SYRACUSE, N.Y. — On paper, it looks like Bill Perkins had a great day of fishing, but the New York pro said that leading Day 1 of the Basspro.com Bassmaster Northern Open at Oneida Lake with 18 pounds, 11 ounces was anything but easy.
Perkins, who leads second-place Billy Payne of Lackawaxen, Pa., by an ounce, said his day was heavier on quality than quantity.
“My weight doesn’t reflect how tough it was today,” Perkins said. “I got lucky and got the right bites. When you see a guy catch (nearly) 19 pounds, it’s kind of assumed that he (had a good day), but it’s supertough.”
Perkins said the day’s windy, rainy weather definitely impacted his fishing. For one thing, the smallmouth bass he targeted are primarily sight feeders that prefer sunny, clear conditions.
Also, Oneida’s mostly a wide-open fishery and Perkins’ midlake spots were fully exposed to the strong winds that arrived midmorning. Countering the rough water required tackle adjustments.
“I’m using the standard smallmouth fare — drop shots, Ned rigs, stuff like that — but I had to increase my weight sizes just to get my bait to the bottom in time,” Perkins said. “I wasn’t using different baits, I just had to make modifications.”
Slow, patient presentations proved most effective today, as Perkins achieved his best results by letting his bait soak in the productive areas.
“I’m running a bunch of different spots in a dozen different areas,” Perkins said. “I was just recycling through (several) spots.
“It’s just a total timing deal, and that’s the most terrifying thing for me. I don’t think I had much throughout the morning; I don’t think I got a bite from a bass until 11:30 — I was catching a bunch of drum.”
As Perkins explained, what makes Oneida productive can also make it frustrating.
“Those smallies are supernomadic and if they’re there, they’re there, and if they’re not, oh my gosh, they’re not,” he said. “I think they’re just following bait schools, and there’s just so much good (habitat) here, they have a lot of places to be.
“Oneida Lake has so much great cover that there’s a lot of dead water. You have to cover so many spots.”
Perkins said he caught his bass in a range of 9 to 14 feet. He hit several particular depths and ultimately found a particular type of bottom composition most productive.
“The fish are really spread out,” Perkins said. “There doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to it; they’re just spread out.”
Payne caught his second-place limit of 18-10 by fishing what he described as a presentation less common to Oneida. Noting that he was all alone in his area, Payne said he targeted rock structure and left his fish biting.
“If you want different, you gotta do different,” Payne said. “So, I mixed it up and went out doing what I’m comfortable doing at home. I put it together and we cleaned ’em up.”
Although Payne kept his details slim, he said he fished “one bait, one rod” all day. He said he tried drop shotting, but since that was not in his wheelhouse, he stuck with his power-fishing technique.
Sam George of Athens, Ala., and Thomas Hughes of Cicero, N.Y., tied for third place with 18-2. George caught his bass with finesse baits on two offshore spots. His morning fish came from rocky structure in 20 to 24 feet, and he added three key culls in the afternoon from a slightly deeper spot.
“I didn’t have a lot to go on; I only had nine bites (in practice),” George said. “I found one place that was a big, vast area and I stayed there four or five hours. I was pretty content with it, and I had probably two hours of fishing time left and I went to a place where I had one bite in practice, but it was a big bite.
“I didn’t really know the potential of this spot, but today, when I pulled up, there was a lot more there than I’d thought. I culled probably four or five times in the last hour and left them.”
Hughes said Thursday’s inclement weather nixed his plan to throw topwaters in the morning. Drawing on his extensive local knowledge, he worked an area where he knew the fish would be positioned by the east wind.
“I stayed in one small area all day and ended up getting six bites,” he said. “I had to slow down and really let the bait sit in an area.”
J.T. Thompkins of Myrtle Beach, S.C., and Michael Zampese of Haskell, N.J., share the lead for Phoenix Boats Big Bass honors. Both caught fish that weighed 5-3.
David Booth of Erin, Tenn., leads the co-angler division with 11-15. Anchoring his day’s three-fish limit with a 4-10 smallmouth, he caught one bass early on a reaction bait, but everything he weighed came on a shaky head with a homemade 2 1/2-inch soft-plastic newt (salamander-style) bait.
“Luckily, I got up here about 10 days ago to practice and found out (this presentation) worked,” Booth said. “That’s the first time I’ve tried that presentation, but it won’t be the last.”
Mark Kendra of Great Meadows, N.J., holds the Phoenix Boats Big Bass lead among co-anglers with a 4-13.
Brandon Palaniuk of Rathdrum, Idaho, leads the Northern Open points standings with 387 points. Mike Iaconelli of Pitts Grove, N.J., is in second with 373, followed by Spike Stoker of Cisco, Texas, with 372, Hugh Cosculluela of Spring, Texas, with 359 and Alex Redwine of Blue Ash, Ohio, with 357.
Jacob Powroznik of North Prince George, Va., leads the overall Falcon Rods Bassmaster Opens points standings with 863.
Friday’s takeoff is scheduled for 6 a.m. ET at Oneida Shores Park. The Day 2 weigh-in will take place back at the park at 2 p.m. The Day 3 weigh-in will shift to the Bass Pro Shops in Auburn, N.Y., at 3:15 p.m.
The full field will compete the first two days before the boater side is cut to the Top 10 anglers for Championship Saturday. The co-angler champion will be crowned after the Day 2 weigh-in. Coverage of the event will be available at Bassmaster.com.
Visit Syracuse and Onondaga County Parks are hosting the event.