ONEIDA ON THE HORIZON
Story by Matt Pangrac - Photos by Matt Pangrac and Dave Rush
Brewerton, NY – After seven stops in five different states and 28 days of tournament competition, the 2012 Bassmaster Elite Series regular season concludes this week on New York’s Oneida Lake – a fishery rich with Elite Series history.
In 2006, Oklahoma’s Tommy Biffle raised the blue trophy over his head in early July on Oneida with a four day total weight of 63-10. In 2007, the first two days of the Bassmaster Memorial Major were held on Oneida before moving to nearby Onondaga for the final two days. Dean Rojas, who finished in 4th place overall in the Major, led after the first two days of competition on Oneida with a total weight of 33-1.
In 2008, Rojas continued to excel on Oneida, capturing the first Elite Series victory of his career on Oneida Lake in early August with a total weight of 65-2, and in 2009, it was Chad Griffin’s turn to lift the blue trophy on Oneida. With a total weight of 65-10, Griffin won the season finale by targeting schooling smallmouth with an XCalibur Zell-Pop.
While 2012 marks the first time that the Elites have been to Oneida in the past three years, the Bassmaster Northern Open made a stop on the largest lake located entirely inside the state of New York in September of 2011.
Ish Monroe won the tournament with a three-day total weight of 51-2, and 2012 Elite Series rookie, Michael Simonton, finished in 2nd with a total weight of 48-12.
After two full days of practice, many of the pros that The BASS ZONE spoke with at the launch ramp said that the lake is fishing tougher than it has in recent years for both largemouth and smallmouth, and there are several different factors that are responsible for the stingy bite – mainly lower water level and an overall increase in a variety of vegetation.
“There are a lot of shallow areas that really don’t have much depth at all,” said Rojas, who divulged that he’s committed to targeting largemouth this week.
Michigan’s Jonathon VanDam, fresh off his first Elite Series victory on Lake Michigan, said that the increased amount of offshore grass on Oneida has made it difficult to locate the schools of smallmouth that have been targeted in past years by a large portion of the field.
“It’s almost like trying to find a needle in a haystack. Thos smallmouth will sit in one little grass bed and you just have to figure out which one they’re in,” he explained.
There’s a lot on the line this week at Oneida, as the Toyota Tundra Angler Of the Year, Rookie Of the Year, 2013 Classic qualifiers, and eight automatic Toyota Trucks All-Star Week qualifiers will all be determined.
In the TTAOY race, things are tight at the top as Kansas’ Brent Chapman (566 points) enters the week with a 13 point lead over Ott DeFoe (553), who is looking to earn the TTAOY title after being crowned Rookie Of the Year in 2011.
Texas’ Todd Faircloth is also in the hunt, sitting in 3rd place in the TTAOY standings just 20 points behind Chapman.
After an impressive rookie season, Brandon Card will begin Thursday morning with a 30 point lead over Florida’s Cliff Prince in the Rookie Of the Year race. Through the first seven Elite Series tournaments of the season, Card has posted five top 50 finishes, but he finished outside the money in the last two Elite Series tournaments on the Mississippi River and Lake Michigan.
That has opened the door for Prince, who has recorded two finishes inside the Top 10 in the previous three Elite Series tournaments leading up to Oneida.
The exact number of Classic qualifiers through the Elite Series is still unknown, but currently there are a handful of double-qualifiers that should push the number of automatic Classic berths down to around 35th place in the TTAOY Standings.
Defending Classic champion Chris Lane, and 2012 Elite Series winners Brent Chapman, Todd Faircloth, and Alton Jones are all inside the top 20 in the TTAOY standings and will double-qualify for the Classic.
Okeechobee champion, Ish Monroe, currently sits in 43rd in the TTAOY standings and has the potential to add another automatic Classic qualifier through the Elite Series if he turns in a solid performance this week on Oneida and becomes a double-qualifier. Other 2012 winners Brandon Palaniuk (48th in TTAOY standings), Jeremy Starks (60th in TTAOY standings), and Jonathon VanDam (66th in TTAOY standings), will most likely not double-qualify for the Classic unless one of them notches a second victory this season.
The race to finish in the top eight in the TTAOY standings and automatically qualify for Toyota Trucks All-Star Week next month in Decatur, Illinois is also tight.
Alabama’s Randy Howell currently occupies 8th place in the standings with 512 points, but a slew of competitors are knocking on the door. Edwin Evers, Dean Rojas, David Walker, and Greg Hackney are all within 22 points of Howell.
Here’s what some of the competitors had to say after two full days of practice on Oneida Lake:
“The lake isn’t as good this year as I would like it to be, but hopefully I’ve found enough to get the job done.
“From the first time that we were here, I’d say that there are 60% to 70% more guys who are up looking around in the shallow water. The water is lower than any other time that we’ve been here, so there are a lot of shallow areas that really don’t have much depth at all.
“I’m fishing for green fish. It’s a big risk, because there’s a chance that it won’t pan out, but I feel pretty good about it. There’s also a lot more dead grass around the lake because it’s been sunny and warm this year. There’s also just a lot more grass in general than there has been in the past four or five years.
“Oneida has always had a lot of bait, and that hasn’t changed this year – there’s a ton of perch and little minnows swimming around.
“I’ll put it this way – it’s going to take less weight to win this tournament than it did the last two times that we’ve been here. Capitalizing on all my bites this week is going to be really critical.”
“In the past years, it really hasn’t been a problem to catch 40 or 50 fish a day. This year, that’s honestly not the case. Everyone is bellyaching, but it will still take 12-pounds a day to get a check – it’s just a lot tougher to catch them.
“The smallmouth just aren’t grouped up like they have been in the past. It’s really weird because you can see birds flying all over the place and there’s a ton of bait in the grass – I don’t know what the deal is.
“Tommy Biffle and Dean Rojas won on largemouth here in the past. Everybody knows that, so over half the field has been around this lake fishing the bank this week. That bite is going to be a little bit tougher than it has been in past years. The lake is down a little bit, so it really hurts when you take 10-inches of depth out of that shallow water.
“There’s a lot of stuff floating throughout the water, and there’s also some kind of algae bloom going on. I’d say that probably 75 guys will have a limit on Thursday. It’s tough, but they’re still going to catch them.”
“There’s a lot of grass, so it’s almost like trying to find a needle in a haystack. Thos smallmouth will sit in one little grass bed and you just have to figure out which one they’re in.
“I fished the Open here last year, and I also fished here as a co-angler back in 2006. The lake really seems to be setting up differently than it has in the past, and I’m not catching near as many fish as I usually do.
“There are still a lot of fish in this lake, and I think that there will be a lot of guys fishing for both largemouth and smallmouth. I’m planning on fishing for a mixed bag – I spent yesterday fishing for largemouth and I spent the day fishing for smallmouth today.
“Most everything is going to be grass related. I found a lot of rock piles, but there weren’t hardly any fish around them. You really have to get up in that grass and figure out where the fish are. There are a lot of perch and shad and baitfish up there. If you can find that bait, it really helps out.
“Not having been here before, I really thought that I’d get more bites than I have during practice so far. Right now, It’s fishing pretty tough for me. Anytime that you have both largemouth and smallmouth, the field is spread out. There will be some areas with a few guys, but for the most part I think that it’ll spread out quite a bit.
“I really haven’t found a concentration of fish yet. When I get a bite, it’s just one here and one there. There may be a little bit of an algae bloom going on, but I think a lot of it could be a result of all the boat traffic that has the grass stirred up.
“It always takes 12-pounds to get a check here, so I’m guessing that’s what it will take. To be honest, there’s no way that I could have caught a limit either yesterday or today.”
“I’ve frogged for over a day-and-a-half, and I don’t have much to show for it. The water looks a little bit lower than normal, and there are some areas that have ‘frog’ written all over it and it’s too shallow to get to. I’m sure that there are some frog fish to be caught, but I haven’t found it.
“I like the way this lake sets up, but I wish that the fish are where I think they’re supposed to be. I’m going big this week – I’ve got four flippin’ rods and two frog rods on the front deck. If I’m going to burn, I’m going to burn my way.
“I really don’t know, but I’d say that it’ll take around 12-pounds to get a check. It really hasn’t been that great for me.”