The home lake advantage doesn’t apply to Kraig Kettelkamp, but the western New Yorker applied local logic to his lead at the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Northern Open presented by Allstate.
Kettelkamp, of Clifton Springs, caught 20 pounds, 7 ounces, of largemouth from Oneida Lake to take the lead by a slim margin of 2 pounds. The fulltime salesman faces stiff competition from two former Bassmaster Classic world champions with successful pasts on the fishery. Those are current runner-up Randy Howell and fifth-place angler Boyd Duckett, who won a Bassmaster Elite Series event on this fishery in 2012.
The leader is exclusively targeting largemouth. By comparison, smallmouth filled the five-bass limits of the remaining Top 4 anglers.
“In practice I caught both, but the smallmouth bite didn’t work today,” Kettelkamp said.
He described uniquely distinct areas for largemouth and smallmouth, even though the latter bite failed to produce today.
“My key fishing areas are very specific and feature the habitat for largemouth or smallmouth,” he added. “I’m not targeting a mix like some anglers.”
That could be boom or bust on a lake where the same areas can produce tournament winning catches of both species. That might not be a factor for Kettelkamp, whose knowledge of prevailing patterns for largemouth and smallmouth are beneficial.
Kettelkamp declined to disclose details of his pattern, although he eluded to switching tactics, should the largemouth bite fail in the morning.
“I realize it’s the second day after a cold front, and that could shut down the shallow bite,” he concluded. “Either way I’ll have a strategy.”
Howell is on a northeast swing of the Elite Series. Last week, the top pros competed on the St. Lawrence River in upstate New York. Next week, they move to the Chesapeake Bay. The 2014 Classic champ is in serious competition mode during the optional off week.
“I never miss a chance to fish Oneida, because it’s about the only tournament fishery where you can catch smallmouth and largemouth in shallow water,” said Howell, whose limit weighed 18-9.
The day didn’t begin as planned for Howell, whose partner caught a limit before he got a first bite. That first bite took three bait changes, including switching to his partner’s lure type, size and color. The search for a magic lure ended after Howell discovered the schooling smallmouth were feeding on baitfish.
“The smallmouth in the livewell regurgitated baitfish and that gave me a good clue of what to use,” he admitted.
Michigan angler Chad Pipkens brought his smallmouth fishing savvy to Oneida Lake, where he plans to continue targeting the fish. The result was a limit weighing 16-15.
“I target all smallmouth whenever there’s a chance to win a tournament on a mixed bag,” he said. “In this tournament, with 200 boats, there is less likelihood of rebounding when one or the other doesn’t pan out.”
“There just isn’t enough time when you must make a cut after the second day,” added Pipkens, who won an Open last year on Lake St. Clair to qualify for the 2015 Classic.
Fourth-place angler Austin Felix of Minnesota caught 16-11 in a strategy targeting all smallmouth.
“The colder temperatures shut down the largemouth bite for me,” he said. “I’m riding it out with smallmouth.”
Top prize in the tournament for the pros is a Skeeter/Yamaha boat with accessories and trailer valued at $45,000. The co-angler prize is a Triton/Mercury package valued at $30,000.
The Top 12 anglers fish on Saturday after Friday’s elimination round. Friday’s weigh-in begins at 2 p.m. ET at Oneida Shores Park.