Lake Oneida Bassmaster Open
Where do i start?
This was the most challenging trip i have been on yet, it took me 30 something hours to get to the USA with delayed and cancelled flights which made me late that afternoon which then started a cycle of dramas with accommodation and Uhaul hire that eventually made me three days late for my arrival to Syracuse NY. ( I had a hired truck, boat and accommodation)
I left home in GC QLD on Sunday and finally arrived to my AirBNB in Cicero NY on the Thursday afternoon, it was hot and super humid but i needed to get some sort of tackle rigged up so i could start my practice on Friday AM. Turns out, that Friday was going to be the last of the hot weather for the remainder of my stay in NY. I fished for about half the day Friday and then went and sorted out all my shopping etc so i could concentrate on just fishing for the next few days. I also had a lot of videos to edit after AFTA so needed to get set up with all my WIFI etc and get to work on those as well.
Working out a new lake is fun for a while, exploring, not knowing what or where to look. Once you slowly catch a few fish the lake gets smaller in the way that you now have specific criteria that you are looking for to start to follow some form of pattern. I started to catch a few fish on different baits, spinnerbait, swim jjg, carolina rig, topwaters and chatterbaits. The only consistency i had was the type of terrain i was fishing in. I was targeting the grass lines with mixed rock anywhere from 6 - 14 feet. if i went shallower then 6 feet i would start catching largemouth and couldn't find a real pattern for them or any consistency in size (most were less than 2 pounds). After a few days of inconsistent fish captures and a bunch of by catch like pike, pickerel, walleye and drum i decided i may need to spend some more time on the shoals. I had heard from a few people that they should be out there and more reliable then the shallow water fish. I managed to catch a few fish out there each day and after messing around with different hooks and baits was finally onto a set up that i was confident in however the size of the fish just wasn't there for me with a 3.2lb small mouth being the biggest i weighed.
Back to the grass lines, i had noticed that white baits like the chatterbait, spinnerbait and swim jig i was throwing tended to catch a lot of toothy critters and when i caught a smallmouth on it they would throw up shad. However what i also noticed, these fish weren't as big as the occasional fish that i had managed on topwaters in the same type of terrain. One night i was doing some research on the bait fish in Oneida and found a lot of interesting stuff about the perch and what they do and when they school up in the grass etc etc. So i got out of bed at around 10:30pm to see what i had aside from a jerkbait that i could use to immitate a perch. I found one chatterbait in the Hite Delight colour that seemed as close as i could get. The next morning i ran through my usual cycle of lures and incorporated the perch coloured chatterbait. The first fish i caught on it was the biggest i had caught to date but what i was more excited about was how little of the chatterbait was left outside that bass' mouth. Over the next few days of windy and rainy/ overcast days i went to working out a pattern with the chatterbait, the fish were good size but not everywhere. Without hitting key areas hard, i could only get 6-8 bites a day running around the lake looking for key areas. Once i had identified areas i thought i wanted to fish i didn't got back to them or really fish the rest of that area so that i didn't pressure the fish much. With a day and a half of official practice left i had decided i had my plan and couldnt improve on it, so went to a sister lake nearby called Onandaga with the hope i could practice my chatterbait bite and ensure i was onto them once the derby started. I managed about 10 largemouth on the chatterbaits in Onandaga and then got on to a frog pattern so i quickly forgot why i was there and had some fun blasting bass in the thick stuff with frogs.
Last day of official practice was for respooling reels, cleaning and organising the boat as well as setting up baits and having spare baits etc within close reach.
Derby Day 1
Every Bassmaster Open i have fished in this year i have found some form of chatterbait bite, and every derby i have had to find something else when the competition starts as the fish move off that bait super quick once the pressure comes on. So when the first day of the Oneida Open is a glass out with blue bird skies i was a little nervous to say the least. I had a lot of locations to go to so i wasn't super concerned about missing out on my first three spots that had boats on them already. The first location that i got to pull up on i caught a nice 3.5lb smallmouth and whilst i was putting it in the box my Co angler Gary managed a good 3 plus pounder on a chatterbait as well. Things were looking positive. I ran about 4 more locations working my way down the lake to the Eastern end, rather then start running my way back up i decided to hit a little back up topwater deal that i had just in case. When i got to it there was a boat on each end, i went in the middle and decided to fish it anyway. I managed two smaller fish around the 2 plus pound mark but now had three in the box. I was a little more positive now knowing that a couple of my plans were playing out, so i decided to start running my chatterbait grass lines back up the lake. By 1pm i was still sitting on three bass and two being some of the smallest fish i had caught in practice, i had been swapping between topwater and the chatterbait as i had confidence in both but neither in this blue bird skies but nothing really to fall back on. I missed a good bass on the popper at 1pm so stuck with it for a little longer and managed a good 3.8lb bass. Now on 4 fish i felt a little better but still well short of a good limit. I hung out in that area for a little too long, trying to make something happen from it. I started to run my grass lines again moving around the lake and with little to no wind and boats everywhere it was hard to feel confident throwing either topwater or a chatterbait, persistance paid off as i slowly but surely managed one fish here and there and eventually upgrading on the chatterbait as we neared 3:30 when i wanted to head back in. I had dropped a couple of fish that would have helped me but ended up weighing 16lbs 7oz which had me in the top 15 but less than half a pound out of the top 10.
Derby Day 2
Day two started off fairly windy and was predicted to get worse, this was good news for me well atleast i thought it would be. I started on some areas where i had finished out day one hoping the smallmouth wouldn't have moved too much, i managed one good fish. I had another little topwater area left up my sleeve on this side of the lake and the wind was set up well for it. Not overly confident in the topwater i decided to run through it with a chatterbait first as the hook up rate and landing ration is way better. Again i managed two smaller bass but was now on three fish and ahead of yesterdays schedule, them the brakes came on. Every key area i wanted to fish after that either had a boat on it or near it, and i couldn't get access or when i did i couldn't get bit. Similar to day one it got to around lunchtime and i was still on 3 fish, the first bite i had for hours was at 1pm and i didn't set the hook on it hard enough as i wasn't sure it was a bass so it jumped off. It's funny how when you are catching fish you don't miss any but when you need them and the bite is tough you just don't get switched on enough to get them all. I managed 4-5 more bites in the last hour and landed a few, upgrading once and jumped off a couple that would have really helped. Weighed in 14lbs 5oz which fortunately for me kept me inside the cut line in 9th place.
I had to pack up my entire Airbnb and load the Uhaul so i could start my trek back to Virginia directly from the weigh in. I got up at the same time figuring it would take me a while. Well i got to the ramp at 5:30 am and was the only one there. All good, eventually Andy Crawford turned up so i got to go first with the Top baits for the event photo shoot that he was doing. With all the boats in the water and ready to go i wanted to tell myself just to enjoy the day and the fact that i was fishing on the final day of an Open something i had hoped to do all year. But me being the competitive person i am i wanted to catch as many smallmouth as i could and try to move up the leader board to show it wasn't by chance that i made it into the top 12. The first fish i hooked came unstuck, again when you are not getting bites it affects your timing and reaction on hitting them hard. Second bite for the morning i was ready for but at the same time confused when a decent largemouth came to the surface, happy to have it at 3lbs 8oz but the first one i had seen in that area and on that bait. With only 12 tournament boats on the lake it was great to be able to fish what you wanted and how you wanted to. I only had two locations on the lake that had people on them and Grae buck (The eventual winner) was one of them. I moved around a lot catching a fish here and there slowly putting together a good bag, long story short by the time we got to lunch i was struggling to get rid of a 3lb 2oz fish as my smallest bass. Tough problem to have, haha! i think i caught between 15-20 bass that day all around that 3lb mark making culling a tedious process. I went out that day with three rods on he deck, two chatterbaits and a topwater, after about 9 am i took everything off the deck and just went to work with the one chatterbait. Felt great to be able to finally have confidence in a bait and locations when fishing in he USA, this was the first time i had fished over there confidently and it was fun.
Our day wasn't over yet, we came in at around 2:15 and then had our fish checked by an official, once all the boats were checked we then had a 45 minute run to Bass Pro shops. Once we got there we bagged our fish and got ready for the weigh in, that 1.5 hours or so was just as stressful on my brain as the rest of the tournament. Weighing in i knew i had atleast what i had on day one and hopefully some more, i weighed in 4th in line and dropped 17lbs 5oz on the scales. This was not only my biggest bag ever it was also the biggest bag of the day and meant i had to sit in the hot seat on the stage for the rest of the guys to weigh in. Talk about stressful, i didn't think i would last long with the calibre of guys that were coming through but as each one goes past you start to get your hopes up. I was eventually knocked off by Grae Buck and there was one guy left to weigh in, the Day Two leader. Unfortunately he had a tough day and only weighed in three bass which put Grae on top and me in second place.
To go from the feeling i had on day one dropping fish at one in the afternoon not knowing if i would get a limit to weighing in over 17lbs on the final day and finish in 2nd place is impossible to describe.
I had a great time fishing the Bassmaster Opens in 2019 and have a lot of decisions to make now to decide how i can afford or if i can afford to compete in 2020.