Practice - Day 1
Someone once told me, “Sleep is for the weak.” I'm not so sure about that.
Practice was unorthodox and to fully understand it, I must begin the day before arrival. This event coincided with the first week back in school.
Trying to sufficiently prepare for this event and the first week of school simultaneously is not a chore for the faint of heart. When you are married with three young children, as I am blessed to have, getting ready for a week out of town is not just spooling reels and sharpening hooks. I have to prepare my family and home for my absence as well. And blessed is the right word: not many people have a partner as supportive and selfless as my wife, Nicki.
I left for Oneida on a Friday after the teacher’s first day back. This is a day full of meetings and preparation, but without students. I departed at 3:00, picked up Subway for my wife and children, raced home, then drove our babysitter home. The 9.5 hour drive began at 4:00. After considerable road construction (I should have gotten into the orange barrel and cone business) and a flat tire, I arrived at 2:30 a.m..
Practice - Day 2
I am not sure my body moved an inch between the time I laid down to the time the alarm clock blared at 5:30, but there was no time to waste. This would be a short day on the water - I had to be in class by 7:30 a.m. the next day, so Tom and I rushed to the lake and were afloat by 6:45.
The strategy included testing a number of areas on the eastern half of the lake before 2:00 - my time to begin traveling 9.5 hours home. However, Oneida was in a sour mood that day. Strong winds blew out of the west making the eastern half excessively rough. Four foot waves were ample with several reaching five feet in height. Fishing waves this size is feasible, and I have done so effectively before, but that is when I know where a pod of fish are living. I possessed no such knowledge on this day.
Before heading into the rough stuff, we probed some deeper water while keeping a lookout on the graph for smallmouth bass. Finding fish was not a problem, but catching them was. Despite a lot of baitfish present, bass avoided our baits like a
Practice - Day 3
Sadly, Tom’s fishing report for Monday and Tuesday was a painful one. He had battled more strong winds, waves, and endured a horrific bite. Word was out amongst anglers too - the fish were not biting. At this time I believed my best strategy during the tournament would be to hit as many high potential spots as possible with the hopes of getting my limit. Smallmouth would be my main target. We took off that morning with the goal of probing 15 areas.
I divide Oneida into two parts. The western quarter of the lake is weedy and known for its largemouth with smallmouth also lurking, while the remaining ¾ of the lake is deeper with numerous rocky shoals. Weeds exist as well, but not with the same density. Frenchman and Dunham Islands, the two largest on the lake, separate the two parts. Oneida Shores County Park, site of the tournament and ramp of choice that day, is on the west end of the lake. Conveniently, registration and the mandatory meeting would be held at the launch site so we could maximize our time. We needed to be back by 5:30.
Tournament - Day 2
The part of enduring that many forget is, “suffer without yielding; suffer patiently.” Suffer is used twice, and i does not guarantee any kind of success. Day 2, was not glorious. It was painful, but I did endure; I will be back.
Even though I did not manage many fish on Day 1, Keitech Shoal was holding a good population of fish, so I would begin there. In fact, I was stoked. There was no doubt in my mind I would catch a limit of fish there and make a big jump on the leaderboard. My biggest concern was being boat #102. How many other boats would already be there?
The answer was four; the same four boats from yesterday. Conditions were slick calm, and would remain so all day. Knowing that ahead of
Tournament - Day 1
I was boat #7 and determined it was necessary to race down to the east end of the lake first and target the largemouth before someone else did. The rock jetty would be my second target. It took 17 minutes to travel the 20 miles as the lake was glass calm.
My first casts were to the exact spot of the big fish from the day before. Cast 1 produced nothing. Cast 2 produced nothing. Cast 3 produced nothing, and so did the rest. I moved on and cast the Stik-O to the other boats and docks in the area and never got a bite. Suddenly, another boat showed up and began casting to the rock jetty. He caught a solid keeper on one of his first casts. Grrrr.
We worked our way around the jetty with Stik-O’s, topwater, and jigs towards the slop that produced the frog fish. Nothing produced a strike. Onto the next set of boats, and they, too, failed.
Barely a ripple was prevalent on Day 2 of the tournament. It was dead calm. This usually coincides with a terrible bite, and this day was no different. Despite that, I still had enough bites to have a good bag of fish, Unfortunately...
Endure. That is a word worth applying in life. Dictionary.com offers six definitions, and my favorite is number five: to support adverse force or influence of any kind; suffer without yielding; suffer patiently. I have not come across a word more fitting for a tournament angler.
Case in point, I believed my 1000 Islands trip presented more than ample challenges for an entire season, but the forces above felt the FLW Costa event on Oneida Lake should develop my endurance even further.
Before I begin on that, let me boast and praise. After the three FLW Costa tournaments, I finished 29 out of 197 professional anglers in the Standings. Overall, I am proud of that, but I had opportunities to finish much higher and failed to capitalize. Several breaks went against me on Oneida Lake, which could have vaulted me close to that Top 10. Instead I dropped nine spots after the final event.
My success is the result of countless supporters. My sponsors, family, and friends are obvious and praiseworthy, but so is my employer. As a proud teacher at Urey Middle School for the John Glenn School Corporation, I am blessed to work with an incredible staff, including my supervising principal, Mr. Mark Maudlin. Understand, the week at Oneida was also the first week school was in session after summer break. No week is more vital to establish routine, rapport, and trust with students than this week. Yet, Mr. Maudlin granted me three personal days so I could pursue my fishing ambitions. I begin by thanking him.
Vengeance was on my mind. In 2015 I participated in the BASS Northern Open on Oneida Lake and finished respectively, but I still believed I under performed. After Day 1 I sat in 102 place out of 196 professionals; I failed to execute. On Day 2 I did much better and jumped 41 spots to finish 61. I was determined to rectify my mistakes from 2015.
Here’s what unfolded.
Normally August has stable weather, but the entire week at Oneida Lake was the opposite. It had storms, wind, dead calm conditions, rainbows, and everything in between.
Day 1 was going to be different from any other practice day before. There was a BFL tournament being held on Oneida that Saturday, and since I was going to be on the lake practicing, I gambled and entered it; however, I signed on as a co-angler. This would be my first time in the back of the boat, which would be a good experience, but also a risk. It was my hope to be shown sides of the lake I had not seen. Unfortunately, I had to wake up at 4:30 to meet my boater for the day, thus, grabbing less than two hours of sleep.
Being exhausted was a given, but I had little doubt I could stay focused throughout the tournament. For the past 16 months I had been working hard to get my body in good physical condition by jogging and working out 4-5 days a week. I have lost some weight and my body has toned up considerably, and I felt this would give me the energy to stay sharp while on the water.
It worked out as planned; unfortunately, the fish did not care about my conditioning. They completely ignored my partner and I. In nine hours we covered a number of shoals, yet, he only caught one smallmouth, one largemouth, and one pike. I hooked two sublegal largemouth, one pike, and one 3 pound smallmouth, which bit a custom painted goby colored Strike King 5XD crankbait by TC Custom Lures. Simply put, we were not around large congregations of fish.
Regardless, I observed the weed growth on Oneida was much greater than last year, and the bite was wicked tough. Only about 30% of the participants weighed a limit of fish. An additional observation I took note of was that smallmouth seemed to be bigger players than largemouth, and that helped mold my plan of attack.
My original plan also included going out for a few hours before the sunset that day, but a wicked storm blew in and washed out that idea. Completely void of energy, I instead went to the hotel and met my travel partner, Tom Stark. By 7:30, I was out cold until the alarm clock begrudgingly woke me.
Day 2 of practice was made more difficult because of a stiff West breeze. The waves in the video are only 2-3 feet in height, but there were numerous 4 footers with an occasional 5 footer.
plague. After 60 minutes of this, we eased onto a shoreline in 10 feet of water, and Tom quickly had a strike by a 3.5 pound smallmouth with a topwater bait, but it came unbuttoned. Shortly after that I caught a 2 pound smallmouth on a rattle trap (of course it was custom painted by TC Custom Lures in a bluegill pattern). Then we challenged the swells.
We persevered for a few hours, but floating around did little more than physically beat up Tom, myself, and my equipment. After three hours of slinging drop shots rigs, tube baits, and Carolina rigs without provoking a bite, we went back to the same shoreline that produced a few fish. Here Tom caught a pair of pike, a pair of redear, and a 2 pound smallmouth on a spinnerbait. I added a pike on the same rattle trap. Not exactly a knockout kind of place, but at least minimum consistency and worthy of remembering.
For the last hour of time, we went into a marina to target largemouth. Tom had a 4 pound largemouth attack his jig and we witnessed a largemouth being caught by another boat, but that was the extent of our findings. Clearly, I had not established any kind of legitimate pattern, but I refused to push the panic button. Tom would remain and fish Monday and Tuesday, plus, I would fish all day Wednesday.
After Day 3, the eve of the tournament, I felt great about my odds. Despite an exceptionally tough bite on the lake, I knew I had located some bigger fish. My challenge would be getting them to bite. That challenge, among others, grew were prevalent throughout both days of the tournament.
We began on the western end, but a variety of topwater, soft plastics, jigs, and crankbaits did not harvest a single fish on four spots. Finally, after working our way to the southeast corner of Dunham Island I plucked a 2.5 pound smallmouth on a drop shot rig matched with a Rod Bender Baits 3” scamper.
From there we began hopping shoals, but only hauled water until a 3 pound smallmouth bit my goby colored crankbait on a long skinny shoal. The next shoal produced a 3 pounder for Tom on a Carolina rig. Shortly after he had another bite his rig. I called this the “Keitech” shoal as a boat wrapped by Keitech was present.
After a handful of more shoals and hours without another strike, we headed to the most eastern end of the lake. We began probing the deeper water and saw fish on the graph but could not coax a bite, so we went shallow. Upon arrival in the shallow water I had that sweet, fuzzy feeling in my belly: you know the one, that feeling that I was in a fishy area.
My first cast was with a BPS Stik-O next to a boat. After deadsticking it for several seconds I saw that magical hop in the line and set the hook. Moments later I boated a 4 pound 10 ounce largemouth (pictured left). I put the trolling motor on high and came upon a rock jetty. Tom immediately got a bite on a jig. With the trolling motor still on high I rounded a corner with boats and thick emergent vegetation. A 2.5 pound largemouth quickly sucked in my frog bait and
joined us in the boat. Just 30 feet later I boated a small largemouth on the Stik-O. That fishy feeling was confirmed. Momentum had shifted onto my side. Andy just got a clue.
Before racing to the ramp we checked out two areas where I physically saw fish cruising in shallow water, but could not trick them into biting. That’s alright though, I had largemouth east from there eager to play along.
That night I slept well and confidently. I was confident I could get my limit. Granted, the bite was bad, but all I needed was five bites.
Endure the day, endure the slow bite, and I’ll endure to the end. At least, I thought so.
I am a guy who was a teenager in the 90's, so of course I love Arnold Schwarzenegger. My wife knows this too and sent me an inspirational quote before take off on Day 1. The Terminator has never been more right.
Once the rock jetty was vacant I was on it, and, simultaneously, so was the rain. It was symbolic, really. The skies opened up on us. Luckily fish are already wet and did not seem to mind; however, only small fish were prevalent. Over the next hour my co-angler and I caught 15 fish, but only a single keeper a piece. Before leaving the area, we worked over the same stretch of docks and jetty, but never caught a keeper.
With the rain departed, I raced to the bank Tom and I had minimal success on Sunday. I wanted to begin by casting to the large dock that protrudes from the shore, but there was an older couple on top of it casting out their own lines. While going over the waypoint a fish swiped at my white swimbait and ripped off the tail, but it ignored my other offers. Another stole a drop shot bait.
After soaking the area I sped to a small marina close by where Tom missed a 4 pounder on Sunday, and it was deja vu, except this time it was me who had the 4 pounder chase my bait as I was reeling it in. I never had an opportunity to set the hook and it would not show itself again. Another 30 minutes went by without a bite and suddenly the pressure began to mount.
Breathe and endure.
The “Keitech” shoal seemed like the next best spot. Upon arrival there were four other boats sitting on its shallow side. I was taken aback to see so many other boats, but quickly learned why. Shortly after landing I saw a fellow professional land a fish, then realized he was culling. Quickly after that another angler caught one; then another, and another, another, another…
In all I saw at least 20 keeper smallmouth caught in that area. We all just trolled around each other like a game of Ring Around the Rosie, but I was the only one not scoring any fish! It was maddening. I could see what they were using - a wacky rigged senko, the same outfit I successfully used on the Potomac River. I could not believe my own eyes. I am not accustomed to being the guy who cannot catch a few.
Finally with frustration escalating I slung an Xtreme Bass Tackle tube in the Formula G3 pattern and got my first bite, and it was a dandy. She bit 40 feet away and jumped two times on her way to the boat. This fish was no slouch, she was well over five pounds. Typical for smallmouth, she dug down under the boat, and I held on for my life. My eight pound fluorocarbon line was not going to muscle her. After 10 seconds of her digging she suddenly, without provocation, came unbuttoned. She was gone! (Adding salt to the wound was that the biggest bass of the day was five pounds even.)
I was sick, but pouting resolves nothing and just kept slinging. Two casts later another opportunity came knocking. This time another quality fish gobbled up the tube and tried the same tricks as the previous fish, but I was not denied this time. The smallmouth weighed 3-11. Regrettably, though, that was the final fish for me that day. The final 90 minutes saw all other boats leave because the fish either left or entirely quit biting. They left me scratching my head.
My two fish weighed 5-13 and put me in 76 place. It was an abysmal beginning, and I had lost any shot at claiming a cash prize, but Day 2 has historically been my better day. Out of the previous six professional events, I made a move up the leaderboard on Day 2 in five of them. I hate fishing for points and pride, but that is what I had left, and I would do it.
time, I rigged up my favorite topwater bait - a TC Custom Lures Buzzjet. Almost immediately I had a blow up on it, but the fish only swiped it. That concerned me, because a smallmouth swiping at a bait in three feet of water in dead calm conditions won’t miss a bait unless it is only swiping at it. Less than a handful of casts later a smallmouth ate it and the battle was on.
I am not sure when I did this, but I obviously loosened the drag on my reel a considerable deal and forgot to tighten it, so when I set the hook the fish immediately began pulling too much drag. Consequently, the hook penetration was insufficient and I paid the price. On the fish’s second jump, it got away. Over three hours I would have one more swipe on the topwater, but it too missed the bait. My co-angler caught a pike on topwater and missed two other swipes. Before leaving I heaved a slew of other baits, but only hauled water.
Little choice remained but to try for the largemouth on the east end. This time I began on the rock jetty, but to no avail. I began skipping the Stik-O under some boats and caught a small keeper. After an hour in the area, that, and a large rockbass, was all I amassed. It was now 1:00, and time to get aggressive.
We began hopping shoals. The first three were utter failures, but the fourth saw some fireworks. With the same goby-colored Strike King 5XD from all week, a small smallmouth smashed my bait. Regardless, it was my second keeper and it bit so aggressively I believed it was a sign of good things to come.
Five casts later another smallmouth pummeled the crankbait and this one was heavy. I kept pressure on it for a few seconds before a beautiful smallmouth over four pounds leaped into the air 15 feet from the boat. The only probe was, he successfully dislodged the bait while leaping. Another big fish got away…
We remained in the area and 30 minutes later I landed a walleye. That is the wrong species, but it is a predator, and I always conclude that if the area has enough food for one predator, others are also present. Ten minutes passed and another walleye.
Twenty more minutes passed when another opportunity rang. This time a smallmouth over three pounds obliterated my crankbait. It jumped two times before getting to the boat. When I got it close, it dug down under the boat, however, it was hooked solidly. Instead of pulling it up too fast, I let it wear itself out, but, instead, it abruptly popped loose.
I turned to my co-angler and exclaimed, “This is a big joke!” In the past two days I had hooked and lost 16 pounds, and that is a conservative estimate. That alone would have vaulted me inside the top 30. Upon examination of my crankbait, that smallmouth had literally straightened out a hook, thus its escape. These are the types of inevitable days that anglers have nightmares about.
Endure until the end.
With less than three hours to go I kept plugging away by alternating between the crankbait, tube, topwater, dropshot, and Stik-O. My final strike came in the last 30 minutes when another large smallmouth swiped at the buzzjet. I finished with a pathetic 2-14 pounds and ended in 82 place. It was my second worst finish in a professional event, and only the second time I did not move up on Day 2.
The 2016 FLW Costa Northern Division was a ton of fun. While it had an adequate share of bad fortune, I became a better angler, made many new friends, met countless bass enthusiasts, and promoted our sport with dignity.
I endured the entire season. After a good beginning on the Potomac River I was struck with numerous challenges at both the 1000 Islands and Oneida Lake tournaments. Still, I finished 29 in the final Standings. My goal was a top 10 finish, but I came up short because I lacked the execution.
A good angler can get the bites, as I did at Oneida, but a great angler will turn those bites into results. I lost key fish at the Potomac as well. A good angler will find a way to be respectable despite mechanical issues, as I did at 1000 Islands, but a great angler will adjust enough to be competitive. I did not.
Still, I am one lucky dawg. One look at my affiliations and you’ll see how lucky I am.
Bass Pro Shops in Portage, Indiana took a gamble on me three years ago and that momentum has only grown. Everything began with them.
Craig Dennis of TC Custom Lures not only puts a personal touch on every hard bait I use, but he has been a constant cheerleader and his positive vibe has helped me overcome numerous tests. If you have read this report, you have seen the significance.
Terry VanDaele of Schnelker Marine has been my savior in a number of ways. He has given me platforms, priceless business advice, and on two separate occasions loaned me a fully rigged Nitro boat when mine had mechanical issues.
Preston Shumway from Megaware KeelGuard is a constant source of support. His confidence in me has grown my own confidence. KeelGuard protects my boat, and if you’ve followed my career you know that is a big deal.
CalCoast Fishing by Dave Romanus has helped in ways he does not fully comprehend. If you like order in your tackle, it is a must to look at his products. A drop shot and umbrella rig are no longer making messes in my boat. Efficiency is his game.
"Nothing attracts a crowd like a crowd," except a wrapped boat and truck. I could not estimate how many people I have met the past two years because of the boat and vehicle wrap. It is hard to imagine an easier way to advertise and grab interest. Rather at convenience stores, stop lights, or hotels, people of all races and backgrounds have initiated conversation. The gentlemen above and I had nightly conversations about fishing, families, and local cuisine.
You cannot live in my neck of the woods without being competent with a tube bait, and Wayne Carpenter makes the best on the market with Xtreme Bass Tackle. The Canadian Mist and Formula G3 color schemes have won me more money than any other bait in my tackle box.
The Lock-n-Haul Transom Saver by Jim Smith has traveled through several states and thousands of miles with me. It keeps my outboard in place and generates inquiries from countless onlookers.
ProX Outfitters and Greg Rekeweg became my go-to team this year when I needed something, anything. And just for my faithful followers I have a promotional code for you. If you visit ProX Outfitters online use this code to receive a 10% discount - R&B 2016.
In conclusion, I still have a great deal to learn and must improve greatly to consistently compete at this level, but I am knocking on that door, and 2017 will be a pivotal season.
Congratulations Tom Stark!
My travel partner Tom Stark finished 4th Place as a co-angler at Oneida Lake. His final day partner, Chris Johnston, posed the question, "What are you doing in the back of the boat?" I could not ask it any better, Chris. It is time for Tom to get up front.
Day 1: A 13-8 pound limit put Tom in 10th Place.
Day 2: Three fishing weighing 7-11 pounds moved him up to 8th place.
Day 3: A final day limit of 11-5 pounds landed Tom in 4th place.