2006 Stren Series preview: Western Division - Major League Fishing

2006 Stren Series preview: Western Division

With Havasu completed, competitors look for bright season out West
Image for 2006 Stren Series preview: Western Division
Boaters patiently await the start of takeoff. Photo by Gary Mortenson.
February 27, 2006 • Jennifer Simmons • Archives

With a history-making Lake Havasu event already completed, Stren Series Western Division pros look forward to what they can expect from the rest of the season, including a stop on Clear Lake that could put yet another Western angler in the Stren Series history books.

In early February on Lake Havasu, 16-year-old John Billheimer Jr. became the youngest-ever Stren Series champion. In early March on Clear Lake, someone will likely set the record for the heaviest two-day stringer in Stren Series history, as last year’s four-fish limit will give way to a five-bass limit in 2006. Last year’s four-bass stringers came close to 50 pounds over two days, so a five-bass stringer will almost certainly eclipse William Davis’ 51-pound two-day record from the 2005 Central Division Sam Rayburn event.

Also on the docket for the 2006 Western Division season is a new stop, Lake Shasta, as well as an old favorite, the California Delta. Western anglers are competing for their share of a $262,125 purse at every event, with as much as $60,000 in cash and prizes going to the winning pro, including a fully rigged Ranger boat. The top 40 pros and co-anglers will also advance to the $1 million Stren Series Championship, scheduled for early November on Alabama’s Wheeler Lake.

Clear Lake

Lakeport, Calif.

March 1-4

A lone boat motors out onto Clear Lake, which lies in the crater of an ancient volcano and is surrounded by scenic ridges.In early March, all eyes will be on Clear Lake to see what kind of mind-boggling limits competitors will be able to haul to the weigh-in stage, but like last year, weather will be the primary factor as to what kind of fishing competitors can expect.

The Stren Series is visiting Clear Lake about a week earlier than it did last year, and pro Jimmy Reese said those few extra days could make a difference.

“We had pretty extreme weather last year,” Reese said. “We had a two-week period of super-warm weather, and for February, that’s not standard, so I think weather’s going to play a big factor on what the bite’s going to be like this year.”

Nevertheless, Reese does expect similar eye-popping weights this year as long as the weather stays relatively decent. He expects the fish to be in pre-spawn mode by tournament time.

“It should be just turning from winter to pre-spawn,” Reese said. “Those fish should be eating pretty well, and they should be looking pretty healthy, too. They’ll be moving up on the flats and will start roaming the tulles and shallow rock piles, looking for food.”

Clear Lake is a big lake, so large that a good amount of wind can make fishing and navigation difficult. According to Reese, the south end and the north end are practically two different lakes as far as fishability, and if both are navigable, that could spread out the 200-boat field. Whether or not that happens will come down to the weather.

“We got quite a bit of rain this January – they call it the New Year’s Storm,” Reese said. “It actually filled to the rim, and I think it’s going to be kind of perfect. February is all about when the storms come through. For a tournament, there is a lot of the lake you can’t fish because of the wind. That time of year you can fish south and you can fish north. I think you can catch fish all around the lake, and that’s a good thing that could spread people out.”

Reese said the north end is the shallow end, averaging depths of around 8 feet. The south end is deep and rocky, with average depths of around 15 feet.

For the tournament, Reese is expecting a swimbait slugfest, with the key to success being the ability to locate the areas that the bait has moved up to.

Lake Shasta

Redding, Calif.

March 29-April 1

New on the Stren Series schedule this year is Lake Shasta, a 30,000-acre northern California beauty. The tournament should prove to be interesting, as a variety of bass species can be caught, and the weather can be unpredictable.

“Sometimes in March the weather can be brutal on Shasta,” said pro Michael Kirk of Redding. “It can be windy and rainy, and sometimes there is snow.”

However, despite the forecast, Kirk says the late-March time frame is indeed a good time to fish Lake Shasta, as the lake’s abundant spotted bass are entering the pre-spawn mode.

“Usually, when the spotted bass start moving up to a pre-spawn mode, that’s when the bigger fish start moving up,” Kirk said. “You can expect a pretty good reaction bite throwing rip baits and spinner baits. In March, it will be fairly wide open to the angler as far as how he will get his best fish.”

Unlike the rest of the Western lakes on the schedule, Kirk says the Shasta tournament will likely be won with spotted bass, though the lake does have its share of hefty largemouths and smallmouths.

“I think it will be won with spotted bass, but someone may be able to pick up a good 5- to 6-pound largemouth,” he said. “There are largemouths up to 12 pounds.”

Kirk says the tournament’s time frame is also ideal for water levels and overall fishability, as the lake is currently rising and could be nearly full by the time the Stren Series comes to town.

“The lake is presently about 40 feet from the top, and in March, it could be darn near full,” Kirk said. “The lake health is perfect that time of year, and it should be an awesome time to fish. The only factor is the weather – it could be unruly. However, it could also be nice. It’s all up to Mother Nature. It will be a lot of fun – there will be a lot of fish caught. We’re going to catch fish all day.”

Kirk expects a 26-pound weight to be sufficient to make the cut.

California Delta

Bethel Island, Calif.

May 3-6

Boaters get ready for the final day of action on the California Delta during a 2005 Stren Series tournament.For this year’s California Delta event, expect to find bass in all three stages of the spawn, with a tidal system also in play to add extra effect.

According to Delta dominator Bobby Barrack, early May is a great time to fish the California Delta.

“You’ll have all three stages – spawners, post-spawners and another wave that will be sitting out a little bit deeper that will spawn the latter part of May,” Barrack said. “Early May is a great time to be fishing because it’s basically whatever you want to do. You can throw weightless worms, spinner baits – it’s going to be whatever the quality-fish pattern may be at that time.”

Barrack said the heaviest stringers will belong to the competitors who find the bigger bed fish, and he added that the tournament will be won with largemouth bass.

“The Delta does have a population of smallmouth, but they tend to be 1 to 3 pounds smaller than your typical largemouth,” he said. “It would be really hard to win an event like that on smallmouth.”

The Delta is definitely gargantuan enough to absorb a 200-boat field, though Barrack did say tournament fishermen do tend to group up around the Frank’s Tract and Sherman Lake areas. They key to understanding the Delta, he said, is to understand the tides.

“We have a tide change about every six hours,” he said. “During tournament hours we will usually experience a high tide and a low tide, and you usually have a 2 1/2- to 4-foot fluctuation in the tides.”

Barrack said that some fish like to eat on the high tide and some prefer to eat on the low tide, much like some anglers have better luck on the high while some get a better bite on the low.

“There are so many different patterns here that a guy can get on,” he said. “That’s what makes it so intriguing. This place is like putting a puzzle together every day you’re on the water. The guy that puts the puzzle together the quickest is usually the guy that finishes pretty well.”

To make the top 20, Barrack says competitors will have to bring in 17 to 18 pounds per day.