UNION SPRINGS, N.Y. — As an Alabama resident and former member of the Auburn University Bass Fishing Team, Jordan Lee has spent plenty of time on Lake Guntersville.
On that famed Alabama fishery, largemouth bass wallow out holes in aquatic grass to make their spawning beds — and that’s where Lee always looks for them during the spring.
The fish are doing the same thing on Cayuga Lake this week, and Lee’s hard-earned, home-grown knowledge has put him on the verge of his first career victory on the Bassmaster Elite Series.
The 24-year-old angler caught 17 pounds, 10 ounces of largemouth during Saturday’s semifinal round and maintained the lead in the Busch Beer Bassmaster Elite at Cayuga Lake. His three-day total of 58-2 gave him a narrow lead over Arizona angler Brett Hite (57-3) and Kevin VanDam (56-6) — a Michigan superstar who fished his first event with B.A.S.S. in 1987, four years before Lee was born.
“I’m honestly just a little bit disappointed in the way things went today,” said Lee, who won the Carhartt Bassmaster College Series Classic qualifying event in 2013. “I was hoping to catch a couple of more big ones. I fished clean and probably caught about 25 fish, but I just never had any big bites today.”
Lee hasn’t been “sight fishing” by the typical definition of the term because he hasn’t actually been seeing most of the fish he’s casting to.
But Cayuga is a clear glacier lake with massive flats that have grass growing up from the lake bottom. When Lee finds holes in that grass in about 9 feet of water, he knows they are more than likely home to bedding fish.
“The holes that I’ve been catching most of my fish from have actually been pretty deep,” Lee said. “I went up shallower for a little while today and caught some there, too. I think they’re just all over.
“The fish are spawning right now, doing the same thing they do on Guntersville during the spawn. You can catch them on the same baits.”
Lee has been using a drop shot rig — something that was suggested to him by his brother and fellow Elite Series angler, Matt Lee.
“Matt and I share information, and he told me that he got a few bites on a drop shot during practice,” Lee said. “I went out and tried it, and it’s been working out the last couple of days.”
Though this is only his second year on the Elite Series, Lee understands the level of competition he’s facing as he vies for his first win.
A four-time qualifier for the GEICO Bassmaster Classic and winner of an Elite Series event on Georgia’s Lake Seminole in 2014, Hite has been catching fish at an amazing rate this week. The fishing got so good at one point Friday that he took a break to eat barbecued chicken pizza on the front of his boat.
On Saturday, he hit the fish a little harder and brought 20-6 to the scales to move from 12th place into second with 57-3. He described seeing things on Cayuga that many fishermen have likely never experienced.
“When you reel in a bass on the spot I’m fishing, there are times when the whole school comes with it,” Hite said. “Today, I probably saw it six or seven times.
“You reel in one bass, and there will be 20 more following it. You reel in a pike, and there will be 10 bass with it.”
Hite has been using the two techniques he’s most known for — a drop shot and a bladed jig called the Evergreen Jackhammer.
“The place I’m fishing really just has all of the stereotypical elements that you would expect from a perfect spot on a northern lake for postspawn bass,” Hite said. “It’s just one of those spots you always hope to find in a tournament.”
VanDam has used three separate unnamed techniques to build his third-place weight of 56-6. But he said only two of them worked Saturday, as he brought 17-7 — his lowest weight of the week — to the scales.
“With the slick calm conditions, I just couldn’t make one of them really work,” said VanDam, who recorded his 21st career victory with B.A.S.S. early this year on Louisiana’s Toledo Bend Reservoir. “I spent about two and a half hours doing it and only upgraded once by a few ounces.
“It’s just so hard to get bit fishing fast when there’s no wind like this.”
(Click here to see photos of Jordan Lee's day on Cayuga Lake.)
The tournament will conclude Sunday, as the Top 12 remaining anglers battle for the $100,000 first-place prize. Takeoff will be at 6:15 a.m. ET from Frontenac Park, with the weigh-in back at the park at 3:15 p.m.