St. Croix Bassmaster Opens

Open analysis: Key adjustments lead to major moves up the leaderboard

SYRACUSE, N.Y– Whether it was the pressure from 225 boats or a slight change in weather conditions, Oneida Lake was not as productive as most anglers would have hoped on Day 2 of the St. Croix Bassmaster Northern Open presented by Mossy Oak Fishing.

While the forecast on Day 2 called for mostly sunny skies, cloud cover moved in for a good portion of the morning hours while slick, calm conditions turned into a decent chop throughout Day 2 on Oneida. 

As a result, the leaderboard shifted tremendously and five anglers who landed outside cut range on the first day of competition jumped into the Top 10 and will be competing on Championship Saturday. 

Consistent smallmouth bags of 18-7 and 18-12 allowed Casey Smith to take the Day 2 lead with 37-3. While it may look similar on paper, Smith had to make a key adjustment to jump from sixth to first on Day 2.

“These fish are moving nonstop all day,” the New York native said. “They are there one minute and gone the next. This time of year as it is, they are going to move out anyways. The spawn was a little while ago and they are just now getting fat. Staying on top of that is going to be key.”

“I caught them in a different depth today than I did yesterday,” he continued. “I don’t know if that is because of seasonal movement or because of weather. But I have caught them in two different ways in two different depths.”

Several anglers improved on their Day 1 catch, including Cody Meyer who rocketed from 43rd to fifth with a 19-0 bag on Friday, giving him a two-day total of 35-10. The Idaho resident’s Day 2 bag was the heaviest of the day and the fourth biggest of the tournament. 

He isn’t catching many bass, only six keepers per day in fact, by switching between a jerkbait, popper and a drop shot. The biggest difference for Meyer was changing the line size on his drop shot. Active Target has also played a role as Meyer is only pitching the drop shot to bass he can see on the graph.

“I changed to 6-pound test line and it made a world of difference,” he said. “I only got six bites, but I couldn’t even get a bite on 8-pound. It was one here and one there. When I look back at it, it was a stressful, hard grind. At the end of the day, today was great. It is a good weight, just hard to catch.” 

While he believes the smallmouth bite better with choppy conditions, Meyer added calm conditions could give him an edge with the way he is fishing. 

Coop Gallant, the winner of the second Southern Open at Cherokee Lake in early April, jumped from 27th to seventh with a two-day total of 34-8. As one of the multiple anglers with a 16-plus-pound bag on Day 1, Gallant was surprised his second day bag of 17-9 was enough to earn a spot for the final day. 

While he continued with his same presentation from Day 1, Gallant narrowed Oneida Lake down to two distinct areas and expanded within those areas. While he did check a couple different spots, Gallant eliminated a bunch of water from his gameplan.

“I’m just fishing clumps of grass out on some main lake flats in 12 feet of water,” he said. “They have been moving around a lot so I have to get on the trolling motor and relocate them and chase them by the minute. Yesterday I kind of fished where I got bites in practice, but I expanded the flat a little bit more and found other groups of fish. I rotated through that whole area and that was the biggest thing for me in catching a little bigger bag.”

Gallant said he would prefer conditions to be calmer for what he is doing, but the added wind on Day 2 didn’t hurt his bite either.

Grae Buck, a former Open champion on this particular fishery, started Friday in 33rd but caught nearly 18 pounds to put himself in contention for his second Opens victory. Buck found a group of smallmouth at the end of Day 1 that he returned to on the second day.

“If I had more time at the end of the day yesterday and I might have been able to bump that weight up,” he said. “The wind makes it a little bit tougher for what I am doing.”

Other anglers, including Kenta Kimura and Jacopo Gallelli, did not find the same quality they did on Day 1 but made just enough adjustments to maintain their spot in the cut and remain in contention for the win. 

Kimura, in particular, thought the increase in wind and waves would help his bite. That did not prove to be the case on Friday, however, as he landed 17-3 to add to his 18-15 bag from Day 1. Although bites were hard to come by, Kimura drifted across his spots when the wind picked up with a weightless creature bait. 

Those presentations can last at least 10 minutes.

“I only caught seven keepers today, but the way I am fishing usually catches bigger ones,” the Elite Series angler said. “I thought the wind was going to help a lot but it really didn’t. I think we beat them up too much or the school isn’t piled up until about now (2 p.m.).” 

Even though his best shallow areas from Day 1 were crowded and ultimately did not produce, Gallelli moved offshore and drifted with the wind to also land 17-3 and claim second-place with 37-1. 

“With the wind coming, today was totally different and luckily, the lake made the right decision for me,” he said. “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.”

Top 10 features international flare

Anglers from four different countries will be competing on Championship Saturday. Including six anglers from the United States, Kimura hails from Japan, Gallant represents Canada and by making the cut, Gallelli becomes the first Italian angler to qualify for the final day of a Bassmaster Open. 

The Top 16 also includes Canadian Patrick Martin and Japanese star Kyoya Fujita, who both narrowly missed the cut. 

The international movement in bass fishing continues to grow and the Opens standings prove more and more anglers from outside the United States will make their way to the Elite stage. Gallant and Fujita have put themselves in position to qualify this year, with Gallant sitting second in the overall standings while Fujita is currently third in the Northern Opens standings after securing a Top 10 cut at the James River in April. 

While a so-so showing at the James River may have him on the outside looking in for an Elite invite this year, Gallelli is rapidly expanding his resume and a win at Oneida will send him to his second Bassmaster Classic, his first coming in 2019.   

Final Day weather

The forecast for Oneida Lake calls for sunny conditions again, but with cooler daytime highs and a 10-15 mph wind from the NW. For some anglers, this will play into their favor while it could hurt others. But with only 10 anglers competing, there will be plenty of room to navigate a choppy lake.