His third day catch of 9.85 pounds was his smallest of the tournament, but more than enough to hold off a talented field, that included half a dozen former winners of the event. For his effort, he took home the top prize of $50,000 in cash, a Ranger Z20 bass boat and trailer, Mercury 225 XS outboard along with MotorGuide trolling motor and Lowrance electronics. On top of that, he was presented with a $1,000 U.S. Open championship diamond ring from Markey Lures for a healthy $135,000 total payday.
DOWN AND DIRTY
“I’m fishing dirty water,” said. Nielsen “It was really good in there on jigs and cranks.” He later identified those baits as a brown and purple Pepper jigs and a shad-pattern Norman Deep Little-N.
He located his fish a month earlier while fishing a pro-am and then a team tournament. “I fished the Meadows up to the back of the Overton,” he said. “I made a commitment up there; it fits my style.”
Despite the big margin of victory, however, it was no cakewalk in his eyes. After only getting five bites on Tuesday, Nielsen didn’t have a fish until 10 o’clock on the last day.
“I was pretty nervous,” he said.
A BLAST FROM THE PAST
A surprise charge from an unlikely source was the runner-up story. Like in his high school days when he was once a crack middle distance runner in Orange County, Rich Dutzi of Murrieta had a strong kick on Wednesday, posting a 12.72-pound limit and a three-day total of 27.67 pounds.
His sack included a 4.58-pound largemouth, bringing him all the way from 18th place.
Dutzi, who now rarely fishes except for the occasional tournament on the Colorado River, used knowledge he has accumulated since the 1970’s.
“I feel wonderful,” he said. “It’s a wonderful day.”
His approach all week was continually in flux. The first day he fished in 25 to 35 feet of water not far from Callville Bay, then went all the way to Gregg Basin on day two.
“I learned something late yesterday that helped me today,” he said. “I learned that there were shad in the backs of the bays and pockets. I thought I was going to splitshot like my AAA partner the day before, but I ended up using a smoke sparkle spider jig in five to 12 feet.
“I thought they would bite it and they did,” he said in catching the biggest sack of the day.
HE’LL REMEMBER THE FIRST TIME
Hovering just below the radar screen for two days, Ben Koller of Peoria, Ariz. moved into third place with a final round sack weighing 11.85 pounds and a three-day total of 27.65 pounds.
“I’m happy with my finish,” he said. “This is my first U.S. Open.”
Koller virtually took a page out of U.S. Open history as he made long runs each day of the tournament. “I ran as up as close to the Grand Canyon as I could,” not unlike Rick Clunn’s charge in 1986.
“I came looking for a water temperature change,” he explained. “It was the coldest, greenest water and I stuck with it,” fishing a jig all three days. “They ate it quick today and they ate it quick on the first day. I don’t know what happened yesterday (Tuesday).”
A REMARKABLE SHOWING
Byron Velvick of Boulder City is no stranger to Lake Mead, but his national touring schedule rarely brings him home any more. Driving all the way from Table Rock Lake and arriving just hours before Monday’s send-off didn’t give him any time to zero in on the fish, and yet, he stayed in the top 10 all week, finishing fourth with 27.30 pounds.
Knowing he had plenty to make up in order to earn his third Open title, Velvick set his sights high. “We went looking for big fish,” he said explaining his light, four-fish bag.
But under the circumstances, it may have been as impressive as his earlier wins.
Gracious as well, he said, “I’m glad I came. I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.”
Right behind Velvick in fifth spot was Aaron Martens, formerly of Castaic, Calif. who managed 26.36 pounds after also crossing half the country to make the first day of Open competition.
The challenge for Martens was finding the most productive areas in a lake that was dramatically different than it was for his back-to-back wins in 2004 and 2005.
“They weren’t biting real good since it cooled off,” he said. “I fished a lot of dead water, but you didn’t know it. You had to fish it to find out. It was frustrating.”
TOP 10 SPOTS VERY TIGHT
Clifford Pirch of Payson, Ariz. finished the week with 26.15 pounds for sixth place, followed by Brent Ehrler of Redlands California with 25.38 pounds and Michael Knight of Bakersfield, Calif. who tallied 24.57 pounds.
“We did everything we could,” said Pirch of his 7.78-pound catch on Wednesday. “We fished every minute and ground it out (using topwaters, worms and spinnerbaits).”
Said Ehrler, “It was slow. They really didn’t want to bite in my limit spot. I was always trying to find new water. All I had was enough for the first day. I had my limit Tuesday by 6:30. Today it took a long time.
Fishing Vegas Wash for most of the tournament, Knight fished primarily a Vixen topwater, admitting he “lost a good fish every day.” Nonetheless, of his 8.72-pound bag on Wednesday, he said, “It feels pretty good.”
Touring pro Brett Hite of Phoenix posted ninth spot with 24.36 pounds, jumping from 20th place. Tom Matsunaga of Gardena captured 10th place with 24.13 pounds.
Said Matsunaga, “It was a lot tougher today.” His 8.45-pound sack included a 2.75-pounder on a spinnerbait late in the day, nonetheless, he commented, “The lake cooled off at least 10 degrees and dropped a foot. There were a lot of grass beds out of water.”