to go there were even more boats there than before and I felt dumb. I had left in order not to burn up my fish, but I just left them for others to catch. I might’ve been able to cull up a bit if I’d stayed. My 18 pounds had me in 32nd place. I knew the lake was good, but I had no idea that it would take 17 pounds to be in the top 50.
On the second day I was in a late flight but I didn’t care because I knew that I wouldn’t be able to see the grass edges in low light conditions. Using my Humminbird 360, I’d marked a number of the good grass clumps so with the wind blowing I’d drift near them, drop my Talons, and proceed to pick the area apart. I ended up catching a limit before any of the other nearby anglers had more than one in the livewell. See proof on Bassmaster… On Day One I’d had nothing in the boat after 90 minutes but on Day Two I had 16 pounds at that point.
Once the sun got high and the wind died down a bit I could pick the cover apart more efficiently and I upgraded a few times and got a bonus 4 ½ pound swimbait fish. I wasn’t due in until 4pm, and except for checking one other spot for 30 minutes, I stayed in that same ¼ mile stretch all day. I’d done that in tournaments in the past but never on the Elite Series, and since the area was close to the launch I never had to add gas once the tournament started. The other area didn’t pan out anyway. I lost one around 3 pounds, caught some small ones and several pickerel. In my main area I probably had 20 keepers and the best five weighed 19-05, enough to move me into 10th.
With those two solid days in my rearview mirror, it was an easy decision to go back on Day Three. There’d been some fresh pre-spawn fish on Day Two and I figured there’d be more. The morning started quick on Saturday but the fish weren’t the same size as before. All I could catch were 2 to 2 ½ pounders, and after not catching a short fish the first two days I caught three or four on Day Three.
There was one good fish that I had marked on a bed in a clump of grass in 7 feet of water that I went to fairly early on Day Three. I trolling motored up to the waypoint, dropped a buoy on the bed (even though I couldn’t see it) and moved 50 or 60 feet away. After throwing at it quite a few times without a bite I fished about 50 yards away and then turned around. The key was to let the wacky worm sit there with no movement whatsoever. When I returned and made my cast to the buoy my line went tight and when I pulled on it the buoy flipped over. I applied more pressure and it flipped over again. I figured that I’d hooked the rope, but shortly thereafter it pulled back and I reeled in the beautiful 3 ¾ pound female. The old buoy trick worked like a charm.
A little later I was talking to Aaron Martens and made a blind cast to clump of grass and caught another one around 4. We’re good friends, but it was cool to get in his head a little bit. I ran a few more waypoints but couldn’t get any more fish to go and I figured that my area had finally dried up.
There were a series of docks where I’d caught a small fish the first day and there was a 3 pounder with it. When I got there, the homeowner was bluegill fishing. He allowed my request to fish there and when I pulled up I could see a good fish 15 feet under the dock with his nose sitting just under the water. I made a perfect skip, felt the tick, set the hook and missed the fish. I gathered myself and made the same cast. This time it swam off and I reeled in a 3 pounder that allowed me to cull out one about 2 ¼. The dock owner commented that it was “just like watching TV.”
I knew that fish would get me close to the twelve cut, but I felt like I needed one more 3 ½ to 4 pounder to get it done. It was a much tougher day in terms of both numbers and quality and despite catching a few more bass I couldn’t get another kicker. I fell short of fishing on Sunday by 8 ounces. That always stings, but to be honest I didn’t mind it that much this time around because I fished extremely well. I only lost one quality bass, a 3 ½ pounder, on Day Two, and I caught that fish 15 minutes later so it didn’t matter. I fished clean and I’m proud of my effort.
A wacky rigged Berkley Havoc Bottom Hopper did most of the heavy lifting for me in this tournament. The color was key – watermelon seed outfished everything else. The slow rate of fall was also critical. Lots of people around me were fishing Senko-style of baits but the Bottom Hopper was a better choice because it fell so slowly. You had to be unbelievably patient. I fished the worm on a new VMC hook made for Neko-rigging in a size 2. It’s a straight shank, light wire hook that maximized myenwick World landing percentage. I fished the wacky worm on a Fenwick World Class 7’2” medium action spinning rod paired with a Pflueger Patriarch 35 reel. I spooled it up with white 14 lb. Nanofil, which is easy to see, along with a leader of 10 lb. test Trilene XL fluorocarbon.
The other lure that helped me finish so well was the discontinued Bass Pro Shops swimbait made famous by Steve Kennedy. I only had one and a pike took it on Day Two, but Steve was kind enough to give me another. A pike took that one on Day Three and then Fred Roumbanis gave me one of the new lures he designed based on the older bait. I fished them on a Fenwick World Class 7’6” medium heavy rod, a Pflueger Supreme XT (7.1:1) and 17 lb. test Trilene fluorocarbon.
My Talons and my Humminbird 360 gave me a two pronged attack in the grass. Once the sun got high, you could see the clumps of grass, the edges and the clear spots, but for the first few hours of the day you couldn’t see anything. I’d find the key locations with my 360, then put my 12 foot Talons down and pick them apart. In some of the places, an 8 foot shallow water anchor would not have been enough. I had complete control. It was also surprisingly hot in New York for June. They’re getting an early start on ORCA Cooler season this year!
With another solid finish I moved up to 15th in the Angler of the Year race. Next up is the Potomac River, a body of water I haven’t been to in a long time. I remember it being just about the hottest place on earth at that time of year but I’m hoping that I can fish it with an open mind. After that we go to LaCrosse and the Upper Mississippi, a river that we fished around the same time last year in MLF. If the water is at its normal level for that time of year, a lot of guys are going to get stuck during practice. Finally, we’ll go to Mille Lacs in Minnesota, a lake that I fished once for a Rapala media event. It’s loaded with 4 to 5 pound smallmouth and I suspect that it’s going to be a slugfest. Overall, I like the way that I’m fishing and I think that the rest of the schedule fits my strengths.