The California Delta showed only a fraction of its powerhouse potential after a sharp cold snap greeted anglers for the second event of the 2017 Costa FLW Series Western Division season.
Voluminous rains in the first quarter and several preceding weeks of fluctuating weather had this massive Central Valley drainage in a state of flux, but Hunter Schlander managed to unlock a pattern that led him to a solid victory with a three-day total of 57 pounds, 1 ounce.
The pro from Modesto, Calif., caught his fish by cranking riprap banks in the central to southern parts of the Delta. The ideal scenario found depths of 4 to 6 feet and a prominent line of clean hydrilla flanking the rocks.
Tides always impact Delta fishing, and, in this event, Schlander needed high tide conditions. Stretching his productivity throughout most of the day required running the tide.
Here’s how the rest of the top 10 got it done.
2. Veteran Lee works postspawners for second place
A perennial threat for any Delta competition, Robert Lee started off strong with 21 pounds, 1 ounce and placed second on day one, took over the lead on day two with 19-14 but slipped back to second when day three yielded only 9-3. The pro from Angels Camp, Calif., ended with 50-2.
“I was on the fish to win. They were just biting funny and pulling the bait off the hook,” Lee says.
Lee targeted postspawn fish because he knew they’d be less mobile than prespawners and less wary than bedding fish. To do so, he focused on tule islands, specifically spots with what he called “medium current.”
“On the sides of those tule berms, the current slowed down a little bit, and that’s where those big skinny ones were,” Lee says.
He caught some of his fish on crankbaits but did most of his damage with a Reaction Innovations Pocket Rocket on a 1/16-ounce wacky jighead.
“I’d throw it into those calm pockets just outside the current and let it flutter down, and those big fish would swim off with it,” he says. “Today [Saturday], several of them would swim off, I’d set the hook and the bait would pull off. I didn’t have any big ones do that, but 2 1/2- to 3-pounders – respectable fish. I left it all out there.”
Despite his final-round frustration, Lee attributes his strong finish to an intimate knowledge of Delta fish location. Specifically, he avoided the mistake of “overshooting” the fish.
“I had a super incredibly terrible practice, so I decided to go fish the areas where I’ve won all my tournaments in the past because I know them like the back of my hand. I know every stick, rock and tule,” he says. “A lot of guys were too far in the moss, and all mine were on the corners where the weeds were wiped clean by the current.”
3. Drop-shots deliver third for Joudrey
After leading day one with 22 pounds – the event’s heaviest bag – the Oakley, Calif., pro slipped to fifth on day two with 10-8, but rallied back in the final round to sack up 16-11 and finish third with 49-3.
“I caught them finessing all week,” Joudrey says. “I picked up a frog every day, and I had a couple of big ones eat it but never hooked any.
“I just kept drop-shotting, dragging worms and fishing wacky-rigged [Yamamoto] Senkos. I just stuck to it.”
Joudrey’s top producer was a drop-shot with a Roboworm in the margarita mutilator color rigged on a 4/0 hook with a 1/4-ounce weight.
“I just tried to find the right areas with spawners and postspawners,” he says. “It was important to keep that tide high, so they felt comfortable. I targeted areas with hard bottom, some tules, some grass. You had to have some areas to flip and drag a worm.”
4. Tosh puts punch-shot to work for fourth
He’s one of the Delta’s most prolific punchers, but at the Delta Stephen “Bub” Tosh Jr. turned to an innovative setup called a punch-shot rig, which comprised a 4/0 Paycheck Baits punch hook with a 3/8- or 3/4-ounce weight suspended from the eye. A slimmer profile than the traditional heavy punch-weight rig, the punch-shot allowed him a greater level of efficiency that led to a fourth-place total of 45 pounds, 11 ounces.
“I really don’t like bed-fishing, and I’m not a big drop-shotter, so I tried to fish grass, and I got some good bites that just didn’t get in the boat,” Tosh says. “I was using a new Yamamoto bait called the Sanshouo, which really looks like a bluegill.
“On the punch-shot rig, it’s really compact, and it gets in and out of the holes efficiently,” he adds. “So when you’re fishing the grass, it’s not really punching, but it gets in clean and comes out clean. That’s the whole deal with that rig.”
Noting that he ended up throwing some ChatterBaits later in the day, Tosh says he found his better action in the afternoon.
“I would try different stuff every day just to try to avoid people and kill time because I was waiting for low tide,” he says. “You can’t really punch that grass until the tide gets low.
“I was fishing a couple of places down south, and I was waiting for that grass to get ‘mushroom-topped.’ You’re driving down the channel and looking for a place to punch; it has to be laid over, with inconsistencies and a lot of points in the bank.”
5. Uribe mixes it up for fifth
Coming off his victory at the division opener on Lake Havasu, Joe Uribe Jr. made a move up from eighth place on day three to finish fifth with 45 pounds, 4 ounces. The improvement required a three-pronged approach.
“I used a custom green pumpkin J Money vibrating jig with a custom hand-poured trailer made by a friend of mine, Jeff Peterson in Huntington Beach, Calif. That was a key bait for me the first day especially, and a few key fish on the second day,” says Uribe. “The other two baits were both by Reaction Innovations. I used a Skinny Dipper in the Houdini color with an Owner Twistlock hook on the inside of grass lines on a low tide. They eat that really well.”
Day three saw the bite slow down, so Uribe used a wacky-rigged Reaction Innovations Pocket Rocket on 12-pound-test Sunline Super FC Sniper fluorocarbon for his third tactic. He rigged it on a weedless Trokar wide-gap wacky hook.
“I didn’t want to pull out the spinning rod and skip finesse baits, but as tough as fishing was, it was a rally, so I had to do what I had to do,” Uribe says.
6. Kerr rises into sixth
Justin Kerr, the seasoned pro from Simi Valley, Calif., made it to the last day in ninth place. He struggled on the final day but still managed a 12-pound, 9-ounce limit to gain three spots and finish sixth with 44-3.
“It was really tough this week, so I threw a drop-shot with a Roboworm in the margarita mutilator color,” Kerr says. “On the final day, I went ‘Zearching’ – I used a new Evergreen crankbait [called Zearch] in the bluegill color. I needed to catch up and catch a big bag, so I tried different things. It just didn’t happen, but I’m happy to finish in the top 10.”
7. Andy Scholz
He ended day one in seventh place, and, after a day-two rise to fourth, Andy Scholz of Reno, Nev., wrapped up the tournament back in the No. 7 spot. His weights of 18-15, 13-10 and 9-14 yielded a tournament total of 42-7.
“When the wind blew, I threw a Dandy Baits spinnerbait and a Luhr-Jensen Speed Trap crankbait in a custom paint job that I call Mr. Green Jeans,” he says. “When it got flat calm, I’d throw a wacky-rigged Senko and a drop-shot with a Roboworm.”
On day three, Scholz says he gambled and threw a swimbait. He reports getting the bites he needed, but he ended up missing them.
Notably, Scholz encountered engine trouble at the end of day one. He limped through day two, but needed to borrow a boat for the final round. Fellow pro Jason Milligan stepped up and allowed Scholz to finish the last day with full capabilities.
8. Whitaker works cranks, ChatterBaits for eighth
A strong day-one sack of 20 pounds, 1 ounce positioned Patrick Whitaker in fourth place and buoyed his performance, despite declining weights. The Gilbert, Ariz., pro added 11-14 on day two and entered the final round in seventh place. He closed with 10-8 and a total of 42-7 for eighth place.
“I did OK in practice, but some of the things worked out in the tournament; some didn’t,” he says.
Whitaker spent the first part of his days fishing an Evergreen Shallow Hog crankbait during high tide. When the water level dropped, he went looking for bed fish. Throughout the event he also caught fish on a 5/8-ounce G Money jig with a Reaction Innovations Smallie Beaver trailer and a Z-Man/Evergreen ChatterBait Jack Hammer vibrating jig in the BHite delight color.
“I was targeting pencil tules, and, with the crankbait, I was targeting current breaks on the riprap,” Whitaker says. “On the outgoing tide, I looked for a moderate flow, but something that was getting around the points and bringing the fish up.”
9. Crushing losses drop Mitchell to ninth
This event was a roller coaster of emotion for Dane Mitchell, but unfortunately one that ended on a downturn. The Brookeland, Texas, pro placed 31st on day one, rose to third on day two with a big 19-pound, 14-ounce limit and then dropped to ninth with a tournament total of 41 pounds.
“It’s going to be a hard pill for me to swallow; I’ll probably never forget this day,” Mitchell lamented at the final weigh-in. “That’s fishing. You just chalk it up and keep grinding.”
Slipping in the standings wouldn’t have been so painful, had he not lost three huge final-round fish – right in front of an FLW cameraman – while cranking riprap. Ultimately, he’d scratch up a limit of 7-15 with a Lucky Craft Fat CB B.D.S. 4 crankbait in spring craw and a 6th Sense Divine Swim Jig with a Berkley Havoc Grass Pig swimbait trailer.
10. Dwindling productivity leaves Peirson in 10th
Shane Peirson from Roseville, Calif., found the Delta stingy on day three, and after boating only three keepers for 3 pounds, 15 ounces, he slipped two spots to finish 10th with 35-9.
Throughout the week, Peirson relied mainly on a 3/8-ounce white Z-Man ChatterBait with a Keitech swimbait trailer and a 1/2-ounce green pumpkin bladed jig with a Predator swimbait on the back. On the final day, he also tried tempting bites with a drop-shot and a Senko.
“In practice, I was catching fish up north on wood, but the fish kept getting smaller, so I pulled out and stayed closer to the takeoff, but it didn’t work out,” Peirson says.