SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Casey Smith admitted he spent most of the day not knowing when or where he would find his next bite, but the pro from Victor, N.Y., made the right decisions and found what he needed to take over the Day 2 lead in the St. Croix Bassmaster Northern Open at Oneida Lake presented by Mossy Oak Fishing.
After placing sixth on Day 1 with 18-7, Smith demonstrated remarkable consistency by adding 18-12 Friday and grabbed the top spot with a two-day total of 37 pounds, 3 ounces. He heads into Championship Saturday with a 2-ounce lead over Jacopo Gallelli, an Italian angler who now lives in Horton, Ala.
“These fish are moving nonstop all day,” Smith said of his day’s disjointed feel. “They’re here one minute, gone the next; sometimes there’s one there, sometimes there’s not.
“I don’t want to say it’s timing, but there’s something going on there. I don’t have that part of it figured out.”
What Smith did figure out was that the bass he was catching were going to be in one of two specific depth zones. He kept those details confidential for one more day but noted the difference was not significant.
“This time of year, they’re going to move out anyway,” he said. “The spawn was a little while ago, they’re just now getting fat, so they’re starting to move, and staying on top of that is going to be key.”
Smith caught his bass on what he termed “typical smallmouth finesse.” The Oneida fish are indiscriminate diners, as evidenced by livewell regurgitations, so once Smith found them, they were generally cooperative.
“I’ve seen them spit up everything — crawdads, perch fry, mayflies, gobies, baitfish,” Smith said. “They did that all through practice and they’ve done it all through the tournament.”
With four nations — the United States, Canada, Italy and Japan — represented in the Top 10, the field of finalists heads into Championship Saturday with less than 3 pounds separating first place from 10th. Smith said he’s hopeful the refinement he was able to accomplish on Day 2 will serve him in the final round, but he knows he needs to figure out a key element.
“I caught more fish today than yesterday, but overall, my size was less,” he said. “I had those five good ones, but more smaller fish showed up. I needed today’s longer day (later flight) to put that together.
“I made some significant upgrades later in the day. They seem to be set up in the morning, but then there’s a midday lull. There’s definitely a morning deal and an afternoon deal, but the midday deal — I need to figure that out tomorrow.”
Gallelli, who placed third on Day 1 with 19-14, caught a Day 2 limit of 17-3 and moved up to second with 37-1. While he opted to keep his details thin, he echoed his Day 1 statement of adjusting to what the day gave him.
“With the wind coming, today was totally different and luckily, the lake made the right decision for me,” he said of his open-minded approach to daily conditions. “I caught more fish than I did yesterday, but doing what I’m doing, it’s more difficult to get to the quality I was getting yesterday.
“I struggled in the beginning, but when the wind picked up, I went to a spot where it was rough, but I caught many. I caught over 15 fish today.”
Gallelli said he caught one big bass on a reaction bait and filled the rest of his limit with finesse baits. The combination of Humminbird 360 and Garmin LiveScope helped him make the right presentations.
Bassmaster Elite Series pro Kenta Kimura of Japan turned in daily weights of 18-15 and 17-3 to place third with 36-2. While most of his competitors were dropping or casting to particular spots, Kimura took a radically different approach.
“I only caught seven keepers today, but the way I’m fishing usually catches bigger ones,” he said. “When the wind started, I was just drifting my spot, just going back and forth.
“I was fishing a Texas-rigged Berkley creature that I designed for Berkley Japan, but I was fishing it without a weight. I would start about 50 yards up from my spot and let the bait drift down. It takes at least 10 minutes each cast, which I hate to do, but nobody else does this.”
Daisuke Kita, also of Japan, is in the lead for Phoenix Boats Big Bass honors with his 4-14.
Co-angler winner John Danza of Andover, N.J., aced his Opens debut with a two-day total of 21-11. Edging Day 1 leader David Winters by 10 ounces, Danza’s victory earned him a first-place award of $22,780.
“I’m dumbfounded right now; my first major tournament ends up being a win,” Danza said. “I just want to thank my Lord and savior Jesus Christ who put this in my heart and it worked out.”
After filling his Day 1 limit of 11-10 with smallmouth, Danza turned in a second-round bag with two smallies and one largemouth that totaled 10-1. He caught his fish on a mix of reaction and finesse baits.
“In the morning, the topwater was key for catching an anchor fish and in the afternoon, it was about putting that Ned rig and drop shot on the right rock,” Danza said. “Later in the day, we went shallow and that’s where I caught my largemouth on a wacky-rigged Berkley PowerBait MaxScent The General.
“My first cast with a popper was a 3 1/2-pounder and I was like ‘Okay, that was a good start.’ But ever since then, it was a grind. I didn’t catch another fish for four hours, but I just caught the right ones.”
Lamar Spade of Saylorsburg, Pa., won the $250 Phoenix Boats Big Bass award on the co-angler side for his 5-13.
Kimura leads the Northern Open standings with 398 points. Alex Wetherell of Middletown, Conn., is second with 388, followed by Kyoya Fujita of Minamitsuru, Yamanashi, Japan, with 376, Cody Meyer of Eagle, Idaho, with 370 and Elite pro Michael Iaconelli of Pittsgrove, N.J., with 365.
John Soukup of Sapulpa, Okla., leads the overall Bassmaster Opens standings with 826 points.
Saturday’s takeoff is scheduled for 6 a.m. ET at Oneida Shores Park. The weigh-in will be held at the park at 2 p.m.
The tournament is being hosted by Visit Syracuse and Onondaga County Parks.