Hardy Heads The Pack In Bassmaster Oneida Open

Georgia angler Wil Hardy II has proved during the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Northern Open at Oneida Lake that he can catch smallmouth bass even though he rarely fishes for them.

Hardy says the only time he ever fishes for smallmouth is during the Northern Opens. Despite his lack of fishing experience for brown bass, the Harlem, Ga., angler has taken the lead in the pro division with a two-day catch of 10 smallmouth weighing 35 pounds, 9 ounces.

“Hopefully it will be all smallmouth for me tomorrow,” said Hardy, a 26-year-old fishing tackle company co-owner. “If I have largemouth (tomorrow), I either got really lucky or something really bad happened.”

Hardy’s smallmouth game plan worked perfectly for him the first two days of the tournament. Thursday, he caught his limit early and then went hunting for more schools of bass the rest of the day.

“Today I wasn’t sure how the weights were going to be so we just sat there and hammered on them and tried to cull up for the ounces that we could,” Hardy said. “We caught about all of our fish before 10 o’clock and I think I culled out one fish after that.”

Bassmaster Elite Series qualifier Jacob Wheeler has also chased after smallmouth both days and moved into second place with 34-3. He credits teaming up with Bassmaster Elite Series pro Adrian Avena to stay on top of the roaming smallmouth.

“Changing up tactics has been the big thing for me this week,” Wheeler said.

The Indianapolis, Ind., pro noticed the smallmouth on this lake tend to be on one place one day and might be 300 yards away the next day.

“These smallmouth tend to roam on Oneida a lot,” Wheeler said. “They roam around the grass. They roam on the flats. It’s not like Lake Erie smallmouth fishing, where you pull up to a rockpile and (know) the fish are going to be on that rockpile.”

Rounding out the Top 5 in the pro division are Jesse Tacoronte, Orlando, Fla., third place, 33-9; Mike Shumanis, Bethlehem, Pa., fourth, 33-8; and Larry Mazur, East Aurora, N.Y., fifth, 32-14.

Today was a reunion of sorts for co-angler Darryl Halbert, who was paired with Bassmaster Elite Series pro Mike Iaconelli. The 55-year-old dentist recalls fishing with Iaconelli during a Bassmaster Invitational back in the early 1990s.

“That was back when he was a scrawny little kid,” said Halbert. The Enoree, S.C., angler took over the co-angler division lead by catching six bass weighing 20-12 the last two days while dropshotting.

The Livingston Lures Leader Awards went to Hardy for leading the pro division on Day 2 and Halbert for leading the co-angler division.

Visit Syracuse (www.visitsyracuse.com) is hosting this event. Saturday’s takeoff is at 5:30 a.m. ET at Oneida Shores Park. The Top 12 finalists from each division will weigh in at 3 p.m. at the Bass Pro Shops in Utica, N.Y.