SYRACUSE, N.Y. — John Garrett has only fished six Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Opens and already qualified for the Top 12 on two occasions. What’s even more notable is the first Championship Saturday appearance came just two weeks ago on the swampy waters of the Sabine River in southeast Texas. He qualified again on a totally different Oneida Lake.
The key to all of the above is Garrett had fished neither fishery nor that type of water, until the competition. So how did he dial into smallmouth on a new lake?
“Every summer for the past four years I fished Lake St. Clair with my granddad,” he said. “I learned a lot about smallmouth, and much of what I’m doing came from those trips.”
At St. Clair, one of the best smallmouth lakes in the country, Garrett honed his skills fishing rockpiles, bottom depressions covered with scattered weeds, and other subtle contour changes. All three types of smallmouth water are productive now on Oneida Lake.
Garrett is no newcomer to tournament fishing. At Bethel University, the scholarship student athlete is on the bass fishing team. He’s done well during his enrollment at the school in West Tennessee.
Garrett won the Carhartt Bassmaster College Series Classic Bracket presented by Bass Pro Shops. He did that last summer on Kentucky Lake, his home water.
By virtue of the win he qualified for and fished the 2017 GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by DICK’S Sporting Goods.
The B.A.S.S. collegiate win came with its share of perks. Garrett earned free entry into all nine Opens this season. He received $7,500 to cover expenses, along with a Toyota Tundra and fully rigged Nitro boat he gets to use during the season.
Garrett, a business major, hopes to join the Bassmaster Elite Series. The 11th finish at Oneida gets him closer to the goal. The top five anglers in the point standings for each of the Opens regions get invitations to the 2018 Elite Series.
Good times for Walters
Just four months ago Patrick Walters won the Carhartt Bassmaster College Series Southern Regional presented by Bass Pro Shops. He did that with partner Tyler All at Winyah Bay in South Carolina. The two anglers fished for the University of South Carolina bass fishing team.
Then in May, Walters teamed up with USC graduate Gettys Brannon to finish second at the FLW College National Championship held on Wheeler Lake in Alabama.
Walters continued the momentum this week at Oneida Lake, where he took 5th place.
Oneida Lake might be in the shadow of better-known smallmouth fisheries in the region, such as Lake Ontario. Even so, Oneida continues to prove just how healthy the entire ecosystem supports a top-level smallmouth lake. Tournament weights from Day 1 and 2 of the pro division prove the point.
On Day 1, 45 pros had limits weighing 16-plus pounds, with 150 of the 190 anglers catching a 5-bass limit. Smallmouth made up most of the weight. Eighteen pros weighed 17-pound or better limits. And only 2.5 pounds separated 40th place from the leader.
Fourteen limits weighing more than 17 pounds came across the scales on Day 2. The quality of the fishing even improved. Steve York took the lead with the heaviest bag of the week, a limit weighing 19 pounds, 11 ounces.
Reports from the anglers of blue-green algae blooms came in during the tournament week. That summertime phenomenon is not unusual here. Nitrogen and phosphorous runoff, lots of sun and heat, and lack of wind are three ingredients that trigger the blooms. An unusually wet spring has super-charged the lake with more nutrients coming in. Algae can sicken people and render drinking water unsafe. On the flip side, the warmer weather needed to cause the blooms is a boom for growing the bass population.
Missed his flight
Chad Pipkens intended to catch a 6 a.m. flight out of Syracuse on Day 3. Instead, he was idling away from the shoreline as the jetliner took off for Utah. The Bassmaster Elite Series pro from Michigan had plans to fly west to be in a friend’s wedding. Pipkens finished 7th at Oneida Lake.