2009 Elite Series - Champion's Choice Oneida Lake - Syracuse, NY, Aug 13 - 16, 2009

To largemouth or not to largemouth bass

Elite anglers face species challenge at foggy first launch

 SYRACUSE, N.Y. — In 2008, Britt Myers caught 16 pounds, 6 ounces of shallow largemouth on the first day on Oneida Lake and sat in third place. The next day, the fish disappeared and he fell to 95th place without a keeper. Such is the fickle nature of Oneida largemouth.

 "Those shallow largemouth don't replenish as I found out last year," Myers said. "You better have a back-up pattern. Also, the water this year is down 6 inches so a lot of fish that were in really shallow water can't get to where they were."

 That leaves anglers wondering which species to target this year. Largemouth have been responsible for the win, but smallmouth get more anglers into the final-12 cut.

 For John Murray, consistent finishes on Oneida have come from plying the same areas and he doesn't plan to change this year.

 "With a natural lake, a lot of places don't change and the way we catch them won't change," Murray said. "I've gone back to a lot of those same places, the key will be getting a little bigger bite."

 Murray predicted that for the first time, this tournament would be won on a mixed bag of smallmouth and largemouth. After two Elite Series tournaments and a Major held on Oneida, most anglers know the lake and what it is capable of. More people fishing for largemouth means less to go around, so many will likely be targeting both species.

 Count Fred Roumbanis in that group. Sitting in 30th in the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year race, he needs a solid finish to assure himself a spot in the Classic.

 "The smallmouth have grown a little and I plan on fishing for a mix of species," Roumbanis said. "I have a later weigh-in time, so having the longer day will help me go for a bigger largemouth. It could be the last cast of the day when I catch my best fish, that's how the fishing goes here."

 Part of the issue Roumbanis cited as a difficulty anglers will face out in open water is the algae bloom. The last day of practice there was little wind and areas faced a serious bloom that Roumbanis said hurt any topwater bite that he had.

 "It just got stagnant out there with no wind, so people banking on that topwater bite could find it shot down," Roumbanis said.

 Aside from the wind and algae bloom, smallmouth anglers know that the fish are pelagic creatures that can disappear overnight. Peter Thliveros looked at this year's weather as an amplifier of the moving smallmouth.

 "It's been a cooler year and the fish are just now starting to move into their summer patterns," Thliveros said. "Fish are more scattered out and I don't think largemouth will play as big a role. I plan on fishing for smallmouth, they are easier to find and catch, but when I get a good bag, I'll go looking for a bigger largemouth."

 That sentiment seemed to be echoed by many of the competitors fishing in the Ramada Champion's Choice including Guntersville champion Aaron Martens.

 "I'm in that 50/50 zone where I catch half largemouth and half smallmouth," Martens said. "It's been a weird year — cooler here in cold country. The water temperatures are 6 or 7 degrees colder than last year, but you just have to adjust and stay on them."

 The tournament launched under clear, sunny conditions for anglers looking to make a move in the standing for the final time this year.

 "Sun is better, smallmouth are solar powered," Thliveros quipped as he left the dock.

 Follow along with all the action as the weigh-in starts at 4:00 p.m. ET on ESPN360 with full coverage of the event on Bassmaster.com.

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