Last week, the tournament on the St. Lawrence River was certainly one for the record books. They absolutely dropped the hammer on those big smallies in and around Waddington, N.Y. But now, it’s time to turn our attention to the forgotten child of the North, the largemouth bass. I say “forgotten child” because very few anglers targeted largemouth, and the few that ended up with them in their bags were not really in contention to win last week.
Big smallmouth definitely dominated the stage. That is sure to turn around at our next venue, Cayuga Lake. There will be a handful of healthy brownies weighed in, but expect the bulk of the inventory to be green.
Last time the Elites were here was back in 2016, Kevin VanDam took down the title with just less than 72 pounds. A recent Bassmaster.com article predicted that it will take around 80 pounds to secure the win this week. Grass and docks will be the primary targets.
If previous tournament history holds any water, it will be very specific areas in the grass where the anglers will find success. They will not likely be flipping miles of shoreline grass for a bite, but rather small targets within the grass. That said, I’m banking on guys who can break down the lake quickly and are good at picking apart cover efficiently. A little prior knowledge could go a long way too.
BUCKET A: HERREN
Matt Herren has been around this game for a long time. At this point, he can probably launch the boat with a blindfold on, motor up to a spot and smash them just based on his sense of smell. He is currently in fifth place in the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year points, and that mean’s he’s had a very consistent year. He is a stud with a jig or Texas rig and is one of the best at picking apart docks. He also has more history here than most of these guys given that he was a part of the 2014 and 2016 tournaments where he finished 10th and 12th respectively.
Don’t forget about: ZALDAIN
Since Rich Lindgren didn’t like my indecisiveness of my Bucket A back-ups (namely, half the bucket) at the St. Lawrence River, I’ll try to be a little more specific this time around. While this bucket is absolutely loaded with guys you will see at or near the top, Zaldain is sick of being so close and not closing it out. He’s currently seventh in AOY. He was also here for the last two tournaments on Cayuga. In 2014, he finished in third place, however he dropped down to 62nd for 2016. One thing you can bank on is he will come out swinging. Let’s see if he can close one out and bring home the trophy.
BUCKET B: COMBS
Keith Combs has been a great horse to bet on all year. If you swap out any one of his lower-end finishes this year with a Top 10 and he would likely be right in the mix for AOY. He’s currently sitting in 22nd and is coming off a strong finish on the St. Lawrence River. He is an excellent stick when it comes to offshore cranking and dragging big worms, but what most people don’t realize is that he loves to flip. He has great history here as well with 26th- and sixth-place finishes in the last two rounds here, but I’m putting more stock in his momentum and love for flipping a jig to take him deep in this one.
Don’t forget about: HARTMAN
Just like at the St. Lawrence River, it’s tough not to put stock in Jamie Hartman. He had a great Day 3, which rocketed him to a 20th-spot finish. I know he would have liked to make a better showing in front of his home state, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he takes a few risks to try to finish higher here at Cayuga. He doesn’t have any recorded stats on this lake, but you can be sure he knows a ton about this fishery and others like it. It won’t take him long to break it down.
BUCKET C: SHRYOCK
Hunter Shryock was one of the few anglers who specifically took the largemouth bus to a Top-20 finish last week. He landed in 14th after managing a respectable 21-pound bag of mostly green fish on Day 3 including a couple stud 5-pounders. I’m picking him because while most of these guys will have to make a mental switch from brown to green, he is already there. He spent most of his time flipping and frogging and those will be two of the primary tactics here. This is also his part of the country, being from Ohio. I bet he’ll feel right at home.
Don’t forget about: GUSTAFSON
Speaking of Northerners, Canadian Jeff Gustafson will likely have as much experience fishing waterways like this one as anyone else. He can do it all whether that finessing for a few key smallmouth bites, punching grass or flipping docks. After an up-and-down season, he has momentum in his court for the time being. He is just inside the Classic cut line, so he will need a good event here to guarantee himself a spot at the 2020 Bassmaster Classic.
BUCKET D: KREIGER
I expect Cayuga to fish like a Florida fishery in a lot of ways. The good areas will be clear water with thick grassy cover. Kreiger is a known flipper and if he had it his way, he would use big line and big rods at every event. He also loves topwater which will almost certainly play here. That topwater skill helped him carve his way to a sixth-place finish at Winyah Bay earlier this year. In the 2016 event at Cayuga, he was able to put almost 70 pounds in the boat for a fifth-place finish. He has had a string of tough events, but this one should fall in his wheelhouse. He is in 55th in AOY and if he can squeak inside the top 50, he will have a shot at the AOY championship and might manage to jump inside the Classic cut.
Don’t forget about: HUDNALL
Derek Hudnall may have not had the dream season he had hoped for, but I can tell you one thing. This guy has a passion, a dream and the drive to get there. He had a tough start on the St. Lawrence River, but put his head down and backed it up with two solid bags to finish 25th. He may find his groove at Cayuga and land his first Elite Top 10. He also needs to finish out strong to have a shot at the Classic.
BUCKET E: GROH
Bucket E, once again presents a challenge. It’s tough to bet on any of these guys. My prediction is you may see one or two of them near the top at the end of the event. My goal is to have my pick cash a check. That will secure me some decent points for this bucket and if one guy stands out amongst the rest, I won’t likely be losing a ton of ground. Chris Groh definitely has a good shot at a solid finish here. He likes to fish clear water and his record on Hartwell and Smith Lake this year show that. He might be the guy who figures out the secret to the smallmouth here which he could have all to himself. He is 32 percent owned as of this moment. My strategy here is to not have 32 percent of the field jump me in the case I pick a guy who finishes lower than him. If he doesn’t do as well, I’m not losing much ground to the field.
Don’t forget about: MONTI
As I stated in Bucket B, this could fit the Florida guys well. Kyle Monti has had a tough few years on the Elites. In his current position, he has nothing to lose and that could result in a swing-for-the-fence game plan. If you need a dark horse, he could be a good one to consider.