Oneida Lake is a special place. It is an awesome fishery that has great numbers of smallmouth and largemouth.
The Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Northern Open is getting ready to kick off there, and I’m wishing I was up there. For now I'm working my butt off to make Elite Series entry fee money.
Oneida is special to me because it’s where I won my first collegiate bass tournament. I can’t wait to get back up there next summer in the Elite Series.
In the summer of 2007, 12 lucky college anglers were invited to compete in a nationally televised match fishing tournament. I was fortunate to be one of them.
It was a bracket-style tournament, where we competed head to head and fished out of the same boat. The day was broken up into four periods, and each angler fished out of the front for two of the periods and out of the back for the other two.
I really enjoyed the format, because you could compare your fishing style with other college anglers from all over the country. It was great, because we all learned something from each other.
Each fishing period only lasted 1.5 hours, so we had to make it happen quickly.
Oneida was perfect lake for that because it is loaded with fish. It seemed like the smallmouth were schooled up better, so most of us targeted them. It didn’t take long to get those brown fish to eat.
The first round was an SEC battle, as I competed against Alabama. We fished right after a huge cold front, and it was a little slow on us. It was my toughest day by far, but I was able to grind out enough smallies to advance.
I competed against Oklahoma in the quarterfinal and it was a good day. We both caught a bunch of fish and had a great time. We got one spot fired up, and we exchanged blows like every cast. It was pretty intense. At the end of the day, we both weighed in pretty good bags. I actually lost this round by a few ounces, but thanks to having the heaviest losing weight, I advanced to the semis as a wild card.
My semifinal round was against Oregon. We fished for smallmouths and largemouths, and we both caught fish all day long. It was fun but a little stressful, because we both knew that we were one good bite from fishing in the finals. Thankfully for me, I got a few more quality bites and edged him out to move on to the final.
In the championship round, I had to fish against Illinois. We saved the best day for last. We both had been saving some of our best spots, and we slammed them. It was my best day all week. I think I had five keepers in the first 10 casts and caught fish throughout the day.
My only problem was that Illinois did the same. We both knew it was going to be really close, so all we could do is keep catching as many smallies as we could and keep culling up by ounces.
It was pretty nerve-wracking at the weigh-in, because we really had no clue who had more weight. We were both looking for our first collegiate win and were on pins and needles. When the scales settled, my bag weighed just a few ounces more. I felt bad for him but it was pretty awesome to win by such a small margin.
That was a pretty amazing way to end a great week of fishing on beautiful Oneida Lake. After the win, I got more serious about bass fishing and started thinking about pursuing bass fishing as a career. My dream became a little more real after that.
It’s pretty unbelievable that next summer, five years after the win, I will be competing in the Bassmaster Elite Series on the same lake where it all started for me.
Remember to chase your dreams!