SYRACUSE, N.Y. – Alabama native Randy Howell hadn’t fished the two previous Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Northern Opens. So what was he doing all the way north at Oneida Lake this week?
“That right there,” Howell said, as he opened his bag in the weigh-in line to reveal a limit of five smallmouth bass.
The 38-year-old Springville, Ala., resident already has a Bassmaster Classic berth wrapped up with his 13th-place finish in the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings this year. And since he hadn’t fished the previous Northern Opens, he couldn’t double qualify with a win here.
But Howell couldn’t resist a chance to catch some smallmouth at Oneida Lake. He did that Thursday with a total bag of 15 pounds, 10 ounces, which left him in ninth place after Day One.
Howell loves Oneida so much that he brought along the whole family – his wife and two sons.
“We’ve had a good little vacation up here this week,” Howell said. “It’s a great area to come to in the summer – good food, good stuff all around here, good weather. It’s a nice place after being in Alabama this summer.”
But Howell had another motive. In 2009, he led the Elite Series tournament on Oneida Lake after Day One with 17-9. He dropped to fourth place on the second day. Then fell all the way to 26th on Day Three after catching only four bass, one fish short of the limit.
“That third day was one of the worst mental train wrecks of my life,” Howell said. “I couldn’t do anything right. I’m the only one in the entire field that didn’t catch a limit that day. I finished 26th, but I still missed the cut by a pound and six ounces. One little bitty keeper and I would have still made the top 12 and fished another day.
“That made me so mad. I said I wanted to go back to Oneida to get back at it.”
To an extent, Howell did that Thursday. He said he caught about 25 fish during the day, including a couple of 3 ¾-pound smallmouth.
Although he didn’t know it when he registered for the Northern Opens, the fact that the Elite Series is coming back to Oneida Lake in 2012 made this trip doubly worth it. Though Day Two is the first official day of fall, Howell thinks he can take some lessons from this tournament and apply them to the Elite Series event here next August.
“I’ll be able to get a little more experience up here,” Howell said. “I’ve caught them before here in August, and I’ve been here in June and July. I’ve got waypoints all over the lake.
“You can still go back to the same waypoints and catch fish. The smallmouth here seem to be creatures of habit. I think I’ll definitely leave here with some stuff that might help me next year.”
Howell has noticed a difference in the forage base at Oneida this year. What had primarily been one of yellow perch has now switched to threadfin shad.
“Every time we’ve come here before I’ve always targeted yellow perch,” Howell said. “I’ve caught a lot of fish on perch-colored jerkbaits and topwaters.
“This year, everything I’m catching is eating threadfin shad about three inches long. It’s just like it is in the South. I don’t know if that’s something that happens every year in the fall here, or it’s something that just started happening in this lake. If you don’t find the shad, you aren’t catching any smallmouth right now.”