Whackfest on Oneida

This morning couldn't have started any better as takeoff started at 6 a.m. ET and after shooting some boats taking off, we then headed out for some on-the-water action.

It didn't take long as I stopped on Oklahoma pro Zach Birge. He was all alone on a submerged grass line and he hooked and boated four quick keepers, which included a couple good ones.

Then College Bracket champion John Garrett arrived with Elite Series pro Jamie Hartman on his heels. The area got crowded as boats whizzed by, but after 10 minutes everything settled down and the three anglers went to work.

Birge's bite died as Hartman and Garrett started catching the fire out of them. All three anglers were implementing different baits, but the results were the same, big ones.

Garrett's co angler Bryce Baker hooked a 5-pound largemouth off the same grass line. That's a major player on Oneida, especially for a co-angler who has a three-fish limit.

Garrett said he has one big smallmouth, two 3-pounders and two fish smaller than 3 pounds. It's a good start and if the weights match up like last year, it'll take a solid 14-plus pounds per day to sniff a check.

Hartman landed a couple decent ones and filled his limit during the 30-minute flurry while Birge was still stuck on the four fish he caught quick. After the dust settled and everyone spaced out, Birge caught his fifth while everyone periodically hooked up. Moments ago he had a big smallmouth come unbuttoned when it jumped and it looked to be a 4-plus pounder.

These three anglers are off to a good start. This cloud cover has prolonged this early bite for sure. It made me take 550 photos in 30 minutes if that's any indication at how quick it all went down.

Day 1 underway

Day 1 is underway as 198 boats head out from Oneida Shores to compete in the first Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Northern Open of the 2017 season. Three events with opportunities for a GEICO Bassmaster Classic berth as well as future Bassmaster Elite Series spots up for grabs. This is Day 1 and with calm conditions, these anglers will catch them good today.

Day 1 launch

Launching at Oneida Shores.

Update by Howie Range

Registration and rules briefing

The registration and rules briefing for the first Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Northern Open of the 2017 season on Oneida Lake is underway. Almost 200 boats will grace the fishery for Thursday and Friday's competition day before the 198-boat field gets cut to the Top 12.

Oneida Lake spans 20 miles in length and is only 5 miles wide, but the prime water will be found by this field of anglers. The 2017 Northern Open field gets better and better every year, that's for sure.

One pro will punch their ticket to the 2018 Geico Bassmaster Classic presented by DICK'S Sporting Goods at Lake Hartwell. Meanwhile one co-angler will win a boat and some hardware.

Greene's first smallmouth

Co-angler Joel Greene of Enoree SC fishing his first Bassmaster event. Catches his first ever smallmouth while practicing with SC pro Darryl Hilbert.

Oneida's wild weather

Where I’m from in south Louisiana, we’re accustomed to unpredictable weather in the forms of tropical storms and flash floods. Hurricane season officially starts in June, and there’s always a touch of anxiety that comes with its arrival.

The good people of central New York had their own first-hand encounter with wacky weather on Tuesday when hailstorms broke out across a good portion of the greater Syracuse area and surrounding counties. Temperatures have been unseasonably cool here (in the lower 50s throughout the day Tuesday) since a rainstorm passed over the area Sunday night. More showers moved into the area on Tuesday, which caused some volatile weather (some of which was captured on local news website Syracuse.com.

Of course, this is the same area that is playing host to the first Bass Pro Shops Northern Open of 2017. The three-day tournament is scheduled to begin Thursday on Oneida Lake, which at 50,000-plus acres is the largest lake located entirely in the state. It’s shallow (22 feet on average) compared to New York’s Finger Lakes which are located to the southwest of Oneida. Because of its basic horizontal layout, Oneida sometimes is referred to as the "thumb" as the nearby "fingers" run from north to south.

The question is will the blast of cool air that started Sunday have an effect on the bite during the Northern Open this week?

“I think it may help actually,” said Cicero, N.Y., resident Chad Van Slyke, who is one of the 200 pros competing in the tournament this week. “I’ve spent my whole life on this lake, and the past couple years have brought the unseasonable stuff; temperatures in the 80s in April. The fish seem to like some wild weather. It’s the hot water they don’t like.”

Van Slyke said water temperature in Oneida has been hovering in the 70-72 degree range, and that’s made fishing ideal during the past few weeks. He competed in a 120-boat tournament last week and had an 18-pound limit on one day, but still he wasn’t sure that would be good enough to put him among the event’s leaders.

“Fishing has been that good up here recently,” Van Slyke said. “I think the tournament is going to be an absolute shootout. There are some really nice 4-pounders in the lake, and a couple of those will go a long way to a nice bag. There should be a lot of people stacked up in the 15 1/2- to 16 1/2-pound range. A couple of the bigger bites could separate some people from that bunch.”

Air temperatures are expected to normalize somewhat beginning today, with a slow but steady climb back into the upper 70s. Rain, however, could eventually be a factor with a 40 percent chance for showers on Thursday increasing to 80 percent on Friday and 100 percent on Saturday. If wind accompanies that rain, Oneida Lake could be a challenge as it gets extremely choppy given its relatively shallow depth.

“I’d say it’s one of the more dangerous lakes in America when it’s windy,” Van Slyke said. “It reminds me of (Lake) Okeechobee (in Florida). It can really churn because it’s so shallow.” 

Big smallmouth

Sevierville, Tenn., Bass Pro Shops pro angler Brad Burkhart with a "big ol' Oneida smallmouth."