The second of three Bassmaster Majors, the Bassmaster Memorial presented by Evan Williams Bourbon, will take place July 26-29 in Syracuse, N.Y. The competition's first two rounds will take place on Oneida Lake, with the final two rounds of competition set for Onondaga Lake.
This is the second year in a row Syracuse and Oneida have hosted an Elite-level event.
One of upstate New York's Finger Lakes, Oneida is a natural body of water that is 22 miles long and 5 miles wide, with shelves and shoals formed by glaciers. The 51,072-acre lake features plenty of shoreline vegetation and an abundance of rocky offshore structure. Its clarity comes from the typical clear water found throughout the region.
"The fishing should be good, as it usually is," said Rick Ash, an Elite Series pro who also is a guide on Oneida. "It's such a good lake. And July makes for really good fishing on Oneida.
"Everybody's going to catch a lot of 2 ½- and 3-pound smallmouths. The key is going to be finding those 3 ½- and 4-pounders."
It is the perfect stage for the Major, in which a limited field of 51 qualifying anglers will compete for a total purse of $600,000.
Only the top 12 competitors will qualify to fish on Lake Onondaga, with their weights zeroed for the final two days of competition. The top six of those competitors will move on to the final round of action on Onondaga. Qualifying anglers will fish a rotating six-hole course on both days.
The Bassmaster Memorial honors the late Don Butler, the first BASS member champion of the 1972 Bassmaster Classic.
Ash looks for Lake Oneida to surrender plenty of "teen" limits — five bass weighing 13 to 19 pounds. He expects it to take 16 to 17 pounds each day to make the top-12 cut into the finals.
Last July when the Elite Series came to Oneida, Oklahoma's Tommy Biffle was the big winner with 63 pounds, 10 ounces. And he did it by bucking the usual tournament trend and targeting largemouth.
"I think somebody could get a big limit of largemouth one day, but I think the smallmouth will prevail overall," Ash said. "They will be offshore, but Oneida is not a typically deep smallmouth lake. Eight to 12 feet is where most people will be fishing. They should be on some offshore grass, points and rock piles."
Ash looks for the smallmouth to fall for a wide variety of lures and techniques, including topwaters, jerkbaits, Carolina rigs, drop-shot rigs, tubes and spinnerbaits.
"The reduced field should spread things out more," said Ash, of Pottstown, Pa. "I think Onondaga is where it's probably going to be more of a largemouth bite."
Onondaga might be an unknown factor for most of the Bassmaster Memorial competitors. Located south of Lake Ontario, Onondaga gets it water from Ontario through the Oswego River. The lake is 5 miles long and 1 mile wide. It has an area of 4.6 square miles and a maximum depth of 73 feet. Although it is near the region, it is not traditionally considered one of the Finger Lakes.
Two- to 3-pound smallmouth bass are said to be readily caught along drop-offs and edges of weed beds in Onondaga Lake. Smallmouth bass up to 5 pounds have been caught in the lake.
The daily launches Thursday and Friday will begin at 8 a.m. ET at Oneida Shores County Park. On Days 3 & 4, launches will be held at Onondaga Lake Park starting at 9 a.m. ET. Daily weigh-ins will start at 6 p.m. each day at Onondaga Lake Park.
Live, streaming video of the weigh-ins and real-time leaderboards can be accessed on www.ESPNOutdoors.com. On the final day of competition, www.ESPNOutdoors.com will provide updates throughout the day and preview the final-day weigh-in with Hooked Up hosted by Tommy Sanders and ESPN2 Outdoors personality Mark Zona.
Fishing fans can watch the on-the-water action on The Bassmasters on ESPN2 at 9 a.m. ET Saturday, August 4.