I’d never been to Cayuga prior to the official practice period for this last full-field Elite Series tournament of the year, but I knew that the lake was going to pump out some 20-pound-plus stringers and that it had a lot of grass (both shallow and deep) in the upper third of the lake. It also has a lot of docks. Therefore I was excited and confident that it would fish to my strengths.
On the first day of practice, I had an excellent day fishing a big Lunker Lure jig out in the grass in 12 to 14 feet of water. One stretch in particular treated me exceptionally well, and I hit the water on the second day of practice looking to expand on that promising start. As that second day progressed, and into the third day, the jig bite gradually got weaker and weaker. It never went away altogether, but increasingly I turned to a crankbait and a Senko with a 3/16 ounce tungsten weight to figure things out. The Senko seemed to be the most consistent producer.
I spent the final day of practice plying some of the well-known community holes to try and figure out if they’d hold up during competition. On the first day of the tournament, I ran to one of those areas and it proved to be even more crowded than I’d expected – there were probably 30 boats in one 200 yard stretch. I struggled early, catching one 14-inch bass pretty quickly, but then struggling for a while. The crowd got to me mentally, and eventually I had to make a move to get away from them. The other thing that complicated my efforts was the, at-times, violent storms that rolled through the area.
Once the bad weather cleared out, I started to run the little isolated patches of grass that I’d found, and that proved to be the ticket. They produced a limit pretty quickly, but they weren’t the right quality – a 3-pounder, a 2 ¼, a 2, and two plain keepers. Those wouldn’t get the job done, so as the day progressed, I ran about 10 miles south to my best stretch and culled three of those five, using a D Bomb with a 1 ounce weight in addition to the Senko. The D Bomb triggered some reaction bites, but I never got the big bite that I knew was there, and I eventually settling onto my weight of 14-02. That put me in 46th after Day One, just 2 pounds out of 25th. I was surprised that 14-plus didn’t have me higher in the standings.
Day Two was predicted to have more sunshine, which tends to position the grass fish more predictably, so I committed to spending more time on my best isolated spots, especially since I had an early weigh-in. I put three fish in the boat pretty quickly, and then at around 10:30, I ran back to my best stretch and was surprised to see nobody there. Within 10 minutes I caught my best fish of the day, which was a hair or two under 4 pounds. Then I did the right thing and slowed down , sticking with it until I had four or five more good bites.
With an hour to go, I ran up to the north end of the lake near the check-in site and managed to cull once more, but despite my best efforts, I simply didn’t get the big bite that I needed. I ended up with 13 pounds even, for a total of 27-02, just 15 ounces out of the top 50.
I’m not making an excuse, but one other factor that complicated this tournament for all of the competitors was the tremendous population of pickerel in Cayuga. I’m not exaggerating when I say that I caught at least 30 to 40 of them every day. The real problem is that during practice, you never knew if the fish you shook off was a bass or a toothy critter.
This is one of those events where you really have to applaud the winner. Despite all of the various factors in play, and the extremely tight weights in general, Greg Hackney won by over 9 pounds. That’s unbelievable. Looking back on it, I found the right pattern and presentation, just not the right places. Greg and Todd Faircloth (2nd place) managed to fish a little bit away from the crowd and that was the right call. Despite that slight disappointment, I’m now locked into the Angler of the Year Championship and the Classic, so it certainly wasn’t a disaster.
A few tackle notes: I fished my workhorse black and blue 1 ounce Lunker Lure jig on a Denali 7’11” XH Jadewood Rod paired with a 7.6:1 Shimano Ci4 reel spooled with 40 pound test Gamma Torque Braid. The D-Bomb (green pumpkin) with a 1 ounce weight was on the same rod/reel/line setup. The Senko (green pumpkin) was on a 7’ heavy-action Noirwood rod, same reel, but with 14 pound test Gamma Fluorocarbon. I added a 3/16 ounce tungsten weight.
In theory, we have a few weeks off before we have to go to Escanaba, Michigan, for the final event, but we’re starting construction on our house at Table Rock and I’ve spent the last few days busy with plans and contractors. After making the swing through the northeast on my own, it will be good to have Debbie with me in Michigan and then after that at Lake Norman.
Right now, I’ve got big smallmouths on my mind. This final Elite event is going to be fun – we should crush them in just about every way you’d want to catch them – and we’ll all get to fish for three days. I like the way that my season has progressed and things continue to look good in front of me. By Chad Morgenthaler
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