All weekend long we had to listen to the Bassmaster LIVE crew questioning the judgment of the pros who pursued largemouth at the St. Lawrence River, but now the shoe’s on the other foot. While smallmouth could — and will — play some role at Cayuga, it’s a venue where good old-fashioned grass flipping should earn the “W.”
The Bassmaster Elite Series visited Cayuga in 2014 and 2016, so we have a bit of info to play with, but turnover in the field has been substantial. Only a handful of remaining Elites fished both of those events. The “new look” Bassmaster tour has plenty of guys who have yet to compete there, but despite saying that week after week after week, new talent consistently seems to be at or near the top of the heap.
It’s go-time for those anglers who are competing for Toyota Bassmater Angler of the Year title, the AOY Championship or a spot in the Classic, so while past performance may not accurately predict future results, be sure to factor in flipping ability, multispecies adaptability, momentum and heart when making your choices.
Oh, they also need to remember to bring plenty of tungsten, because the pike can get very expensive, very quickly.
Here are my gut picks:
BUCKET A: HERREN
BET THE FARM ON: Matt Herren
With the season coming to a close, Matt Herren has been steadily climbing up the charts and now sits 33 points out of first in the AOY race, with only Drew Cook and Bill Lowen between him and Scott Canterbury. If you’ve watched Herren over the years – and most recently at Guntersville – you know that he likes to hunker down in a grass bed and pick off crusty old slaunches one by one. At Cayuga the bigguns may be older than him, but expect him to win the waiting game.
BACKUP: Like Cayuga itself, Seth Feider is a largemouth freak disguised as a smallmouth expert. Look for him to punch until he’s blue in the face with creature baits and Tokyo Rigs. He’s not out of the AOY race, either, and this is the best chance of his career thusfar to make a run at it.
BUCKET B: HARTMAN
BET THE FARM ON: Jamie Hartman
Jamie Hartman probably has more experience on these waters than any other current Elite pro, and he seems to be back in fighting shape, with no finishes worse than 23rd in the last five events. That includes a win at Guntersville, where he plied the grass expertly. While there’s a lot of ground to cover, he’s not quite out of the AOY race, either.
BACKUP: Coming off another great finish at the St. Lawrence, look for Keith Combs to keep the train rolling. He was sixth here in 2016 and 26th in 2014, and with years of flipping deep Texas he’ll be right in his wheelhouse – just 40 degrees cooler than at home.
BUCKET C: DIPALMA
BET THE FARM ON: Greg DiPalma
This might be the toughest bracket for me, since there’s not a lot of proven Cayuga expertise in the field, but Greg DiPalma may have turned a corner with a his first Elite Sunday appearance in Waddington. He had a decent finish in a 2012 Open here (40th) and has fished enough other Opens on the Finger Lakes to know what to look for.
BACKUP: Kelley Jaye has not done particularly well here previously, but if he can get the jerkbait bite going, he could be an exception to my expectation that flippers will dominate. He’s just inside the cutline to make his first Classic, so a good finish would go a long way toward career security.
BUCKET D: MORGENTHALER
BET THE FARM ON: Chad Morgenthaler
He seems to be in an uncharacteristic period of struggling, but if there was ever a slumpbuster to be had for a grass flipper, it’s Cayuga. That’s what Morgenthaler has in front of him, and he needs it badly. He’s been middle-of-the-pack in two prior Elites here, but with nothing to lose and everything to gain look for him to put three flipping sticks on the deck and get to work.
BACKUP: Koby Kreiger finished fifth here in 2016, so he’s a solid choice, as is Bernie Schultz, who stumbled on Day 1 at the St. Lawrence, but has an enviable track record throughout the state of New York.
BUCKET E: MORRIS
BET THE FARM ON: Rick Morris
At this point in the season, if you’re in Bucket E, you likely haven’t lived up to your potential. There aren’t a lot of northern pros or Cayuga experts to gravitate toward here, but this one could set up well for Morris, who was middle-of-the-pack on 2014, but has had some solid finishes on nearby Oneida.
BACKUP: Carl Jocumsen struggled here in the 2016 Elite tournament, but finished 14th in the 2012 Open. He’s had a tougher-than-expected return to the Elite Series, and a little late-season fun could get him back in the game. If the glide-bait bite is on, he could shock the world.