SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Catching limits shouldn’t be terribly difficult during the Basspro.com Bassmaster Northern Open at Oneida Lake, but according to Macedon, N.Y., pro Casey Smith, finding the difference-makers may be challenging.
Competition days will be July 29-31 with daily takeoffs from Oneida Shores Park at 6 a.m. ET. Weigh-ins for Days 1 and 2 will take place back at the park at 2 p.m. The Day 3 weigh-in will be held at the Bass Pro Shops in Auburn, N.Y., at 3:15 p.m.
Located 16 miles northeast of Syracuse, Oneida’s size — 21 miles long, 5 miles wide, with 50,894 surface acres — makes it the largest lake located entirely within New York state. Fed by Oneida, Chittenango and Fish creeks, Oneida Lake outflows through its namesake river. The maximum depth is 55 feet, but Oneida averages about 22.
While this natural lake offers smallmouth and largemouth options, the latter tend to play second fiddle. Such is the case for many Northern fisheries; but similar to Lake Champlain, straddling the New York-Vermont border, Oneida holds enough big largemouth to interest some of the field.
“Generally, the (winning) recipe is a mixed bag,” Smith said. “There’s not as many largemouth, and they’re not as easy to target. But there are big ones in there; it’s just a question of can someone put together three days of big ones.
“Largemouth will be a factor at some point in the tournament. It could be that someone catches a big bag of them on Day 1 and then they’ll have to back that up.”
Smith believes the entire lake will be in play; however, he expects to see most of the attention leaning toward the west end. Quality fish can be found throughout Oneida, but it is simply a matter of habitat availability.
“The western end of the lake is always more popular; the majority of the big tournaments go out of there or the middle of the lake, so that’s where everybody is usually practicing and fishing,” Smith said. “There’s a lot more habitat, more shoals, humps, high spots and points in the western end, while the eastern end is flatter, with bigger grass flats.
“There will be a ton of pressure on that western half of the lake and the (eastern) half will see less pressure. Historically, the eastern half is not as good, but it definitely holds the capability to win a tournament. It’s more featureless on a map, but it still has a bunch of fish in it.”
The key, Smith said, is devoting the time to finding the eastern half’s more subtle features. With fewer bays, Oneida’s east end lacks the prominent points of the western side, but offshore shoals and vast grasslines offer legitimate options.
In what will be a purely postspawn/summer patterns event, Smith said anglers will likely catch fish shallow and deep. The common summer bait selection includes tubes, jigs, drop shots and Ned rigs. Topwaters also play on this lake — for both species. Smallies like walking baits while working a frog across matted grass will earn some of those largemouth bites.
Smith predicts a strong weigh-in, with 50 to 75 pros weighing bags of 16-plus pounds. Separating from the field, however, will require the all-important kickers.
“To get yourself ahead, you need those 4-pound bites and a lot of times, those are largemouth,” Smith said. “The Top 10 cut will probably be 17 to 17 1/2 pounds, and 18 pounds and some change a day wins it.
“That’s a little higher than normal, but the fish are getting bigger in this lake because of the gobies. Typically, a heavy 17 (daily average) wins it. I think that will be up this year with the quality of fish we’ve been seeing.”
The challenge, he said, will be weeding through a lot of solid keepers to find that superior size. Catching lots of 3-pounders will get the ball rolling, but to reach the finish line, anglers simply must find that 4-pound bite — ideally, more than once.
“The key is figuring out how you can get one or two of those a day,” Smith said. “Is it from a kicker largemouth? A bigger-than-average smallmouth? That’s the key, absolutely.”
About a week prior to the tournament, the long-range forecast showed relatively stable weather. However, the Oneida people (one of the Iroquois nations) refer to this lake as “Tsioqui,” which means “white water.” Oneida has a lot of open area, so anglers must plan their routes wisely, as a windy day will justify that Native American name.
The full field will compete the first two days before the boater side is cut to the Top 10 anglers for Championship Saturday. The co-angler champion will be crowned after the Day 2 weigh-in. Coverage of the event will be available at Bassmaster.com.