As you read this, I’m likely on the water practicing for the 2023 WON BASS U.S. Open (Oct. 16-18) on Lake Mohave, running my Mercury outboard all over this reservoir that stretches along the Arizona and Nevada border. This is a highlight of the tournament year on the West Coast, and although I now live in Tennessee, I do my best to make it back for this tournament every year.
This year is the U.S. Open’s 41st anniversary, and it would be easier for me to count the ones I missed than figure out how many I’ve fished. I’ve missed maybe five or six over the years because they conflicted with other events, or I was back in Tennessee. It feels really good to be back here fishing in the desert, and I’ll always try my best to make this event because it means so much to me.
Growing up in the West, the U.S. Open was the one tournament I focused on. As a kid, it’s all I wanted to win because it had so much prestige and the payout was so big. It paid even more than the Bassmaster Classic. I remember Rick Clunn won both – he received $40,000 for the Classic and $50,000 for the Open. Because of the big money, it drew the biggest names in bass fishing.
The event has been returning to prominence in recent years. We have several Bass Pro Tour anglers fishing this week, including some western guys like Roy Hawk, Brett Hite, Luke Clausen and Josh Bertrand (who won it last year). A few Bass Pro Tour pros traveled longer to get here: Gary Klein from Texas, Spencer Shuffield from Arkansas and Matt Becker from Tennessee. You’ll see a big group of professional anglers and the best in all the western states competing on Mohave. It’s a great group of anglers, and I enjoy seeing all the guys I haven’t seen in years.
I was fortunate to win this event in 1997 and 1999 – wins I consider two of the highlights of my career. This year, I’ve also been honored to be part of the WON BASS Hall of Fame with Aaron Martens, Byron Velvick and others. It’s humbling and special to be inducted at the same time as those two because we spent so much time together over the years as we rose through the ranks in fishing.
All the U.S. Open tournaments I’ve fished previously were on Lake Mead – this is just the second one on Mohave. It’s hard for me to call this a true U.S. Open because this event is synonymous with Lake Mead. Unfortunately, Mead’s historically low water caused tournament organizers to move the event the next lake down on the Colorado River in 2022, and it’s again on Mohave this year.
Even though the two lakes are only separated by the Hoover Dam, they’re very different; Mohave is a much better fishery right now. The biggest reason is the large smallmouth population – the fish have gotten huge! Last year, Bertrand won the event with an average of 20 pounds a day, where it might have taken half of that to win on Mead.
It’s nice to see how well the fish are doing here. The last time I fished Lake Mohave was 25 years ago; back then, it was all largemouth, and the fishing was a lot different. The largemouth are still here, but the smallmouth have taken over and should make up a bulk of the catch during the event. I’m focusing on them this week. I hope to find the winning areas because this is the U.S. Open. It’s all about getting the win in this one.