On Day 2 of the Bass Pros Shops Bassmaster Northern Open on Oneida Lake, New York pro Jim Bianchi landed the largest limit of the tournament, 19 pounds 4 ounces, to build a lead of more than 2 pounds over his closest competitor. Today he added 17-7 to his total, once again the largest single catch of the day, and extended his lead over a hard-charging Tracy Adams by a pound to earn the victory in only his second Open entry.
For the victory, Bianchi won a prize package that included cash and a Skeeter ZX200 powered by a Yamaha VF200LA outboard, packaged with a dual-axle trailer, a Minn Kota trolling motor and Humminbird electronics. He did not fish the first Northern Open of the year at Virginia’s James River, so his victory this week will not earn him a spot in the 2014 Bassmaster Classic.
While he will not compete in the Classic next February, Bianchi nevertheless called this the biggest win of his fishing career, nothing that, â€œThis never gets old.â€
Despite his extensive experience on Oneida, he said that the lake fished quite differently than normal, with neither of his typical largemouth or smallmouth patterns working out in practice. Fortunately, his backup plan worked even better.
â€œAfter practice, I knew I had the potential to do it,â€ he said. â€œI felt good about what I had found.â€
What he had found was a group of relatively shallow spots in the grass that held heavy concentrations of largemouth. While he weighed in a few smallmouth, he said that approximately 90 percent of the resident bass were largemouth, and it was the green fish that led him to victory. The spot where he caught most of his Day 2 weight clued him in to what the fish were feeding on.
â€œI found something pretty cool,â€ he said. â€œI knew that area had some big fish, but it wasn’t until I caught a few that I figured out why. I brought up some fish that had weeds with them, and in the weeds there were hundreds of microscopic crawfish. Either the bass there were eating their parents, or else the baitfish were there eating them.â€
Regardless of what drew the bass to the diminutive prey, Bianchi relied on a one-two punch of presentations to keep them active â€” a traditional flipping jig and a finesse plastic on a drop shot rig.
â€œThey would bite in spurts,â€ he said. â€œFor a while they’d eat a jig, and then they wouldn’t eat it right. They’d just mouth it. Usually that meant you had to finesse them. Other times you could snap it and get them to react.â€
He didn’t need all of his 17-7 final weight to outlast Adams, but from the water Bianchi, didn’t know that. Late in the day he made a strategic adjustment he’d been planning on all week.
â€œThere was one area that I’d saved all (through the) tournament,â€ he explained. â€œI knew that around 12 or 1 o’clock, the smallmouth usually get going, so I went over there around 12:30.â€
In short order, he culled three of the fish in his livewell with a 4-pound smallmouth, a 4 1/2-pound largemouth and a 3-pound smallmouth
â€œWithout those three, I knew I wouldn’t have a shot,â€ he said. â€œWith those three, I had it nailed.â€
Adams, a former Bassmaster Open winner and two-time Bassmaster Classic qualifier, relied on one 50 foot by 50 foot spot in a large grassbed to reel in three consecutive limits that totaled 49-4. Even though it was an area where he expected to catch mostly smallmouth, like Bianchi, most of the fish he weighed in at this event were largemouth.
â€œI had what I had in 45 minutes today,â€ he said. â€œIt was all in one little, little area. If I got outside of it, I didn’t get a bite. All of the grass around it looked exactly the same, so I still don’t know why they were there.â€
Adams said he was fortunate to catch his fish early, because â€œonce the wind started blowing, it laid the grass down, and you couldn’t buy a bite.â€ Most of his fish were caught flipping a Zoom Speed Craw.
Virginia pro Jacob Powroznik, who was tied with Adams in third place entering the final day of competition, held onto that spot today on the strength of his second consecutive 15-15 limit. He primarily targeted schooling smallmouth and reported catching nearly 60 of them today. He said that the key to catching the bigger ones was to let his umbrella rig ride lower in the water column.
â€œWhen they’re busting the surface, they’re harder to catch,â€ he said. â€œIf you fish it up near the top, you might catch some that are 2 or 2 ½ pounds, but if you let it go to the bottom before you start reeling, you can catch 3-pounders.â€
Jamey Caldwell of North Carolina caught 15-12 to move up a spot into fourth place. Mike Morrin of New York, who entered the day in second place, dropped three places to round out the Top 5.
Co-angler Tom Hill of Kentucky, fishing behind Powroznik today, jumped from third place to first to claim the co-angler crown. His three, three-fish limits totaled 27-12 and enabled him to outlast second-place co-angler Chris Hall by 8 ounces in a tightly-packed amateur field. In addition to fishing with Powroznik, he fished with winner Jim Bianchi on Day 1 and with Kenny Garippa of Pennsylvania on Day 2, which was when Garippa weighed in 19-3.
Hill will take home a Nitro Z-7, powered by a Mercury 150 HP Optimax outboard, and equipped with a single-axle trailer, Minn Kota trolling motor and Lowrance electronics.
The Carhartt Big Bass award of $500 for the largest single bass caught at the tournament was awarded to Kenny Garippa on the pro side for the 5-6 largemouth he caught on Day 2. Hill won the award on the co-angler side with a 4-11 largemouth, also caught on Day 2 from the back of Garippa’s boat.
The Luck-E-Strike Heavyweight Award on the pro side, consisting of a $250 Bass Pro Shops gift card, went to Bianchi for the 19-4 limit he weighed in on Friday. On the co-angler side, former Open winner Brian Kelly earned the same amount for his three-fish 10-15 Day 1 limit, caught while fishing with New York pro Noah Raymond.
The Livingston Lures Leader award of $250 was presented to Bianchi for leading the pro side after Day 2 of competition. Ken Woods of Kentucky won the corresponding honor on the co-angler side and received a Livingston Lures gift pack valued at $250.