2015 Bassmaster Elite Series
This tournament wasn’t just my first time on the Delta, it was my first time fishing at all in the state of California. When I bought my first California fishing license it opened the door to a new experience, and that’s what I like best about this job, the opportunity to go new places and figure them out. After a disappointing tournament at Guntersville I’d vowed to spend less time on map study prior to the actual practice period and that seemed to pay off. Of course there was a little bit of anxiety, but by not knowing what was around the next corner it enabled me to fish based on instincts rather than preconceptions.
Obviously the Delta has a lot of fishable water, but I narrowed it down by focusing on one general area. We stayed at a KOA on the water in Little Potato Slough and I launched there every day of practice. Even now I don’t know all of the names of the places that I fished, but I’m proud of that. I turned on my Humminbird/Lakemaster charts and went to work on some of the “lakes” like Frank’s Tract as well as some of the many miles of canals.
On the first day of practice I started off flipping in Franks and it was one here, one there, but that group of fish included a 5 pounder. Later I had a 5 pounder eat my swimbait in a residential canal system and then a 7 pounder tried to eat it. Over the course of my time in that area I saw a few more quality fish. Normally, that would make me try to learn more about that location, but it was a long way from the launch, with a lot of idling, so while I didn’t totally write it off I wanted to find something that would involve less travel time.
Much of the second practice day was spent in Potato Slough and Disappointment Slough, looking for bedding fish and throwing a big swimbait. It seemed like most of the fish were either still spawning or guarding fry. You’d think that a big fish place like the Delta would be all about heavy tackle, but as the day went on I got onto a pretty good wacky worm pattern using a spinning rod with 10 pound braid and a 10 pound fluorocarbon leader. My first fish after that was a 5 pounder before I cut the hook off. On the second and third days I probably could’ve had 25 pounds on that wacky worm, fishing for spawners as well as just throwing it around scattered grass and tules.
At the end of the third day I found a spawning pair – I estimated the male to be about 4 pounds and the female at 5 or maybe 6. They ended up being really important to my tournament success.
I was in the second flight on the first day of competition which was good because I hadn’t made the run from Sacramento to the Delta yet. Most of us hadn’t and we were going to have to figure out on the fly how long it would take and other things like whether we’d need to get gas. BASS did a good job of explaining the no-wake zones and other obstacles and they had a police officer on hand who explained things further. In fact, he cleared things up in a manner that probably cut 20 to 30 minutes off of my run, which is huge when every bite counts.
I started the first day in a small backwater lake where I’d caught two or three big ones on the wacky worm in practice. I knew that the better bites would come on the high incoming tide, but I didn’t expect the tide to be out so far (and still going out) when I arrive. If I’d known that, I wouldn’t have started there. I did manage to catch two fish on the wacky worm and one on an X Rap prop bait, but they were all under 2 ½ pounds, not what I was there for.
At that point I went up to Disappointment Slough to look for some bedding fish I’d located but they were all gone. There was such a short window to get them, really just two days and then they’d leave the nest. Likewise, I left the area after 90 minutes. At that point I went to Frank’s, to a stretch of bank where I’d caught a 7 ½ pounder during practice. The wind had trashed the area, dropping the visibility from over a foot to less than 6 inches. I spent 45 more precious minutes there without adding anything to my livewell.
I stopped in a marina outside of Frank’s to gas up and as I started to idle out I recalled a fish I’d seen behind a dock in that area in practice, so I started looking again. There were lots of docks back there but it wasn’t easy fishing – there were all kinds of ropes you had to go over and under to move anywhere which made it slow going. Pretty quickly I lost a 2 pounder, and then I found a 2 pounder on a bed. It took 10 minutes to catch it, and I felt like an idiot spending that much time on a fish that small, but I needed to fill out my limit. After I caught number five, a guy came out on his dock and started screaming at me that it was off limits and I had to leave. Even though I knew that I had every right to be there, I didn’t want to argue so I picked up and left. It seemed like divine intervention because it turned out to be the right move.
With less than an hour to go I went back to the pair I’d found in Potato Slough. I had 9 or 10 pounds and the 4 pound male would probably at least get me in range of the cut weight. I could make up the difference the next day. I caught a few short fish on the way to the bed, and then my first cast to the bed itself was rewarded with a strike. It was the male and he weighed about 3 ¼ pounds. The female followed him the whole way back. She was so hot on his tail that if I’d had a net I could’ve gotten them both. I almost could’ve grabbed her. I slid the male into the livewell, culled, retied and trolled back toward the nest. I made a long cast and then saw her cruise back toward the bed. I twitched the worm once and she spun 90 degrees on it. I twitched it again and she grabbed it. She never jumped, just pulled hard, and when I got her to the boat she opened her mouth perfectly so I could lip her. I’d thought she’d weigh 6 at most, but she was over 7. With two casts I’d put 10 plus pounds in the boat, taking me from less than 10 to over 17.
I spent the last 40 minutes covering water with the swimbait. At the next little island, a fish followed it briefly before turning back. That’s the telltale sign of one guarding something, either a bed or fry. If they follow it all the way to the boat, they’re not guarding. I cast the wacky worm back, got a bite and set the hook. The fish jumped and pulled hard and came off. She was close to 4 pounds, which would’ve helped me. I was certainly disappointed, but sitting in 28th place it was my best start of the year. In the previous events I’d started in the 40s and fallen out of the cut. I was glad to have a little cushion, but I still had to really catch them on Friday.
On Day Two I started in Potato Slough, heading straight to the fish I had lost the day before. I sat back and threw the wacky worm but caught nothing in five or ten casts so I kept moving. I had some follows on the swimbait in there, but nothing panned out so I went to Disappointment with an empty livewell.
In Disappointment I caught a small keeper and a 4 pounder pretty quickly, both on the wacky worm off of beds. Then I saw a big one sitting in a hole in the vegetation, but I couldn’t get her to bite.
When the tide got pretty far out around 10 o’clock I found a bass that was at least 7 pounds on a deep bed. At first I thought she was just 5 pounds, but that was an optical illusion because she was so deep. She wouldn’t swim away, but she wasn’t really interested either, and even at low tide I had trouble seeing her. After a while, I started getting some tentative strikes, but I still couldn’t tell what was going on. Finally I realized it was a small male. Eventually I made the decision to catch him – either the big girl would finally leave or else she’d get upset and bite. I caught him quickly and she remained parked on the bed, so I felt like I could catch her. It took a few minutes for her to get aggressive, but finally I figured out that she only wanted big baits, like a swimbait or a jig. I’m still mad that I didn’t dig out some sort of big white soft plastic, especially because she wouldn’t eat the wacky worm. She might’ve bit a few times, but she’d spit it out so fast that I was afraid that if I set the hook I’d snag her. I fished for that big girl for 30 minutes of outgoing tide, 30 minutes of slack tide and 30 minutes of incoming tide before I gave up. I was truly upset, thinking I’d blown my chance to make the cut.
After leaving that big fish, I found a pair rubbing on each other a short way down the bank. The female was another big one, but once again I couldn’t get her interested. I caught a small keeper and culled with a fry guarder, but I still had a couple of fish less than 2 pounds and that wasn’t going to cut it.
For the last hour I went back to Potato with the intent to throw a big swimbait. I probably had 30 pounds of followers in that last hour, but they wouldn’t commit. Finally, I had a 3 pounder eat it, which culled out a fish that weighed 1 ½ or 1 ¾ pounds. That’s the fish that allowed me to fish on Saturday. I made it inside the cut by a little over a pound.
Heading into Day Three I had little to lose and everything to gain. Each additional point I earned would be huge. I started in a marina where I’d seen fish spawning during practice, including a 4 pounder and a 3 pounder. Oddly enough, they were spawning on some big boats’ trim tabs. I started off throwing a swimbait and had a 5 pounder roll on it, but she wouldn’t commit. When the sun cracked over the tree line, I went over to look for the beds. Fittingly, I started on a boat called “The Rising Sun,” but the spawners were gone. Four boats later, though, I saw a 2 ½ pound bass on a trim tab. It was a tough cast, because the tabs are only 12 inches wide and sit 10 inches off the boat. Fortunately the fish was very aggressive and I caught it the third time I presented the lure properly.
After that I went back to Potato to look for big fish. I caught a 3 ½ pounder pretty quickly, then added a third keeper out of a clump of reeds on the wacky worm. Then I found a 2 ½ pounder on a bed. It bit tentatively a few times, but wouldn’t commit, so eventually I left.
Making my way to Disappointment, I went to look for the fish from Day Two. They were gone, as was the other big female I’d found. I’d told Andy Montgomery about them because he was struggling and he caught the 3 pound male but that was the only fish we took from there. A little later I found a 3 pounder in inches of water but she was finicky. You could drag a bait across her head and she’d hardly move. She’d nip at it, but that was it. After 45 minutes she left and never returned. It was time to leave that dead zone. I pulled up the trolling motor and made it back to Potato with 40 minutes left to fish. I went back to the fish that had bit in the morning and on my first cast with a wacky worm I landed a 2 ¼ pounder.
With the remaining time I alternated between the swimbait and the wacky worm, and with 10 or 15 minutes to go I landed a 2 ½ pounder to fill out my limit. They totaled 12-12 (same weight as Day Two) and I was happy to have them, as tough as the day was. In many respects it felt like a victory and I was pleased with my finish. It wasn’t a top 20, but with all of the factors involved I feel like I fished a good event. It’s a fantastic fishery and after practice I felt like it would take 18 pounds a day to get paid. I’d love to go back when the tide is right.
My main two lures were the wacky rigged 5-inch sink worm (green pumpkin) and a Berkley Havoc Sick Fish. I fished the wacky worm on a 2/0 VMC weedless wacky hook on a 7’2” medium action Fenwick World Class spinning rod and a matching Pflueger Patriarch reel. My main line was 10 pound test Trilene braid and my leader was 10 pound test Trilene XL fluorocarbon.
I fished the Sick Fish on a 7’6” HMG medium heavy rod paired with a 7.1:1 Pflueger Patriarch and 17 pound test Trilene 100% fluorocarbon. That’s a big bait and the Delta is loaded with big fish, so I threaded the bait on an 8/0 unweighted swimbait hook.
As much as my tackle mattered in this event, my Nitro Z21 and Mercury motor were critical, too. I was burning 50 to 52 gallons of gas a day and every minute of fishing time was precious – I never experienced even the slightest hiccup. My Lakemaster mapping software was also a big deal. It allowed me to use my time effectively without worrying about running up on a sandbar or getting lost. The tools that I use are the best in the industry and I marvel at them after every new venue.