Elite 2014: Cayuga is no Oneida

Editor’s Note: This is the final in a series profiling 2014 Elite Series locations.

Bassmaster Elite Series pros that did not compete in the 2012 Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Northern Open at New York’s Cayuga Lake, the only B.A.S.S. event ever held there, may be in for a surprise. Cayuga is nothing like nearby Oneida Lake, which the Elite pros have visited several times.

Both lakes support largemouth and smallmouth bass, but the similarity ends there. Cayuga does not have the copious offshore humps, flats, points and dropoffs that produce limits of smallmouth bass at Oneida.

A narrow, glacial Finger Lake, Cayuga stretches nearly 40 miles north from Ithaca, N.Y. About 6,000 acres of the lake’s north end is shallow and weedy. There is a smaller area of shallow grass on the south end.

Between these extremes, a narrow fringe of mostly submerged grass runs along the shoreline out to a depth of 15 feet or so. Short, hard-bottom points extend from the grass in some places to 25 to 30 feet before plunging into the abyss that comprises most of the lake’s bottom.

Cayuga’s average depth is 179 feet with a maximum depth of 433 feet. This vast, deep water region supports a popular coldwater trout and salmon fishery. Each year Cayuga is stocked with approximately 60,000 lake trout, 25,000 brown trout and 40,000 landlocked salmon.

The bass fend for themselves in the shallow portions of the lake. And they are doing quite well, thank you.

New Jersey’s Pete Gluszek won the Cayuga Bassmaster Open with a three-day total of 56.1 pounds of largemouth bass. His second day limit topped 20 pounds. Arkansas Elite Series pro Stephen Browning also bagged a limit of largemouths weighing over 20 pounds and finished second with 51.5 pounds.

That tournament happened in late August, just prior to the August 21-24 dates for the 2014 Elite Series event. Browning expects the Elite pros to drag more heavy limits to the scales than the Open anglers did.

“Cayuga is a self-explanatory type of lake,” Browning says. “The Elite guys will figure it out quickly, even those that have never been there before.”

Most of the bass catching will happen within 200 yards of the shoreline, Browning points out. This simplifies things, but it can also make for crowded fishing conditions.

Largemouths will dominate the tournament, and they will be caught from mainly from the grass and Cayuga’s many boat docks. Unlike docks at Oneida Lake, which are in a skim of water, Cayuga’s docks have plenty of water under them where heavy bass feel right at home.

Key baits will be jigs, a host of soft plastic offerings, crankbaits and spinnerbaits. No doubt, the Elite pros will come up with a wide variety of lures and presentations that will produce.

Another reason that there are likely to be more heavy limits than during the Open tournament is that Elite anglers are limited to three practice days. They also tend to practice differently than many of the fishermen that compete in Open tournaments, Browning adds.

“The Elites don’t have to catch many bass to understand what they need to do,” Browning says. “They save their bass for the tournament days.”

Some of the less experienced Open anglers catch every bass they can in practice. Then they wonder where their fish went after the tournament begins.

Although Browning didn’t boat a single smallmouth bass at the Cayuga Northern Open, he believes Elite pros that excel with brown bass may do well fishing for them here.

“The drop shotters that get out there in 20 to 25 feet of water will probably find a couple schools of smallmouth bass that don’t get much fishing pressure,” Browning says.

He predicts that it will take at least 27 pounds to make the top 50 cut, which will require two 4-pound bites a day. It will take over 45 pounds to claim a spot among the Top 12, and the winning weight will probably be in the low 70s, Browning believes.

The caveat is the weather. If a strong wind blows due north or south, Cayuga gets nasty and there are few places to hide. Barring that, Browning believes the Elite pros are “going to have a blast at Cayuga.”

“We could go there every day of the week and I’d be happy, happy, happy,” Browning says.

Also By This Author