Brent Chapman just made a move from the big grass bed up to the mouth of a nearby river, and immediately pulled in keeper number four. This one is about three pounds.
Chapman was excited, hollering "Ha! This one is a largemouth." That's his second largemouth of the tournament. He's hoping he's found a school. Chapman guesses he has at least 11 pounds today. He feels if he can catch 14 pounds today he can make the top 12.
"The grass is horrible," Chapman said with a smile. "Can you imagine how much more fish we'd catch if there wasn't so much stinkin grass."
James Niggemeyer of Van, Texas, had a great day yesterday, but fishing isn't on the same pace today. We trolled over from where Brandon Card was fishing to chat with James, who was tied for 14th with 15-0 after one day of fishing. He's caught one keeper this morning. At this time yesterday, he had his limit. "I'm not too concerned, though," he told us. "All my better ones yesterday came in the afternoon." He is pitching some type of soft plastic bait into submerged weeds in about less than 10 feet of water.
It's too far away for us to see exactly what he's using, even with my binoculars and Seigo's 300 mm lens. In other tournaments I've covered this season, fishermen were working shorelines, usually junk fishing or sight fishing, and it was possible to pull almost alongside them to visit with them and study their lure selections. Here, where they're roaming and crisscrossing grassbeds, they'll wave you off if you get within 50 yards.
Like so many of the pros on Oneida Lake this week, Niggemeyer is scrambling for a berth in the Bassmaster Classic. He's in 68th place in the points standings now, about 95 points away from the cut. I'm not good at complex math equations, but my gut tells me he's got to win this event to earn an invitation to Tulsa, Okla., next February.
Mike Iaconelli was concerned going into this tournament whether he would make the Big Show as well. He said that's what has driven him to perform here. After his field-leading 20-3 limit yesterday, he tried to convince reporters that his eye is on the Classic, not the $100,000 prize for winning the Ramada Championship. "I don't want to sound like I don't want to win," he said, "but I'm thinking about making the Classic." I'm not sure I believe him, but it makes good fodder for blogging.
Chapman keeps bearing down. Although today is much different than yesterday, you couldn't tell it by Chapman's demeanor. He's all business.
I'm sure it's been mentioned already. But it seems slow for almost everyone. Faircloth, who has the best chance of catching him, isn't setting the world on fire. Ike, who had a dream day yesterday, is getting a dose of that reality as well. But like any day on the Elite Series, you can expect practically all these guys to have a limit by day's end. The difference will be who captures one or more of those 4-pounders instead of the average 2 1/2 pounders. The way these fish seemed to have moved since yesterday, then that fickle finger of fate could land on just about anyone.
Randy Howell said 9 a.m. was the magic time, so we should start seeing the fish catches rolling in. I think he underestimated the wind, though. It has been pretty calm the last two days, but today it was blowing nicely, pushing some larger waves through the area he was fishing. That does a few things. First, it changes how the fish are positioning. Areas that were productive yesterday might not be, as the bait and fish move around.
Also, waves that big are not ideal for fishing topwater. Howell said ideal conditions are just a light chop on the surface. That's definitely not what we are seeing out here right now.
Another thing to keep in mind is something Steve Kennedy mentioned to me yesterday. On a lake the size of Oneida, a nice wind the length of the lake can push a significant amount of water across, resulting in a current moving toward the west end.
That's something different these guys will have to deal with. As is usually the case, the day will probably evolve differently from how Howell expects. Adjustments will be key.
Todd Faircloth has vacated the grassbed where he caught the 3-pounder a while ago and headed back to the section of the lake where he began his day. We've decided not to follow him just yet. We'll him some alone time to fill out his limit.
Besides, we spotted Brandon Card, who's leading the Rookie of the Year race right now, fishing grassbeds nearby. He's along a stretch of shoreline near where Ish Monroe won a Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Open tournament here last September. Card is flipping into grass mats, perhaps punching the top layer with a heavy weight to reach the largemouth below. This is definitely largemouth territory, not more than 2 feet deep. He has no fish for the day, but his limit of 13-2 from Day One has him in 42nd place going into today.
Card told us he lost a 3 1/2-pounder earlier and hasn't landed a keeper in this spot. He leads Cliff Prince of Palatka, Fla., for Rookie of the Year by 25 points with three days of fishing remaining. Prince is two slots ahead of Card in this tournament, in 39th place with 2 ounces more than Card, who's an up-and-comer from Caryville, Tenn.
This really is a game of ounces. It's entirely possible that Prince could outfish Card by as little as 2 pounds today and claim the top rookie honors.
We'll have to leave this spot soon. Keep tuned to BassTrakk to find out how he and Prince are faring.
We just talked with Brian Mason, the Bassmaster cameraman who has been in the boat with Brent Chapman. He's moving on to film Randy Howell. Mason says Chapman won't even say the words Angler of the Year.
Chapman, who is leading AOY, is apparently taking the baseball approach. In that sport, when a pitcher has a shot at pitching a no-hitter or a perfect game, the pitcher and teammates won't say those words either. They act as if it is not happening. There's a feeling that saying the words will jinx the game. And perhaps serve as a distraction.
Be sure to watch the War Room on Saturday to see Brian's footage of Chapman's fish catches.
I just left Randy Howell's boat, and it was an exciting morning. He moved away from his primary area when he saw birds working. They were pretty scattered at first, but on about his fourth stop, we started noticing bass chasing shad. He quickly caught his first keeper, a smallmouth about 2 pounds.
The toughest thing about that kind of fishing is that the bass are always just out of reach. If birds start working 100 yards away, you have to move quickly to capitalize.
Howell calls it the "5-Second Rule," meaning you have five seconds after you see the fish swirl to get a bait in there. A high-speed reel is a must for the times your line is already out and a fish busts. Here on Oneida, Howell also had to deal with grass fouling nearly every cast.
Howell was jacked up on adrenaline almost immediately, which probably explains why he missed his next two fish. One he set on too soon and the other jumped high and spit the hook next to the boat. The problem with getting excited is that setting the hook too soon becomes more common. According to Howell, the bass will hit a bait multiple times, pecking at the tail or whatever, until they commit. You need to wait until they load up before setting the hook.
Scott Rook of Little Rock, Ark., is another angler under pressure this week. Rook wants a Bassmaster Classic berth, and he was far from it at the start of this event – 49th in AOY points. Rook knew that anything less than a Top 10 finish at Oneida would keep him out of the Classic.
After a big first day, when he was eighth with 15-7, Rook was the first angler to catch a limit today. BASSTrakk estimates his current two-day weight at 27-7 and has him atop the leaderboard.
Rook is another guy who won't be burning much gas on Oneida this week.
"I put the trolling motor down this morning and didn't pick it up until I came back in," Rook said Thursday.
He has a big area of grass that is holding a bunch of smallmouth bass.
Yesterday he slowly picked his way through it all day long. With five in the boat already today, it looks like he's building on the pattern he established Thursday.
Finding fish in the offshore weedbeds of Oneida is like searching for a moving needle in underwater haystacks, as the sonar reading on our boat driver's depthfinder shows. These images represent stands of vegetation growing off the bottom with what appear to be fish swimming among the weeds. At least that's what it looks like under our boat. I can only assume that's what the water's like where Todd Faircloth — shown in the background — is fishing.
Brent Chapman just pulled in keeper number three. He estimated the weight at 2 and 3/4 pounds. We're thinking he has 7 pounds in the Livewell.