It was official, the all new Elite Kayak Fishing Series was back on for 2021 and the first stop was Cayuga Lake, right here in NY. I’d only ever fished Cayuga once. It was a tournament back in 2018. I did ok, but certainly did not breach the full potential of this world class bass fishery. This year I was determined to do better.
I had a 6 week break between tournaments and my first big one back would be Cayuga (I had a club event near the house on Saratoga the weekend before) so I had all the time I needed to get ready. My preparation started in March. I was watching every tournament video I could find. The recaps, the practice vlogs, and the live feeds. The problem was all these events were in June, July, or even August, our event was mid-May!! But the consensus was still the same. The north end is a large shallow flat with more stained water. It warms faster and provides weed cover for the lake’s big population of largemouth to spawn and eat. It is always a huge player at every event, regardless of the time of year. I knew this, but so did everyone else. There was another consistent in the videos, there were successful anglers who found something away from the crowds at the north. With everyone fishing on top of each other, it was common to see them cannibalizing each others fish. But a guy who had a spot or two away from the crowd could catch a big bag, even if only on one day. But this was a one day event so that’s all I needed. I was bound and determined to find something else I could go to. I hate fishing in bumper boats and I knew that’s what it would be up north.
I was able to make my first trip down to Cayuga on April 10th. When I fished my lone tournament there, I was fishing from the Union Springs ramp. I decided this time to go a little further south. I was studying the lake mapping and found some large flats just north of Long Point and decided they looked very promising. I spent a good portion of the day fishing there but didn’t catch a single thing. I did mark plenty of old grass, some ledges, and some good rock and boulders that were very promising. The water temps at the time were still in the mid 40’s so I just figured it was still too early for the fish to be pulled up. Warmer water and little more weed growth should produce. I marked down all my notes and moved on.
Unfortunately that was the only chance I had to be on the lake. The next month was filled with busy weekends, travels, bad weather, and an assortment of other, well, to be frank, excuses to not drive out there and explore more of the lake. The weekend of the event was approaching and I had little more to go on than the knowledge that the north end will likely produce and I should fish there with the 74 other kayakers and the dozen bass boats or so fishing their tourney. Instead I made the tough decision, I would go back to Long Point and hope the water temps had warmed up enough that the fish would have pulled up. I was confident in the area, It sets up right and has all the elements. It was just going to be a matter of timing and maybe just a little luck.
Timing certainly wasn’t with me as the event approached. My travel plans were upended and I could no longer stay where I planned to the night before. My 1 hour 15 minute drive suddenly became 2 hours the morning of the event. I regrouped though and kept trucking. As I made the longer drive through a mix of rain and at times even snow, I went over all sorts of scenarios in my head on how the day would plan out. I tried to figure out how best to approach it. When I would leave, how I would make decisions on what was best in any given instance, and if necessary when to abandon ship and change ramps. None of that would matter though as you will see.
I arrived at the launch with plenty of time to spare. There was one other kayaker there already unloaded and ready to go. I got my gear set and awaited for first launch. I had a game plan of where I intended to fish and I just hoped they would be there. When blastoff came and I took off across the lake, I was in shock. The water temps were the same, maybe even COLDER than they had been a month prior when I was there! This was not a good sign. I though maybe as I moved around I would find some warmed pacthes, but as I pedaled my Feelfree Lure 13.5 northward, the temps did not change favorably.
It was about 5 minutes before lines in when I cruised past a deeper point and noticed some rock structure on my side imaging I hadn’t marked before. I figured maybe there would be some fish on it so I decided to stop and wait there to fish that spot first before continuing on to my grass flats. Lines in came and I threw my jig toward the waypoint I marked on the rock pile. I could feel the bottom and the tick of the football head jig bouncing off the rock. I repeated the cast over and over for about 10 minutes probing the rocks, but there was nothing feeding there.
I proceeded onto my first weed flat. I worked the area up and down, back and forth, and upside down. I threw flat sided cranks, jerk baits, two different chatterbaits, a swimbait, dragged a jig, and bounced and swam a hair jig without ever getting a bite. I moved in and out to deeper and shallower grass, adjusting my crankbait accordingly, but could not locate anything.
As I moved north, I found a small culvert dumping into the lake. The water was dark, and a few degrees warmer. This was classic spring fishing. Warm stained water flowing into a cold clear lake, textbook bass location. I switched to a lipless but with no effect. I changed from the balsa crank to one with rattles but still nothing. I worked the mudline all over and still could not coax a bite. I abandoned the spot, but not after exhausting nearly an hour probing it.
I moved on heading further north and decided maybe I should go up even shallower. There were some docks and structure I hadn’t checked yet and maybe I would find something there. I cast my Z-man Stealthblade chatterbait up across a gravely flat and that’s when I got my first bite! Something thumped it hard, but never hooked up. As I reeled the bait in, I saw what hit my bait. It was brown trout, and it was BIG. It was close to 2-ft long and must have been near 10-lbs. That would have been a hell of a catch, but alas it was not meant to be.
With that bite, I decided to stay shallower and soon I landed my first fish of the day. It was a little perch that decided it liked my jerkbait up around some docks. Still not a bass, but it was a good sign. The bass should be feeding on the perch so I kept with that pattern. It wasn’t long and my rod loaded up with a big bite. Finally, I figured this had to be what I was looking for. But as I fought the fish back, it was staying down and making runs that were not exactly bass like. Sure enough when I got the fish close, the long slender form of a pickerel was revealed. This was a large specimen though and I decided to at least put it on my board. She measured 25.5-inches and was good enough to be my PB pickerel. If that’s actually something to be proud of.
The pickerel had come from shallow clear water, but right nearby was another stream flowing into the lake. This was much larger than the storm drain I fished before and was dumping warm stained water into the lake. Again, I knew this must be a bass magnet and went to work. There were some kind of small birds flocking all around. They were not landing on the water, but seemed to maybe to feeding on insects that had hatched and were being washed down the stream. Again, all textbook. Insects mean baitfish, baitfish mean predators, i.e. Bass!
But as any biologist will tell you, Bass cant read those textbooks (who writes them anyway?). I fished the outside mudline, fished deep in the mud, even cruised 100-yards up the stream into the stiff current looking for anything. The water was 5-degrees warmer up the stream, but it made no difference. The chatterbait, jig, and crankbait produced nothing. I drifted out and found that the mudline had reached the first dropoff from 5-8ft down to nearly 20-ft deep. Maybe the bass were still hanging around in this deeper water.
My Humminbird Mega imaging showed there was a small amount of perch grass down on the bottom and I just knew this had to produce. I fired a deep diving crank around, but it never got bit. I decided to give the hair jig a try again. This was a technique I wanted to learn and play with a bit this season and I felt that the deep cold water would be a great place to hop it around the bottom. It didn’t take long and I had my first bite on it. As I reeled it in however, it was clear this was not a big fish. In fact it was a decent 10-inch perch. I tossed it back and cast into the same area and quickly landed another. I worked my way around the muddy dropoff for an hour catching more and more nice perch ranging from 9 to 13 inches.
My brain was analyzing the situation. Perch and pickerel were all I found and it was saying this isn’t right, you need to change. My gut kept telling me I’m doing the right thing; I just needed to land on the right little patch and it wouldn’t be a school of perch, but a school of bass. I was having an internal battle and didn’t know what to do. Stay, go, run south, load up and drive north, go deep, go shallow, ARG!!!! I was froze in indecision and I knew it.
Meanwhile I kept at it diligently hopping the hair jig, and occasionally keeping things honest by dragging the football jig over the area but I found nothing but perch. I was kind of wishing I had been tossing them into a cooler at that point. I checked the time and it was after noon. There was less than 2 hours remaining in the tourney and there was no longer enough time to load up and move. I was stuck in this area and just could not find the bass. I decided to head back toward the ramp and target some more rock piles I had marked. Maybe something had moved up on them but it was all in vain. My last ditch attempt was a weed bed near the launch. It was actually the best grass I found in the entire area and it was right next the ramp. I probed it with the crankbait with only 30 minutes left netting just 2 pickerel for my efforts.
The buzzer rang, the first ever EKF event was over, and I was completely skunked. I swallowed my pride, loaded up my kayak, and drove off to the awards ceremony. It was great to see and chat with anglers from all over the northeast who drove in for this event. There was a mixed mood amongst them. Some killed it catching fish all day, others struggled. In the end, my Three Belles Outfitters teammate Joe D’Addeo came away victorious with a total of 95.25-inches, a solid day on Cayuga Lake. All that was left for me was to start my 2 hour drive back, and know that while this time my risk didn’t pay off there’s always the next event.