2015 Bassmaster Elite Series
Lake Havasu City, Arizona
Heading straight to Havasu for an abbreviated practice period after a successful tournament on the California Delta, I was excited for another new experience. I knew Havasu is super-clear, but other than that I was a novice on the desert lakes. It also has both largemouths and smallmouths, which reminds me of home, and it’s a good situation because you can usually develop two different patterns. If the weather or some other condition changes, that gives you options.
We only had two days of practice on Havasu, but at less than 20,000 acres it’s a small lake. Additionally, I felt that it was going to pattern relatively easily, so it wasn’t necessary to see every possible place.
On Tuesday, the first day of practice, I started up the river throwing a swimbait and managed a few bites doing that as well as on the same wacky worm I’d been throwing at the Delta. Then I moved to some of the “cages” – manmade cover sunk by local groups – and caught some on a drop shot and on a wacky jighead. Then I moved to the tules and overhanging brush and caught some more flipping a Berkley Havoc Pit Boss.
While I did manage to get several things going, the river wasn’t all that big. There were only about five miles with decent sized backwaters, and it looked like they wouldn’t hold enough fish to sustain four days of intense pressure. With eight bites under my belt, most of them between 2 and 3 pounds, at 1pm I decided to head down the lake to try to get something else going. Down there I found decent numbers of largemouths on small patches of tules – either they were spawning or had just finished. Overall, it was a productive first day.
On the second day of practice I started with a topwater and caught a good smallmouth. Then I cut my hooks off and had a good largemouth blow up on it. A wake bait was good for another, and when I switched to a swimbait I had a bunch of bumps and followers.
At one point I stopped on a sloping gravel point to talk to Brandon Coulter and while I was sitting there I threw out a Reins tungsten sliding football head with a soft plastic craw on it. I had two bites on that one point. Then on the next point I caught a decent smallmouth. That tipped me off to the fact that the bite for those brown fish was going to be better in the afternoon, which is frequently the case in the post-spawn.
I wasn’t sure where to start on the first competition day. With a boat number in the first flight I was considering heading up river to the fragile backwaters to pick off a few up there before they ran out, but upon reconsidering I decided to start down. I felt like the first three hours of the day were going to be the most important, and after that you could catch one here and one there, so imagine my shock when I didn’t have a bite the first two and a half hours. I was starting to freak out.
Finally I pulled into one little cut and saw a bass swimming away. I put my Talons down and fired out my wacky worm. It hit the bottom, I popped it once and he came over and ate it. I put the 2 ½ pounder in the livewell and breathed a sigh of relief. I’d broken the ice. More importantly, I’d figured a little something out. Those fish were relating to ditches that ran right off the bank in the shorter pockets. If you could find one leading into a cage, that was even better. As I was heading to the next spot with the trolling motor on 80%, a 3 pounder smoked my swimbait. After a long time without a bite, I’d caught two in three minutes.
A couple of pockets later I caught a 2 ½ pounder on the swimbait. Soon thereafter I had one blast my swimbait and miss it, but in the next gut I caught a keeper. I’d gone from none to four in no time at all, and then I was done. It was like someone flipped a light switch. At around 11 am they quit chasing. I tried to find some active bedding fish, but couldn’t, so I headed up to where I had the football head bites. I made four or five casts there and caught my fifth fish, a solid 2 ¾ pounder. A few points later, I added one around 2 ½. That was my limit fish. I caught six on the day and weighed in three smallmouths and two largemouths. While my 13-14 had me in 54th place, I’d fished clean and hadn’t lost any.
Nothing shocks me on the Elite Series anymore, but I was certainly surprised that almost 14 pounds had me outside of the cut. Back in February, there was a big pre-spawn tournament on Havasu and 12 pounds a day had been good enough for 20th place, so I thought it would take less at this time of year. That put the pressure on me to do better on Day Two. I felt that my best chance to do so would be to hit new water, finding promising spots with my eyes and fishing by my instincts.
Within five minutes I had two bass in the livewell, a 2 ½ pound largemouth and a matching smallmouth. I figured I was in for a fantastic day, but after that brief flurry I went 2 ½ hours before I got another bite. On the first day, I’d seen a lure on Seth Feider’s deck that I know is popular for northern smallmouths. He told me that he’d caught 20 fish on them, and then was gracious enough to give me a few. I tucked them away for when I’d need them.
A few hours later I’d added a 1 ½ pounder and a 4 pounder, so I was up to four fish when I got near the area where I’d dragged up the smallmouth on Day One. I took out Seth’s bait and quickly caught a 2 ½ pound smallmouth. Then I culled and caught one more, a 2 ¾ pounder that got me up to about 13 pounds. It was really a crazy day – I caught two early, then three a few hours later and then a couple at the end of the day. It was sporadic and you had to be on your toes when one of those spurts happened. At the very end, I pulled into the cove where I’d started on Day One. The water had a little color and there was a beaver hut in the back. I threw out my ¾ ounce Terminator jig and caught a 3 pound largemouth to bring me up to 14-12. That moved me inside the cut, up 14 places to 40th.
On Day Three I started in a spot where a 3 pounder had followed my swimbait. When I got to the back of the cut, a 2 ¾ pound fish ate my lure and in the first five minutes I had the livewells running. Then I started running gut to gut. Three stops later I threw over a cage in 12 feet of water and a 3 pounder ate it. On the next stop I had a 3 pound follower, but it went back to its bed and wouldn’t bite. A short while later I caught one around 2 ½ pounds and as I returned to the bedding fish I saw Greg Vinson putting that one in his livewell.
After that I ran to my smallmouth area, threw up on the point and got a bite, but it missed. It looked big, and I saw it swim back to what I assume was a bed. I cast at it a bunch of times and couldn’t get it to bite until I cast across the point and finally caught him. It was worth the wait – a solid 3 ½ pounder. Now I had four good ones.
In the next pocket I flipped up a 1 ½ pound largemouth on the Terminator jig, then ran my smallmouth stuff some more. I quickly caught one over 2 pounds, which allowed me to cull out the 1 ½ pound largemouth. I had a few more follows before catching a 3 ½ pounder that allowed me to cull out that last smallmouth/
I kept running those smallmouth points and finally I had a good fish load up but it didn’t feel like a bass. I thought it might be a carp or a catfish. When it looked brown underwater I hoped it was a big smallmouth…then I saw a big dot on the side and realized it was a monster redear sunfish. I actually put it on my scale and it weighed 2 ¼ pounds. I was disappointed but went right back to chasing those smallmouths I’d seen.
With 90 minutes left, I recalled that a lot of anglers were fishing right by the takeoff. I’d seen Byron Velvick lose one around 4 ½ pounds there on a swimbait. I’d intended to start there on Day One, but Matt Herren beat me to the spot. When I got there on Day Three, the spot was open, and quickly I had a 4 pounder follow out my swimbait but it wouldn’t commit. I transitioned to flipping my jig. The reeds were in 2 to 3 feet of super clear water. I don’t know how you wouldn’t see the fish there, but they somehow blend in. I soon caught one nearly 3 ½ pounds. Now I had four fish in the three pound range and one a little smaller. I caught a couple more fish but they didn’t help. I figured I still might have a shot at the top 12, but ultimately fell a little short, finishing 17th.
All in all, I was very glad about how things turned out. Not only did my two good finishes out west move me up to 31st in the AOY standings, but my weights at Havasu got better every day. It shows me that I was making good decisions and adjusting to the conditions at hand. I’m fishing with a lot of confidence, and if it didn’t mean being away from my family for more time I would like to head right into another tournament. We don’t have the next Elite Series event for a few weeks, when we go to Kentucky Lake for BASSFest. Before that, though, I’ll head to Alabama for the Mark’s Outdoors tournament.
Just like the Delta, I fished the wacky worm on a Fenwick World Class 7’2” medium action spinning rod, paired with a Pflueger Patriarch spooled with 10 lb. Trilene braid and a leader of 10 lb. Trilene XL fluorocarbon. I used a 2/0 VMC weedless wacky hook.
My ¾ ounce Terminator Pro Series Jig was green pumpkin blue olive, with a green pumpkin chunk on the back. I fished it on a 7’5” heavy action Fenwick Elite Tech rod and a 7.9:1 Pflueger Patriarch spooled with 20 pound test Trilene 100% fluorocarbon. I paired the ¾ ounce Reins sliding head football head with a 2/0 VMC Heavy Duty Wide Gap hook. The crawdads at the lake were really small – their pinchers were probably as long as your nail – so I used a 3-inch green pumpkin soft plastic craw and I dyed the tips of the claws orange. I fished it on a 7’1” medium heavy Fenwick World Class rod and a 7.9:1 Patriarch loaded with 15 pound test Trilene fluorocarbon.
One last piece of equipment that was critical was my Humminbird 360. In that clear water, especially if it was less than 10 feet deep, you’d spook the fish if you got on top of those cages. With the 360, I could see the cages from 100 feet away and make the perfect cast every time to unsuspecting fish. I don’t know how I would’ve lived without that fantastic technology. I certainly wouldn’t have caught nearly as many bass.
I also put my Aqua-Vu camera to use checking out how the fish were relating to the man-made structure on the bottom of Lake Havasu. That was some of the clearest water I’ve fished and actually seeing the fish on the Aqau-Vu screen was a big confidence booster.