Big Bass, Big Catches Expected at Famed California Fishery

Bethel Island, Calif. — Western BASS pros will get an early start on qualifying for the 2006 CITGO Bassmaster Classic when they take to the water in the first event of the Bassmaster Western Open series out of Russo’s Marina on the massive California Delta, May 26-28.

Barring some radical weather change, they’ll be treated to some fabulous fishing.

The first of three Western Open events will feature 175 pros and their amateur partners competing in a three-day elimination format. At the end of the season, 20 pros will advance to the CITGO Bassmaster Open championship, which will send its top five finishers to the 2006 Classic.

“It’s going to be awesome,” California pro Ishama Monroe said. “Everybody’s going to have limits.

“The Delta is good all year-long, but it’s springtime. The fish are still in the spawning stage. Actually, there are prespawn, post-spawn and spawning fish here now. Anywhere between the last week of February through the second or third week of June, you’re going to hit it right on the nose for it to be awesome.”

“I think it’s going to be excellent,” top western pro John Murray added. “The Delta has been above average this year, and above average for the Delta is really good. It will be impressive. It’s going to take a bunch of big fish to do well.”

The vast Joaquin River Delta, better known as the California Delta, is comprised of 700 square miles of wilderness-like canals, sloughs and channels that harbor one of the country’s best bass fisheries. The Delta is formed by five large rivers that that come together for a 50-mile stretch between Sacramento and San Francisco.

The fishery is renowned for its abundance of quality-sized bass. It consistently produces the largest bass caught in northern California each year.

Monroe predicts that the winning sack will be around 60 pounds for three days, and the only reason the winner won’t make a run at Byron Velvick’s five-bass, three-day record of 83 pounds, five ounces is because “we can only weigh in four fish!”

Due to a temporary quirk in California bass regulations, the Open anglers will weigh in four bass instead of the usual five.

“With just four fish, you’re going to have to have a big fish each day,” Murray said. “If you don’t have a 7- or 8-pounder, you’re not going to be close to anything.”

The fishing game on the Delta depends largely on tidal fluctuations. On a high tide, Murray expects to be flipping and frogging. Low tide calls for finesse techniques like drop-shotting and casting Senkos.

“You’re going to be able to go out there and catch them anyway you want,” Monroe said. “A guy can go flip four fish that weigh 20 pounds. A guy can go crankbait four fish that will weigh 20 pounds. A guy can throw a topwater, buzzbait or frog and catch a 20-pound stringer. It’s going to be good whichever way you want to catch them.”

Those are not the techniques that Monroe plans for himself, however.

“I’ll be doing a little bit of that,” he said, smiling. “I kind of left one of my tricks underneath the bag. There’s only going to be one or two other guys doing it, and that’s only because they’re Tour level guys who know about it.”

The Western Division season-opener was held the same week last year, and Clint Johnson took home the first-place trophy with a three-day total of 50-1. The Washington pro scored by fishing a Texas-rigged watermelon Senko in shallow weeds in the Big Break area.

Despite Johnson’s victory, all eyes will be on Robert Lee in the battle for the $50,000 top prize. The Angel Camp pro is the king of Delta bass tournaments. He’s won four BASS tournaments held on the massive Delta, including three Invitationals/Opens and a CITGO Bassmaster Tour event.

Daily weigh-ins take place at Russo’s Marina.

The second Western Open will be held Oct. 13-15 on Clear Lake, near Lakeport, Calif. The Western Opens will conclude Nov. 17-19 on Lake Shasta in Shasta Lake, Calif.

BASS is the world's largest fishing organization, sanctioning more than 20,000 tournaments worldwide through its Federation. The CITGO Bassmaster Tournament Trail, which includes the Bassmaster Elite 50 series, is the oldest and most prestigious pro bass fishing tournament circuit and continues to set the standard for credibility, professionalism and sportsmanship as it has since 1968.

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