SYRACUSE, N.Y. – Brent Chapman has had a long time to think about his lead in the Toyota Tundra Angler of the Year race. It's been almost two months since the last Bassmaster Elite Series tournament ended July 1st at Green Bay.
But it's not like Chapman has been sitting around his house in Lake Quivira, Kan., fretting about maintaining that lead for just one more tournament.
"Wow, it's been a blur," said Chapman on Wednesday as the Elite Series anglers met here. The four-day Ramada Championship on Oneida Lake begins Thursday.
Chapman used part of that time to come here and fish a few days before the lake went off-limits. And Oneida Lake has definitely changed since then.
"A month ago, I was concerned that there wasn't enough grass (in the lake)," Chapman said. "Now I'm concerned there's too much."
It was difficult to find anyone Wednesday who is going into this event with much confidence, especially Chapman's primary foes – Ott DeFoe of Knoxville, Tenn., who is 13 points behind Chapman, and Todd Faircloth of Jasper, Texas, who is 20 points back.
"I didn't come up here before cut-off," Faircloth said, "but it seems like there's more grass than usual. I've not had a good practice at all. I've talked to a couple of guys that I normally talk to, and fishing just doesn't seem to be real good right now."
Faircloth has experienced some heartbreak here. He was leading the AOY race coming into the Oneida Lake finale in 2008, but finished 93rd in that event, opening the door for Kevin VanDam to take the crown.
The Elite Series has been to Oneida four times since 2006. So Faircloth has plenty of experience here. But he has never made a top 12 cut.
"The lake is absolutely full of fish," Faircloth said. "We know that. We've seen it before. Somebody is going to figure it out. But after my experience the last three days (of practice), I'm struggling."
DeFoe has never been here before. He didn't pre-fish Oneida. That's not his style.
"I haven't done it the rest of the year," DeFoe said. "I wasn't going to do it here."
But DeFoe isn't very confident after what he's seen so far. He has been checking out all the aquatic vegetation in Oneida now.
"It's hard to find stuff that's any good," DeFoe said. "It's either too deep and not thick enough, or there's not good edges. A lot of it just doesn't look fishy."
Practice days often leave a deceiving picture of what an Elite Series tournament turns out to be. Oneida has been a place where 100-bass days have been almost common in the past. But this simply doesn't appear to be one of those tournaments where that type of success will repeat.
"I've researched the past tournaments here," Chapman said. "It has taken an average of 65 pounds to win here, over four days, and usually 14 pounds a day to make the top 12.
"I'd say that 60 pounds will win it this year. My goal is 14 pounds a day."
If Chapman makes the top 12 cut and is fishing Sunday, the AOY title will be his, even if DeFoe or Faircloth wins. That's why he's got an even simpler goal in mind – a five-bass limit each day.
"If I catch 20 fish, nobody can beat me," Chapman said.
But DeFoe still likes the position he's in, lurking near the top, with nothing to lose and everything to gain.
"We've all got pressure on us," DeFoe said of the AOY leaders. "But (Chapman) definitely has got the most. It's his to lose.
"If I finish dead last here, I've still had a great year. I'm still going to the (Bassmaster) Classic. I'm really happy."
Beginning with the Thursday's 7 a.m. launch at Oneida Shores Park in Brewerton, N.Y., the long wait to decide this close Toyota Tundra Angler of the Year race will begin to take shape.
"It will be interesting to see," DeFoe said.
The first two days, the weigh-ins will be at the park beginning at 4 p.m.