By Todd Ceisner
Oneida Lake was the land of opportunity last month when the Bassmaster Elite Series wrapped up its 2012 season at the central New York fishery.
As BassFans saw, Brent Chapman seized the opportunity to capture his first career Toyota Tundra B.A.S.S. Angler of the Year (AOY) title, holding off Ott DeFoe with a 6th-place finish. At the same time, Boyd Duckett shook free from a prolonged slump and won the event to claim a berth in next year’s Bassmaster Classic.
Just about every pro in the field had something to gain or something to lose at Oneida, whether it was a Classic berth, AOY bonus money (the Top 50 cashed in), sponsor incentives or moving into position to earn Elite qualification status for 2013.
Tommy Biffle and Jeff Kriet were no different. Oneida Lake has been kind to both Oklahomans in the past – Biffle won there in 2006 while Kriet was the runner-up in ’09 – but both went there this year needing strong showings in order to secure tickets to the Classic at Grand Lake in their home state next February.
Kriet was 26th in points entering the finale so he knew any sort of bomb or failure to make the 50-cut would put his Classic hopes in jeopardy since only the Top 28 were guaranteed to make it. A miserable first day put him in a hole he couldn’t escape and he wound up 76th, which dropped him to 38th and virtually out of Classic contention.
Biffle, on the other hand, was on the outside looking in (37th) prior to Oneida, but a deft adjustment to the conditions led to a 17th-place finish. The clutch effort catapulted him to 27th in points and assured him a spot at Grand.
Biffle Passed On Largemouth
Biffle didn’t want to leave anything to chance at Oneida, where he’d posted nothing worse than a 16th-place result prior to this year. He also wasn’t going let a chance to fish a Classic in his home state slip away.
“I couldn’t stand to have the Classic in Oklahoma without being in it,” he said. “It was one of those deals where I had to make it up at Oneida.”
He knew the water was down. He also knew the season finale would prompt many who were out of Classic contention via the points to chase largemouth up around the banks. So he made a calculated decision to fish just for smallmouth in hopes that he could raise enough fish to keep himself in the mix.
He’d never opted out of the largemouth game before at Oneida, but he made the weekend in 4th place and had enough of a cushion where he only slipped to 17th on day 3 despite weighing four fish.
“I was feeling pretty good about it, but you never know when you’re going to have a bad one,” he said. “It just worked out. I caught a solid limit every day but the last day. I was hoping that one didn’t keep me from the Classic. I think I went with the right plan instead of fishing for largemouth. I probably could’ve caught a good stringer of largemouth, but it was iffy.
“There are just a lot more (smallmouth) than there are largemouth and with the number of people that were fishing shallow, it made it even worse.”
It proved to be a cunning move and allowed him to go into the Fort Gibson Central Open this week (on his home water) with a lot less on his mind, which could be problematic for his competitors.
“I didn’t want to go home having to win,” he said. “I’ll fish a lot more relaxed and I’m ready for that one. I’ve got a lot of new places so I figure I’ll just go fish relaxed and win it. I’m ready for Gibson. I don’t know if I’m going to win there, but I wouldn’t bet against it.”
Jeff Kriet got spun out on day 1 at Oneida Lake and couldn't recover to claim a Classic berth.
Day 1 Doomed Kriet
Kriet went to Oneida figuring a 60th-place finish would be enough to send him to Grand. He found some good schools of smallmouth during practice and figured he could fall back on them if he couldn’t generate any bites targeting largemouth up shallow.
“I could tell there were some pretty big schools so I figured I could strum them off about eight or 10 places I had that I felt I could really catch them,” he said.
On day 1 of the tournament, he opted to fish for largemouth for the first 90 minutes or so, but only had a couple bowfin and pike bites to show for it.
“I’d given up the first hour and a half, which was pretty crucial for the smallmouth and I just got behind and started pressing,” he said. “They weren’t biting very good. I probably pressed too hard, but I absolutely got no bites.”
He moved to another shoal where the fish were schooled up and stuck a 3-pounder. His confidence started to pick up, but it proved to be the only fish he weighed that day.
“I figured I was fixing to catch 15 pounds right there, but I couldn’t get another bite,” he said. “The next thing you know, you’re running around looking for the quick fix by pulling up and fishing those schools I’d found in practice. When I look back, I probably got a little spun out and fished too fast.
“At the end of the day, I pulled onto a deal where there were some giants and once again, I was probably fishing too fast because when I was reeling in to make another cast, about a 4-pounder was trying to eat it and it was like I was trying to get it away from him. It was just one of those days – probably the worst day I’ve ever had on the water.”
He regrouped on day 2 and caught 14-10, but it wasn’t nearly enough to dig out of the day-1 hole.
This year marked the third straight season in which he was inside the Top 15 in points after at least four events, but then slowly slipped down the ledger during the second half of the season. In 2010 and 2011, he was able to limit his slide and stay above the Classic cutline. This year’s precipitous fall coincided with three straight missed checks to close out the year. It’s just the second time in his Elite Series career he’s missed three straight cuts in the same season.
His only hope to make the Classic is to win at Fort Gibson this week as the Open winners are guaranteed Classic berths.
“I put it on me – the whole deal,” he said. “In my opinion, I had a (crappy) season, as bad a season as I’ve had in many years. I better get my (stuff) straight if I’m going to fish for a living. That’s how I look at it.”