TOP 10 BAITS & PATTERNS: How the Top 10 caught ‘em at Cayuga - Major League Fishing

TOP 10 BAITS & PATTERNS: How the Top 10 caught ‘em at Cayuga

Drop-shot, bedding smallmouth were keys for Avena and rest of Stage Five Top 10
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The Top 10 anglers at Stage Five mostly did their best work with standard fare for bedding smallmouth. Photo by Garrick Dixon.
June 15, 2023 • Tyler Brinks • Bass Pro Tour

UNION SPRINGS, N.Y. – Considering that 49 of the 50 fish that made up the final-day SCORETRACKER® tally at Bass Pro Tour Stage Five were smallmouth, it may surprise you to learn that more largemouth were weighed during the six days of competition on Cayuga Lake.

Regardless, all 10 of the anglers who fished the final day at Favorite Fishing Stage Five Presented by ATG by Wrangler either rode the smallmouth bite all week or jumped on the bandwagon after the first day. Nearly all of those smallmouth were caught sight-fishing, and the top anglers used a mostly standard selection of lures to fool them, with some pros trying to look a little off the beaten path.

Here’s a full rundown of how the Top 10 caught ’em at Cayuga.

1. Adrian Avena – 58-0 (10)

New Jersey’s Adrian Avena focused on spawning smallmouth to claim his first tour-level victory,  catching 58 pounds of them in the two days of the Knockout and Championship rounds. With so many anglers fishing the same patterns in the same areas, Avena looked for deeper and less-pressured bass with the help of his flogger.

“That $150 ‘traffic cone’ was the difference,” Avena said. “I was fishing a little deeper than everyone else and finding fish the other guys didn’t see.”

He used various finesse approaches to catch his fish, but the drop-shot rig was his primary tool.

“I was using a Berkley Gulp! Minnow in chartreuse shad,” Avena said. “The chartreuse back was a big player, especially when the water got stirred up so I could see it better. I was fishing it with a short leader, trying to imitate a perch attacking the beds.”

2. Spencer Shuffield – 56-0 (10)    

Arkansas rookie Spencer Shuffield is building quite the résumé as a premier smallmouth angler after many top finishes with them, including winning last year’s Tackle Warehouse TITLE and placing second in the WON Bass U.S. Open.

“I tried for largemouth and caught a 5-pounder on my second cast of the morning in practice, but after that, it was a bunch of pickerel,” Shuffield said. “I went (to the south end of Cayuga) and caught three big smallmouth and marked a bunch of big ones and knew that was the deal.”

Shuffield stayed south when the tournament came around, focusing on water a few miles north and south of the Cayuga Power Plant and utilizing a drop-shot and Ned rig to catch his fish all four days of competition, starting shallow during the mornings and heading deeper with a flogger when the sun came up.

“I was fishing a Strike King Baby Z-Too in pearl and siren and fished it on a 3/16-ounce Ark Tungsten drop-shot weight and a size 1 Gamakatsu G-Finesse straight shank hook,” he said. “For the Ned, it was a Z-Man Finesse TRD in green pumpkin goby with a 1/8-ounce WOO! Tungsten Ned head.”

3. Dakota Ebare – 55-2 (10)

After his solid finish this week, Dakota Ebare moved into second place in the Bally Bet Angler of the Year race. He also targeted spawning smallmouth on the lake’s lower end to earn his fifth tour-level top five of the season.

“I practiced for both species, but I knew the largemouth were not going to last because so many guys were doing it,” Ebare said. “I fished for largemouth the first day and caught 21-9, but went straight to the smallmouth the second day.”

To catch his largemouth, Ebare pitched a 3/4-ounce WOO! Tungsten weight with a 4/0 Owner Jungle Flippin’ Hook and Strike King Rage Craw in blue craw.

When he switched to spawning smallmouth, he also used a power approach for efficiently landing them, fishing a 5/16-ounce weight, the same flipping hook, and a creature bait on a 20-pound line. For some of the trickier fish, Ebare went with a green pumpkin Strike King Dream Shot on a drop-shot.

“I tried to stay away from the crowds and looked for fresh fish that were just moving up,” he said. “All my beds were shallow, and I didn’t get out there with a flogger.”

4. Jacob Wheeler – 54-0 (10)

Last month when Jacob Wheeler lapped the field at Guntersville at Toro Stage Four Presented by Bass Cat, he unveiled a new lure called the Freeloader. He used the same bait again on Cayuga but fished it for spawning smallmouth on a drop-shot this time around. Wheeler had an inkling that the tournament would be won with smallmouth, but he did explore the largemouth in practice.

“I was focused on smallmouth, but did try to catch some largemouth the second day of practice, but they were all around 3 pounds,” he said. “I committed to smallmouth then, but how much the smallmouth weighed threw me for a loop. I didn’t catch them in practice; I just marked them, but the ones I thought were 3 1/2-pounders were 5s when you put them on the scale in the tournament. They were thick.”

With so many anglers fishing the same waters, Wheeler focused on less crowded areas as the event continued.

“The shallowest ones were easiest to catch and everyone else found them, too,” he said. “I started fishing for the deeper ones that not everyone else was fishing for.”

Wheeler fished the new Freeloader in a chartreuse color to catch his fish and rigged it on a 3/8-ounce drop-shot weight and a VMC RedLine Finesse Neko hook in size 1. “That chartreuse color triggered them better than any color I tried,” he said.

5. Alton Jones Jr. – 53-8 (10)

Like his father, Alton Jones Jr. has proven that he’s one of the most skilled sight-fishermen on the Bass Pro Tour, and the results showed it in New York. Jones was committed to spawning smallmouth from the get-go.

“I marked 20 the first day of practice and found even more the next day,” he said. “I marked them on both sides of the lake to have something protected from the wind no matter what. The fish on the steeper stuff seemed a little more predictable for where they’d be, but the ones on the flats were a little bigger on average.”

Jones rotated through different baits, a 2.8-inch Geecrack Bellows Gill in electric shad or Berkley PowerBait MaxScent Flat Worm in green pumpkin on a drop-shot and a 3/32-ounce black marabou hair jig.

“I was using a 3/8 or even 1/2-ounce drop-shot weight when it was windy to have more control of the bait in their bed,” he said. “The heavier weight keeps it glued down. The hair jig was also key when they wouldn’t bite anything else.”

6. Mark Rose – 52-4 (10)

Mark Rose was another largemouth-to-smallmouth convert, opting to switch gears when he sensed his largemouth pattern wasn’t going to be enough to compete.

“I fished for largemouth until I ran out of them,” he said. “I started the event catching them in places I saw them cruising or spawning during practice. I felt I could catch 22 to 24 pounds of them when the event started, but I only caught 21. The second day, I went to two smallmouth beds I marked in practice and started seeing a bunch more of them.”

Rose’s largemouth tactic was fishing a Strike King Zero stick bait in green pumpkin on a wacky rig with a Mustad TitanX Wacky/Neko Rig Hook in a 1/0 size. For the smallmouth, he went with a Strike King Ocho in the 4-inch size in blue craw, downsized the same hook to a #2, and added a 1/32-ounce Strike King Tour Grade Tungsten Neko Weight for a Neko Rig approach.

Rose also mixed in a Ned rig for the bedding smallmouth.

“The Strike King Baby Z-Too in the juice color was a big player for a lot of the fish,” he said. “I fished it on a 1/8-ounce Ned head for those bed fish. I tried to have multiple areas in the middle to the southern end, so I could always have somewhere the wind wasn’t blowing.”

7. Matt Becker – 52-0 (10)

A noted smallmouth expert, Matt Becker went to Cayuga Lake with brown fish on his mind and that’s what he pursued all week long. He also eclipsed the 100-pound mark in his four days of fishing, and did it all by sight-fishing, primarily with a drop-shot.

“Seventeen of my 20 fish came with a drop-shot and a Yamamoto Shad Shape worm in Becker’s magic juice, an exclusive color for one of my sponsors and I also caught some on the morning dawn color,” he said. “I also caught two on a homemade hair jig and the other on a 2.5-inch Yamamoto Yamatanuki in watermelon red.”

He fished the drop-shot with a TroKar TK150 hook in the #4 size and used a 1/4-ounce Epic Tungsten teardrop drop-shot weight while fishing around the Cayuga Power Plant.

“I started the event fishing really shallow and had to go deeper and deeper further into the event,” he said.

8. David Dudley – 51-15 (10)

Like others, David Dudley started with largemouth before switching to smallmouth.

“The smallmouth played a big role, way more than the largemouth,” he said. “I was fortunate to find some smallmouth on the beds, which helped me make it to the final day.”

He employed a Perfection Lures Dudley’s Wacky on a wacky-rig and a Perfection Lures Dudley’s Ned.

“The Ned is a sort of a cross between a shad-profile bait and a worm,” he said.

9. Takahiro Omori – 51-4 (10)

Takahiro Omori began the event fishing for largemouth, bagging a limit of them the first day with 17-10 before switching to smallmouth the next three days.

“I was fishing for largemouth up north, cranking a Lucky Craft 2.5 in T.O. gill,” he said. “I was grinding it around riprap and anything I could find around weeds and docks.”

When he transitioned to smallmouth, Omori went with a Berkley PowerBait MaxScent Flat Worm.

“It’s no secret, but I was fishing that in green pumpkin when fishing for smallmouth on the beds,” he said. “I was using a Gamakatsu Aaron Martens G-Finesse Drop Shot Hook in size 1.”

10. Kevin VanDam  – 49 – 11 (10)       

Kevin VanDam rocketed to the top of SCORETRACKER® on the first day of the event with 28-1 and led Group A into the Knockout Round. He continued to catch them every day and did it solely with smallmouth.

“I was all-in on smallmouth when I got there and really, even before I arrived,” he said. “I knew that would be my focus, and on the first day of practice, I saw five of them on beds, even in the windy conditions with dirty water from all the waves. They were everywhere the next day of practice, and I knew how it would go down.”

VanDam covered many miles of the large lake and utilized his LakeMaster mapping to locate key areas.

“The best areas were those that had rock transitions and the mapping helped make those areas stand out,” he added.

VanDam rotated through a trio of baits in various colors and rigging options when fishing for the fish he located: a Strike King Dream Shot, Half Shell, and Baby Z-Too on both a drop-shot and Ned rig. He used multiple colors, but his top producer was the bright chartreuse siren color.

“Every fish is an individual and you have to try different rigs and colors to see what they want,” he said. “I used a 1/8-ounce Strike King Tour Grade Ned Head for fishing the bait on the bottom and a drop-shot with a 1/4-ounce Strike King Tour Grade Tungsten drop-shot weight and 1/0 Mustad Grip-Pin Edge Finesse Hook. I thread the baits on there instead of nose-hooking because it gives me a better hook-to-land ratio and is a stronger hook when you have a 5- or 6-pounder hooked up.”

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