“The lake has big largemouth, but a lot of big smallmouth, too. You have to keep an open mind because largemouth might not be the winning pattern this time,” said Rojas. “I have to be tactical about how I approach the lake.”
Like Rojas, Bill Lowen is hoping to land his first postseason berth. A qualification is especially important to Lowen because the All-Star competition will be on Lake Shelbyville and Decatur Lake out of Decatur, Ill. Lowen lives in Brookville, Ind., about four hours away. The chance to be in a high-profile tournament close to home is added pressure to do well at Oneida.
“I’d like to say that it’s not on my mind, but naturally it is,” he said. “I’m going to try to fish like I’ve done all year and hope to qualify.”
Lowen definitely wants to improve on his poor Oneida showing in 2009. Then, as it is this season, the Oneida stop was the finale. Lowen was several points away from a 2010 Bassmaster Classic qualification, so he had to turn in a top performance.
The first few hours went well, and he was 14 pounds to the good. Suddenly he realized he had six fish, not the regulation five, swimming under his livewell lids. He immediately tossed back one bass, then called tournament officials to report his miscount. But the rules at the time stipulated that tournament officials had to perform a sixth-fish cull, so Lowen’s entire first-day weight was disqualified.
He finished the event in last place, falling about 20 points out of Bassmaster Classic qualification. It was a big hit to his season and his career.
“It doesn’t haunt me now,” he said. “Maybe things happen for a reason. I’ve noticed that I’m a lot more cautious with culling, and I pay more attention now.”
Unlike in 2009, Lowen can rest easy about a Classic berth. He’s a shoo-in for 2013. But for the majority of the Elite field, a Classic berth is high on the Oneida wish list. The first 28 pros in points after Oneida will automatically be awarded a Classic berth. Then more Elite pros will be added to the Classic field because several pros qualified multiple times, pushing the cut-line further down the points list.