By Todd Ceisner
Call it good fortune or just plain ol’ dumb luck, but when Boyd Duckett pulled into the driveway of the lakeside cabin he and fellow Bassmaster Elite Series pro Kelly Jordon shared at Oneida Lake last week, little did he know that the winning fish for the final event of the season were literally straight out off the end of the dock.
After the first day of official practice, while relaxing on shore, Duckett and Jordon watched as the surface came alive a few hundred yards off shore in Maple Bay. They thought it was a school of perch, but it turned out to be smallmouths. All the better for Duckett.
“Straight off the dock, I watched them every night after I found them the first night,” he said. “It was pretty cool.”
While the area endured heavy fishing pressure from several pros during the event, Duckett was able to make slight adjustments that gave him the edge and allowed him to catch 62-06 from the bay and claim the victory and an automatic berth in next year’s Bassmaster Classic. He overtook Randy Howell on the final day after Howell couldn’t finish his limit and wound up 6 ounces back.
The conventional wisdom coming in was that Oneida was a place where someone could fish their strength and do well, but a series of fronts that moved through prior to the tournament, combined with shifting wind patterns during the event, conspired against those who were mixing and matching different patterns.
Duckett’s area was ideal because it was sheltered from the winds for the most part, allowing him to key in on the micro factors that enticed the better bites.
Here’s how he did it.
While many in the field struggled mightily during practice, Duckett felt his time would be best spent getting to know the area out in front of his rental house. When he did, he discovered not only was there an area where smallmouths would school up and chase bait to the surface, but plenty of ideal largemouth habitat in the 3- to 7-foot range.
“I had one other area where I’d caught a 4 1/2-pounder flipping, but I never went to it because I didn’t have to,” he said.
> Day 1: 5, 13-11
> Day 2: 5, 17-11
> Day 3: 5, 14-00
> Day 4: 5, 17-00
> Total = 20, 62-06
Atop Duckett’s to-do list at Oneida was do what he could to get himself into contention for a Classic berth. He’d had an awful 2011 season, but has been fishing better of late.
Judging by the daily weights turned in by those in the Top 12, a 12-pound bag was okay as long as it was accompanied by a couple in the 15-pound range. Typically, hitting the 60-pound mark will put someone in contention for the win at Oneida.
He opened with a 13-11 bag that had him in a three-way tie for 27th. But his area was hardly a secret and saw plenty of traffic. Along with Duckett, Jordon and Jeremy Starks fished the same water, at times in very close quarters. Tim Horton, Matt Reed and Chad Griffin also poked around the area at one point or another.
“We were thrashing it,” Duckett said. “That’s a lot of boats in a tiny area. At times, it looked like a parking lot. (The fish) were very finicky.”
Knowing a 27th-place effort wasn’t going to do much for his Classic hopes, he continued to hammer away on the largemouth on day 2 and he gained some serious traction with a 17-11 catch that catapulted him to 2nd in the standings, just 12 ounces behind Howell.
His 14-00 on day 3 kept him in 2nd, but his deficit to Howell grew to 2-06. Points-wise, he came into the last day pretty much needing to win in order to make the Classic as holding onto 2nd wouldn’t have been enough to make it on points.
The early-morning topwater smallmouth bite wasn’t there on day 4, so he went to a 4” Berkley PowerBait Hollow Belly swimbait that had produced keeper bites earlier in the week. This time, he threw a blueback herring pattern and got a 4-03 largemouth to eat it.
He was then able to cull up with smallmouths and pulled out enough from the bay to put 17 pounds in his livewell.
“That area was very special because it had both species within 100 yards of each other,” he said.
Winning Pattern Notes
> The area Duckett fished was a “giant grass bay,” he said, with some rock mixed in, but the fish (at the least the smallmouth) weren’t holding on it.
“There’s a big opening that’s probably 100 yards by 50 yards and that’s what they school in with no grass,” he said. “That’s what makes it special – it’s got a 100-yard section of no grass and that’s where the fish on the edges were, out in the middle schooling all day.”
A Texas-rigged 3-inch Berkley PowerBait Chigger Craw (cinnamon/purple flake) produced a 5-pounder on day 2 that pulled Duckett into contention for the win.
> The key element to his presentation and why he was able to generate more and better quality bites from the area was his decision to downsize lines on day 2. He’d been pitching with 17-pound braid, but the fish would just bump the bait. He went to 10-pound fluorocarbon and they started eating it.
“I argued with Kelly after the second day about how to catch them flipping,” he said. “All three of us pitched and I caught two largemouth and they never caught one. The reason I did it was I was pitching 17 and I’d get a bite and it’d go bump and they wouldn’t be there. After several of those, I decided to go to the 10 and started catching them.
“That was the difference-maker for me compared to the other guys in my area.”
> When he was targeting largemouth, he’d rarely get bit on the fall.
“You had to move it, lift it and drop it,” he said. “In fact, you had to move it a lot, really, to get the pitching bite.”
Winning Gear Notes
> Swimbait gear: 7’ medium-action Duckett Fishing Micro Magic casting rod, Abu Garcia Revo Premier casting reel (7.0:1 ratio), 10-pound Berkley Trilene 100% fluorocarbon line, 1/8-ounce Buckeye J-Will swimbait jig, 4” Berkley PowerBait Hollow Belly swimbait (Tennessee shad).
> He also threw the swimbait in the blueback herring pattern, but the color’s no longer in production.
> Pitching/flipping gear: 7’ medium-heavy Duckett Fishing Micro Magic rod, same reel, same line, unnamed 3/16-ounce bullet weight, 3” Berkley PowerBait Chigger Craw (cinnamon/purple flake and green-pumpkin).
> His big fish on day 2, a 5-01 largemouth, fell for the cinnamon/purple flake Chigger Craw. “That’s such a great color,” he said.
> He also weighed fish this week caught on a Z-Man ChatterBait and Lucky Craft 115 Gunfish.
The Bottom Line
> Main factor in his success – “The difference-maker for me because I had so many guys around me who didn’t make it was definitely the line change.”
> Performance edge – “Re-committing myself to the sport. I was real busy and I know that’s not a real good excuse, but it is. I had a lot going on and probably didn’t give it the time it deserved. To be good at anything, you have to give yourself to it. You just have to. Nobody’s good enough not to. I’ve always done multiple things at the same time and it got to the point where I’d say, ‘I got that. I’ve been fishing for longer than most of these guys out here.’ And you just take it for granted that you can just show up and catch them because you have for so long. The next thing you know, it gets in your head and it falls apart on you and then you’re really messed up because there’s nothing worse than any kind of a competitor that doesn’t have confidence. You’re done. And you try to get it back, but it doesn’t come in a bottle and there is no book to read.”
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