SYRACUSE, N.Y. – As the full field bucked big waves at Oneida today, Virginia pro Chris Daves bucked the conventional wisdom that it’s necessary to pursue both largemouth and smallmouth to win here, and claimed the first day lead at the second 2013 Northern Open . His limit of five smallmouth weighed 17 pounds 2 ounces, leaving him one ounce ahead of North Carolina pro Tracy Adams.
“I don’t have anything to even catch a largemouth in my boat,” Daves said. “I’m not saying that I’ll win, but you can definitely win with all smallmouth here. I think the largemouth bite will fall off.”
He’s pursuing his quarry in two ways: on isolated grass clumps and when they’re schooling. Because it was so rough today, he couldn’t focus on birds to find schooling bass, but instead used his depthfinder to locate the bait they were pursuing. At the first stop of the day his front graph went out, so he spent the rest of the day moving his console unit back and forth from the bow to the dash.
While the former tour pro has fished around the country in a wide variety of circumstances, he’s known for being a tidal water expert. That may be where he has the most advantage, but “I Love New York,” should be somewhere on his jersey. Of the 10 top-ten finishes he’s logged in 97 career B.A.S.S. events, four have been on waters in or adjoining the Empire State – 9th at Cayuga last year, 4th at Champlain in 2006, 3rd at Oneida in 2005 and 10th on Erie (out of Ohio) in 2006.
Clearly the affinity for smallmouths runs in the family. Daves’ father, Woo, who won the 2000 Classic on the back of Lake Michigan bronzebacks, is currently just 18 ounces back in 9th place, with 16-0.
“I clued him in…again,” the leader joked. “We’re doing the same thing.”
This is of course an individual event, but if it were a team tournament the two members of the Daves family would be 9 ounces behind Adams (2nd, 17-01) and veteran Connecticut pro Terry Baksay (3rd, 16-10), longtime traveling partners and close friends. Like the younger Daves, each of them has qualified for two Bassmaster Classics and would love to close out a win this week to increase that number to three.
Adams was the first angler to weigh in today, and when he held up two largemouth it seemed he might’ve committed to a shallow grass bite all day. Then he revealed that his other three fish were smallmouths, and that all of them came from the same spot.
“I don’t know why there were a couple of largemouths in there,” he said. He’s fishing approximately 12 feet deep in the middle of a 50-acre grass bed, but the key spot is approximately the size of two bass boats.
“I started on it and they didn’t bite,” he recalled. “I came back around 8 o’clock and it was on. I have no idea if it will hold up.”
While Adams reported that other anglers were respectful of his key stretch, he and his close friend Baksay are within sight of one another.
“I can see him and he can see me,” Baksay said. “We’re about a half mile apart.”
Unlike his roommate, though, the Connecticut angler caught nothing but smallmouths today. “I’m not going to mess with green fish when I can catch brown ones. Are you kidding?” He caught a 3-12 on his last cast of the day to cull up past the six other members of the 16+ pound club. The last member of that group was the elder Daves, who seemed to have a variety of sports other than bass fishing on his mind today. On stage he thanked his local rabbit hunting partners, and expressed an interest in going to the races at the dirt track tomorrow night, whether he makes the cut or not. Backstage he credited some of his success to the substantial amount of time he spends flounder fishing.
“When you fish for flounder, you have to stay on the contours,” he said. “Smallmouth are basically breakline fish, so any time you can find something like a little point that just juts out, that’s where you’ll probably catch them.”
While the large field invoked a litany of potential problems and excuses before the tournament – including, but not limited to an algae bloom, heavy crowds, strong winds and muddied areas – when the scales closed the numbers told a different story. They caught lots of fish, as the pros always do here. The cutoff for the top twelve was 15 pounds 12 ounces. The drop off to 30th place only moves the needle to 14-08. Ten pounds even barely squeaked inside the top 100. If any angler wants to make a move, he’ll likely have to add a kicker or two to his bag.
Pennsylvania pro Tony Dorman (37th, 14-0) caught the big bass of the day, a 5-02 largemouth that would have bolstered anyone else’s bag significantly, turning an also-ran into a contender, or turning a contender into a leader. “First thing this morning I planned on catching a limit of smallmouth,” he recounted. “I pulled in and caught that big one on a spinnerbait.”
Brian Kelly of New York leads the co-angler field on the strength of a three-fish limit that weighed 10-15. Richard French (42nd, 7-15), also of New York, caught the co-angler big bass of the day, which weighed 4-06.