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Oneida – A Very Different Pond
Tournament Tour with Mark Menendez
Syracuse, NY – Final Elite Series event.
This body of water is saturated with bass. It has a large population of Smallmouth with a secondary population of Largemouth. The strategies to form a tournament plan can be wide ranging.
I have a fished several national events on this body of water. The last came in 2009 with a near miss on a Top 12 finish. I had unlocked an area of the lake that received little tournament pressure and held better than average fish. I had to finish in the top 25 to have a shot at the Bassmaster Classic.
A longtime friendship with Lake Oneida residents Dick and Dawn Ottman, gave me lake front accommodations. My boat was in their garage and safe. This lifted any worries about theft or anything else. Dinner was on the table every evening and I could rest. The only focus was on the fishing.
Day one of practice I took a trip around the lake to survey water color and grass. Grass was everywhere from the surface to 16 feet deep. It gave the bass hiding places like never before. The water level was down, taking most of the Largemouth’s best hiding places out of the game. In 14 hours of practice I managed to land only two bass.
Day two dawned with a beautiful sunrise that would be the highlight of my day. I was on the “seven hour” pattern. A bite every seven hours was not going to cut the mustard. I caught two more bass. I asked the Ottman’s if they had high water since my last trip. It seemed as if all the bass had swam out of the lake.
I returned to a deep water hump where I had caught a fish on day one of practice. I had my Lowrance HDS 10 on Side Scan and idled the break line. I finally found the bait and had fish around the school of bait. I killed my outboard and dropped the trolling motor.
My drop shot was cast in the direction of the school of baitfish. The Strike King Dream Shot worm (green pumpkin with purple on gold flake) descended to the bottom. As I lifted the 8lb Seaguar InvisX, it felt as if my line had been cut. I recognized I had a strike. Reeling the line, my Team Lew’s rod was bent double. I was wrestling with a 3 ½-pound Smallmouth.
Three minutes later, this beautiful bronze warrior was released to fight again. I spent the rest of my day looking for this scenario. I found three places in close proximity. The humps topped out in 12 to 18 feet of water with 25 feet nearby. I had my plan.
The first bite of the event came at 10:30 am. I fought a solid 3-pound smallie to the surface. This fish never gave up. It finally shook free inches from my grasp. I immediately dropped down and landed a solid 2 ½-pound smallie from the school and they were gone.
The wind had stopped and the lake was like glass. I continued to gather three more Smallmouths that weighed just less than 9-pounds total. I was in 76th place.
The lake was fishing so tough. Oneida gave up the most fifteen pound stringers I had ever seen. One of those bags and I would make the Top 50 cut.
Day two of the tournament started very similar to the first day. The first 3-pound smallie ate my Dream Shot worm around 9:30 am. I could see more fish on the Lowrance than the past two days. I committed to the area. I visited 3 locations over and over. My second keeper was another 3-pound smallie. I moved to the shallowest hump to see a big school of fish. I dropped on the school, picked up on my line to feel nothing, set on the fish, and It almost jumped in to my Skeeter boat.
It was a 4-pounder. I survived the first 5-foot jump. The fish was so hot, it pulled and the drag screamed from my Lew’s Spinning reel. I basically held on for close to a minute. I had the fish boat side and I was trying to get my hands on it, my thumb inside its mouth and it made another run. It fought harder than any fish this season. Again I reached to belly land the bass and it rips the hook out on another amazing run. I felt as if I were falling as the bass swam to the depths.
My flight checks in at 4:00 pm. I have landed two more quality Smallmouth for a total of 11 lbs. 5 oz. This left me staring at the scoreboard with visions of the 4-pounder headed to the bottom. “The Elite Series group of anglers is the best group of anglers ever assembled”, according to BASS legend Rick Clunn. My twenty years of experience at this level has been full of highs and lows. I will re-qualify for the 2013 season.
Reflecting on my time as a professional angler has led me to a recommitment to the sport. I will come back next season as a leaner, fit, experienced competitor. Tackle boxes will be organized and rods will be ready for the next season.
My next focus will be on my final Professional Anglers Association event to be held at the Arkansas River near Muskogee, OK. I currently hold fourth place in the Angler of the Year Standings. I want to finish in the top spot. I look forward to the challenge of the river.
On my 915 mile trip back to Kentucky, I could envision what could have been. There is one thing for sure, not all of the fish swam out of Oneida. I made the most of what I had in practice and I’m still part of the game call the Elite Series.
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