FLW Costa Series Oneida Lake
In the last article I wrote, I went over the mental challenges of fishing events and how it can quickly turn your tournament result from good to bad if you do not condition your mind to be prepared for every situation that is thrown at you. I had no idea I was already writing about my next event...
Breaking Down Oneida Lake
Oneida Lake is approximately 21 miles long and five miles wide and is a fairly shallow lake with plenty of weeds and rocks for fish to hide. The common forage for bass in the lake are perch, shiner and gobies. With the shape of the lake a light wind in the wrong direction can create hazardous fishing conditions for the anglers very quickly. This time of year many of the bass start to school up and this would be a key to dialing in some bites for a limit each day on the lake. Oneida is also one of the few lakes where you can find schooling fish pushing bait to the surface which creates a great top water bite and can quickly help you find a group of fish.
My Practice Strategy
Each morning I would be on the water just as it was getting light and I would have locations picked out where I thought I might be able to see some fish busting the surface. There is also another way of locating that morning bite and that is to pay attention to the birds looking to feed on the bait that was pushed up by schooling bass. On my second morning of practice I witnessed just that as I idled into a long point on the inside of a large bay. I continued to watch that area as I idled towards it looking for activity, I then saw a light ripple just under the surface which appeared to be minnow attempting to elude hungry bass. As I pulled up and quickly made my first cast with a Zara Spook, the first twitch of the bait the water exploded as a decent smallmouth attempted to eat the bait. At that time, I did not have hooks on the lure, Oneida has never fished well for me in the past and I was concerned about hooking too many of the fish and I would need to catch them during tournament days, not practice days. As I continued to work the bait back to the boat a group of three smallmouth bass continued to try to eat that bait all the way back to the boat, close enough that I could see and judge the size of them as they stopped beside the boat. They were all good quality fish. I decided to then pull off the area about 100 yards to see if I could catch a few fish that were not grouped up in the school. My efforts quickly paid off as the next few cast I landed some average size largemouth.
As the sun came up each day the top water bite would shut off and it would then be time to search deeper structure. The rest of that day proved uneventful as I only caught one other fish on a swimbait, which did not excite me very much because it seemed like a random bite.
The Importance of Electronics
The next morning, I again started on another potential top water spot and was able to get a couple of good bites, and then as the sun came up the bite shut off. This time I went back to the area where I had the schooling smallmouth and caught some largemouth. My intentions were to use my side imaging sonar to see what was holding the fish in that location. As I idled by the location of schooling smallmouth I could see my graph was cluttered with weeds that came up in 6-8 foot of water. As I made my next pass looking to see what made that spot so sweet, there it stood out a small pocket in the weeds that had a chunk of rock on it about the size of a large cooler. That had to be was making that place so good. I then idled the rest of that bay looking for the same type of rock hidden in the weeds. In that area I was able to find six other little rock piles which I marked with my GPS as I passed by them. Once I marked all these locations I pulled up on them to see if these locations would hold fish. I made a precise cast to that rock pile with an Eco Pro Tungsten heavy weight football jig ½ oz. in green pumpkin color. The bait was quickly engulfed by a 3-pound smallmouth. I knew right then I was onto a good pattern. At that point I decided not to fish the other locations that I had marked and would just fish them when the tournament day came.
I continued the rest of my practice week using the same practice pattern, starting shallow with top water in the mornings if the conditions were right and moving to look for deeper structure in the afternoon. Much of my day after the morning bite consisted of me idling on the big motor and using my electronics to locate small rock piles hidden in the grass. Although I was not locating large schools of fish I was catching a quality fish off each of these deeper spots I located. Once I got a bite on the location or caught a fish I would leave that area alone in an attempt to make sure I would have plenty of fish to catch on the tournament day.
Paying attention to Future Weather Patterns
This season I learned the importance of paying attention to present weather patterns and watching the future weather patterns. Each day I would pull up the weather on my phone and take screen shots of the current weather morning, noon and evening. I was also looking ahead trying to pay attention to what the conditions would be on our tournament days. My practice period consisted of several days in a row of slick flat condition which made for great top water. I also knew that many calm days in a row we would be due for some nasty weather, if that came on event day I would also need to figure out a way to catch those fish. With two practice days left the weather pattern came that I was hoping to see, as I opened the door of the camper I was greeted by strong gusting winds out of the East. This wind will make big waves and tough fishing conditions. As I launched the boat, it was worse than I thought and the conditions on the lake were strong blowing winds and big waves. One thing about Oneida is under these conditions it does not give you very many places to hide out of the wind and try to catch fish but I knew I had to make something work. I found a location somewhat tucked in a bay, although the wind was still blowing hard it was my best option. I moved in super shallow and would use my Power Poles to anchor the boat while I fished the castable area. The day came and went and I caught one smallmouth, but it was my biggest fish of practice. At that time, I really could not tell why the fish related to the area, the water was muddy. I marked the spot in hopes that the fish or another one would show itself if I had to go there during the event.
My practice time finished and I felt confident going into the event, overall I had found about 20 different locations. Most of these spots were small secluded rock piles hidden in the grass off shore. The weather for the event looked perfect, calm conditions which would hopefully make my top water spot put good limits in the live well. The event was important for me as I had to have a good finish in order to make the Championship. I figured I needed a top 20 finish in this event in order to finish the year in the standings 40th or above which qualifies you into the FLW Costa Championship.
Day one came and I was boat 104, way to the back of the pack, which always adds a little stress wondering how many people might have found the same fish. Still I was confident and had plenty of offshore stuff to fish that people might not have found. As I waited for my number to be called out everything was in order when all of the sudden the fish finder and GPS that sits in front of me at the driver’s seat began to flash. I thought to myself this cannot be happening right now. I had just written an article about the same circumstances and how anglers can overcome situations like this, but I really did not need it to happen to me right at this moment. As I am thinking that the unit finally powers off and won’t turn back on. At this point I feel the wheels start to spin, like they could come off. I need to put the brakes on and stay focused. I quickly went to the front of my boat and adjusted the front unit up in the air so I could see it from my driver’s position. I set my GPS up and could see good enough to get me to my area, then I could get on my trolling motor and dial in the spot using the front graph. As they call out boat 90 the GPS alarm goes off on my front graph, now I have no mapping anywhere in the boat. I actually laughed to myself and said well that is just how my luck goes and I will need to deal with it.
I took off and drove to my first location, unable to put my boat on the specific rock pile I had to search and fan cast the area in hopes to locate the fish. I eventually did after about an hour and was able to put three fish in the live well. The top water bite quickly shut off and it was time to move to my deeper offshore stuff, which I knew would be a huge problem. It took me hours of searching to find these tiny rock pile using my graphs and the chances of me finding them without GPS location would be difficult but I was going to give it a try. I hit my first two locations and attempted to make them work with no results. At that point with two hours left in the day I realized I had to throw away everything I did during practice and find a shallow water bite in an attempt to finish out a limit and keep me in the hunt for day two. The day came and went, the alarm sounds on my phone and its time to head back to weigh in. I decide to chance it for five more minutes and on my third cast I catch my biggest fish of the day. I weighed in a little over 12 pounds and it had me sitting in the 34 position going into day two.
That evening I located another graph to use and it appeared to be working which would let me fish my deeper spot and try to make up some ground. I was boat number four and I was ready and then my lucky streak continued and just as I launch my graphs became plagued with whatever issue they were having and once again shut down. This time I was even more focused and determined to still get the job done, thinking there is a reason for this to happen. I went to my first top water spot in the morning and the fish were feeding like crazy as I approached. I had several major explosions on my top water bait and never connected with any of the fish. The action stopped as quickly as it started. My next move was to just go shallow and fish, not worrying about wasting time on my deep stuff that I could not find without using GPS. I decided my second stop would be where I caught that giant smallmouth during the windy conditions, but I was unsure what the area would really hold or how it would look. To my surprise as I pulled in the water had cleared and what I had found was a three-foot ditch of rock that sat between two deeper sections of water. The location was crystal clear and I could see fish swimming around in it. I put the power poles down to anchor and proceeded to catch a limit out of that hole of about 11 pounds. Once the spot was worn out I searched for other similar locations, each time I hit them I would throw a variety of baits attempting to get a bigger bite. As the day was ending I returned to my last spot where I had caught one good fish the day before within minutes of having to return to weigh in. I checked the area with every bait I had tied on spinnerbait, swimbait, jig, senko. My last effort I picked up the Alabama rig which I had only thrown a few times during the event and not caught anything on. My first cast, the rod loads up and again I catch an important fish which culls a smaller one and puts my bag at around 13 pounds.
I weigh in my day two catch and I finished the event in 23rd place and got a paycheck. I thought I may have fallen a little short at qualifying for the Championship where I needed to be ranked 40 or above in the year end standings. I was certain I would need to be 20th or higher. I would have to wait to see where the day three guys finished to get those results when all the rankings were compiled.
The next day the rankings were released I finished 40th and made the championship! It was a close call. My previous article turns out to be a really special article to me as I wrote an article about mental toughness and gave the exact example of something that may happen and weeks later it happened to me. I find that writing after each event is important for several reasons, it lets me think about what went wrong but more important what went right and focus on that and not continually dwell on what I did wrong. It’s a release for me that helps me feel like I can become the best at whatever I do. In the past I wrote articles and saved them just for myself, I soon realized that maybe my article would inspire or help other people in chasing their dreams. I hope someday that I do and I can hear someone else’s story on how I positively affected their life.
Don’t chase your dreams…. catch them!!!