All about the smallmouth
Oneida Lake is one of many Northeast bass fisheries with thriving populations of largemouth and smallmouth. With an abundance of both species, that creates a challenge for the tournament angler. In most places, you can’t fish for smallmouth and largemouth, given the short tournament day.
A different scenario is evident at the site of the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Northern Open. At Oneida, the isolated rocky habitat favored by the smallmouth is near the weedy shorelines attracting largemouth. Another part of the reason is the abundance of food, including perch and the round goby.
On Day 1, mixed bags came across the scales. That wasn’t enough to convince some anglers to be greedy and fill their weigh-in bags with both fish. Count Chad Pipkens in that group. There is no systematic process for deciding which target to cast towards.
“I’m fishing for smallmouth the remainder of the year,” admitted Pipkens, a Bassmaster Elite Series pro from Michigan. “Where a lot of anglers make a mistake is not fishing their strengths, and for me that is smallmouth.”
“There have been times that I fooled myself, fished on the bank, and that never worked for me,” he continued.
Pipkens is serious about his intent to avoid the green fish and for good reason. The remaining three Elite Series and both Northern Opens are on fisheries with healthy populations of smallmouth.
Pipkens has experience in dealing with the mixed bag scenario. He believes anglers can make the decision more difficult than it needs to be. When smallmouth and largemouth waters are spread out, like they are in most cases, you can run out of time in a tournament day.
“It’s a gamble not worth taking,” he said, even though Oneida is a rare exception.
Focusing on smallmouth was a good decision for Pipkens. On Day 1 he weighed 17 pounds, 2 ounces, and needed every ounce of it to stay in contention for a Top 12 berth.
Making a check
Chad Pipkens catching 17-2 on any given day at a B.A.S.S. competition should be an eye opener. It wasn’t after Day 1. Pipkens weight earned him 17th place, which is remarkable considering the catches of his peers.
Pipkens was among 18 pros weighing 17-pound bags. Another two-dozen pros crossed the scales with bags weighing 16 pounds. That weight is best guess for making a check, which is another noteworthy mark.
They came for the smallmouth
Look at the pro roster of the Oneida Open and find a lot of familiar names from the Bassmaster Elite Series. Over a dozen pros are here, partly for a shot at world championship qualification, mostly for another reason. That would be the incredible smallmouth fishing.
“It’s a good place for us to get tuned up for the smallmouth season ahead,” added John Murray.
Oneida will be a great tune up indeed for what’s coming up. In about three weeks the final swing of the Elite Series season begins on the smallmouth-rich waters of the St. Lawrence River. Following that upstate New York event the tour stops at nearby Lake Champlain. The smallmouth tour continues at Lake St. Clair and finally at Mille Lacs Lake in Minnesota, site of the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year Championship.
Long way from home
Mike Lavallee’s name stands out on the pro roster for his home state and it’s distance from New York. Lavallee is from Utah and his goal is qualifying for the Bassmaster Elite Series.
Last year he came close. Lavallee is a skilled western angler whose talents earned him a berth last year in the Academy Sports + Outdoors B.A.S.S. Nation Championship presented by Magellan Outdoors. That event is widely respected as the bass club world championship.
Lavallee is fishing the Central and Northern Opens in the quest to reach his goal. The Northern region plays into his angling strengths. Out West, Lavallee is accustomed to fishing for largemouth in 6 inches of water on Lake Mead. So is sending a drop shot into the deep water of Lake Powell to catch smallmouth.
“I’m well rounded with both species and you must be to compete at this level in these Opens,” he said. “With these events you’ve got to be equally as skilled in shallow and deep water.”
“By far, my best techniques are in deep water, and that’s not easy to master, so I really like the Northern Opens.”
After Day 1 on Oneida the Utah angler had 17-5 to secure 14th place. So far so good, with the hope of even better on Day 2.