Early June on Cayuga puts both largemouth and smallmouth spawners in play for Stage Five - Major League Fishing
Early June on Cayuga puts both largemouth and smallmouth spawners in play for Stage Five
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Early June on Cayuga puts both largemouth and smallmouth spawners in play for Stage Five

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Will it be smallmouth or largemouth that provide the winning fish at Stage Five at Cayuga Lake? Angler: Jordan Lee.
June 2, 2023 • Mason Prince • Bass Pro Tour

The “northern swing” begins on the Bass Pro Tour next week earlier than it has ever before. The 80 pros will head to Union Springs, New York, for Favorite Fishing Stage Five Presented by ATG by Wrangler on Cayuga Lake. The earliest the Bass Pro Tour has ventured north of the Mason-Dixon Line for an event was previously June 25, 2021 at the St. Lawrence River. Stage Five will begin nearly three full weeks sooner, increasing the chances for big spawning largemouth and smallmouth.

Cayuga at a glance

Cayuga Lake is about 40 miles west of Syracuse, New York, is 38 miles long north-to-south and covers 42,502 acres. One of the 11 glacially carved lakes in the state’s Finger Lakes region, Cayuga has an average width of only 1.75 miles across and plunges to depths of around 430 feet on the main lake.

The vast majority of fishable water can be found on the north end near the town of Cayuga. That’s where the anglers will find shallow water and spawning fish. Dustin Connell is the reigning champ on Cayuga after winning Stage Six here last August, and expects it to be busy on the north end.

“I expect it to be a predominantly shallow-water event,” Connell said. “There might be a few prespawners to be caught, but I think the event will be won up shallow with spawners.”

Kraig Kettelkamp is a local angler who lives just 20 miles from Cayuga. He’s fished it for 39 years and won two Phoenix Bass Fishing League events there in 1992 and 2005. Kettelkamp knows what it takes to win on Cayuga and exactly what to expect from the lake this time of the year.

“The field is going to see all three stages of the spawn depending where they are on the lake,” Kettelkamp said. “The fish on the north end spawn first because it’s so shallow up there, so expect them to be spawning now or just finished. Mid-lake fish should be prespawn, maybe a few spawners.”

Connell showed off Cayuga’s smallmouth potential during his win in 2022. Photo by Garrick Dixon

Smallmouth or largemouth? Either can get it done

Connell put on a smallmouth clinic last August on his way to his Cayuga win, weighing 25 scorable smallies in the Championship Round for 96 pounds, 12 ounces in the “every fish counts” format. His best five that day would have weighed in at 25-8, and the Alabama pro expects that he’ll need the same kind of quality to repeat in the best-five-fish format.

“I’m definitely going to weigh in some smallmouth,” Connell said. “Last year, we showed how impressive this lake’s smallmouth really are. I think the guy that mixes it up well with both species can have a really big bag two days in a row.”

Kettelkamp was impressed at Connell’s ability to catch quality smallmouth in 2022, as he didn’t expect the event to be won with only smallmouth. But while he doesn’t downplay the role that brown fish might play at Stage Five, Kettelkamp still believes that spawning largemouth will be the key to win on Cayuga in June.

“I think that largemouth are going to be the main player despite seeing what Connell did here last year,” Kettelkamp said. “The smallmouth are starting to get better every year, but I still think this lake is a largemouth lake.”

Largemouth like this 6-10 that Andy Morgan caught at Cayuga last year will be a key to success.

Will early arrival change the bite?

The catch-and-release season for black bass in the state of New York started Dec. 1, 2022 and will continue through June 14. Thanks to MLF’s catch, weigh, immediate-release format, the Bass Pro Tour can hold a major tournament on Cayuga earlier than ever before.

After a mild winter and an average spring, Kettelkamp says that Cayuga is in prime condition for big, aggressive spawners all over the lake.

“The past couple of weeks it’s taken 30 pounds to win some of these paper events up here,” Kettelkamp said of tournaments in which fish are not taken to a weigh-in and instead logged on paper. “The weeds are still around in the water, so look for fish to be around the weed growth. The guys will also be looking for sandy and rocky sections where the fish spawn around. They’re all going to catch them well.”

Connell is excited to return to New York for the chance to defend his title. However, he has a little trepidation about what the lake and the smallmouth bite may look like with it being so early in the calendar for a northern event.

“I’m interested to see how these fish act with it being so early in the year,” Connell said. “This is as early as we’ve started a northern swing, so they’ll be spawning all over the lake. I’m not a big largemouth-spawner fisherman, I don’t really like fishing for them on beds. I drive 16 hours to New York to catch smallmouth. That’s what I love to do, so I plan on doing it.”

Favorite Fishing Stage Five Presented by ATG by Wrangler begins on Tuesday, June 6. The entire event can be watched on MLFNOW! at MajorLeagueFishing.com or on the MLF app.