SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Although looking over Onondaga Lake during practice helped him, it was finding a spot Saturday when he wasn't trying to catch fish that really keyed Peter Thliveros' $250,000 payday in the Bassmaster Memorial presented by Evan Williams Bourbon.
Thliveros admitted he was "killing time" Saturday during the final 80-minute "happy hour" when he literally stumbled across a 300-yard rock ledge that produced at least three and maybe four of the 10 bass he weighed in over two days.
"The only reason I found it (Saturday) was I just happened to go over in that area to fish another spot," Thliveros said. "One of the other anglers was on it. So I went toward the shore, and I kind of went across it. It got shallow, and I slowed down.
"I didn't have anything else to do. I wasn't worried about catching any more fish. I just had time to kill, and I started fishing.
"I was fishing kind of fast. I made a cast, and I wasn't satisfied with it, so I reeled my bait in real fast, and about a four-pounder followed it to the boat. I thought, hmm, that's interesting. I did that twice.
"Then I slowed down and started to fish with some earnest and really concentrate on what I was doing. I ended up culling two fish there (Saturday), catching two really good fish."
Sunday morning, before launch, Thliveros mentioned what he'd discovered at the end of the previous day, saying, "I found a spot that's so off the wall I know nobody else is going to fish it. I caught two four-and-a-half-pounders on it in 20 minutes."
That spot allowed him to cull those two fish Saturday after he was completely satisfied with the 19 pounds he already had in the livewell, and upped his total to 20 pounds, 13 ounces. Sunday he said that same honey hole produced another "five or six" fish, at least one and maybe two of which made it into his second-day bag of 18-3.
When you win $250,000 with only two ounces to spare, as Thliveros did Sunday, there are lots of little things you can look back on as difference-makers. Taking the time Wednesday to boat around on Onondaga was certainly one of them.
"When Gerald Swindle heard I did that, he told me it was bad luck," Thliveros said.
It's easy to see why someone might interpret it that way. Thliveros had to finish in the top 12 after two days on Oneida Lake before that time on Onondaga could possibly pay off. Every other angler in the 51-man field spent his Wednesday practice time on Oneida.
But even with that, Thliveros probably wouldn't have been able to overcome Steve Kennedy's 38-14 total on Onondaga if not for "killing time" Saturday.
"I knew nobody else would fish it because there was nothing to draw anybody to that," said Thliveros. "It was just a huge rock ledge that runs perpendicular to the bank and it drops off from about three feet on top to about nine feet. And there's scattered patches of grass on it.
"It wasn't visible. It wasn't something you could ride by and see without having to stand up in the boat and fish it.
"With an hour of fishing, you don't want to spend time trying to decipher a ledge or a drop. You're worried about going to something you can see and make a cast to whatever fish are available."
"It was in hole No. 2. It started basically at the shoreline and went probably 300 yards from the bank. It's just a rock ledge with scattered grass. You can see big white rocks. It looks like old beds. There were white spots everywhere, like old beds where (bass) had spawned.
"Those fish probably never leave that area. They have everything they need right there. That area was loaded with baitfish — bluegill and yellow perch. It was just a good spot."
Thliveros fished that spot with the same lure he fished just about every other spot on Oneida and Onondaga this week — a 5-inch watermelon or watermelon/red Zoom Super Fluke. Twelve inches from the lure, Thliveros pegged a 1/16th-ounce Tru Tungsten slip sinker on 12-pound test Trilene Gold Fluorocarbon line. The Super Fluke has produced many bass and many dollars for Peter T.
"I have so much confidence in that bait," he said. "I've caught so many fish on that bait in the last five, six years, seven years. I don't know how long. That is my go-to bait for soft plastic just about anywhere. I caught almost 100 pounds on it at Clear Lake (in California). North, south, east, west, I've caught 'em everywhere I've thrown it."
The trick was to work it slowly.
"It was a patience deal," said Thliveros. "It's hard to fish when you know you've only got an hour to fish in a hole. You feel like you're being counterproductive by not making a lot of casts.
"But there weren't a lot of big areas where these fish were concentrated. They were kind of small areas. So it made sense to concentrate on these smaller areas and keep your bait in the strike zone as long as possible. It was a Florida worm-fishing technique that paid off."
Paid off in the form of a two-ounce margin of victory and a quarter-million-dollar pay check.