SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Leaders beware, once again, Dean Rojas lurks in the wings ready to take home the title in the Ramada Champion's Choice on Oneida Lake.
Last year at this time, Rojas was in second place behind Mike Iaconelli. By the time Day Three came to a close, he had taken a 3-pound lead and was well on his way to victory. This year he sits a little bit farther back, in sixth place with 30 pounds, 7 ounces, but that hasn't dampened his confidence that he can make a move.
"I'm right where I want to be," Rojas said. "Not in the lead, but close to striking distance. I was trailing Ike last year when his fish started to run out after Day Two. Those fish move around so much, but the fish I'm targeting are pretty much committed."
Last year, Iaconelli caught a 20-pound bag of largemouth from Oneida to take a slim lead over Rojas. On Day Three, when the majority of the rest of the anglers struggled, Rojas smashed an 18-pound, 3-ounce stringer of shallow largemouth and ran away with the tournament.
Rojas' strategy for the first two days of competition this year has been focused on conserving the fish he has found. He hasn't hit a stretch of water two times in a row, but instead covers water as he alternates through different spots.
"I'm keeping the same approach as last year, alternating between the areas I have," Rojas said. "You have to manage them well because there are so few fish. You kind of go down a bank breezing through it because you have to conserve what's there."
The good news for Rojas is that he will have significantly less company on Day Three when the field was cut from 98 to 50.
"Today will be a lot better because there are only 50 boats out there," Rojas said. "Yesterday, some of the guys went shallow to risk getting a bigger bite because they were farther back and they won't be there today."The biggest surprise for Rojas is that he has yet to catch a 17-pound bag, something he did last year on Day Three on his way to the win. With days of 14 pounds, 8 ounces and 15 pounds, 15 ounces, he has been consistent, but over 3 pounds back of the leader, he needs to put more weight in the boat if he hopes to repeat.
"Today, I realistically need 17 pounds or more to gain on the leader and put myself in contention to win," Rojas said.
With tougher, crowded conditions in 2009, that makes Rojas' challenge that much more difficult, but the frog-skipping expert has the knowledge to do it.