Union Springs, N.Y. – The smoke in the air from Canadian wildfires subsided over Cayuga Lake on Thursday, but the bite remained smoldering hot for Group A at Favorite Fishing Stage Five Presented ATG by Wrangler on Cayuga Lake. The weight totals on SCORETRACKER® were eye-popping, headlined by Kevin VanDam with a two-day total of 52 pounds, 7 ounces.
VanDam made it look easy to kick off the event with a 28-1 bag on Tuesday, and backed it up with another 24-6 today before shifting gears and looking for more water. So far, he’s figured out Cayuga as well as anyone and leads Group A into the Knockout Round.
VanDam would love to add another big win to his already impressive collection before he retires at the end of the 2023 season. He’ll be the first boat out in Saturday’s Knockout Round, but he’ll have a day off Friday to finalize his game plan as he looks to win in his final year of professional fishing.
VanDam said that he knew he’d need another good bag this morning and that his lead wasn’t safe, so he did it as quickly as possible to punch his ticket to the next round. He caught four of his five keepers in Period 1 and added the final one before noon.
“I knew I needed to catch a heavy limit and was able to do that this morning and then moved on,” he said. “I spent the rest of the day looking for more fish and feel like it was a productive day. I feel good about the tournament and think I’ll have the opportunity to catch another good bag and advance to the Championship Round.”
He’s part of the large contingent of anglers fishing for spawning smallmouth and has already started to think of a strategy to move on to the final day, where things could get tricky when the best from both groups merge and there’s less water to go around. VanDam shared that more and more anglers are discovering the pattern and that it was already getting more crowded today in his main areas.
“I think we’ll see most of the anglers in the Knockout Round get there by fishing for smallmouth,” VanDam said. “We’re all primarily fishing the same part of the lake, so it could get very crowded. It will all come down to who can execute and catch fish and get a couple of those bigger bites.”
The Michigan pro has spent plenty of time chasing smallmouth this time of year and sees that as a significant advantage going forward.
“I’ve got a lot of history fishing for northern smallmouth in June, so that gives me plenty of confidence,” he said. “It’s a big lake, and I covered a lot of it today, but I have a solid plan for the Knockout Round. I’ve got a lot of fish marked, but with weights starting at zero again, it will be challenging to advance and you will have to catch them every day.”
We’ve learned that Cayuga is chock full of 4s and 5s for both species, but the biggest smallmouth have been in the 6-pound range – until today.
California-turned-Georgia pro Jared Lintner bagged a massive 7-2 smallmouth today, the second-biggest smallmouth in Bass Pro Tour history, which helped bolster his 27-4 limit that secured his spot in the Knockout Round with 50-7 after two days on the second-biggest of New York’s Finger Lakes.
A 20-pound weight is always the mark of a great day in bass fishing and Cayuga has kicked out plenty this week. Today was the best yet, with 23 of them after 20 on the first day and 19 more yesterday. It’s apparent that that mark will be reached many more times Friday for Group B, and it’l likely take much more than that to advance through the Knockout Round.
The big smallmouth is Lintner’s new personal best, which surprised him based on how it looked in the water.
“I saw it and thought maybe it was a 5-pounder,” he said. “I had it hooked twice before landing it and the second time, I said, ‘Oh my gosh, it’s a giant,’ and then got it to the boat afterward.”
Aside from the weight of the fish, Lintner sees other positives in that catch. It told him more smallmouth bass may be coming to his areas.
“That fish was not there when I fished on Tuesday and that tells me more are coming,” he said. “If, and it’s a big if, we get warmer weather and sunshine the next few days, there will be a lot more moving shallow. More guys are figuring it out and starting to fish for them, but I think it will be the way to win.”
Stage Five continues on Friday, with Group B returning for the second time in the Qualifying Round. The 40 pros will fish vying for a spot in the Top 20 to advance to Saturday’s Knockout Round. Coverage begins on MLFNOW! on MajorLeagueFishing.com and the MLF app at 7:45 a.m. ET.