OAKLEY, Ca. – After failing to land his first bite of the day Friday, Nick Salvucci – the leader after Days 1 and 2 of the Toyota Series Presented by Phoenix Boats Western Division tournament on the California Delta – had a feeling that it wasn’t going to be his day.
The Atascadero, California, native tried to shake it off, but when he had only three bass for about 8 pounds in his livewell at noon, the foreboding intensified. Even though he later added a key 4 ½ -pounder and another keeper, when he arrived for weigh-in, Salvucci was sure he had fallen short. As he put it, “You don’t win when you weigh in 15 pounds on the final day in March.”
Turns out, Salvucci was wrong. His five-fish limit of 15 pounds, 13 ounces brought his three-day total to 54-10 and cemented his wire-to-wire victory. He finished 2-14 ahead of Ken Mah and 5-12 clear of third-place angler Nicholas Cloutier.
The Western Division of the Toyota Series is presented by Tackle Warehouse, and this event was sponsored by Psycho Tuna.
With the victory, Savlucci earned a $24,795 paycheck. He also now sits atop the standings in the Angler of the Year race for the Western Division of the Toyota Series through two events. The final event will be back on the Delta from April 19-21. Salvucci plans to be there.
When he received the surprising confirmation that he’d maintained his spot atop the leaderboard, Salvucci calmly pumped his fist and embraced Mah. Afterward, though, he acknowledged that this win means a lot. It completes an unofficial West Coast “Triple Crown” that he had been chasing — winning the WON Bass U.S. Open, a Wild West Bass Trail event, and now a Toyota Series trophy.
“This one’s been on my bucket list, I guess,” Salvucci said. “I’ve won two Wild Wests, I’ve won an Apex, I’ve won U.S. Open. I’ve never won an MLF. The closest I’ve got, I got third on the Delta last year. And so definitely it was on my bucket list to win. And to do it on the Delta, that’s just special, because I’m not a Delta rat. I didn’t grow up on the Delta. I didn’t start fishing pro-ams until 2016. I probably fish the Delta four or five times a year.”
Salvucci overcame tough fishing conditions to get the win. An influx of cold, muddy water made large portions of the Delta unfishable and put the bass in a funk. Some pre-tournament chatter predicted the winning three-day weight would fall in the mid-40s.
While Salvucci easily surpassed that mark, he thinks the slow bite actually worked to his advantage. He believes it suited his stubborn nature.
“I like tough bites, because I can go hours without getting a bite throwing the same lure,” he said.
That’s what he did this week. Salvucci said every one of the bass he weighed in ate a spinnerbait with double Colorado blades and a 4.3-inch Keitech swimbait trailer. He did his damage on the southern end of the Delta — an area he said he has rarely fished in the past. But by covering a ton of water during the two-day practice period (he estimates he burned 80 gallons of fuel total) Salvucci found a few stretches of cleaner water with submerged hydrilla patches near riprap banks and tules.
“I was looking for hydrilla grass clumps up against tules and up against the riprap,” he said. “A lot of them were right where the tules went to the riprap, it made that ambush point. That’s where I’d catch them.”
After declaring on Thursday evening that he would do something different on the tournament’s final day, Salvucci set out to do just that, throwing a double-bladed buzzbait in search of a big bite in the morning. Eventually, though, he returned to the area where he’d had success on Day 1, when he landed a 22-5 limit.
The first fish that bit his spinnerbait wrapped his line around “the one standing stick” in the area and came unhooked. He didn’t get another bite until about 9:30 a.m., he said, before catching three fish in less than an hour, including two over 3 pounds. When noon arrived with no more bites, he returned to the spot where he’d missed the big fish and caught his largest bass of the day, a 4 ½ pound largemouth. He credited fellow competitor and former Bass Pro Tour angler Ish Monroe for helping put that fish in the boat.
“I didn’t do any trailer hooks, and then I was talking to Ish last night, and he was throwing a spinnerbait, and he told me he caught two 4-pounders on his trailer hook,” Salvucci explained. “So I put a trailer hook on last night, and I ended up catching my big one on the trailer hook.”
Salvucci added another fish over 2 pounds to his livewell shortly thereafter, which improved his bag by about half a pound. But, he still believed he needed another big bite to take first place. His goal for the day, after all, was 22 pounds. So he spent the final hour of the day punching mats, to no avail. Salvucci returned to the boat ramp discouraged.
“I said, well, I blew my chance,” Salvucci said. “Came in with my 15 pounds thinking I was going to get my butt kicked. And I guess it was a tougher day than I expected.”
1. Nick Salvucci – 54-10 (15)
2. Ken Mah – 51-12 (15)
3. Nicholas Cloutier – 48-14 (14)
4. Ty Faber – 47-3 (15)
5. Nick Nourot – 46-9 (13)
6. Mark Lassagne – 42-10 (11)
7. Hunter Schlander – 42-7 (15)
8. Ish Monroe – 39-1 (12)
9. David Valdivia – 38-3 (13)
10. Kyle Grover – 38-2 (15)
In the Strike King Co-Angler competition, Casey Dunn punctuated a dominant final two days with a 15-7 limit for a three-day total of 35-11; more than 10 pounds clear of second-place Tom White. Dunn will receive a Phoenix 518 Pro boat with a 115-hp Mercury outboard for the victory.
While Dunn, a North Highlands, California, native, said he’s intimately familiar with the California Delta, he didn’t start the event with high hopes. His week began with his wife being admitted to the hospital in Sacramento on Sunday and not being discharged until Tuesday. He practiced Tuesday evening and all day Wednesday and didn’t get a single bite.
“This is my home water, so to not even catch a small fish, it was pretty disheartening when you know the place so well,” Dunn said.
But, Dunn improved as the week progressed. He landed two fish for 5-12 on Day 1, then leapt into second place with three bass for 14-8 on Day 2, anchored by a kicker of more than 7 pounds.
While Dunn said he got all his bites on the first two days fishing slow, dragging a senko or flipping, he did his damage on Day 3 with moving baits. Fishing a grass flat from the back of Mah’s boat, he filled out his limit with a squarebill, then used a bladed jig to cull three times.
The win represented a first for Dunn, who has been fishing as a co-angler since 2015. He called the feeling “surreal,” saying as of Friday evening, it hadn’t yet sunk in.
“It’s something I’ve wanted ever since I first started this in 2015,” Dunn said. “I mean, it’s everything I strive for. So to finally have it happen and to have all the friends and family congratulating me, it means the world to me right now.”
News and Notes:
1. Casey Dunn – 35-11 (10)
2. Tom White – 25-7 (10)
3. Turner Mason – 22-11 (9)
4. Rachel Uribe – 21-9 (5)
5. Anthony Delgado – 20-12 (10)
6. Matthew Greene – 19-9 (9)
7. Bruce Harris – 19-2 (8)
8. Jordan Padilla – 19-2 (6)
9. Marcus Maestre – 18-10 (6)
10. Kevin Gross – 18-2 (7)