UNION SPRINGS, N.Y. – As the Bass Pro Tour prepared to take on a familiar body of water at a new time of year during Favorite Fishing Stage Five Presented by ATG by Wrangler on Cayuga Lake, one major question faced the field: largemouth or smallmouth?
The answer, at least for the 40 pros in Group A who took the water Tuesday, was “Yes.”
The first day of competition indicated that Cayuga’s healthy populations of both green and brown bass will factor into the standings this week.
Traditionally, the longest of New York’s Finger Lakes has been renowned primarily for its largemouth. However, Dustin Connell’s victory in the BPT event last August, which saw him weigh exclusively smallmouth on the final day — coupled with the lake producing a new New York state record smallie of 8 pounds, 6 ounces last summer — opened some eyes to the quality of smallmouth living in Cayuga.
Through one day of competition, SCORETRACKER Insider shows that more anglers will likely seek to replicate Connell’s winning formula, especially with quite a few smallies guarding nests. Group A leader Kevin VanDam caught his 28-1 megabag by sight-fishing for spawning smallmouth. Jacob Wheeler, who sits in third place, and Connell, who’s sixth, employed similar strategies.
That said, the majority of the field still filled their bags with largemouth.
Largemouth represented nearly 80% of the fish caught Tuesday and just over 76% of the keepers. Those numbers are comparable to a year ago, when 87.2% of the fish weighed by the field were largemouth.
However, more anglers managed to find quality smallmouth than in 2022. While the two 6-9 fish that split Berkley Big Bass honors (one caught by Brandon Coulter and the other by Dakota Ebare) were largemouth, 17 of the 36 bass weighing 5 pounds or more were smallmouth. Last year, smallies accounted for just 25.5% of the 5-pounders weighed at Cayuga.
Ultimately, the top of the standings showed a near-even split between smallmouth and largemouth. Four of the anglers in the Top 10 weighed in only brown fish: VanDam, Wheeler, Connell and ninth-place Jared Lintner. Five filled their limits with only largemouth. Cliff Pace, meanwhile, weighed in a combination of green and brown fish, which has him in second place with 25-15.
One day makes for a small sample size; but it looks like both species will be well represented in the tournament’s final standings.
Regardless of which bass species anglers targeted, they didn’t struggle to make them bite.
Even though the windy conditions that greeted the field brought significant fluctuations in water temperature and the smoky skies made sight-fishing difficult, SCORETRACKER® dinged early and often.
In fact, it would be easy to make the case that Tuesday represented the best day on the Bass Pro Tour so far this season — despite the fact that several of the top competitors used the latter half of the day to practice.
Thirty-eight of the 40 anglers on the water filled their five-fish limits. Fourteen reached the 22-pound mark while 20 cleared 20 pounds. The field weighed in a combined 782 pounds of bass with the average keeper weighing 3-15.
All of those represented the highest marks for any day since the BPT went to its current biggest-five-fish format prior to the 2023 season.
Given that VanDam and a few other anglers who got off to fast starts didn’t weigh any fish during the third and final period, expect even more fireworks as the week progresses.
Edwin Evers entered Stage Five as one of the hottest anglers in the BPT field, sitting second in the Bally Bet Angler of the Year standings through four events.
He will face an uphill climb to catch first-place Ott DeFoe, who has a 42-point lead on Evers. But Evers at least put some pressure on his traveling partner to continue his strong season when he takes the water with Group B on Wednesday.
Evers caught 25-3 of largemouth, doing the majority of his damage by fishing a wacky worm around boat docks. That has him in fourth place, 2-14 behind VanDam.
While it remains to be seen whether or not Evers, the 2019 Angler of the Year, can gain ground on DeFoe, he’s positioned himself to extend his cushion over a few other anglers who entered Stage Five in the Top 10.
Ebare, who entered this week in third place and just six points back of Evers, finds himself 16th in Group A after catching 21-9 on Tuesday. Brent Ehrler, who came into the event in sixth, will also be flirting with the Toro Cut Line, as his 21-4 stringer has him 18th.
Todd Faircloth (seventh place) and Nick LeBrun (10th), meanwhile, will need to rally to keep their spots among the Top 10 in the AOY standings. LeBrun sits in 26th place in Group A after catching 18-3, while Faircloth’s 15-4 limit has him in 33rd, 4-13 behind Fred Roumbanis, who currently sits in 20th place.