UNION SPRINGS, N.Y. — The Bassmaster Elite Series season begins its “Northern Swing” next week with the Bassmaster Elite at Cayuga Lake, in Union Springs, N.Y., June 23-26.
As the nation’s most prestigious bass fishing circuit heads to Northern waters, big smallmouth bass and Northern strain largemouth are primary targets for the touring pros. Cayuga Lake — the second largest of 11 Finger Lakes in east-central New York — is chock-full of both black bass species.
The long, narrow lake stretches nearly 40 miles north to south, averages about 1 1/2 miles in width and covers nearly 43,000 acres. Even with so much fishable water, the anglers will likely be sharing fishing spots as they focus on certain areas with abundant submerged vegetation.
Brian Eisch of Sandy Creek, N.Y., vice president of the New York B.A.S.S. Nation, thinks it will take 60 pounds of bass, or more, across the four-day tournament to win the $100,000 first prize.
“There will be numerous 18- to 20-pound limits of both largemouth and smallmouth bass weighed in each day at this event,” Eisch said. “It’s sure possible to catch them that good each day, but to average that much weight will be difficult. However, if anybody can bring in bags like that, the best anglers in the world can.”
The pros proved that statement in the previous Elite tournament at Cayuga, when Greg Hackney of Gonzales, La., weighed in 85 pounds of bass to win. Hackney enters the event as the leader in Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year points. His 2014 win at Cayuga helped him clinch his first AOY trophy that year.
“The number of quality fish in Cayuga is impressive,” said Eisch, who predicts that it will take a bass heavier than 7 pounds to win the Phoenix Boats Big Bass prize for the tournament. “They primarily rely on a perch and bluegill forage base, and vegetation like coontail and cabbage will hold large numbers of postspawn bass and their food.”
With lake water temperatures being variable — upper 50s on the south end of the lake and into the 70s on the north end — Eisch said that both species of bass would be in transition from full-on spawn to the postspawn phase.
“It wouldn’t surprise me to hear about fish being caught from beds,” he said. “Having said that, I’d expect most of the anglers to focus their efforts on the weed flats that cover much of the northern half of the lake. The big variable will be the wind. If it blows from north to south or vice versa, the lake will get rough, making long trips difficult.”
Veteran Elite Series pro Mike Iaconelli of Pittsgrove, N.J., who has been fishing Cayuga Lake since the early 1990s, doesn’t expect spawning bass to be a factor.
“If we see any spawning activity, it’ll be during the tail end of the spawn,” said Iaconelli, a former Bassmaster Classic champion. “In my experience, the bigger largemouth and smallmouth spawn first, so the winning bass won’t likely come from beds.”
Iaconelli said bass populations are so healthy on Cayuga that he wouldn’t be surprised to see all of the anglers weigh in limits during the first two days.
“The weights will be very tight,” he said. “You could see a quarter of a pound separate 20 places, which will make the competition very intense. But the guy who can find 4-pounders and ‘accent’ one of his limits with a 6-pounder will have a real shot at winning.”
The Busch Beer Bassmaster Elite at Cayuga is the seventh of 11 Elite Series events, including a unique Bassmaster Classic Bracket tournament on the Niagara River out of Buffalo, N.Y. To qualify for the bracket shootout, an Elite pro must finish in the Top 8 at Cayuga. In a first for tournament bass fishing, the competition will be a cast-weigh-release format streamed with “Bassmaster LIVE” technology on Bassmaster.com.
Takeoffs at Cayuga are scheduled daily for 6:15 a.m. ET at Frontenac Park in Union Springs, N.Y., and weigh-ins will be held in the same location at 3:15 p.m.
At stake, in addition to the $100,000 first-place prize, are valuable AOY points, which determine qualifiers for the 2017 GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by GoPro in Houston, Texas.