UNION SPRINGS, N.Y. – The action at Favorite Fishing Stage Five Presented by ATG by Wrangler on Lake Cayuga, a few miles from the home of the Buffalo wing, went from spicy to blazing when Group B took the water for its second Qualifying Day on Friday.
With the 40-angler field now set for Saturday’s Knockout Round, it feels like fishing has the potential to go nuclear.
Expectations were high for the Bass Pro Tour’s unprecedented, early-June visit to Cayuga. The lake’s plentiful largemouth and beefy smallmouth bass populations have more than lived up to the hype, with the field setting records on each of the first three days of competition.
But Friday saw the fish catching reach a whole new level.
Take your pick of any number of metrics to describe how well Group B caught ‘em. Thirty-five of the 40 anglers topped the 20-pound mark on the day. Eight caught bags of 25-plus. The field caught a total of 61 bass weighing at least 5 pounds. The average keeper weighed 4-8 — half a pound bigger than the first three days combined.
The explosive action led to a pair of anglers — Spencer Shuffield and fellow BPT rookie Matt Becker — topping the 50-pound mark through two days of competition. The Toro Cut Line rose as high as 42 pounds, 6 ounces — nearly a pound and a half more than in Group A — with Andy Montgomery the last man in. Nine competitors topped 40 cumulative pounds and missed out on the Knockout Round. Andy Morgan racked up 42-2 and finished 21st.
And yet, as ridiculous as those numbers are, Friday might simply be an appetizer for the Knockout Round, which has the field buzzing.
“You will see a 30-pound bag this week of smallmouth, is my prediction, because these guys are catching their weight and stopping,” Britt Myers said. “They’re not stopping come the next two days. So tune in for the next two days. It’s going to be a great show.”
As Myers alluded to, while the weights during the first four days of competition have been eye-popping, a handful of anglers have used the afternoons to scout new water in preparation for the weekend. They’ll be able to put that knowledge to work Saturday. And given the explosiveness of the fishery, there will be no more easing off the gas.
Plus, the weather — a significant reason for the increased weights Friday — should only get better. Saturday’s forecast is calling for a high of 73 degrees, partly cloudy skies and a variable breeze around 6 mph. The warm, calm conditions should make sight-fishing, the preferred method for those targeting smallmouth, even more productive.
“I don’t know what tomorrow brings, but I feel like I won the tournament, honestly, because these guys caught some giants today, yesterday, all week,” said Jordan Lee, who qualified for the Knockout Round by finishing 16th in Group B. “So tomorrow’s going to be a shootout.”
The one unknown entering the Knockout Round is how well the smallmouth population will hold up and which anglers will find themselves splitting fish. The shift toward smallmouth continued Friday, with smallies accounting for more than 60% of the day’s total weight. Expect that trend to accelerate; each of the Top-10 finishers in Group B weighed in all smallmouth on Friday.
Twenty-four of the 40 anglers who qualified for the Knockout Round weighed in at least three smallies on their second day of qualifying, and more might make the switch to brown fish after seeing their size. As a result, the extra practice time that several anglers earned by catching their limits quickly during qualifying could prove pivotal.
So what’s it going to take to make the Championship Round? Twenty-four pounds feels like the bare minimum; 24-9 represented the 10th and 11th biggest bags Friday. Twenty-five might be more realistic. Nineteen 25-pound limits have been caught during the first four days of competition.
A 30-pound bag of smallmouth? An 8-pound big bass? Given what we’ve seen so far out of Cayuga, almost nothing feels out of the question for the Knockout Round, when the most dialed-in anglers in the field will finally turn it loose.
Ott DeFoe entered the week with a commanding 42-point lead in the Bally Bet Angler of the Year standings. But for much of Friday, it looked like he might open the door for his pursuers.
DeFoe, who started the day ninth in Group B, entered the final period having caught just four fish for 12-7. That had him in 33rd place, well below the Toro Cut Line.
But for the second event in a row, DeFoe pulled off a late rally to place himself among the Top 20.
DeFoe ran to the extreme south end of Cayuga Lake and continued to skip his wacky worm around boat docks. He caught a 3-12 to fill his limit, then 22 minutes later boated a 5-3. That culled a 1-4 and gave him more than 20 pounds on the day. His two-day total of 44-3 placed him 13th in the group.
Even if DeFoe doesn’t keep his season-long Championship Round streak intact, making the Knockout Round assured that he will remain atop the AOY standings entering the penultimate tournament of the season. Each of the anglers currently placed second through sixth will also fish on Saturday.
With the entire field catching fish Friday, it wasn’t easy for anglers who started the day below the Toro Cut Line to move into the Top 20. Still, five competitors managed to do so: Lee, Takahiro Omori, Terry Scroggins, Anthony Gagliardi and Marty Robinson.
Omori made the biggest move of the bunch, vaulting from 30th at the start of the day to 11th at its end thanks to a 26-15 limit. He started out fishing for largemouth, like he did on Day 1, and he caught a 5-10 in the first hour of competition. Eventually, Omori shifted gears and chased smallmouth. He was rewarded with four that weighed 21-5, including a 7-2, the Berkley Big Bass for the day.
Lee and Gagliardi also pivoted from targeting largemouth on the first day of competition to smallmouth on Friday. Lee sacked up 25-2 to move from 26th place to 16th. Given that he finished second when the Bassmaster Elite Series came to Cayuga in 2016, the rest of the field can’t be thrilled to see him advance to the Knockout Round.
Scroggins and Robinson, meanwhile, bucked the trend by filling their big bags with largemouth. Scroggins started the day on fire, catching 23-10 in the first hour of competition. He upgraded once with his fourth 5-pounder of the day to get to 25-13.
The Florida native has taken a liking to Cayuga’s largemouth. He finished fourth when the BPT visited the lake last year.