By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
The longest of New York's Finger Lakes will host the eighth stop on the nine-event Bassmaster Elite Series schedule this week. As usual, though, most of the action at Cayuga Lake will take place on the upper end.
The lake, which runs for nearly 40 miles in a north-south orientation, has welcomed the Elites for the third time in the past six seasons. Primarily a largemouth fishery, it's also home to a smattering of big smallmouth, but the bronzebacks can be hard to pin down in late summer as they pursue bait in open water.
Like many venues in the northern part of the country, Cayuga is a bit behind in its seasonal progression due to a late-arriving spring. The vast majority of its bass spawn in the top end and it takes the awhile to disperse into the lower portion, so the majority of the 75-angler field is likely to congregate in the upper half.
The lake's population of protein-rich gobies continues to increase and the bass are continually getting bigger by consuming them. Anglers who've fished there before could discover that the average keeper is a half-pound larger than the last time the circuit visited in 2016.
The winners of the two previous Cayuga Elite events (Kevin VanDam and Greg Hackney) are now competing on the MLF Bass Pro Tour. Current Elites who've fared well at the venue include Matt Herren (12th in 2016, 10th in 2014), Chris Zaldain (3rd in 2014) and Koby Kreiger, Keith Combs and Drew Benton (5th, 6th and 8th in 2106, respectively).
Before digging deeper into the present setup, here's an overview of the fishery.
BassFan Lake Profile
> Lake name: Cayuga
> Type of water: Glacial lake
> Surface acres: 42,956
> Primary structure/cover: Grass, docks, weedlines, man-made concrete barriers, rocks, ledges
> Primary forage: Gobies, alewives, crayfish, perch, various minnows
> Average depth: 54 1/2 feet
> Species: Mostly largemouths, some smallmouths
> Minimum length: 12 inches
> Reputation: An underexposed fishery that can produce big numbers
> Weather: A mix of clouds and sun with high temperatures in the 70s and light to moderate winds
> Water temp: Mid 70s to low 80s
> Water visibility/color: Gin-clear in some places, slightly tinted in others depending on the wind
> Water level: Normal
> Fish in: 1 to 45 feet
> Fish phase: Summer
> Primary patterns: Various jigs, plastics, flipping, topwaters, spinnerbaits, dropshots, Senkos, swimbaits
> Winning weight (4 days): 84 pounds
> Cut weight (Top 35 after 2 days): 34 pounds
> Fishing quality (1=poor, 5=great): 2.5 for Cayuga Lake
> Biggest factors: Crowding
> Biggest decision: Fish amongst the masses or look for something off the beaten path
> Wildcard: Smallmouth there are 7-pounders out there and some may still be in locales where they're accessible
For a closer look at Cayuga, which is 3 1/2 miles wide at its widest point and has a maximum depth of 435 feet, check out this map provided by Navionics:
Big Bags are Possible
Ken Golub, a former FLW Tour pro who occasional guides on the lake (he can be contacted via his Facebook page), expects to see some massive bags come to the scale this week in Union Springs, N.Y.
"I'll be amazed if there's not a lot more 20-pound stringers than there's been in the past," he said. "I think the gobies have been established there for three years now some people argue with me and say it's been longer or shorter than that and the bass are getting a higher level of protein and it's changed some of the patterns around.
"You could see a 25- or even a 26-pound stringer, but the problem is those places don't replenish. Guys will catch a big bag one day and then have a tough time repeating it unless they go and do something else. In a way it's almost a fragile fishery and if you catch a huge bag, you don't even go back to that place."
The north end contains abundant vegetation of various types (including milfoil) and the best of those stretches are certain to draw multiple competitors. There are also several structure elements (intake pipes, rock piles, etc.) that will also be attractive.
"The best patterns will probably be a jig in the weeds, dropshotting on the outside of the weeds and in the holes and the early topwater bite," Golub said.
Notes from the Field
Following are practice notes from a few of the anglers who'll compete this week.
"I've never been here before and I'm basing this off 2 1/2 days of experience: You can tell the lake has a lot of fish, but there's something going on. I've heard rumors of spraying grass and water mowers out there scooping up the grass, and hearing that about a fishery doesn't excite me.
Jamie Hartman has been on a roll for a while now and he's fishing in his native region this week.
"From what I've seen the past two days, it's very difficult to get bit. There's a few areas that have key fish where some guy's going to win the tournament, but personally, I think there's going to be a lot of non-limits.
"A handful of guys will really catch them and make it look easy and make it look like everyone else doesn't know what they're doing. I expected a lot more out of a New York fishery like this I'm not seeing the glamour it's shown in the past."
"Practice was kind of up and down, which has been a common trend for me this year. The first day was pretty slow, then (Tuesday) was pretty good. The fish are kind of scattered and unfortunately I think it's going to fish pretty small. That's the big thing I'm worried about: How many other boats are going to be on each place I want to get on.
"I think I could do pretty well if I could just fish and not be playing bumper-boats. There's a bunch of different bites going on and hopefully we can spread out."
"My practice wasn't great, but I've had worse. I came up to pre-fish a month ago and there was grass everywhere that was matted up already, then I got back this week and it's all gone. I'm pretty sure the mower machines mowed a lot of the grass down. It took me half a day to get used to that and put it behind me.
"It's not easy to get bites it's a grind, really but they do come. I've been catching a handful a day and if you can get enough bites you'll run into a big one or two."
"It's been a bad one for me. I remember being here in July in one of the other years and just catching the heck out of bass, but it's hard to get a bite right now. I found a little smallmouth deal today and I'm going to try running that in the morning.
"There's miles of grass, but no bass bites, although there's tons of pike. It's so tough that it might not fish that small. I'm hoping I might be able to go back to a spot where I caught a 2-pounder in practice and maybe catch a big one."
A Few to Keep an Eye On
With the above in mind and more, here are a few competitors whom BassFan predicts could fare well this week.
> Matt Herren Something about Cayuga probably the fact that it's a grass-oriented fishery seems to jive with him.
> Jamie Hartman This is his neck of the woods and he's been on a roll his last five finishes (including his win at Guntersville) have been 23rd or better.
Keith Combs He's had previous success at Cayuga and has finished 7th and 4th in two of his last three outings, so he's got some momentum working for him.
Anglers will launch at 6:30 a.m. each day from Frontenac Park in Union Springs. Weigh-ins will get under way at 3 p.m. in the same location.
> Thurs., Aug. 22 Cloudy 76°/56°
- Wind: From the WNW at 7 mph
> Fri., Aug. 23 Partly Cloudy 72°/53°
- Wind: From the NW at 9 mph
> Sat., Aug. 24 Mostly Sunny 71°/55°
- Wind: From the N at 8 mph
> Sun., Aug. 25 Partly Cloudy 77°/57°
- Wind: From the SE at 5 mph