UNION SPRINGS, N.Y. — When the Bassmaster Elite Series last visited Cayuga Lake in 2016, that late-June event saw lots of fish on beds. Next week’s return to this Western New York lake will find anglers facing a completely different seasonal complexion when the SiteOne Bassmaster Elite visits Union Springs, N.Y., Aug. 22-25.
“The first time we were there for an Elite event, it was a summertime event (late August, 2014) and it was probably 99 percent largemouth,” said Bassmaster Elite Series pro Keith Combs. “When we went back in 2016, it was kind of a spawn/postspawn event and we saw a few more smallmouth. I expect to see a couple of big smallmouth this time, but not many.”
The longest of New York’s glacial Finger Lakes, Cayuga stretches nearly 40 miles from its namesake town, south to Ithaca. Second-largest in surface area, the lake covers 66 square miles; but in true Finger Lake form, it averages only 1.7 miles wide — 3 1/2 at the widest.
Also typical of Finger Lake makeup is Cayuga’s north-south orientation, steep sides, shallow top and bottom ends and plunging center, which reaches approximately 435 feet. With its water level controlled by the Mud Lock at its north end, Cayuga links to Lake Ontario via the Erie Canal on its upper end, while the Seneca River (aka Cayuga-Seneca Canal) branches southwest from this cross-state commercial navigation artery and into Seneca Lake.
As Combs notes, grass and docks comprise the primary habitat elements likely to dominate the week’s fishing.
“If it’s anything like the last visits, I think grass will be more of a player; it’s just the main feature of that lake,” he said. “This lake has a lot of milfoil, eel grass and a variety of other vegetation.”
Combs expects to see much of the field focusing on large areas of matted grass with jigs and Texas-rigged plastics. Frogs could also play a role, particularly around shoreline cover.
Pitching and skipping docks should also produce keepers, but don’t count out the occasional reaction bite on spinnerbaits, jerkbaits and bladed jigs. Although somewhat of an outlier, it’s likely a handful of anglers will dial in a smallmouth bite with tubes or drop shots.
“In the 2016 spring tournament, there were some 4 1/2 to 5 pounders weighed in and we’ll see that again this year,” Combs said. “I think they’re probably roaming in deep water this time of year, but if a guy finds the right area where they’re schooling, smallmouth can definitely be a factor.”
Cayuga’s not a huge lake, so crowding may become a factor, especially as the event wears on. The long-range weather forecast looks stable; and that’s a good thing for anglers who do not want to see big winds.
“We found out last time that, with its depth and the direction it lays, Cayuga gets extremely rough,” Combs said. “It’s completely exposed. There’s a river on both ends, but there’s nowhere to get out of the wind. You want to give yourself plenty of time to run.”
In 2016, it took a four-day total of nearly 72 pounds to win. Combs said he’s looking for 15- to 16-pound daily weights to make the final round, with about 80 taking the trophy.