SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Bill Lowen had barely seen a smallmouth this week at Oneida Lake during practice and the first two days of competition in the Bassmaster Elite Series Champion's Choice presented by Ramada Worldwide. And that was intentional.
Lowen, a self-proclaimed Ohio river rat, cut his teeth targeting largemouth bass in the shallow water of river systems.
"I don't use electronics," said the 33-year-old Lowen, only half-jokingly. "I fish in knee-deep water.
"I don't have to stick my rod in the water here (as a poor man's depth-finder) because I can see the bottom."
Oneida's clear waters literally provided him a view that salvaged his day Saturday. Lowen was in 12th place after the first two days of the tournament, weighing almost identical 14-pound bags of largemouth bass.
He'd done that in shallow water far up an Oneida tributary, an area he had all to himself. When Lowen went back there Saturday, the water temperature had dropped 4 degrees and, inexplicably, the current flow had decreased.
"I still can't figure that one out, with all the rain we've had," Lowen said.
But at Sunday morning's launch, Lowen was excited about going back to the spot he found late Saturday, where he was able to save his day and stay in the top 12. Lowen is ninth with 41-13, almost 9 pounds behind leader Dean Rojas.
"It was real cool," Lowen said. "You could see (the smallmouths) rolling around, knocking crawfish from the rocks.
"I was literally looking for the right size (bass) I needed, casting to them and catching them. They're up on the flats, running the rocks, looking for crawfish."
Lowen picked a crawfish out of his livewell Sunday morning, laid it on the boat deck, then began painting orange tips on his soft plastic crawfish lure, to more closely match the crustaceans the smallmouth were gorging on Friday.
"I caught them wacky-rigging a Senko," Lowen said. "I had two 2 1/2-pounders and culled all the little guys out of my box."
Lowen said he lost two 3-pounders in the last 10 minutes Saturday afternoon that could have bumped him up a couple of places in the standings.
The lure-painting was being done in case he couldn't catch them on a Yamamoto Senko today.
"Every day, my co-anglers have been catching them Carolina-rigging whatever," he said. "I'm going to try some Carolina-rigging."
But his main goal is simply to have fun. Lowen needed to catch one bass at Oneida to lock himself into a Bassmaster Classic qualifying spot.
"Obviously, I've done a lot better than that," he said. "It's all good now."
Wolak too consistent
Consistency is usually a highly-valued trait for bass tournament fishermen. But Dave Wolak has grown frustrated with his consistency on Oneida Lake this week.
His three-day total of 41-6 allowed him to tie for 11th place and make it to Sunday's final. And his daily totals were remarkably consistent: 13-13 Thursday, 13-11 Friday and 13-14 Saturday.
"I'm dialed in all right, to 13-something pounds," Wolak joked Sunday morning.
Wolak has a lot of history here, having grown up in Warrior Run, Pa., and spending summers on Oneida fishing with his family since he was a 5-year-old. And he knows there are plenty of 4-pound bass in Oneida to bump him past that 14-pound barrier he's yet to break this week.
Wolak, who now lives in Wake Forest, N.C., moved up about 20 places in the 2006 Elite Series event on Oneida with a Day Three bag of 17-15, which led to a fourth-place finish.
He knows his chances of winning are slim Sunday, but he'd still like to find some of those 4-pounders.
"I've been one big fish away from making a big move every day," Wolak said. "Everything I'm catching is 2 3/4 to 3 pounds.
"This is a place where you can put three 4-pounders in the boat. It's not unheard of. There's not a lot of 5-pounders here, but there are a lot of 4s. If you can put three 4s in the boat, you can have 18 or 19 pounds."
So Wolak went out Sunday on Oneida Lake seeking to break his suddenly annoying consistency.
Davis feeling sluggish
Arkansas' Mark Davis is a big man at 6-foot-3, 290 pounds. But he knows he's got to get smaller if he's going to continue to compete on the Bassmaster Elite Series.
Davis, the only man to win the BASS Angler of the Year award and the Bassmaster Classic title in the same year (1995), came back to the BASS circuit this season after competing primarily on the FLW Tour the last two years.
He started the season strong, with top 20 finishes in the two Florida events and fifth-place in the slugfest at Texas' Falcon Lake.
But then Davis recorded only one top-20 finish (and that was 19th) in the next seven events. He's ending his season on a high note, with a top 12 cut at Oneida Lake, but Davis has had a reality check.
"I'm too heavy to compete with these guys at this level," the 44-year-old Davis said Saturday. "When you see me next year, I'm going to be slim."
Davis has still had a good season by anyone else's standards. He'll finish in the top 10 in Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year points and qualify for his 14th Bassmaster Classic. But the three-time BASS Angler of the Year has higher goals than that.
"I wanted to compete for Angler of the Year, and I didn't do it," Davis said. "I've been here before. I know I've got to get the weight off.
"Deer season is not going to be fun this year."
Davis, an avid deer hunter, was referring to all the good food that typically goes along with deer camp. His goal is to lose 35 pounds before the next Elite season.
Davis said he's battled being overweight since childhood. Several years ago he had stomach stapling surgery after he reached 400 pounds. His weight got down to 235 pounds after that, but it has been creeping back up since.
"I feel real good at 250," Davis said. "I'm not making excuses (for his performance this season). It's just reality. I might as well face it."
Wrong kind of recognition
When co-anglers come to the weigh-in scales, they're hoping that they've done something during the day that will cause BASS emcee Keith Alan to stop, take notice, and ask them a question or two from the stage.
During Saturday's co-angler championship weigh-in, Alan did just that when he came to Loganville, Ga., fisherman Lane Wright.
"We've got a new category at today's weigh-in," Alan quipped. "The smallest fish of the tournament."
As Wright smiled, his fish was weighed by BASS tournament director Trip Weldon, tipping the scales at 1 pound, 1 ounce — but boosting his three-day total to 15-10, good enough for a 38th-place finish.
For the record, Wright has enjoyed a much better co-angler career, garnering three Top 10 finishes in four co-angler events. The Georgia angler has finished in the Top 10 four out of seven times during his overall BASS tournament career, including a runner-up finish in 2006.
Mark left mark on co-angler
Mark Menendez was focused on the task at hand during Saturday's third round of the Champion's Choice.
So focused that he apologized from the weigh-in stage, as he hoped to make his way into the 2009 Bassmaster's Classic field, saying, "I've got to say that my co-angler has a big knot on the back of his head that he didn't have when we started. That's what a half-ounce tungsten sinker will do."
For the record, Menendez — who started the day in 41st place in the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings — weighed in five bass at 11-13 to tie for a 38th place finish with Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year Kevin VanDam at 36-3. The Paducah, Ky., angler will have to wait on Sunday's results to see if he made it into the Bassmaster Classic field for the fifth time.
Frink falls short
After weighing in three bass at 5 pounds, 3 ounces on Saturday afternoon, California co-angler Tom Frink fell short in his bid to become the biggest BASS money winner of all-time on the co-angler side.
Frink finished in 16th place and finished his co-angler career with two wins, one runner-up finish, three third place finishes and a total of eight top 10 finishes. Those results — including 15 top-50 finishes — gave Frink a BASS career earnings total of $136,543.
That mark falls behind South Carolina co-angler Howard Stephen's all-time co-angler money record of $143,128.
"When I got out of the (U.S.) Air Force, I had not had a lot of time to fish for four years," Frink said of his co-angling career's start. "I got into fishing these (tournaments) to learn. I was able to learn so much that even if there was no paycheck, I'd still have done it, because of how much you learn."
Frink said versatility might be his most important lesson gleaned from the tournament format. This week's action on Oneida Lake was a good example, since Frink fished shallow grass on Day One in less than a foot of water; worked a drop-shot rig on Day Two in water 14-25 feet in depth; and cast a Rat-L-Trap reaction style bait on Saturday in 12-14 feet of water.
"This has been a good learning experience for me," Frink said.
"Like I've said, I ran out of excuses about five years ago. I don't know what happened today."
— Four-time Bassmaster Classic champ Rick Clunn on his less than hoped for weight total on Saturday that dropped him to 25th place
"I came up here to catch these brown fish. I can go and catch those largemouths in Florida anytime. What a great fishery."
— Final 12 angler Bernie Schultz on his love for Oneida Lake's smallmouth bass fishery
"Y'all have a great fishery here. You really get two tournaments in one day (here). Anytime you can go out and fish for smallmouths and then back them up with largemouths, it's a lot of fun."
— South Carolina's Ray Sedgwick on his one-two approach to this week's fishing action
"I've got a pattern, I've got a bait that is working, and I've got an area (that is producing). When you've got all three of those, you can't ask for any more."
— Mike Iaconelli on his surge to the top of the leaderboard
"I have a motto when fishing the frog — live or die by it. Today, I died by it."
— Fred Roumbanis on missing the final 12 cut on Saturday
"It's kind of hard when you look down and realize that you've got 10 minutes left in the season. You wonder what you are going to do all fall. Well, I'm going to go fishing."
— Oklahoma pro Kenyon Hill on his off-season agenda
"Not having the co-anglers is a good thing. I mean this is the Elite Series and these guys do this for a living. I caught some big fish today that, if I was just a spectator, my partner could have caught them and used them. I could see it in his face. It's a good thing that it is going away, but I do hate to see it go."
— Co-angler Douglas Hammond on his day of fishing with Elite Series pro Greg Hackney, who was fighting for a Bassmaster Classic berth
"I learned (this year) that it's a grind to get through the season. Last year everything seemed to click. This season, everything I do seems to come up a little bit short. I'm still wondering what happened."
— 2007 Rookie of the Year Derek Remitz on his sophomore slump
"I drew him on Falcon Lake on Day Two. He's the nicest guy in the world and (is) real genuine. Ike would give you the shirt off his back. I think he's gotten a bad rap."
— Co-angler co-champion Ron Plocek after Mike Iaconelli stopped by to congratulate him on Saturday