SYRACUSE, N.Y. — With the weights separated by ounces, anglers jockeying for position in the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings experienced both heartbreak and hope on the shores of Oneida Lake.
Hope emerged in the form of Gerald Swindle, the outgoing angler from Warrior, Ala., who entered the Ramada Champion's Choice in 17th place in the standings. The top 12 move on the Toyota Trucks Championship Week in Swindle's home state of Alabama, and he has put himself in good contention to make it.
"I've never cashed a check here fishing for smallmouth, so I decided to dedicate myself to fishing largemouth," Swindle said. "I told [Jeff] Reynolds to punch me in the eye if I went for smallmouth. To do well, you can't have fun — you can't go for numbers — you have to grind out 5 or 6 bites a day. I'm just going to roll the dice that the fish will hold up."
His Day One weight of 15 pounds, 9 ounces has Swindle in seventh place in the tournament and moved him into 11th in the TTBAOY standings, on the bubble for fishing in September.
Not everyone was as fortunate as Swindle on Day One. Rookie Billy McCaghren was one spot out of qualifying for the Classic heading into the first day. After a 10-pound, 14-ounce, 88th-place Day One, McCaghren fell to 50th in the TTBAOY standings.
"I took a chance and went after a school of big smallmouth that I found," McCaghren said. "Today I waited on them for the first hour but they never did come up. The rest of my spots all had small fish on them. I'll have to sleep on it and figure out what I need to do. If those schooling fish get going, it could be pretty easy to catch 15 pounds."
Matt Reed lost just as much as McCaghren, falling from the final Classic spot in 37th, to just out of contention in 42nd after a Day One performance that saw him catch only 11 pounds, 8 ounces.
"I thought smallmouth fishing was a safer bet here, but the fish were all small today," Reed said. "I'm going to start in the same areas tomorrow, but if it gets to a point when things are struggling, I have to gamble and go for largemouth."
The big move in the TTBAOY standings went to former Oneida Lake champion Tommy Biffle, jumping from 13th place, just outside postseason contention, to sixth. His 15-pound, 13-ounce limit has him in fifth place in the tournament, and he owed much of that to a change in strategy.
Biffle surprised much of the crowd at the weigh-in when he showed off a few smallmouth mixed in with the usual suspects of largemouth. As a shallow-water expert, his move to fish initially for smallmouth shows how the lake and his approach has changed.
"Back in 2006 I won the tournament here and there was only me and a few others fishing for largemouth," Biffle said. "Now, everyone does it, so it makes it harder to win exclusively with largemouth. I caught a quick limit of smallmouth today in 15 to 20 minutes and then went and culled with a few largemouth. You can fish relaxed when you get that quick limit."
The TTBAOY battle intensified Thursday as Skeet Reese brought in a 15-pound, 8-ounce bag, ending the day with a ninth-place finish and the lead in the yearlong race by 24 points over Kevin VanDam (26th, 14-0).
Action continues Friday with postseason and Classic berths on the line. The weigh-in begins at 4 p.m. ET, streaming live on ESPN360 with full coverage of the event on Bassmaster.com.