Updated: Apr 29
The Wild West Bass Trail Pro Am is in the books, and I have to say, it did not turn out as I expected. New Melones is a great fishery with the potential for bringing big bags to the scales and there was no reason to expect anything different. We were visiting the lake February 28th - March 1st, which typically brings big pre-spawn bass into staging areas, making them catchable. However, this never really materialized.
During the two practice days I split my efforts between the main body of the lake and the river arm. On the first day, I focused on the main body and things started off slow. I began by throwing a 4-and-a-half-inch swimbait on an underspin which produced one non-keeper bass in the first two hours of the morning. I was starting in the backs of cuts and working my way out to the points trying to determine how far into the migration the bass were to their spawning areas.
On about my fourth stop I found a bay that had birds all over it. A quick look at the graph showed there was bait all over the bay. I began throwing the swimbait again but had no bites after about 20 minutes. Knowing there had to be fish due to the amount of bait, I put the swimbait down and picked up a Necko-rigged Senko. On my second cast with the Senko, I got a bite and proceeded to catch a 2-pounder. Not a giant, but a sign of life.
I continued down the bank and in just a few more casts got another bite which I shook off. I felt like I might be on to something and wanted to see if it held up in other locations. I immediately moved 400 yards to the other side of the bay and on my first cast with the Senko, caught a fish that weighed 3-1/2 pounds. On my very next cast, I had another bite and proceeded to shake that fish off.
I felt like I, at the very least, had a location that was holding fish and I could catch them on the Senko. Now I had to figure out if it was a pattern or just a location. I continued to move around and try similar areas, as well as different types of areas, to establish if there was some kind of pattern. I ended up catching fish or getting bit almost everywhere I went—but no big fish.
On the second practice day, I went up the river arm and tried to establish the same bite. Once again, I caught fish just about everywhere I went but the fish seemed to be smaller. I ended up deciding that I was going to spend my first day of the tournament in the main body of the lake.
Day one of the tournament I was boat number 2 out and decided to begin in the bay that had the abundance of baitfish that I had found on the first practice day. The morning started out fast and furious and I had a limit in the boat with in the first 35 minutes. After that, I culled a few times throughout the day but never found the big fish that this lake always seems to produce.
At the conclusion of the day I found myself in 28th place with 11.62 pounds. Overall the weights seemed to be lower than expected.
On day two, I was the second to last boat out and started on the same stretch that I began the day before. I had identified two areas that had produced a little bigger fish than the others, so I decided to concentrate my efforts in those places. My morning was unbelievably slow and at 11:00 a.m. I only had one fish in the livewell. I began moving around and finally relocated the fish. They had moved farther towards the backs of cuts and bays. The first day they were about two thirds of the way out from the backs of the bays and coves and today they were about halfway back.
I had a small limit in the boat at 2:00 p.m. and decided to make a move to an area that had wind hitting the bank. I pulled up and dropped my trolling motor in the water and on my first cast, I felt a tap. I set the hook and immediately could tell this was a significant fish. After a bit of a fight and some anxious moments at the side of the boat, I landed what turned out to be a spotted bass just over 4-1/2 pounds. Two casts later, I felt another bite and the fight was on. I ended up catching another spotted bass just over 4 pounds.
Back at the weigh-in, I put 14.66 pounds on the scales and surprisingly moved into 9th place with about 20 more anglers to weigh-in. I watched nervously as each angler weighed their fish, but in the end, my weight held up and I qualified to fish Championship Sunday with the top ten anglers. The bite had turned out to be tougher than everyone expected.
Championship Sunday started calm and warm. I didn’t decide where I was going to start until I was sitting in my boat on the water that morning. I decided to begin where I caught the two big fish the day before. When I pulled up to the spot it was almost a repeat of the slow morning before. I caught a small keeper on my first cast and then lost what appeared to be solid 2-1/2pound fish, then it went dead.
At 11:00 a.m. I had one keeper and decided to make a move deeper into the next bay as the fish had seemed to be moving further towards the backs of these bays and cuts with each passing day. That’s when I began catching fish. I soon had a limit in the boat with a couple decent fish but knew I needed at least one big fish to have a chance at winning. With that in mind, I made a move back to where I began the day trying to find a bigger bite. I finished my day there and I was able to cull a couple of times, but not with the quality I knew I needed.
I weighed 13.14 pounds on that final day and moved up to finish 5th place overall. It ended up being a really fun event with a lot of fish caught over the three days of competition.
New Melones is a dynamic lake that can be fished a variety of ways. If you have not been there, I would recommend giving it a shot. You can catch largemouth, smallmouth and spotted bass, and all three species can grow to significant size.
A big congratulations to the winner, Luke Johns. This young angler is going to be one to watch for years to come!