Tunin’ up for Oneida

I just spent a few days with the family kickin’ back at Torch Lake near Traverse City, Mich., a place where the smallmouth grow big and keep you on edge.

It was a laid-back family vacation; we played in the water, grilled and hung out with some friends. We also mixed in a little early morning fishin’ before the weather heated up.

While this was strictly “fun fishing,” it was a time for me to hone my skills for Oneida Lake, N.Y., our last Bassmaster Elite Series stop of 2012 and a place loaded with smallmouth.

Oneida is a lot different lake than Torch, but smallmouth are still smallmouth and catching them keeps me geared up and helps sharpen skills after a long layoff.

Oneida is a diverse fishery that includes both largemouth and smallmouth. It offers a variety of cover and structure and is a lake where you can fish your strengths and still catch ‘em.

We’ll be there in the late summer when the fish will probably be in a lot of different stages. I suspect guys will catch largemouth on frogs or flipping grass in shallows; smallmouth and largemouth on spinnerbaits and crankbaits; and there will probably be a deep bite in which you can catch them on tube jigs and drop shot rigs. Topwaters will come into play, too.

The lake has a ton of fish; catching them shouldn’t be a problem. It’s not a place where you have to worry about getting five bites a day.

That could work against me in my uphill climb to win another Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year. I’m mathematically in the race but the six guys ahead of me have to really tank for me to have a shot. I’m 51 points behind; and under the current point structure, it’s tough to make up the difference this late in the season.

That’s why I will be fishing strictly for the win. I’m locked into the Classic so I can’t worry about the points. I’m still in the race for a postseason All-Star berth, but my entire focus is winning this thing to give myself a chance at another AOY title.

I’ve done well at Oneida in the past, but I know to prepare for a lot of different possibilities. As much as I love catching smallmouth, you can’t win without some chunky largemouth in the bag each day. This event has always been won on largemouth even though the smallmouth fishing is excellent.

Frankly, I’ve always targeted the smallmouth because I know the right size lives there for me to win. It’s really difficult to discipline yourself to pull off the smallies and go target largemouth, but that’s what I’ll probably have to do. Smallmouth bass move around a lot so it’s hard to catch good ones consistently in a four-day tournament. I have to practice for both species.

Everyone in this field will be catching fish, so I’ve got to find a way to separate myself from the pack.

And you know what? I welcome the challenge. This is the kind of stuff that gets me revved up and why I love tournament fishing so much.

Remember, it’s all about the attitude!

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