The first leg of the 2015 California Tournament Trail (CTT) pro-am circuit wrapped up January 16-17 at Lake Oroville. What a fun event! After seeing extremely low water levels due to drought, the lake received heavy rains before Christmas and, almost miraculously, filled enough to open all three public launch facilities prior to go time. Lake levels were actually higher than when the circuit visited last January.
The water had been somewhat dirty and warmer than usual for this time of year, but began to clear and remain cold as the tourney approached. Cold, sunny, clear weather in practice gave way to overcast skies, rain and fog during the tournament. Fifty-two (52) degree afternoon water temps plateaued at around 49.5 during the event.
Weights were down and, to the surprise of many, it took less than 22 pounds (over two days) to win. Clear Lake pro, Wayne Breazeale found a 4.24-pound kicker fish on day one to sack over 12 pounds and that was enough. Jim Elliot had a big, 12-pound day-two of his own to come from behind and finish second, losing by just a pound. Joe Hinkle, Steve Biechman and JR Wright rounded out the top five on the pro side. Jim Elliott’s day-two, 5.18-pound kicker was the overall big fish of the event.
Bob Higgins (hardly an amateur) won the amateur division, with Rafael Ortiz finishing less than a pound behind in second.
Despite seemingly tough fishing conditions and a preponderance of small fish, my own tournament started off with hope. I stumbled on to some quality fish in the Middle Fork and caught between 10 and 11 pounds on the first day of practice with little effort, sampling fish here and there. I had a core area to myself and left it mid-day to flesh-out the pattern and compare water.
I was able to reproduce the pattern elsewhere, but on smaller fish. I was catching most of my fish shaking a worm on 10-pound Seaguar InvizX in 0-25 feet. I’d go with 8-pound the second pass through a school during the tourney. Some of the better fish were moving up with the sun on distinctive small flats and rounded points. I had an A-rig bite going in the wind, particularly when the sun was out, and was catching a few fish on a small swimbait/darter head in muddy backwaters.
As is often the case, day one was not the effortless breeze I had in pre-fish, starting with boat trouble and a lost hat on my first stop and ending with dozens of missed/lost fish. Luckily, I drew an experienced, knowledgeable angler, and we had a blast laughing and joking and wading through fish for about three hours when the bite finally turned on. With the sun and wind virtually gone, we were forced to cull-up our best limit solely on plastics. We weighed 8.85, which was 14th place respectively overnight, but we both knew our day wasn’t a work of art and we’d left weight out there.
Day two saw a fog delay. We were first flight and I went back, figuring my spots would reload. It didn’t happen. I had to make several stops due to poor visibility before getting there. We had several boats working our stretch upon arrival. It was also apparent that my boat and another pleasure boat leaned on them too hard the day before.
My day-two draw partner was a pleasure and another solid angler who boated three A-rig fish to my one, but none of those fish culled. We could only muster 7.55. The highlight of our day may have been me falling flat on my back after trying to lean against a butt seat that was sitting in the pickup. He took a fall later hurrying forward with the net. That made me feel much better!
I learned much from this experience, but one VERY valuable lesson: buy in bulk! I had confidence in two baits going in. Somehow, beyond explanation, I found myself without either setup during the tourney. Empty pegs, poor planning, etc., left me with two of each, somehow. And this from someone who tries very hard to keep the entire industry in business, year-round.
See you at Berryessa!