SYRACUSE, N.Y. — The top-12 anglers in the Bassmaster Memorial Major presented by Evan Williams Bourbon gathered around tournament director Trip Weldon early on Saturday morning on one of the few docks that sticks out onto Onondaga Lake near downtown Syracuse.
"You get an hour and ten minutes in each hole, and you can't leave early," Trip explained. In this, the third day of the four-day tournament with a first-place prize of $250,000, the anglers will be fishing six different holes — which were decided upon and marked off by BASS — on Onondaga Lake.
Dean Rojas led the field after two days on Oneida Lake, but all the weight has been thrown out for this group of 12 as they start a new two-day tournament on Onondaga. Skeet Reese got first choice on which hole he wanted to start on because he has the most points in the Angler of the Year race.
Reese chose hole No. 5, which is on the northwest end of the lake.
"Holes two and five at least have something different on them," Reese said, referring to the fact that the Seneca River is flowing into Onondaga at the north end of the lake (hole five) and out at the south (hole two). "The other holes look boring, although I'm sure they have a lot of fish in them."
There will be two anglers to a hole, and they will rotate holes counting up throughout the day (for instance, Reese will fish his holes in this order: 5, 6, 1, 2, 3 and 4). And for the last hour and 20 minutes of the day, they will pick their favorite hole for what BASS calls the "happy hour." The field will be cut to six at the end of Saturday, and a winner from that six will be decided on Sunday.
None of the anglers have ever fished on Onondaga, so they will all be trying to adjust to new water.
"I just try and figure where the most productive water is in the shortest amount of time," said Peter Thliveros, who won the Bassmaster Memorial in Fort Worth, Texas in 2006. "I will look for the type of structure I want to fish, and see if I can find what fits my style."
Dave Wolak, the only other angler left in the field that knows what it's like to win a Major, said he approaches each hole as a new body of water.
"I'll probably take a ride around each hole when I first get there and take a look at what I think might be the best," Wolak said.
With the factor of the unknown, there were plenty of different rod and reel combinations sitting on boat decks this morning. As soon as he knew which hole he'd be starting on (hole No. 1), Iaconelli starting pulling out huge bags of different baits from the depths of his boat.
"There are two ways to approach new water," Iaconelli said. "You can crank with the same thing all day, or you can try and be versatile and catch 10 fish on 10 different baits. I'm just planning on doing whatever it takes."
Rojas made it clear what his plans were when he pulled out two rods with big baits tied on, including Kermit, his frog that he is famous for using. Crews had 13 rods rigged up on his boat, but he said he's not looking to be all that versatile either.
"A lot of these rods are duplicates," Crews said before the anglers idled on and headed toward their respective holes. "I know what I want to do, now I just hope it works."
Editor's note: Check in each day for live video of the weigh-in and the realtime leaderboard at 6 p.m. ET. There will be a special Hooked Up show at 10 a.m. ET Saturday, with tournament updates Sunday at 8 a.m., 10 a.m. and noon ET. The Hooked Up show begins at 5 p.m. Sunday and leads into the live final weigh-in.
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