Oneida Lake, home to the final Elite Series event of the 2008 season, looks to be a struggle. That seems appropriate with the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year title on the line and several Classic slots yet to be determined, not to mention that the Champion's Choice will determine the fate of several anglers in danger of not qualifying for the Elite Series next year.
"The fishing's been tougher this year than in the past," said Tommy Biffle, winner of the 2006 Oneida Elite Series event. "Oneida's a good lake, but I haven't been catching them very well. After two days of practice I haven't learned much. I don't know what the problem is, but I'm working on it."
Tough on this lake can be a problem, even for the most experienced angler. Located entirely in New York, the lake covers about 80 square miles. It's 21 miles long and 5 miles wide with an average depth of 22 feet. There's only 55 miles of shoreline available to those who want to fish it. That's a lot of open water.
"The water's real clear and about 75 degrees with weeds everywhere you look. They start right at the shoreline and extend out into 15 feet of water — in some places further than that. They'll play a prominent role in this tournament.
"It'll be mostly a smallmouth tournament, but there'll be several largemouths brought to the scales with them. A lot of the guys are looking for largemouths now, but they're not easy to catch here. They bury in the weeds and can be hard to find and even harder to catch. I'm guessing by Thursday most everybody will move out and go for smallies when the tournament starts.
"The smallmouths will relate to the weeds, too. But they'll hang on the outside edge, out past the 15 foot depth range. They'll look like they're in open water but really they'll be using the weeds, just not like the largemouths."
Asked what a winning pattern might look like, or what lures are likely to be the most productive, Biffle went dark.
"I can't say about that — don't know. Some of that will depend upon the weather. It's been nice — hot and sunny without much wind — but it's supposed to get cooler as the week progresses. That might turn them on, but it might turn them off, too. You never know about those things.
"In all honesty, as of today (Tuesday evening) I'm fishing with everything I have. Now, I haven't talked to the other guys to know what they're doing, but I'd guess they're no better off than I am — I hope not anyway. If they are, I'm in trouble."
Based on two tough days of practice Biffle believes the weights will be down this year. He predicts that it'll take 28 pounds or so to make Saturday's cut and another 12-15 to fish on Sunday in the Top 12. And, he believes 52-55 pounds will win the tournament. "That's around 13 pounds a day. I think that'll do it, I really do."
As for big bass, he predicts it'll be a largemouth at the 5-pound mark or "maybe a little better."
His winning angler predictions aren't exactly earthshaking but do give us an insight into his uncertainty about this tournament.
"Watch VanDam and Martens. They're both hot and know how to fish here. If the fish are active and want it moving, VanDam will get them. But, if they're quiet and sluggish, Martens and his finesse techniques are hard to beat. I really do believe one of them will be up there on Sunday."