It has been quite the year! Probably one of the most challenging years that I have ever had for many reasons. Somehow, I was able to qualify for both the Wild West Bass Trail Northern California Team Championship and the Wild West Bass Trail Pro/Am Championship. On October 2nd and 3rd, the Wild West Bass Trail Northern California Team Championship brought me and my partner, Nick Welton, to Lake Don Pedro to compete against 74 other deserving teams. I have had a little bit of history on the lake over the years but not near the amount of history as some. Fortunately, some of my experience on Don Pedro has been exactly this time of year.
We had three days of practice to try to put something together and we had a solid game plan for those practice days to try to determine whether the bite was shallow or deep. The first day of practice we fished shallow and covered quite a bit of water finding some success on topwater but on small keepers. The second day we started shallow again in a different part of the lake and then transitioned to deeper water halfway through the day. Again, we caught a few fish but they were again on the smaller side with exception of one 3.5 lber caught on topwater.
For the last day of practice, we concentrated on deep fish away from shore and very quickly things started coming together. We caught a significant number of fish, and they were consistently better than the shallow fish we had been catching. We found that large balls of shad were the key and that we could find them, follow them, and see fish relating to them, with the Garmin Livescope. Smaller balls of shad or scattered bait did not hold the potential that we found with the larger groups of bait.
At the end of the day, we had our game plan set for the first day of the tournament. We were going to concentrate on the 35 to 45 ft depth range finding balls of bait on our graph and then follow them with the Garmin Livescope, fishing for the fish that were relating to them. We decided to start on what we had considered the best spot that we had found in practice.
The following morning, after the prayer and National Anthem, our boat number was called and we raced off to our first stop, hoping that no one would be there. To our delight, we were the first ones there. It wasn’t long after that Randy Pierson and Bruce Harris pulled into the area and we both began to go to work. We all fished the area respectfully and enjoyed some conversation as the morning progressed. While we all want to have spots or areas to ourselves, it is more and more common to have to share water. I couldn’t have asked for a more respectful interaction, and it was a pleasure sharing the area with Randy and Bruce.
The first fish of the day came quickly and weighed approximately 3.75 lbs. Every few minutes we would catch another fish and we soon had a limit in the boat but had three fish that barely made the 12 inch minimum size limit. The action slowed down so we decided to run a couple more areas that had balls of bait in practice. We proceeded to catch fish on each of the next three areas that we pulled into, culling in each of those three areas.
After the action slowed we decided to finish our day in the area we started in, and we culled a couple more times but just by ounces. At the scales we ended up weighing 12.30 lbs., good enough for second place going into day two. We had caught all our fish on a prototype jig head produced by 1st Gen Baits, called the Jaw Dropper. The Jaw Dropper has a lead lip that gives it a unique “walking the dog” darting action when twitched or hopped. This was fished on P-Line XTCB 20lbs. braid with a P-Line 100% fluorocarbon leader. The rod and reel setup was a Dobyns Champion XP 733 Spinning rod teamed with a Daiwa Ballistic 2500 spinning reel.
The second day we ran the Bass Cat straight to our same starting spot from the day before. Within minutes Randy and Bruce showed up as well. This day was different. After moving around the area looking for the bait on our forward-facing sonar it was obvious that they had moved. There was very little bait to be found and when we did find it, it was not balled up like the day before. After only catching a couple of small keepers we decided it was time to move on and look for other productive areas.
We ran all the areas that we had caught fish in the day before and it was the same everywhere we went. No balls of shad and no bass to be found and they were not hitting the Jaw Dropper as they had the day before. We ended up switching over to drop shotting 4-inch worms and 4 inch Keitech Easy Shiners in order to get bites. With approximately 3 hours left in the day we made a move back to the area we had started on both days and decided to grind it out there. At that time, we had 4 fish in the livewell and only one was 2 lbs.
When we began graphing the area, we had found that the fish and what little bait there was had moved one bay over. We also noticed that the bait was closer to the bottom and the bass were hanging out over the bait vs underneath it as they had been the day before.
After being there for about 15 minutes we caught our 5th fish to finish out our limit. A few minutes later we caught another that culled. Then we had a little flurry where we culled four more times with fish in the 2 lbs. class. With the bite being as tough as it was we were hoping that we had at least given ourselves a fighting chance but we felt we were short.
When we weighed in we took over the lead but it was short lived as two more teams caught enough to overtake us and we ended up in third place, missing the win by 1.75lbs. Overall we fished clean, never losing any fish over the two competition days. A big Congratulations to the winners, Garrett Maddex and Scott Burke! They won during an extremely tough bite.
I also want to give a shout out to Randy Pierson and Bruce Harris for their professionalism on the water while we fished in close proximity for a good portion of the event. It shows that sharing water doesn’t have to result in confrontation and can even make the day a lot of fun.
With this event behind me, I now look forward to the Wild West Bass Trail Pro/Am Championship on the California Delta! We will see what this next adventure brings!