SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Elite Series rookie Chad Griffin has run out of superlatives to describe his week on Oneida Lake. He started the tournament as "tremendous" and "incredible," but on Saturday the Cresson, Texas, pro didn't know what to say. Instead he let his performance do the talking — Griffin built his three-day total to 50 pounds even, which was good enough for a more than 4-pound margin over Louisiana's Greg Hackney at the Ramada Champion's Choice.
After a highly productive practice, Griffin started the tournament Thursday with the biggest bass of the day but failed to capitalize on a few key bites. Friday he switched to smaller hooks and tallied the biggest limit of the tournament. On Saturday, he held strong, landing 16 pounds, 5 ounces, furthering his lead and taking a virtual stranglehold on the $100,000 top prize.
It would take a significant blip for Griffin to relinquish the tournament. For now, Griffin continues to soak up the good vibes he experienced this week when he first laid eyes on Oneida.
"I fell in love, man" said Griffin, 32. "It's just a wonderful fishery. Right now, I'm not really nervous but I know what is at stake. No one else can control what I do. I just have to perform."
Fishing fans can catch all of the on-the-water action from the Champion's Choice on The Bassmasters, which airs Saturday, August 22, at 3 p.m. ET on ESPN.
For the third straight day, Griffin struck early, boating 15 pounds by 9 a.m. on topwater baits. By 12:30 p.m., he had rounded out his total and played it safe, heading back to the weigh-in venue with ample fishing time remaining. He had nothing but smallmouth Saturday, but he said he has been able to land largemouth throughout the tournament.
Griffin said he plans to stick with the topwater bite Sunday — he primarily used an EZEE jig Friday — and would also mix in some flipping. He feels that 17 pounds would make him virtually uncatchable, so he will target that amount.
"I don't really know what to say," said Griffin, whose best BASS finish is seventh. "I'm just trying to enjoy this. I will just let the chips fall where they may."
Moving into second from fifth was Greg Hackney of Gonzales, La., with a three-day total of 45 pounds, 12 ounces. Buoyed by a recent major tournament victory, Hackney said he has been able to clear his mind and fish relaxed.
He said he has peace of mind and has fished the way he wants. At Oneida, he has been able to execute a favored pattern, though he didn't want to reveal the details. With his success this week, Hackney has put himself in contention for the inaugural Bassmaster Elite Series postseason. Heading into Oneida, Hackney had little chance of qualifying, but things have played out perfectly for the three-time BASS winner.
"It's so good to be able to fish the way you want to and have very little worries," he said. "I wish everyone could experience it. Right now, I'm in the mind-set that if tomorrow is meant to be, maybe I will win this thing. Regardless, I like the way I'm fishing."
Jumping eight places to third was Jeff Kriet of Ardmore, Okla., with 45 pounds, 4 ounces. Moving up to fourth from 15th was Gerald Swindle of Warrior, Ala., with 45-0, and rounding out the top five was Jason Quinn of York, S.C., with 44-15.
Only the top 12 anglers moved on to Sunday's competition, and that field includes 2008 Oneida champion Dean Rojas (seventh) and home-state favorite Matt Sphar (eighth) of Pavillion, N.Y.
With the culmination of the regular season, the AOY points will be carried into the postseason, when the top 12 anglers will face off. Four-time AOY Kevin VanDam (27th) and Skeet Reese (14th) are jockeying for the lead, and Reese has taken a slim lead with his solid Oneida performance. Toyota Trucks Championship Week is set for Sept. 10-18 on two productive Alabama fisheries. The first of the two postseason tournaments, the Trophy Chase, will take place Sept. 12-13 on Lake Jordan out of Wetumpka; the finale, the Evan Williams Bourbon Trophy Triumph, is slated for Sept. 17-18 on the Alabama River from Montgomery.
In the race to qualify for the 2010 Bassmaster Classic, set for Feb. 19-21 on Lay Lake out of Birmingham, Ala., Elite Series veteran Matt Reed of Madisonville, Texas, and rookie Billy McCaghren of Mayflower, Ark., were on the bubble heading into the Champion's Choice. McCaghren clinched a spot, finishing at Oneida in 25th, and also took home Rookie of the Year honors. Bernie Schultz of Gainesville, Fla., could punch his ticket with a solid Day Four performance. The final standings will be available after the tournament concludes Sunday.