After a two-month break, the Bass Pro Tour anglers were back in action on New York's Cayuga Lake. With one more event to go after this event, the season is in the home stretch and the anglers were battling out for several points races. The Bally Bet Angler of the Year, Heavy Hitters berths, and qualification for next year's Bass Pro Tour field were all in play. With all that at stake, tension and excitement were in the air as anglers arrived in the state's Finger Lakes Region.
Cayuga Lake had held several professional level events in the past, so most of the field was familiar with the playing field. But, this time was different as anglers had never competed here with the Bass Pro Tour's every-fish-counts format and the smallmouth have become much more of a player on the famous lake in recent years. There were many questions to be answered and it turned out to be one of the year's most exciting events.
When the tournament began, Alabama pro Justin Lucas started catching them immediately and never let up. When the dust settled, he had tallied 35 bass for 127 pounds, one ounce for a lead of nearly 20 pounds over Jacob Wheeler. Michael Neal stacked 21 bass for 83-3 on the scales in Group B. Both anglers would win their groups and advance directly to the Championship Round.
Over two days, Lucas caught 51 bass for 181-1, primarily largemouth on a drop-shot rig. Neal had 35 for 139-11 and most of his fish also fell for a drop-shot rig, but he was catching a healthy mix of largemouth and smallmouth in deep water.
Thirty-eight anglers took to the lake, trying to get inside of the Top 8 to make it to the final day. As with all Knockout Rounds, it was a fight to the finish and took some incredible weight to advance. Dustin Connell was able to catch 22 bass for 82-2 to win the day, but the last angler in was Dakota Ebare, who had 17 for 62-2.
All of the anglers were able to catch solid weights and proved that they had the fish figured out. The remaining anglers were able to advance fishing across the lake with both largemouth and smallmouth, but the most prominent theme was fishing the drop-shot rig. It was the key player for just about everyone, except for Andy Montgomery and Terry Scroggins, who primarily caught fish cranking and with a vibrating jig, respectively.
While Dakota Ebare was able to catch a monster 7-10 smallmouth bass on live camera, the day still belonged to Dustin Connell. He began the day with a flurry, catching eight bass for 31-8 in the first hour and he never looked back, catching smallmouth after smallmouth with the help of his forward-facing sonar.
In the end, Connell had 25 for 96-12, beating his good friend and travel roommate, Jacob Wheeler, by 16-3 and winning his second event of the year after also winning on Lewis Smith Lake in his home state of Alabama.
"I had a crazy feeling all week same and it was the same feeling I had at Smith," said Connell. "I told my wife that it could be a good week for me and it was. I came into practice thinking I was going to fish in the grass for largemouth and changed areas and caught some nice smallmouth and committed to them, and I'm glad I did."
To catch his winning fish, Connell relied heavily on his electronics, specifically his Lowrance ActiveTarget forward-facing sonar. His key depth was between 20 and 30 feet of water and focused on rocks, boulders, gravel, and isolated wood cover.
"The big thing was finding those groups of fish out there," he said. "I used a drop-shot with a green pumpkin Googan Baits Drag n' Drop to imitate the gobies and a shad profile bait to imitate baitfish."
On his second win of the year and beating out his best friend Wheeler, Connell was nearly at a loss for words.
"That guy's a beast and it's unbelievable how good he is," Connell said. "He had the largemouth figured out better than anyone this week and he scared me a few times getting pretty close to my weight. I always tell him I'm just trying to keep up. Winning two times in one season is unbelievable."