Give the man some grass, and he feels right at home.
That’s grass, as in aquatic vegetation, and crystal clear Cayuga Lake is loaded with it.
“Deep, clear water with grass is by far my favorite way to fish,” said Greg Hackney, the pro angler from Gonzales, La., who took the lead Friday in the second round of the A.R.E. Truck Caps Bassmaster Elite at Cayuga Lake out of Union Springs, N.Y.
Hackney weighed the day’s heaviest bag of bass — 23 pounds, 1 ounce — to rise into the lead from fourth place. His two-day total was 43-6.
“Grassmaster” No. 2 on Friday was Todd Faircloth of Jasper, Texas.
“Anytime we go to a lake that has grass in it, my confidence soars,” said Faircloth, who climbed from seventh place into second place with twin weights of 20-2 for a running total of 40-4. He trails Hackney by 3-2.
Coincidentally, Hackney and Faircloth currently occupy first and second place, respectively, in the season’s Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year race. After Friday’s round, they were 17 points apart.
Thus what promises to be a double-pronged and intense one-on-one began to brew Friday.
If Hackney stumbles on Day 3, Faircloth could catch up in points as well as in the Cayuga event, the final full-field tournament of the Elite season. If Faircloth falters, Hackney could end up not only the Cayuga champ, but feel very secure in the AOY lead he’s had since Aug. 10.
The Hackney-Faircloth square-off wasn’t the only drama at Cayuga Lake Friday. Only 50 anglers of the 106-man field made the cut to advance to Saturday. That sent 56 Elite pros home for the season.
Kevin Short of Mayflower, Ark., wasn’t one of them. He turned in 19-14 Friday to jump into third place from ninth place. His two-day total was 39-4.
Fourth place was claimed by Edwin Evers of Talala, Okla., at 39-1. And for the second day in a row, Jacob Powroznik, the Elite Series rookie who won the fourth event of the 2014 season, settled into fifth place. From Port Haywood, Va., Powroznik posted 38-14 over two days.
First-day leader Brandon Palaniuk of Hayden, Idaho, fell to ninth place after posting 16-5 — respectable, but not the 20-pound-plus weight he needed to stay in control.
Hackney, who had never fished Cayuga Lake before practice began last Monday, immediately keyed in on Cayuga’s grassy habitat. By Friday, he was rolling with it.
“It was a monster day. I had four of my fish this morning in the first hour,” he said. Adding another soon, he replaced several of those for larger bass as the day progressed. His last cull was at 2:30, he said.
But fishing Cayuga has not been easy.
“It’s kind of a grind for me. I’m not catching a lot of fish. I’ve just been fortunate enough that when I get a bite, it’s typically 3 pounds or bigger,” he said.
Like Hackney, Faircloth had never been fishing on Cayuga Lake before last Monday. But his gut told him he could pick apart the grassy lake’s bass fishing secrets much like he does on Toledo Bend and Sam Rayburn, the two reservoirs closest to his Texas home.
“I’ve got one really good spot,” Faircloth said. “I found out today that I’m sharing it with another guy. He fished it late yesterday, and I fished it early yesterday. We both left it at 8 o’clock this morning.”
Faircloth said he culled two more times after he left the stretch of water that proved so productive.
“But by 9:30, 10 o’clock, it was over for me as far as upgrading,” he said.
Faircloth is a five-time Bassmaster Elite Series winner and 12-time Bassmaster Classic qualifier. He’s come close, but he has not won a Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year title.
The 50 anglers in Saturday’s round will attempt to be one of the 12 who will compete on Sunday for the first prize of $100,000 and an instant qualification for the 2015 Bassmaster Classic.
Besides a win, the goal of all pros still in the Cayuga event is to earn enough points to be one of 50 who qualify for the $900,000 Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year Championship, Sept. 18-21 on Bays de Noc out of Escanaba, Mich. That’s where they’ll have a chance at securing a Bassmaster Classic berth if they didn’t earn one by winning an event.
When the Michigan event wraps up the Elite season, the 2014 Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year will be crowned and handed $100,000 of the $900,000 total purse.
Although points are posted after each day’s competition, AOY standings are not official until the end of the tournament.
Hackney won the $500 Livingston Lures Leader Award for heading up the field on the second day. His big bag of 23-1 became the frontrunner for the Berkley Heavyweight award of $500.
With his 6-6 largemouth of Day 1, Powroznik continued to hold the reins in the event’s Carhartt Big Bass competition for a bonus of up to $1,500.
The A.R.E. Truck Caps Bassmaster Elite at Cayuga Lake continues Saturday at Frontenac Park, 26 Chapel St., Union Springs, N.Y. The pros will leave the docks beginning at 6:15 a.m. Start time for the weigh-in is 3:15 p.m.
The Bassmaster Elite Series Expo and Fish Cayuga Festival will continue through Sunday at Frontenac Park. On tap are live music, food and merchandise vendors, and products and services of Elite Series sponsors.
Highlights of the Expo include the screening of the newest Costa GeoBASS film preceding Saturday’s weigh-in; free demo boat rides beginning right after the morning launch in Triton, Skeeter and Nitro boats powered by Mercury or Yamaha engines; the Berkley Experience trailer; and merchandise, games and prizes offered by Carhartt, Toyota, Minn Kota, Shimano, Livingston Lures and many others.
All Bassmaster events are free.
The Bassmasters TV show on ESPN2 will feature the Cayuga event on Sunday, Sept. 27, in the 2:30-3:30 p.m. time slot.
All times are Eastern.
Image courtesy Gary Tramontina/Bassmaster