By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
(Editor's note: In observance of the Labor Day holiday, a new First Cast feature story will not appear until Tuesday, Sept. 3.)
Pick your species and pick your technique.
New York's Cayuga Lake, the eighth stop on the nine-event Bassmaster Elite Series regular-season schedule, offered the 75 competitors a variety of options. They could pursue largemouth or smallmouth, they could fish deep or relatively shallow and the bait choices were numerous.
The four anglers who finished closest to winner Jamie Hartman all did things a little bit differently. Following are some of the details on how they attacked the longest of the Empire State's Finger Lakes.
2nd: Jeff Gustafson
> Day 1: 5, 23-11
> Day 2: 5, 25-06
> Day 3: 5, 15-04
> Day 4: 5, 15-14
> Total = 20, 80-03
Canadian Jeff Gustafson, one of the few anglers in the entire field who avoided grass beds entirely, absolutely destroyed deep-dwelling largemouths on each of the first two days. That bite dissipated on day 3, and although he still held the lead after that round, he didn't have enough left on the final day to hold off Hartman.
He was 12th at the St. Lawrence River the previous week and the runner-up showing pushed him up to No. 32 on the Angler of the Year points list – well inside where the Bassmaster Classic cutoff will eventually fall. That was at least a bit of consolation in the wake of his inability to close out the win after starting the final day with a 4-05 advantage.
"It was a pretty good two weeks," he said. "I'm in good shape for the points now."
He started practice experimenting with a variety of grass-oriented techniques and ended up catching half a dozen fish in the first couple hours, but nothing over 2 pounds. He also tangled with about 30 pickerel during that span.
He marked a couple of fish on a point in 18 to 20 feet of water and employed a Ned Rig to entice a 2 1/2-pounder. He roped a 3-pounder from the next point, then a couple of solid keepers off a sunken brush pile. From then on, he was on the hunt for structure-related fish.
By the time practice was complete he had several largemouth areas near the launch on the north end of the lake and some smallmouth on rock piles down south.
A football-head jig was his primary bait for the first two days. The Ned Rig filled that role on the weekend when his action slowed.
"I was just fishing my strengths," he said. "When I come down for these tournaments and I can use my Humminbird electronics, that's what I do best. If I have to beat the bank, I'm not as confident."
> Jig gear: 7'5" medium-heavy G. G. Loomis NRX 893 rod, Shimano Bantam MGL casting reel (7.5:1 ratio), 15-pound Seaguar InvizX fluorocarbon line, 3/4-ounce homemade football-head jig (green-pumpkin), Z-Man Z-CrawZ trailer (green-pumpkin).
> Ned Rig gear – 7'3" medium-action G. Loomis NRX 873 rod, Shimano Stradic K 2500 spinning reel, 10-pound PowerPro braided line, 10-pound Seaguar InvizX fluorocarbon leader, 1/4-ounce Z-Man Finesse ShroomZ jighead, 4" Z-Man Hula StickZ (green-pumpkin).
Chris Zaldain posted his third top-3 finish of the season at Cayuga.
3rd: Chris Zaldain
> Day 1: 5, 24-05
> Day 2: 5, 21-11
> Day 3: 5, 14-00
> Day 4: 5, 19-00
> Total = 20, 79-00
Chris Zaldain now has three finishes among the top 3 on the season. He spent this event focused on deep water (25 to 35 feet) and adjusted accordingly when his best area transitioned from a place where he could catch quality largemouths early in the day to one where big smallmouth bit after the sun got high in the sky.
A swimbait attached to an underspin head was his most effective weapon, supplemented by a Neko-rigged stickbait.
"I said from the get-go that I was going to have to put each day together as it unfolded," he said. "I didn't have one school that was really good; I had to visit several spots and those spots changed with the weather, but sticking with the offshore bite was a big key for me."
"Every time the alewives showed up, it was game on. White perch and yellow perch were feeding on the alewives and the bass, whether they were green or brown, were eating the perch. There'd be a whole food chain taking place and it was something I had to keep a close eye out for."
He came within 2 pounds of claiming his first full-field Elite Series triumph.
"I haven't given it away at any of the tournaments I've had a chance to win this year. It's just the someone's always caught them a little bit better."
> Underspin gear: 7'4" Megabass Destroyer Brigand rod, unnamed 3000-size spinning reel, 15-pound Seaguar Smackdown braided line, 12-pound Seaguar Tatsu fluorocarbon leader, 1/2-ounce Santone Z-Spin head, 4.2" Megabass Hazedong Shad (moroko).
> "The think I like about that head is it's got a longer arm than normal and it keeps the blade away from the belly of the swimbait," he said. "The largemouth and the smallmouth both ate it."
> On day 4, when he brought only smallmouths to the weigh-in stage, he used a Megabass Spark Shad swimbait (lemon shad) on a 3/8-ounce ball-head jig. He threw that on a Megabass Destroyer Addermine rod with the same reel and line.
David Mullins caught his biggest bags of the event on days 1 and 2.
4th: David Mullins
> Day 1: 5, 22-01
> Day 2: 5, 23-13
> Day 3: 5, 12-05
> Day 4: 5, 17-11
> Total = 20, 75-14
Like Gustafson, David Mullins waylaid a bunch of deep-dwelling, 4-pound-plus largemouths over the first two days. He experienced the same fate at the runner-up on the weekend – those bites just went away.
He caught 19 of his 20 weigh-in fish on a crankbait. The other, a 5 1/2-pounder, was enticed by a worm and was his biggest fish of day 2, when he caught his heaviest sack.
"I knew they eat a crankbait on that lake; I'd caught them cranking before, but never like this time," he said. "I didn't know it would be this good."
He used the plug to pull fish from water as deep as 28 feet on day 2, but the majority of them came from 12 to 15 feet.
"The biggest thing for me was using the Garmin LiveScope," he said. "It wasn't too hard to find the grass lines, but I could scan them with the LiveScope and find the isolated clumps on the outside and that's mostly what I fished.
"Two of the fish I weighed (on day 4), I watched them eat the bait on the LiveScope. If I wouldn't have seen them on the screen I'd have kept reeling and made another cast, but because I saw them, I stopped the bait as it was coming up and they came and ate it. Both were 3-pounders.
> Cranking gear: 7'11" unnamed rod, unnamed casting reel (5:1 ratio), 12-pound Sunline Super FC Sniper fluorocarbon line, Strike King 5XD (green gizzard).
> He replaced the bait's stock hooks with No. 3 Owner STXs.
> Worm gear: 7'3" heavy-action Doomsday Tackle 'The 47' rod, unnamed casting reel (8:1 ratio), 18-pound Sunline Super FC Sniper fluorocarbon, 5/16-ounce Scottsboro Tackle tungsten weight, 4/0 Owner Jungle Flipping Hook, prototype Doomsday Tackle Magnum Worm (roku).
Seth Feider stuck with his grass-flipping game plan throughout the event.
5th: Seth Feider
> Day 1: 5, 21-08
> Day 2: 5, 21-05
> Day 3: 5, 15-14
> Day 4: 5, 17-02
> Total = 20, 75-13
Seth Feider loves to flip grass and that technique was at the forefront of his mind when he arrived at Cayuga. However, he was a bit disappointed when he got his first look at the lake's vegetation.
"The grass didn't look as good as I'd thought it would," he said. "There was only about five or six good stretches of milfoil – a lot of it had been cut and a lot of it had been sprayed (as part of control efforts by governmental agencies).
"With there not being that much of it, I thought there would be more guys on what was there, but I had pretty much everything I wanted to fish to myself."
The long stick accounted for all but one of his weigh-in fish – the oddball came from a dock and bit a jig.
"The most important thing I did was just committing to the grass," he said. "Unless you fully commit, it's not going to work out. It's not like pulling up to a rocky point and catching one after another. You could easily go hours or miles between bites in practice."
He used two flipping setups – one for heavier grass and one for more sparse vegetation.
> Light flipping gear: 7' medium-heavy Daiwa Tatula Elite Brent Ehrler Signature Series rod, Daiwa Steez CT casting reel (8:1 ratio), 30-pound Sufix 832 braided line, 20-pound Sufix Advance fluorocarbon leader (9'), 5/8-ounce Outkast Tackle Stealth Feider Jig (black/purple or money craw), BioSpawn VileCraw trailer (black/purple or green-pumpkin).
> Heavy flipping gear: 7'3" medium-heavy Daiwa Kage rod, Daiwa Tatula SV casting reel (8:1 ratio), same line, 1/2-ounce Woo Tungsten weight, 4/0 VMC Ringed Wide Gap Heavy Duty hook, unnamed tube-style bait (green-pumpkin).
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