By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
This week will mark the end of the 2014 season for more than half of the Bassmaster Elite Series field. About 50 percent of those guys already know they won't advance to next month's Angler of the Year Championship, and the rest will have their hopes dashed before the weekend concludes in idyllic Union Springs, N.Y.
If dreams must die, at least Cayuga Lake is a pleasant place for them to expire. It has lots of fish and the weather offers a nice respite from the oppressive heat that permeates much of the country during August.
The circuit's final regular-season event will play out in an environment that's diametrically opposed to the one the competitors just came from – the Delaware River in Philadelphia. There's nothing urban about Cayuga, one of western New York's famed Finger Lakes, and it's highly unlikely that a single cast will be made toward a sunken major appliance throughout the 4 days of the derby.
Cayuga is long (almost 40 miles from tip to tip) and narrow (only about 3 miles across). The majority of its bass (primarily largemouths, but a smattering of big smallmouths) live in the upper third, but both species are present all the way around.
The late-summer lull, when bites of any type can be hard to come by, doesn't usually impact this region because of the compacted seasonal progression. The water temperature is still in the 70s and it won't be long until it starts heading downward, so the bass don't have a lot of time to sit and sulk.
As a high-level tournament venue, Cayuga has a limited history. Almost exactly 2 years ago, veteran New Jersey pro Pete Gluszek won a Northern Open at the lake by flipping a Senko to dense, deep milfoil in the mornings and skipping the same bait to docks in the afternoon. He compiled 56 pounds over 3 days.
Before getting deeper into the bite, here are some specifics on the venue:
BassFan Lake Profile
> Lake name: Cayuga
> Type of water: Glacial lake (the longest of central New York's Finger Lakes)
> Surface acres: 42,956
> Primary structure/cover: Grass, docks, weedlines, man-made concrete barriers, rocks, ledges
> Primary forage: Alewives, crayfish, perch, various minnows
> Average depth: 54 1/2 feet
> Species: Mostly largemouths, some smallmouths
> Minimum length: 12 inches
> Reputation: An underexposed fishery that can produce big numbers
> Weather: Lots of clouds and an occasional thunderstorm with air temperatures reaching only into the low 80s
> Water temp: Mid to high 70s
> Water visibility/color: Gin-clear in some places, slightly tinted in others
> Water level: Normal
> Fish in: 1 to 25 feet
> Fish phase: Summer
> Primary patterns: Deep-cranking, various jigs, plastics, flipping, spinnerbaits, dropshots, Senkos
> Winning weight (4 days): 75 pounds
> Cut weight (Top 50 after 2 days): 28 pounds
> Fishing quality (1=poor, 5=great): 4 for Cayuga Lake
> Biggest factors: Crowding
> Biggest decision: Deep, shallow or a mix of both
> Wildcard: Isolated offshore schools – they're hard to find, but some contain winning quality
Pressure's On for Some
Only the Top 50 in the points after this event move on to the AOY Championship at the Bays de Noc in Michigan in late September. Those who don't qualify for that tournament (and haven't won an Elite or Open event) will be shut out of the 2015 Bassmaster Classic at South Carolina's Lake Hartwell.
One of the most interesting sub-plots this week centers around Kevin VanDam, the seven-time AOY and four-time Classic winner who sits at No. 42 in the points. If he were to turn in a second straight bomb (he was 97th at the Delaware), his run of 24 consecutive Classics could come to an end.
Here's a look at how Cayuga Lake lays out. The launch will take place from Union Springs on the northern end.
Rick Clunn, the only other four-time Classic champion, is at No. 52 and needs to inch up a bit to extend his hopes of competing in the event for the 33rd time. Others currently on the outside include Davy Hite (55th), Shaw Grigsby (56th) and 2012 AOY Brent Chapman (68th).
Pick Your Depth
Kirk McMullen, a former NFL tight end who guides on the Finger Lakes, says the fishing on Cayuga has been good recently.
"There are deep patterns going and shallow patterns going – there's always multiple options," he said. "The lake has a lot of fish and on any giving day someone can run into the right ones."
He said the tournament will be dominated by largemouths, as the smallmouths are far fewer in number and spend much of the summer chasing alewives around in deep water, which makes them extremely difficult to locate or pattern. The prime largemouth habitat is in the northern end, which is where most of the field will likely congregate.
Most local tournaments this time of year are won in the 13- to 22-foot depth range, he said, with deep-running crankbaits and bottom-hugging offerings such as jigs and big worms producing most of the key fish. That zone contains a lot of weed points, grass lines, humps and rock piles that attract big numbers of fish.
"(The Elite anglers) are so good with their electronics that they could find some offshore stuff that never gets fished," he said. "A guy could find something that he has to himself the whole tournament.
"The first 10 miles from the north gets 80 percent of the fishing pressure, but there are other areas to catch quality fish. It's just a matter of putting in the time and finding them."
As for shallow cover, there's a smorgasbord of weed mats, docks, trees, rocks and man-made features such as concrete abutments.
"Every single application that exists, you can fish it," he said. "There's even a canal system at the north end that if somebody wants to fish really shallow vegetation, there's a lot of cattails and stuff."
He expects the winner to average about 19 pounds a day and anticipates seeing at least one fish in the 6- to 7-pound range come to the scale.
Following are practice notes from a few of the anglers who'll be competing this week.
"This place seems to have one of the largest pike populations I've ever seen – I'm running out of stuff to throw at those dudes. There's quite a few bass, but I'm surprised by how few smallmouths. I thought it was going to be like Oneida, but it doesn't have the rocks and it doesn't have the smallmouths. I haven't even accidentally caught one.
"I think it'll be a pretty good weigh-in. We've got some clouds and rain coming and they're not expecting high winds, so that should make the fish easier to catch. My only concern is a lot of them are on the small side – 11 or 12 pounds will be a fairly common number.
"I've heard rumors of 20-pound bags and if it's doable, it'll be done here, but it seems like it's pretty hard to pinpoint the fish and on top of that, it's hard to determine what size you're going to catch. There's a plentiful number of the smaller-size fish and they do look healthy, so there has to be a lot of food for them.
"I've caught them as deep as I've fish and as shallow as I wanted to go, but I think I'm going to spend most of my time relatively shallow. The water's mostly really clear and where you'd have 2- to 3-foot visibility back home, it's three times that here, so 'shallow' means a little bit deeper than it normally would."
"It's going to be a fun tournament. I'm doing a little bit of everything, just trying to mix it up. There's fish both shallow and deep and it's all about getting the quality bites. There's a lot of 2- to 3-pounders and anything over 4 is a bonus. Those are the ones you need. I've found a few and I'm hoping they're still around or that they're grouped up according to size.
"I think right around 17 pounds a day will be strong all the way through. A couple guys might bust big bags – maybe 20 pounds or more – but staying in the 17 to 18 range will be crucial.
"A lot of guys are fishing the same stuff and the fish on the community holes have been getting beat up over the last 3 days. I've never been here before and I don't know what that's going to do to them, so I'll just take it day by day.
"I just want to finish the season strong and I don't think we could've gone to a better place to do it at this time of year."
"The first day of practice I didn't catch a heck of a lot – I just didn't get a lot of bites. I did catch a couple smallmouth, but I don't think I had more than 12 or 13 pounds worth. Then (on Tuesday) I caught a bunch, 30 anyway and I'm certain I could've caught more, but I don't know if I even would've had 12 pounds. (Wednesday) I got quite a few bites again and one decent one, but it was just a little slower day overall.
"It seems like there's plenty of fish to be caught, but you could catch 50 and still only have 10 or 11 pounds. I've fished both shallow and deep and I haven't gotten as many bites shallow. The deep fish, when you get around them, you get bit pretty regular.
"I feel very certain that right around 13 pounds a day will get you paid."
Jared Lintner is determined to avoid the crowd of anglers that's sure to gather on the north end of the lake.
"Everything looks good from one end of the lake to the other, but I just haven't gotten that many bites. It's obvious where most of the fish are and everybody knows that. I don't want to fish in a crowd, but that's tough to do when you're not getting many bites elsewhere. Still, I don't think I'm going to do it – it's not a fun way to fish. I may not catch them or I may catch them big.
"I think it's going to be pretty similar to a St. Johns River deal where everybody's in one area, and I don't do well mentally with that going on. I'd rather fish somewhere else and have fun rather than looking over my shoulder all day.
"I'm pretty much going to stay shallow – anywhere from the bank to 10 feet. I've fished out to 18 to 20 feet and I did have some bites, but there's a lot of pike out there. The areas where I got some bass bites there were four or five other guys throwing to the same stuff. Those fish have seen a lot of baits, but I know they're still going to get caught."
"I feel like I've done a good job of covering a lot of water this week. I've looked both shallow and deep and had bites in both places, but there just aren't a lot of optimal places out deep. I'm going to stay shallow more than likely, at least until I've got a limit, and then maybe I'll go deep. Maybe the guys who started out there will have lost faith in it by then or caught what they think they can catch and moved on.
"I've caught two smallmouth purely by accident. I love to fish for them, but I've done enough research on this place to where I don't feel like they'll be a major player.
"With this many quality anglers, with everybody jerking on a fish or two each day of practice, you're going to eliminate a lot of those fish, so I'm thinking it'll take 13 to 14 pounds to get paid. I'd be really comfortable with 15."
Top 10 to Watch
With the above in mind and more, here are BassFan's recommendations for the Top 10 to watch in this event.
1. Aaron Martens – He was happy enough with what he found on the first day of practice to spend the waning hours loading his livewell with perch for a fish fry. He always seems to excel on lesser-known bodies of water.
2. Mike Iaconelli – He rides momentum (good or bad) about as hard as anyone in the game and he's got it going his way at the moment. He could have a letdown following his emotion-charged win at the Delaware River, but the guess here is that he won't. He finished 5th at the Northern Open at Cayuga 2 years ago, which was won by his good buddy Pete Gluszek.
3. Greg Hackney – He finished just inside the money and moved into the AOY lead at the Delaware. This place features a lot more traditional shallow cover, so look for him to find some that's holding some high-quality largemouths.
4. Skeet Reese – He's been rock-solid since March ended, finishing no lower than 13th in any of the four points events over that span. He's right in the thick of the AOY battle again, but must avoid the Northern bombs that killed his chances at the title a year ago.
5. Bernie Schultz – He's put together a wildly up-and-down campaign, but he usually does his best fishing late in the season at venues far north of his Florida home. He's got a good shot at making his ninth Classic and first since 2009.
6. Kevin VanDam – A second straight stinker this month would knock the most celebrated bass-catcher ever out of the Top 50 in the points – and thus out of contention for next year's Classic. He'll be looking for redemption after a one-keeper performance at the Delaware and stands a good chance of getting it.
7. Todd Faircloth – He frittered away a potential AOY crown in the North back in 2008 and this year has a chance to pursue one from a little ways back in the pack. He can get it done either shallow or deep and the setup at Cayuga seems to favor his extremely versatile game.
9. Chris Lane – The runner-up at the Delaware has had a superb season save for the nightmare he endured at Dardanelle, where his boat caught fire in the wee hours prior to day 1. He's another guy who's very streaky and he can ride a hot run with the best of them.
10. 1. Steve Kennedy – He's somewhat of a longshot coming off a short practice following his heart-breaking defeat at the Forrest Wood Cup, but this is a guy who often chooses to abbreviate his pre-fishing time. He's proven adept at finding his own way at off-beat venues and this week's qualifies as one of those.
Anglers will launch at 6:15 a.m. ET each day from Frontenac Park (26 Chapel St., Union Springs, N.Y.) Weigh-ins will get under way at 3:15 p.m. at the same location.
> McMullen operates the NYBassInAction guide service along with former FLW Tour pro Ken Golub.
> Like most anglers in the field, Aaron Martens and Brent Chapman will enter the event with guarded optimism. They were encouraged by the number of bites they got during practice, but are certain that conditions are going to change once the big groups of fish start to feel the pressure. For more, click here to visit Pro View Reports.
> Thurs., Aug. 21 – T-Storms - 78°/63°
- Wind: From the S at 6 mph
> Fri., Aug. 22 – P.M. T-Storms - 80°/61°
- Wind: From the SSE at 10 mph
> Sat., Aug. 23 – Partly Cloudy - 82°/61°
- Wind: From the SE at 8 mph
> Sun., Aug. 24 – Mostly Sunny - 80°/61°
- Wind: From the SE at 7 mph