Greg Gutierrez has fished Lake Shasta since he was a youngster, and the lake has molded him into one of the West’s premier finesse anglers. This week, the Red Bluff, Calif., pro earned the first Costa FLW Series win of his career on the lake just an hour from his house. Checking in with 40 pounds, 7 ounces, Gutierrez bested second-place pro Richard Dobyns by more than four pounds in the Minn Kota-presented event.
Gutierrez was the only pro to crack the 40-pound barrier. The California pro has been in the hunt before at various Costa FLW Series events without ever sealing the deal. On the last day of the Shasta tournament, however, he finally experienced what he called a “bucket list moment” and couldn’t wipe the smile from his face.
This week, while many of the top finishers worked reaction baits for their catch, Gutierrez relied solely on finesse tactics and moved from 17th to first on the second day when the reaction bite died. He then broadened his lead in the championship round.
“By the middle of last Sunday I knew I was going to be fishing slow in this tournament and I was probably going to be fishing down to 30 feet,” recalls the local pro. “By Tuesday this week I was done. My rods were ready and my head was ready; I didn’t want to even come out on Wednesday but I knew I would feel bad if I didn’t.”
Mind made up, Gutierrez went on to catch fish off a rock pile near a bridge piling as well as near bait suspending around the pilings themselves. However, his primary pattern was fishing chunk rock to gravel or gravel to clay transitions on the lee sides of points.
Cleaning up on points
Gutierrez chose points appropriate for the water level, which rose about 3 feet over the course of the tournament, and he always positioned downwind of his target seam.
“At the beginning of the week I could have sworn to you that the bigger fish would be in 30 feet of water, and I was always parked in 35 to 40 feet and fished all the way out to the boat. Today, I caught my biggest out of 33 feet of water.”
Experience paid off for Gutierrez, as he had a big mental file folder of points with the right type of transition to rifle through as the water level rose throughout the week. Fighting off the urge to fish his spots too quickly also paid off in the final round.
“Today, I pulled in to my third stop, shut down and culled two pretty quickly. But I could barely see the seam at the water level we were at,” says Gutierrez. “Then I repositioned the boat and told my co-angler I was going to make one cast and if I didn’t get bit we’d move again. I made one cast and I caught my big one.”
The bait he fished on the points also gave Gutierrez reason to feel confident that all the stars were finally aligning for him. Though he threw a Duo Realis Spinbait 90 occasionally to check for activity, and tossed a Carolina rig and a jig as well, the main player on the points was a ¼-ounce Frenzy Baits NAIL shaky head, made by his company and designed by himself. Gutierrez chose the ¼-ounce model because the extra weight helped him fish it deep. He believes the extra noise from its more pronounced bottom bumping also attracted more bites. He rigged it with a 4.95-inch Reaction Innovations Flirt Worm in either green pumpkin or watermelon and fished it on 15-pound-test braid with a 6-pound-test Gamma Edge leader and a 7-foot, 1-inch medium-power iRod Genesis II spinning rod.
Working the bridge
Fishing points took up the majority of his fishing time and provided a lot of Gutierrez’ weight, but he caught some key fish off a rock pile around a bridge piling on day two. The piling also produced his second biggest bass on the final day. The key rock pile was positioned right on the corner of the piling, but originally it wasn’t a high-priority target for the local stick.
“I found fish on it in practice with my Lowrance Structure Scan and decided to fish it,” explains Gutierrez. “I had an early boat draw on the first day and tried it and there was nobody on it the second day so I fished it again. Then I tried there this morning [Saturday] and it didn’t work out.”
Though his stop on the final day produced some keepers, the rock pile really only produced on day two, when the wind was blowing toward it just right and the current had set the fish and the bait up perfectly. There, he simply fished his shaky head. On the rest of the bridge pilings, Gutierrez relied on a unique technique to make the most of deep and finicky spotted bass.
“I was looking for the suspended fish,” explains Gutierrez. “I would go in and look at the Lowrance and see where the bait was and if there were [fish] arches in it and basically float the bait through.”
After looping through the area along the edge of the pilings with his trolling motor, Gutierrez used a technique know as the “Nate Shake” to catch bass. Using a 1/8-ounce darter head with the same Flirt Worm he used on the shaky head, he cast toward the bait or piling just far enough so that it would sink into the suspended bait, be it 20 feet or 30 feet down. Then, he simply retrieved it back through the bait, very slowly and shaking his rod constantly.
All in all, it was an impressive performance by a veteran angler. From the reaction of his fellow anglers when he was officially named the tournament’s winner, Gutierrez seems to be universally liked out West, and he wasn’t the only one happy about his win.
Top 10 pros
1. Greg Gutierrez – Red Bluff, Calif. – 40-7 (15) – $36,376
2. Richard Dobyns – Marysville, Calif. – 35-9 (15) – $13,921
3. Ken Phillips – Concord, Calif. – 33-15 (15) – $10,778
4. Joe Uribe Jr. – Surprise, Ariz. – 33-13 (15) – $9,082
5. Bryant Smith – Castro Valley, Calif. – 32-15 (15) – $8,333
6. Jeff Michels – Lakehead, Calif. – 32-14 (15) – $7,185
7. Miles Howe – San Juan Capistrano, Calif. – 32-9 (15) – $6,287
8. Rick Grover – Trabuco Canyon, Calif. – 32-5 (15) – $5,389
9. Tommy Cardoza- Redway, Calif. – 30-13 (15) – $4,491
10. Roy Hawk – Lake Havasu City, Ariz. – 29-5 (15) – $5,593