The $300,000 CITGO Bassmaster Northern Open will not only pay off handsomely for the winner (to the tune of $50,000), but there is much more at stake as the top 20 finishers will earn tickets to the no-entry-fee Open Championship at a yet-to-be-announced site in December. The top performers in the championship will receive a ride to the coveted CITGO Bassmaster Classic next summer.
Oneida Lake provides an intriguing place to stage such an important season-ending shootout.
Few of the 200 pros and their amateur partners know much about the 51,072-acre lake that is hosting its first BASS event. The largest inland lake in New York is best known as a walleye fishery, but healthy largemouth and smallmouth bass populations live in the 22-mile-long, 5-mile-wide body of water.
Randy Yager, a past BASS winner from Syracuse, is one pro who knows Oneida well.
"It's a good lake and the fishing should be pretty good," Yager said. "But the lake has gotten stirred up from the leftovers of the hurricane. So the water has gotten a little dirtied up. It's a lot different than it usually looks, but I think it will clear up some each day - as long as the wind doesn't blow again from the East like the hurricane did.
"I'm guessing the (winning weight) will be in the low 50s. It's a lake that has a lot of fish, but it's really hard to catch a 20-pound string. The good fish are all 3 1/2 to 4 pounds. You don't catch many over 4."
Ohio pro and Northern Open competitor Frank Scalish likes the looks of Oneida Lake.
"It's a natural lake. It's got a very prevalent first shelf and shoals formed by glaciers," he said. "It has a prevalent weedbed in the zero to 8-foot range. So I'm going to bet that there will be a pretty heavy spinnerbait and topwater bite going on.
"It definitely has a huge smallmouth population, but its largemouth population is underutilized and could potentially lead to bigger stringers. But you are going to have to really hunt and peck to get a good three-day limit sack of largemouths. I'm going to look for largemouths, so hopefully one day I'm going to get a huge string of largemouths and then finish the tournament out on smallies. If you can jump into the lead with a big bad of largemouths, the smallmouths can carry you the rest of the tournament."
Yager believes that about 70 percent of the tournament catch will be smallmouths.
Although he is one of the few pros with an intimate knowledge of the lake, Yager says he shouldn't automatically be labeled a pre-tournament favorite.
"I live 20 minutes from the lake and I've been fishing it for years," Yager said. "I don't think I have an advantage, the way I look at it. It's a very prolific lake and it fishes the same pretty much all the way around. And the fish are everywhere. Just about anybody can get on them.
"It's your typical smallmouth fishing up north. It's a lot of grass and rocky boulders that you go down fishing. Everybody catches fish and you never know who will catch the bigger ones."
Anglers will launch at 6:45 a.m. daily. Weigh-ins will be open to the public at 3:15 p.m. daily at Oneida Shores Park.
BASS is the world's largest fishing organization, sanctioning more than 20,000 tournaments worldwide through its Federation. The CITGO Bassmaster Tournament Trail is the oldest and most prestigious pro bass-fishing tournament circuit and continues to set the standard for credibility, professionalism and sportsmanship as it has since 1968.
Sponsors of the CITGO Bassmaster Tournament Trail presented by Busch Beer include CITGO Petroleum Corp., Busch Beer, Chevrolet Trucks, Yamaha Outboards, Mercury Marine, Skeeter Boats, Triton Boats, Lowrance Electronics, Flowmaster Exhaust Systems, Kumho Tires, Progressive Insurance, Abu Garcia, Berkley, Diamond Cut Jeans, MotorGuide Trolling Motors, and BankOne.
Associate Sponsors include Bryant Heating and Air Conditioning and G3 Boats.
Local sponsors include Syracuse Convention & Visitors Bureau.
For more information, contact BASS Communications at (334) 551-2375 or visit www.bassmaster.com.