SYRACUSE, N.Y. — After two days of carefully managing their fish, the 50 Elite Series pros remaining in the Champion's Chase presented by Ramada Worldwide can go for broke today.
In a tournament where 15 pounds a day puts an angler in contention for the win, Mike Iaconelli's 20-pound bag yesterday showed that no lead is safe — and there's no reason to hold back.
In the words of the Wall Street titans of the 1980s, "greed is good," and each of the remaining masters of the angling universe wants to weigh in a limit like Iaconelli's to earn a spot in tomorrow's field of 12. To do that, they've sought to establish whatever edge they can find, whether it be a one-of-a-kind lure or a fishing hole they'll have to themselves.
Dean Rojas, currently in second place, is using several different models and colors of the frogs that have become inseparably associated with his angling persona. One of them was introduced by SPRO last month and features a cupped face that causes more commotion than its pointy-nosed predecessor.
"It pops and spits a lot more," Rojas said. "Especially in the grass, it makes a big commotion."
He's pleased it's still just a prototype, "Nobody has one but me," Rojas said.
"It's … unique to be put in a position like that."
Rojas has consistently been on quality fish and even though he isn't sure he's capable of putting a 20-pound limit in the livewell, he feels another 14 to 16 pounds is possible.
"I'm not fishing for 2-pounders," he said. "If they bite, that's fine, but I'm keying on 3-pounders or bigger."
Chris Lane stood at the dock and lapped up the sunshine greeting the anglers today after two consecutive days of unrelenting storms. He's on a quality flipping bite and knows that there are 5- and 6-pound fish in his area. Sitting in eighth place, fewer than 4 pounds from first, he knows one or two of those bites could make a huge difference for him in this tournament.
"I've been looking for a day like this," Lane said. "It'll push them under the mats and position them better, instead of scattering all around."
Like Rojas, he has a lure he believes gives him a distinct advantage over other anglers who may be doing the same thing. But while the lure itself is available to his competitors, this particular color may not be.
"I'm fishing a Gambler Flappy Daddy in the highland craw color," Lane said. "It looks just like the crawdads in this lake: brown with green on top. When you get 10 bites in 10 flips, you know you have the right bait."
Lane will swing for the fences today, pounding on his fish until heading back to the weigh-in.
"I have to go for broke," he said. "I need a top five to make the Classic. An extra pound can make it so I fish on Sunday."
Ohio's Bill Lowen may not have a unique bait like Rojas or Lane, but the self-professed Ohio river rat is happy to have a stretch of river all to himself here.
"My area makes a huge difference," Lowen said. "If you ever want to find me, just put me on a river. I haven't seen a boat in two days. I'm going to start on a shoal, get one good smallmouth and then go into the river."
The only problem with his key area is having to wade through a multi-species mix in order to get five good bass.
"I need to be able to keep those muskie or pike — or whatever they are — off my line," Lowen said. "I had one yesterday that came up out of the pads like a killer whale."
Prior to the ninth stop of the Elite Series season, Texas pro Kelly Jordon sat in 13th place in the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year race. But disastrous finishes at Old Hickory and Lake Erie dropped him nearly 20 places, to 32nd.
"I just did a gradual face-plant," Jordon said. "It's not a fun deal. But then I did a (Kevin) VanDam deal and got mad. I'm still mad at them."
Call it anger or call it greed, Jordon wants more than the twin 14-pound limits he weighed in on Thursday and Friday, the latter of which included a 5-pounder that tied for Purolator Big Bass.
"I'm more dialed in today than any other day," Jordon said.
He was sharing a stretch of water with Denny Brauer, who failed to make the cut and therefore did not qualify for the Bassmaster Classic. It's the potential spot in the Classic driving Jordon's efforts.
"It's an hour-and-a-half from my house," he said. "I like the Red River and I've done well there. I can handle this pressure. I don't like it, but I can handle it."
Greed may generally be considered one of the seven deadly sins, but tomorrow on Oneida Lake, the trophy may just end up in the hands of the angler who wants it most.