Oneida presents advantages

SYRACUSE, N.Y. – No one had any way of knowing when signing up for the 2011 Bass Pro Shop Bassmaster Northern Open series, but fishing Oneida Lake this week could turn into an advantage in the 2012 Bassmaster Elite Series.

That’s because when the 2012 schedule was announced this summer, it included a stop on Oneida Lake to close the regular season, Aug. 23-26.

“I definitely feel like it was a worthwhile investment of time,” said Kevin Short, who finished 31st at Oneida Lake Friday with 26 pounds, 7 ounces. “I learned different ways to catch them here.”

Granted, this week’s tournament was held in late September, when water surface temperatures are in the mid 60s, and next year’s Elite Series event will be held in August, when the temps are likely to be 20 degrees higher, but there were still lessons to be learned here this week that might pay off next season.

“Fishing in September versus fishing in August is going to be a big difference,” said Elite Series pro Bernie Schultz, who finished 70th this week with 20-13. “But I think anybody who is here now is going to have a leg up on next year.”

Any day on a lake provides an opportunity to learn more about the structure of that lake and find new places to fish. But Oneida’s 51,000 acres are giving up some other secrets, too, this week.

“I learned how shallow these fish live,” said Mike Iaconelli, who made the 12 cut to Saturday with 28-13. “Several of my fish (Thursday) came in an area where I thought there was nothing there. All the sudden a four-pounder comes up and just gobbles it. It’s amazing how shallow the largemouth live here. That’s something I never understood until (Thursday).”

Dave Wolak grew up in nearby Pennsylvania and fished Oneida Lake as a child. He’s also fished several Elite Series tournaments here, and he’s noticed some changes.

“It’s changed a lot over the years,” Wolak said. “All the lakes in New York have changed a lot. Zebra mussels have cleared up the water. There are new baitfish in here and a lot of the fish are chasing bait.

“They didn’t do that in the past. It used to be tannic water, and now with the water being clear, they are a lot more baitfish oriented.”

Another trend that has been noticed at Oneida this year is the importance of shad. Previously, the primary forage was crawfish and yellow perch.

“I noticed that in practice,” Wolak said. “You’ll see a ball of shad that is forced up on a shallow reef and you’ll see smallies blowing up on them. I don’t even know how to get these fish to strike. I tried a bunch of different baits and wound up finding a couple of clues to get them to bite.”

Ish Monroe has been the Elite Series pro who has found the most success on Oneida this week, leading the tournament going into Saturday with 35-14. He too has noticed how shallow the bass stay here.

“Once they’ve moved up to spawn, they don’t ever leave,” Monroe said. “They’re in the same place they’ve spawned. You’ve still got to have the right cover and know exactly what you’re looking for with these fish.”

But he offers one warning to any Elite Series pro who thinks he’s gaining an advantage by fishing Oneida Lake this week.

“It’s a little bit different when you’ve got the Elite Series guys out here,” Monroe said. “You’ve got the best of the best then. When you get (Kevin) VanDam and you get (Dean) Rojas here, and Skeet (Reese) out here, it’s a different ballgame.

“You’ve got to share that water. Not that these anglers aren’t good, but those anglers are great.”