By Todd Ceisner
Oneida Lake was a different animal this summer, especially for the Bassmaster Elite Series pros who’d fished it before.
The lake was down a bit due to the dry summer in the northeast and grass throughout the lake was thick and plentiful, giving the largemouth ample cover to hole up in. The schooling smallmouth would tend to shut down after one of their pals got picked off. Gone were the days during which they’d swing 30 to 40 fish into the boat.
While winner Boyd Duckett had one area with easy access to smallmouth and largemouth, the other top finishers had to move around a bit and applied a variety of tactics to fill their bags with both species. From dropshotting in grass to skipping docks and flipping shallow cover, Oneida offered anglers myriad ways of targeting and catching their key fish.
Following is a breakdown of how the rest of the Top 5 went about their business at the season finale.
2nd: Randy Howell
> Day 1: 5, 15-12
> Day 2: 5, 16-06
> Day 3: 5, 15-10
> Day 4: 4, 14-04
> Total = 19, 62-00
Randy Howell has been to Oneida Lake enough in his career that he was sure he had enough fish to run to if he got in a pinch no matter the conditions. He even paid the lake a visit before it went off limits just to get a feel for how it was fishing this summer.
Things were coming together according to plan as he seized the lead after day 2 thanks to a good topwater bite during the first 2 days. Over the final 2 days, he had to go deeper and caught his key fish on a swimbait and flipping a 1-ounce jig. Three of his five keepers on day 3 came off the outside edge of a grass line.
“I did that a lot and got it down to knowing that it was going to be three or four things that were going to work,” he said.
But he couldn’t manage to find one last keeper on the final day that would’ve kept him ahead of Duckett. He had a solid 14-04, including a 4 1/2-pound largemouth and 4-pound smallie, but just couldn’t entice one more bite.
“I did all I could do,” he said. “I wish I’d have found out how to catch a limit before I started flipping. Any sized keeper was all I needed and that’s what gets me.
“I’m happy about the decisions I made all week. I thought they’d play out right and it had a lot to do with the fishery from being here so many times now and learning what I need to know about it. I always said I wasn’t going to let that happen to me again and to not catch a limit and that’s what’s going to haunt me here now.”
> Topwater gear: 7’2” Daiwa Steez Fle-X-Lite casting rod, Daiwa Zillion Type-R casting reel, 70-pound Daiwa Samurai braided line, 3” Rebel Pop-R (bone).
> He also caught fish on a Heddon Super Spook (chrome).
> Swimbait gear: Same rod and reel as topwater, 16-pound Gamma fluorocarbon line, 1/2-ounce Do-It Molds swimbait jighead, 4” NetBait BK Swimmer (albino and pearl).
> Jig gear: 7’4” extra-heavy Daiwa Steez casting rod, same reel, 1-ounce Lunker Lure Triple Rattleback Monster Grass jig (green-pumpkin/blue), Kinami Baits Psycho Dad trailer (black/red flake).
> Jerkbait gear: 7’ medium-action Daiwa Steez Fle-X-Lite casting rod, Daiwa Steez Ultra Magnesium casting reel (7.1:1 ratio), 10-pound Gamma fluorocarbon line, Molix Finder-Jerk 110 (shiny shad).
> Main factor in his success – “Spending lots of time on the lake learning and marking places over the years. My Lowrance HDS-10 is how I was able to find so many spots.”
> Performance edge – “My Triton and Mercury held up all week even with all the running around I was doing.”
Scott Rook stuck with a dropshot all week and had his fish all to himself.
3rd: Scott Rook
> Day 1: 5, 15-07
> Day 2: 5, 15-09
> Day 3: 5, 14-03
> Day 4: 5, 15-04
> Total = 20, 60-07
There wasn’t a lot of bait in the area Scott Rook fished, but that didn’t seem to matter much. He located the offshore shoal in practice and caught a decent smallmouth on a jerkbait and noticed several followers nearby. On the last day of practice, he went back to check the spot and caught three 3-pounders on a dropshot rig.
“I knew that’s where I was going to start,” he said. “There were quite a fish there. I wasn’t really dialed into where the sweet spot was so I started working my way around.”
Once he ID’d the sweet spot, he then got dialed into how the fish wanted to bait.
“I’d throw it out there and let it hit bottom and just dead-stick it,” he said. “I’d pick my rod up and hold it and hold it and then when I’d go to pull it there’d be one on there. If it was a small fish, like 1 1/2 pounds or less, I’d feel him bite.”
He caught every fish he weighed in the tournament off that same shoal and never had another boat move in on him. He was still able to catch quality bags the final 2 days despite some strong winds at various points of the day.
“I was just real patient with it,” he said. “I’d just go back and forth. When I caught a fish the first couple days and it’d slick off, I could see them swimming down there and they had fish of equal size swimming with them, so that gave me confidence that there was enough there.”
> Dropshot gear: 7’ medium-action St. Croix Legend Extreme spinning rod, Abu Garcia Revo Premier spinning reel, 8-pound Berkley Trilene 100% fluorocarbon line, size 1 Gamakatsu Rebarb hook, 1/4-ounce Big Strike dropshot weight, unnamed dropshot worm (smoky green color).
> Main factor in his success – “Working it real, real slow and being real patient with it.”
> Performance edge – “The equipment had to work good and my MotorGuide trolling motor helped me stay out in those waves the last 2 days. I was just crashing into waves with water coming over the nose. All of your equipment has to work right and my Mercury outboard and MotorGuide trolling motor were big parts of my success.”
Takahiro Omori made a big move on day 3, thanks to a couple largemouth he caught flipping grass.
4th: Takahiro Omori
> Day 1: 5, 12-08
> Day 2: 5, 11-15
> Day 3: 5, 18-13
> Day 4: 5, 14-00
> Total = 20, 57-04
Practice was a struggle for Takahiro Omori, who knew he had to catch big stringers each day to work his way into contention for a Bassmaster Classic berth.
“I practiced mainly for largemouth the last 2 days and they weren’t there,” he said. “This is like my fifth tournament here so I know where the fish are. I found a little key stretch here and there, but I was only getting five or six bites a day.”
He was targeting the outside edges of deep grass in 12 to 14 feet for smallmouth with a Lucky Craft Slender Pointer and skipped docks and flipped shallow grass for largemouth. He’d also flip any other sort of shoreline cover that looked enticing, such as laydowns or pads.
On day 1, he caught all largemouth and weighed 12-08. Needing a similar bag on day 2 to make the weekend, he was down to his final 30 minutes and had just four fish when he latched onto a 3 1/4-pound smallmouth. He had another smallie on his stringer that day and they proved to be the only brown fish he weighed all week. It turned out to be the fish that kept his season alive.
“That put me into (48th) so I if didn’t have that fish, I’d have been done for the year,” he said.
He went after smallmouth on day 3, but couldn’t locate them, so he changed up and targeted largemouth, knowing a couple big bites could improve his Classic hopes. He got those key bites, including a 5-06 that took big-bass honors for the event, and weighed 18-13 to rise to 8th on the leaderboard. It was the best single-day weight of any event he’s fished at Oneida.
His weight slipped to 14-00 on day 4, but it was enough to help him gain four more spots in the final standings and push him to 24th in points, well inside the Classic cut line.
> Flipping gear: 7’3” medium-heavy Daiwa Black Label pitching/flipping rod, Daiwa baitcasting reel, 60-pound Sunline FX2 braided line, unnamed 1/2- and 1-ounce flipping weights, 4/0 Gamakatsu Superline EWG hook, unnamed creature bait (black/blue).
> Skipping gear: 6’8” medium-action Daiwa spinning rod, Daiwa spinning reel, 10-pound Sunline FC Sniper fluorocarbon line, 4/0 Gamakatsu G-Lock worm hook, 5” Yamamoto Senko (green-pumpkin).
> Main factor in his success – “I tried to fish with an open mind and listen to the fish because I could’ve fished for smallmouth or largemouth.”
> Performance edge – “Mental toughness. I had a lot of pressure on me and I had to tough it out.”
Ott DeFoe capped off the season with his second straight 5th-place finish.
5th: Ott DeFoe
> Day 1: 5, 12-05
> Day 2: 5, 15-05
> Day 3: 5, 15-13
> Day 4: 5, 13-07
> Total = 20, 56-14
Ott DeFoe didn’t set the lake on fire in practice, but he figured it out enough to give himself a puncher’s chance at the win and Angler of the Year (AOY) title.
He estimated that he caught 12 keepers in 3 days of practice, but just couldn’t figure out the offshore smallmouth bite.
“I caught one smallmouth that was actually where he should’ve been in practice,” he said. “I caught a couple shallow, but only one deep. And I’m not very good at that so I just went to places where I could fish shallow. I got some bites shallow and the ones I got were good ones. I felt like I had two things going in practice.”
One was flipping grass in moderate depths (6 to 8 feet) around a creek mouth and the other was skipping docks and overhangs.
“I don’t think the type of grass mattered,” he noted. “Location was more important than anything.”
After struggling to put together a 12-05 stringer on day 1 and seeing Brent Chapman weigh 16-05 to gain some separation in the AOY race, DeFoe went out with a more relaxed mindset on day 2. But that didn’t make it any easier to catch fish. He worked through the same day-1 water, but found it was empty.
By mid-morning on day 2, he started to wonder if he was going to even make a check or catch enough to maintain his place in the Top 8 in the standings, which would earn him a berth in the All-Star event next month. Then, he caught a 3 3/4-pounder on a Berkley Havoc Pit Boss to get started. That fish paved the way for a 15-05 sack and helped him make the weekend in 23rd.
“I just went with it after that,” he said.
He had a 15-keeper day on day 3 when he weighed 15-13 to make the Top 12. He closed with 13-07 to lock up his second straight 5th-place finish as well as 2nd place in the AOY standings.
> Flipping gear: 7’6” heavy-action Fenwick Aetos casting rod, Abu Garcia Revo MGX casting reel, 20-pound Berkley Trilene 100% fluorocarbon line, 1/2-ounce Reins Tungsten flipping weight, 5/0 VMC flipping hook, Berkley Havoc Pit Boss (Okeechobee craw).
> Skipping gear: 7’ medium-action Fenwick Aetos spinning rod, Abu Garcia Revo Premier spinning reel, 10-pound Spiderwire braided line (main line), 12-pound Berkley Trilene 100% fluorocarbon line, 3/0 VMC offset round-bend hook, 4” unnamed soft stickbait (green-pumpkin).
> He also caught some schoolers on a 5-inch Berkley Gulp! Jerk Shad (pearl white) and threw a Rapala No. 7 Skitter Pop (shad).
> The Fenwick Aetos rods debuted at ICAST in July and should hit stores this fall.
> Main factor in his success – “Just going fishing on the 2nd day.”
> Performance edge – “Using the braided line for skipping. I caught fish over metal bars in the docks and over tree branches – crazy stuff.”
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