Bassmaster Elite – Cayuga Lake, NY

Cayuga Lake Day 1 2016We’d visited Cayuga a couple of years ago slightly later in the season and it was a grass flipping paradise, so I was excited to come back and build on what I’d learned. Unfortunately, after a couple of days of practice I was a little less excited because the grass was substantially behind and the fish were doing a variety of things. There were a lot on beds, some still coming, and some that were done with the spawn.

Because the grass wasn’t fully up yet, you couldn’t just drive down the lake and get a good, predictable sense of where the bass would be. It took a lot more work, and with the super-long days this time of year that meant I put in two 16 hour practice days and a third day that was also unusually long.

Throughout the course of my practice I kept revisiting certain areas hoping that they’d get right. I didn’t want to play the smallmouth game because I didn’t think you could win with them and they’ve burned me in the past. On the third practice day I found the mother lode, one of those pristine, untouched areas just loaded with fish. I caught several and saw hundreds more.

I rushed to that area on the first day of competition and Seth Feider was the only other Elite Series angler there. By 9 o’clock we both had nearly 20 pounds. It was easy fishing that didn’t require much work but once it became obvious that we were unlikely to upgrade much if at all, Seth and I agreed not to beat the area up. That rested the fish and gave me time to expand a couple of miles in either direction. I found plenty more fish but nothing that would help me out.

With massive numbers of bedding fish being caught, the weights were very strong that first day. My 19-11 had me in 15th place. I felt good because it wasn’t far out of first, but at the same time it wasn’t far out of 50th, either.

On Day Two I was in an early flight and I was the first angler to arrive to my good area. Immediately it was obvious that something had changed. I don’t know if the fish had left or just got extremely finicky, but the ones that I did manage to get to bite were smaller than those I landed the day before. I caught a few right off the bat, but it was much tougher, and I could see that Seth was struggling, too.

I knew that I had to expand, but most of the fish were getting smaller. I fished clean and culled quite a few times in the remaining hours, but I just couldn’t upgrade past 12 pounds. With the weights so tightly packed, that caused me to freefall down to 61st place. Obviously, I was disappointed, especially because I had such a good day and didn’t lose any fish either day, but sometimes that’s how it goes.

My pattern involved casting to isolated grass clumps with a weightless green pumpkin Gary Yamamoto Senko on 12 lb. test Gamma Edge fluorocarbon. I fished in on a 7’ medium-heavy Lew’s Custom Lite rod paired with a Lew’s BB1 Pro. The key was to make long casts, dead stick the bait, and eventually one would swim off with it. I tried a number of other techniques in the hope that they’d produce bigger fish, but nothing else helped me upgrade substantially.

The key to this tournament was capitalizing on a short (2 to 2 ½ hour) window of opportunity every morning when the fish bit well. That didn’t provide much opportunity to look around or to stumble out of the gate. I know that my area and my technique were solid, that’s why it makes the second day result so frustrating.

I couldn’t have caught the fish that I did without my Power Poles. Any tournament angler, at any level, who doesn’t have a set on his boat is making a mistake. They’re absolutely critical when fishing grass as I was – you can put them down and fan cast without making any noise and that means extra bites over the course of an event.

I don’t normally look at the AOY points race mid-season, but I looked at it this week and was pleased to see that I still have a fighting chance for a Classic spot in 2017. Next up is the Potomac, which is loaded with grass and I’ve done well there in the past. I hear that it’s back to producing big weights and that has me excited. After that we go to the LaCrosse, Wisconsin, another exceptional fishery where I’ve done well previously. If I make a couple of the right moves and continue to fish clean, I can finish out this year in strong style.

61st Place; 10 fish, 31-11

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