Chad Griffin: Oneida Lake
Rookie Chad Griffin took home the trophy at the 2009 Elite Series season finale in the Ramada Champion's Choice on Oneida Lake with a four-day total of 65 pounds, 10 ounces.
He utilized a two-pronged approach: a grass flipping pattern and a schooling smallmouth pattern that he discovered during the second day of competition. He never weighed in a bag less that 15 pounds, and his 18-pound, 8-ounce stringer on Day Two was the biggest of the event.
In practice he had discovered a grass-flipping pattern with a big jig and was catching quality largemouth. Entering the tournament in 66th place in the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year race, making the Classic was longer than a long shot (as it was, he finished only 17 points away from earning a berth).
"Basically, I didn't care," Griffin said. "I came to hero or zero and that attitude was huge for me because I didn't feel any pressure all week."
Fishing relaxed, Griffin began Day One punching the grass with a 1 ½-ounce Ezee jig in Conroe craw. He had used a brazos craw color in practice, but that was when the water was clean. Toward the end of practice and the beginning of the tournament, an algae bloom rolled in and the Conroe craw seemed to work better because "it has a little more glisten to it."
Griffin rigged the jig on a Custom Angle 7-foot, 10-inch extra-heavy rod that is built out of Fort Worth, Texas.
"I used that rod so I could rip them up out of the grass," Griffin said. "Those smallmouth can bend the rod just as much as a largemouth. I would hook one and swear it was 4 pounds and turns out to only be 2.5 to 3 pounds."
Seaguar 20-pound fluorocarbon line was also key because it also helped pull the fish out of the grass.
Mixing in a Reaction Innovation Sweet Beaver in the sprayed grass color accounted for a few fish over the first few days as well. He rigged that with a 1-ounce tungsten weight and a 3/0 Gamakatsu straight shank hook. Griffin ran a wire up the shank and through the eyelet.
"That wire held the beaver on the hook so I could rip the lure up through the grass," Griffin said.
His tournament got off to a disappointing start on Day One, when Griffin pulled into his primary area and got 12 bites, but didn't boat a single fish. What happened was smallmouth bass had scared all the largemouth out of the area and he couldn't keep them hooked up.
"The hook I was using was too big because I was strictly fishing for largemouth," Griffin said. "You don't need that big hook fishing for smallmouth and it took me a little while to make that adjustment."
He ground out a few bites for the rest of the day and was fortunate to have the day's biggest bass, a 5-pound, 8-ounce largemouth that anchored his 15-pound, 3-ounce stringer.
The way Griffin fished the bait was perhaps the most unusual part of his approach, fishing aggressively to trigger strikes.
"I used that heavy weight to bang the bait through the area," Griffin said. "I originally was using a lighter jig, but as soon as I switched over to that 1 1/2-ounce bait, I started getting bit."
Day Two saw Griffin expanding his areas. He started with the grass fish and boated 17 pounds, so he started to practice.
"I found a school of smallmouth and knew that's where I would fish the next two days," Griffin said.
The smallmouth school fell victim to an Xcaliber Zell Pop topwater bait that was white with a chartreuse back. He also fished that aggressively and caught both schooling fish and others that he couldn't see.
The Zell Pop was rigged on a Rick Morris 7-foot heavy signature series rattle trap rod. That may seem stout for a topwater rod, but Griffin was more concerned with getting the fish out of heavy cover.
"As soon as the smallmouth at the bait, it would jump two or three times and then dive into the grass," Griffin said. "I was trying to ski them across the top like frog fish, but those smallies have a mind of their own."
Like the jig and beaver, he also fished the topwater on 20-pound Seaguar fluorocarbon line to achieve the same power to get them in the boat.
Day Three and Day Four were all about the schooling smallmouth. At 9 a.m. on Day Three, he only had one fish in the livewell so he went to the schooling fish and in 20 minutes had boated 16 pounds. Day Four was more of the same, but he started on the schooling fish and had his limit in the first 30 minutes on the spot.
That limit likely clinched victory for Griffin, but he stuck it out trying to upgrade and that was when things started going wrong for the young angler. Boat traffic and floating grass made topwater fishing harder and he battled battery issues, but it was the loss of his Zell Pop that he cited as the worse part of the day.
"I broke a fish off in the afternoon and with it went my only Zell Pop in that color," Griffin said. "I had another Zell Pop, but it wasn't the right color. After that, I had some good fish come up on the bait, but they never got hooked — it was so frustrating."
What was so key about that one white Zell Pop with a chartreuse back?
"This afternoon when I was checking on a fish in the livewell, I saw some bait that the fish had coughed up," Griffin said. "It was a baby perch that was almost a spitting image of my bait. There wasn't any orange on it, which surprised me for a yellow perch."
Another key Griffin cited in his victory were his Costa Del Mar sunglasses. The young rookie used a new pair that will be available soon, Santa Rosa SR10 glasses.
"Those allowed me to see clumps of grass, especially after the algae bloom," Griffin said.
His final-day limit of 15 pounds, 10 ounces was more than enough to seal his first Elite Series victory with a total over 2 pounds more than his nearest competitor.