SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Matt Sphar, the lone New Yorker in the Elite Series field, did his home state proud this week at the Ramada Champion's Choice by finishing fourth, his best Elite Series finish to date. But seven other states were represented in the Top 12, with three of them producing multiple contenders — Alabama with two and both Texas and Oklahoma with three.
Bernie Schultz (11th, 55-06) explained earlier in the week that Floridians tend to do well here because the grass lines set up similarly to those found in Florida's weedy, bowl-shaped lakes. It is less clear, however, why Oklahomans would find success in Oneida's waters.
Tommy Biffle of Wagoner, who won here in 2006, had a possible explanation for why he, Terry Butcher (Talala) and Jeff Kriet (Ardmore) found success this week: "Shallow water power fishing is what we like to do," he said.
That may explain his success, but apparently the tackle selection near Jeff Kriet's home is a little more diversified. He reported catching most of his 20 bass, 63-6 catch, including a monster 18-2 limit Sunday, on a tube and a dropshot.
South Carolina's Jason Quinn stuck to a rigid sleep regimen earlier in the week, getting in bed by 9:30 or 10 p.m. each night. But last night, with his season on the line, he had a little trouble getting to bed.
"I was up until 1 a.m.," he said.
The reason? He was doing his math homework. Quinn said that he spent hours upon hours with a pen and paper trying to figure out every possible permutation of the standings to see if he'd sneak into the Classic.
"I did it every way possible and figured that I needed a seventh or better to make it," he said.
The late bedtime threatened to derail his season early in the day when he hooked a monster smallmouth, one he estimated at 4 ½ to 5 pounds, on a topwater lure.
"It jumped two times and got off," at which point he just about lost his breakfast.
Fortunately, he was able to regain his composure, went out deep and ended up sacking 12-9 to finish fifth with 57-8.
Part of the credit goes to fellow pro Jeff Kriet, who had already amassed a monster limit of smallmouths by the time Quinn arrived on his deeper water.
"He gave me a lighter jig head and that made a big difference," Quinn said.
Day Four quotes
"I guarantee you that he doesn't want it as bad as I do."
— Kevin VanDam after being told that Skeet Reese desperately wants another Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year title.
"I love New York."
— Florida's Bernie Schultz, who has made three consecutive Top 12s at Oneida.
"I get to sleep on the 25-hour drive home, and she can drive."
— Jeff Kriet, who was happy to have his wife Stephanie in New York this week.
"You taught everybody what to do too well."
— Kevin VanDam to Dean Rojas, whose all-largemouth catch was not enough to win this year.
"I've done well under pressure. I don't think it really bothers me. Knock on wood, I haven't faltered under it yet."
— Terry Butcher, who came into the tournament needing a high finish to qualify for his first Bassmaster Classic. He finished 10th at Oneida and will fish the Classic at Lay Lake in February.
"When I'd catch a small one, they'd throw up a crawfish that looked like green pumpkin with a little bit of an orange tip on the pinchers."
— Tommy Biffle, who matched the hatch with his creature baits.
"I wouldn't change a thing."
— Dean Rojas, who fished exclusively for largemouths this week and finished third.