I had a great time following the just finished Elite Series Tournament on Cayuga Lake this past weekend. I was incredibly excited to see how these guys would approach the lake and how they would do. The festivities were a lot of fun and there was some great food available. And man, was the bass fishing great!
I've bass fished Cayuga Lake on a semi-regular basis since around 1986 or 87. I've also caught quite a few incidental bass while fly-fishing or gear fishing for pike and even some while laker jigging. I've guided both largemouths and smallmouths on Cayuga Lake as well and spent a bit of time just observing the shallows throughout the lake. A lot of stuff, like locations that the pros fished didn't surprise me. The winner, Greg Hackney fished a lot of the same areas that Peter Gluszek fished when he won the Northern Open a few years ago. And I've found an occasional school of big bass in those areas too. I knew smallmouths wouldn't be much of a factor. I also knew that bass fishing would be tougher in the lower lake (Ithaca) area. But a few things really impressed me with the pros.
Those guys can cover water amazingly well, as well as break things down and decipher patterns at a completely different level. I was amazed at how the pros often worked miles of "grass" (BASS pro's terms for aquatic vegetation) just fishing for 5 or 6 bites A DAY! These guys located pivotal areas and realized their potential. They knew when to move and when to milk an area, and how to protect it from competitors.
It isn't easy finding "spots on the spot" when there are hundreds and hundreds of acres of what appears to be similar stuff. Third place finisher Chris Zaldain said he spent 14 hours a day, basically for the three practice days just graphing the weeds! That's probably a bit of an exaggeration, but that's the kind of study these guys put in on the lake. Greg Hackney intuitively knew that he would find better fish further down the lake, despite the large schools of solid 2 to 3lb fish up north.
What really impressed me was the number of quality fish and bites these guys found throughout the lake. Tons of 4lb fish were brought in. A lot of fish were also taken shallow and by frogging, which probably surprised some locals. Anyways, Cayuga Lake has morphed into a terrific largemouth bass fishery, more or less lake-wide. When I scan the water in the shallows, like in Taughannock Marina, I see baby bass. Not smallmouths, but largemouths. Clearly the influx of Zebra and Quagga mussels and increased water clarity and weedgrowth, along with the above average water temperatures of the last two decades have really helped the largemouths in this lake.
My buddy Mike and I had a chance to meet John Crews. Great guy. He told me that when there's a smallmouth die-off (like we saw around 7 or 8 years ago) it can take a long time for them to come back. When they do, you'll be hard-pressed to find a better overall bass fishery in the Northeast! Greg Hackney has fished all over the country. He said Cayuga is the best largemouth fishery in the Northeast. Better weights that Champlain. He didn't say it was easy - though I am sure he found it easy(!) but the best! These guys have fished for bass professionally for years - decades in some cases. Think about that. Think about the time you've spent at your profession and what you've learned over the years. Then think about fishing bass all over the country - for probably 150 to 200+ days a year. I feel kind of sorry for some of the guys that try to compete with the pros at the Opens level - they haven't really thought about that stuff. A lot of guys think they can compete with these pros. Very few can. They are THAT GOOD!