Careers hinge on Northern Open finale

What happens Aug. 16-18 on New York’s Cayuga Lake could direct the future of several anglers.

What happens Aug. 16-18 on New York’s Cayuga Lake could direct the future of several anglers.

Cayuga is the competition water for the season finale of the 2012 Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Northern Open out of Seneca Falls, N.Y. That’s where, for one, Texan Andrew Upshaw could score the prize of the season (at least as far as he’s concerned): a qualification for the Bassmaster Elite Series in 2013.

The Elite Series is the career path that Upshaw, 25, has been eyeing even before he won the Carhartt College Series National Championship about a year ago. The win sent him to the 2012 Bassmaster Classic, and he signed on to compete in the 2012 Northern Open circuit to advance his bid for a full-time fishing career.

And now, third in the points going into the Northern Open finale, Upshaw is in line to collect one of the automatic invites issued to the first five on the points list when the season concludes.

That list is headed by Art Ferguson of Michigan. With 280 points, he’s only four ticks away from the pro in second place, Jason Christie of Oklahoma. Upshaw, in third with 273 points, is followed by Virginian and 2000 Bassmaster Classic champion Woo Daves, fourth with 268 points. Fifth with 251 is an angler who’s already an Elite Series pro, Fred Roumbanis.

Several pros further down the list also have a good shot at an Elite qualification. Kevin Hawk, 10th in points, is only 13 points off the No. 5 spot held by Roumbanis. Hawk, 33, who relocated to Alabama from his native California to be closer to major tournaments, also competes in the 2012 Southern Open, in which he ranks second in points. In his debut Bassmaster season, he’s been in the money in four out of seven tournaments.

“So far it’s been going really well, and I’m having a lot of fun doing it,” said Hawk. “At 13 points out of fifth right now, there’s definitely a realistic shot at cracking that Top 5 (in the Northern division).”

Cayuga Lake, however, will be new water for him. He studied it from afar before putting in more than a week of practice on Cayuga, the longest, widest and one of the deepest of the 11 Finger Lakes. Although the lake is more than 38 miles long, anglers’ smallmouth and largemouth strategies are likely to congregate the boats, he said.

“It could be tight at either end of the lake,” Hawk said.

He said he’ll likely need a strong finish to earn an Elite Series invitation. Then, like any angler in that position, he’d be faced with career choices.

“If I make it, I’ll sit down and take a hard look at my options and make a decision from there,” said Hawk, who would not be a green Elite rookie. A six-season FLW circuit veteran, he has had seven Top 10 finishes, and he won the 2010 Forest Wood Cup.

Like Hawk, Cliff Pirch of Arizona competes in the Northern Open, as well as in the Southern. Also like his fellow pro, Pirch has done well in both: seventh in Northern Open points and first in the Southern. And again like Hawk, Pirch could qualify through both divisions for a spot among the sport’s top anglers.

Bassmaster Classic berths for 2013 are on the line at Cayuga Lake, too. One berth will go to the event’s winner under the win-you’re-in rule. And, when the final fish is weighed, the first two Northern Open winners of the 2012 season — James River champ Joshua Wagy of Virginia and Detroit River winner Christie — can officially claim their 2013 Bassmaster Classic seats if they have completed the requirement to fish out the entire season.

Being from Oklahoma, Christie will have a special reason to celebrate come Aug. 18. He then will be officially headed to his first Classic in his home state on his home water, Grand Lake out of Tulsa, Okla., Feb. 22-24.

The pros are vying for the prize of a Triton 19SE with a Mercury 200 Optimax boat and motor package. Co-anglers compete for a Skeeter ZX190 with a Yamaha VZ150TL.

Fishing fans are invited to Seneca Falls Aug. 16-18 to see how it all shakes out. Fans can watch the morning takeoff at 6 a.m. ET, Thursday-Saturday at Cayuga Lake State Park. The Thursday and Friday weigh-ins are set to begin at the state park at 2 p.m. ET. On Saturday, the final 12 pros and 12 co-anglers will weigh their catches at the Bass Pro Shops location in Auburn, N.Y., beginning at 3 p.m. ET. will offer extensive coverage of the entire event, including live, streaming video of the weigh-ins, real-time leaderboards, BASSCam videos and daily reports and results.

The local host of the event is the Seneca Falls Chamber of Commerce.