It wasn’t hard for the top three teams at the Oct. 11-12 FLW College Fishing Western Conference Invitational at Clear Lake to figure out that a crankbait would be the most effective lure for the cooling fall conditions. Each team stuck with a crankbait almost exclusively, yet each also fished a different area of the lake and focused on a unique cover and depth.
University of Idaho
Tanner Mort and Austin Turpin
10 bass – 41 Pounds, 11 Ounces
An algae bloom and low water coincided with the Clear Lake Invitational. Conditions made fishing tough for some but offered major clues for Tanner Mort of Moscow, Idaho, and Austin Turpin of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, that led to their win.
“The whole lake was so green and dirty from the algae, but we found one area in practice that was a little clearer. That’s where we seemed to catch more and bigger fish,” says Mort. “We tried some areas that weren’t as clear, and we just didn’t catch that many.”
The other important factor was finding areas with a hard bottom, and the low water at Clear Lake helped the team further narrow down its areas because they could visually spot rocky shorelines.
The team developed a game plan to fish four points in the clearer Rattlesnake area of the lake with a square-bill crankbait and had one small stretch of bank near Horseshoe Bend that they’d target with a drop-shot. Each area had the right ingredients: hard bottom, clearer water and abundant baitfish.
“We hit all of those four points two or three times each day and also rotated in our drop-shot spot,” says Mort. “There was a really good morning bite until around 8:30, and then it got good again at around 1 with the wind. The afternoon bite was key when the sun was high and the wind was blowing.”
“We were using a Lucky Craft BDS 4 in the ghost minnow color on Alpha Angler ReBOUND rods with 15-pound-test Seaguar fluorocarbon,” says Mort. “We were throwing it all the way up the bank and just reeling it as fast as we could, trying to make contact with the rocks.”
A key was positioning the boat in a way that allowed them to keep the bait in prime position for the entire retrieve.
“We were going down the bank and casting at a 45-degree angle to make sure it stayed shallow, and if the water was a little deeper we would go parallel down the bank,” Mort explains.
While the square-bill was vital, a drop-shot Roboworm in Aarons magic or margarita mutilator also provided several key keepers, including the team’s biggest bass on day two. Idaho weighed 17 pounds, 6 ounces on the second day and won the event by more than 6 pounds.
Eastern Washington University
Jarred Walker and Nick Barr
10 bass – 35 Pounds, 1 Ounce
Jarred Walker and Nick Barr of Cheney, Wash., came into the Invitational event with quite a bit of collegiate fishing experience on Clear Lake. Even though their campus at Eastern Washington is a long distance from Clear Lake, the recent graduates have competed in six college events on the famous big-bass fishery. This time, they finally put together a program that put them in contention to win.
“It was great to finally do well on Clear Lake,” says Barr. “It has always kind of had our number no matter how much time we put in down there. We have been going there every spring break and fishing it as much as we can and just never had a great tournament like this one.”
The knowledge gained from multiple trips and paying close attention to top finishers at past Rayovac FLW Series events helped to determine where to start for this tournament. Barr and Walker knew they’d fish crankbaits in rocky areas in practice and that the mid-lake area is historically good when it starts to get cooler in the fall. That’s where they started the tournament.
“In practice we were catching them really good on a Storm Arashi square-bill burned as fast as we could reel, but that stopped during the tournament, and they were just swiping at it,” says Barr. “We switched to a Rapala DT-6 in both shad and crawfish patterns during the event.”
The bait switch helped them move from eighth place after day one (they caught 14 pounds, 7 ounces) all the way to second place with the biggest bag of day two – 20-10. Eastern Washington caught all of its fish in the first 90 minutes, and the switch in presentations was crucial to the team’s success.
“There were boats everywhere around us where we were fishing, but we seemed to be the only ones catching them,” Barr says. “The Rapala DT-6 has a really tight wobble and is more of a finesse crankbait. We just had to make sure we were hitting the rocks on the bottom.”
They fished the DT-6 with a fast retrieve on 17-pound-test Sufix fluorocarbon and rotated between two 100-yard-long areas multiple times each day.
San Jose State University
Adam McAndrews and Joey Fortina
10 bass – 32 Pounds, 12 Ounces
Going into the event, the San Jose State University team of Adam McAndrews of Santa Clara, Calif., and Joey Fortina of Ben Lomond, Calif., knew what the Clear Lake bass should be doing based on the season.
“I have fished it three times, but Adam is very familiar with the lake,” says Fortina. “With the cooler weather we had been having, we knew the fish would be moving to the shallow water fast.”
The San Jose State team split its pre-fish days, spending one at the north end and one at the south end. A much more productive day in the north end’s grass pockets deemed that area to be the tournament starting point.
“Adam was using a Lucky Craft LVR D lipless crankbait in the ghost minnow color, and I was using a Lucky Craft BDS square-bill,” says Fortina. “They both seemed to catch fish, but the lipless seemed to catch the bigger ones.”
In addition to throwing different baits, Fortina and McAndrews employed varied retrieves as they fished the grass and an occasional dock.
“Adam was ‘yo-yoing’ his retrieve and ripping the lipless through the grass, and I was cranking that square-bill as fast as I could,” Fortina explains.
Like the other teams in the top three, San Jose State experienced an excellent morning bite followed by a lull in action until the afternoon. On day one, the team caught 17 pounds, 15 ounces. On day two, the late bite proved to be a savior as McAndrews landed two 5-plus-pounders at the buzzer.
“Before that, our limit might have been 7 or 8 pounds, but with those two fish we were able to cull up to 14 pounds, 13 ounces,” says Fortina. “That really saved the day for us.”