SYRACUSE, N.Y. — The weather turned foul on Thursday during the opening round of the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Northern Open No. 1 on Oneida Lake.
But the fishing was nothing short of spectacular.
The 396 professionals and co-anglers participating in the tournament hammered Oneida’s smallmouth bass on the first day of competition, with 150 of the 198 pros boating a five-bass limit.
Connecticut pro Alex Wetherell led the way with five bass that weighed 18 pounds, 9 ounces. Wetherell had his limit just 90 minutes after launch, and he slowly culled up throughout the day. He estimated he caught 25 to 30 smallmouth to put together a bag that was anchored by a pair of 4 1/2-pounders.
“I think my smallest fish was 3-3,” Wetherell said. “Last year, I was going after largemouth, but I gave up on that in practice this year. It looks like it was a good decision.”
Wetherell’s haul was indicative of recent productivity on this 50,000-acre lake, which is the largest body of water located entirely within the state of New York. Oneida is loaded with forage fish such as gobies and perch, and a mayfly hatch has further induced postspawn bass into a feeding frenzy.
The combination has created the perfect storm for fishing, despite the actual storms that plagued anglers Thursday afternoon.
“I had mayflies and crawfish all over my boat today,” Wetherell said. “There are gobies and perch in there everywhere, and I even had to two shad spit up in my livewell today. So the bass, they’re chewing.”
That was evident throughout the weigh-in, which ended with first place and 40th place separated by less than 2 1/2 pounds. Illinois’ Chris Groh (18-5), Pennsylvania’s Stan Sypeck Jr. (18-1) and Virginia’s Charlie Machek (18-0) were the anglers within closest reach of Wetherell’s lead.
Groh said he found a healthy school of bass during practice and saved it for the opening round. He caught his limit (four smallmouth and one largemouth) early on Thursday and now sits only 4 ounces behind the leader.
“I kept checking the school every couple of days,” Groh said. “It wasn’t really abused because a lot of people around me were finesse fishing. I kind of power-fished my way through and got that good weight. Then we went hunting for largemouth.”
Sypeck Jr. was one of the few anglers who specifically targeted largemouth bass. Though most competitors indicated that bite would likely be more unpredictable than the smallmouth action this week, the strategy paid off for Sypeck.
“I fished for smallmouth for three hours and didn’t catch a fish,” Sypeck said. “So I switched to the largemouth and it worked out. I really would have liked to have had some smallmouth bites today, but it is what it is. I left a lot of my stuff alone today. I’m doing something different, and am in some isolated spots. We’ll see how it turns out.”
Bassmaster Elite Series pro David Williams of Maiden, N.C., is competing on Oneida for the first time, and he was pleasantly surprised by the lake’s productivity. He was one of the many anglers knotted near the 17-pound mark.
Williams is officially in a tie for 12th place with 17-5, but is just one small bass out of first given the logjam atop the leaderboard.
“I’m on a pattern that’s productive,” Williams said. “I did well in practice, and there are nice bass all over the lake. I lost one I think would have been more than 5 pounds today. I tried to boat-flip him, and he actually straightened out my hook.
“I get that one and I’m close to 19 pounds, I think. I had about 15 fish, and the smallest one was 2 1/2 pounds. So the lake is fishing well. I’m excited for tomorrow.”
Ricky Congero of Windermere, Fla., is leading the co-angler field after bringing a three-bass limit weighing 11-3 to the scales.
The winning pro will earn a spot in the 2018 GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by DICK’S Sporting Goods, provided he fishes all three Northern Opens on tap this year. In addition, the top pro will win a Nitro Z20 bass boat with a Mercury 225 Pro XS engine, and the top co-angler will win a Triton 179 TrX boat and Mercury 115 ELPT 4-stroke outboard.
The near-capacity field will fish again Friday beginning at 6 a.m. ET. Weigh-in is scheduled at Oneida Shores Park for 2 p.m. The field will be trimmed to the Top 12 pros and co-anglers after Friday’s weigh-in, with those two dozen anglers competing for tournament titles on Saturday.
The Syracuse Convention and Visitors Bureau is hosting the event.