(Editor's note: Former B.A.S.S. emcee Keith Alan lived and breathed the tour for a half-decade. Again this year, his Alan Report will break down each B.A.S.S. tour-level stop to help BassFans get the inside scoop.)
A seasonís worth of hard work, hard money and hard dreams comes down to one event. The Bassmaster Elite Series regular season finale on Oneida Lake will determine the 2012 Angler of the Year and the lionís share of the 2013 Bassmaster Classic berths.
At the top of the list, Brent Chapman leads the AOY race with a not-so-comfortable margin over Ott DeFoe. Chapman has an incredible work ethic and has approached the 2012 season with a mindset that has helped him earn the hot seat, but it only pays dividends if he can hang onto that spot through this event.
With DeFoe at his heels, a Top-12 finish locks up the AOY title. The only problem is Chapmanís history on Oneida is pretty poor. He certainly isnít counting on DeFoe to stumble on this one, so itís going to take two solid limits on the first 2 days of the tournament before Chapman can even think about a sigh of relief. If DeFoe or No. 3 contender Todd Faircloth are doing well in the tournament, Chapman must stay close to them on the leaderboard if he wants to go home with the title.
Whatís it going to take to do well on Oneida? If history repeats itself, the simple answer is largemouths. But this is the most important, and in many cases most strategy-oriented tournament of the season, so the answer isnít quite so simple. Oneida is an incredible fishery with a great population of smallmouth that may outnumber the largemouth, but they simply donít outweigh the largemouth at the scales.
The most prominent cover on Oneida is grass and there is a lot of it both near and away from the banks, giving anglers a variety of ways to target both green and brown fish. The largemouth tend to be in the shallower vegetation and the smallies are in schools and wolfpacks hunting for meals offshore. For those mid-pack guys, well outside AOY or postseason contention, yet well inside the Classic cut, it would be a good strategy to locate concentrations of smallmouth and catch a solid limit of 2- to 5-pounders, and then go hunt for kicker largemouth.
Tubes, dropshot rigs, jerkbaits and jigs should all produce limits of smallmouth, but the vast majority fishing for the ďWĒ are going to target the shallow-water largemouth.
The fact that Dean Rojas won the season finale a few years ago clued us all in to the summertime frog bite on Oneida, and I expect frogs and other top water baits will play a role this year as well. More than likely it will take a combination that also includes flipping and pitching jigs or soft plastics in and around shallow grass and structure.
Because of the win-and-you're-in qualifying method for the Classic, the majority of the field, which includes some very notable anglers sitting outside the Classic cut, will be swinging for the fences and targeting largemouth. With everything to gain and nothing to lose, the winner can salvage an otherwise dismal season by catching limits of largemouth and the automatic invite to the 2013 Bassmaster Classic.
Keith Alan spent 5 years traveling, working and fishing with the pros. His company, Ultimate Fishing Experience offers on-the-water fishing clinics and trip-of-a-lifetime experiences with the biggest names in fishing.