Pat's Pro/Am on the California Delta

Authors Note: I wrote this about 3 years ago to share this experience with my club. I was pretty "green" then and like to think I've come a ways since. Still lots of room for improvement though. Reading this again has inspired me to try some more Pro/Ams along with the Redman circuit that I have been fishing. Hope you enjoy it.

I had been interested in fishing a Pro/Am Bass tournament for some time. I also wanted to learn more about the Delta. West Coast Bass scheduled a tournament for the Delta on June 11 & 12, 1994. West Coast wants Pros and Ams to sign up together to ensure a balanced field. West Coast paired me up with Andre Moore from San Mateo. They will do that for folks if they can, but the way to be sure you get to fish is to sign up with a Pro. At the very least get your entry in early, since they use paid entry date to determine who is paired if they don't have a partner.

The Pros are encouraged to fish with their sign-up partners on the practice day. I call Andre up and he says he would be happy to have me go along and we agree to meet at Big Break Marina at 5 a.m. on Friday June 10th. Andre is a real nice guy in his early twenties. He is not one of the top names, but he's trying to break in..(Andre has since "Broken in", winning a Pro-Am at Folsom and coming in 2nd at the US Open on Lake Mead) He has fished three other WCB Pro/Ams this year. Fishing with Andre in his Bass Cat Pantera II is a pleasure. We go to areas in the South Delta that I have never been to and have a pretty good day. He shares some techniques and even gives me some baits to use in the tournament. We catch fish off and on all day, mostly just keeper size or a little bigger, but he has a nice 4+ that gives him encouragement for the next days. We are back to the ramp about 2:30.

From 6-7:30 that evening is the check-in, draw and a barbecue sponsored by the Hook, Line and Sinker tackle shop. Partners are drawn for both days that evening and I meet my Pros and we agree where to meet. I am paired with Don Crabtree for Saturday and Dan Castelhano for Sunday. In this format, the Pro and Amateur fish as a team and both carry their weight forward to the next day. Don and I talk briefly about what we will do the next day.

3:30 a.m. comes very early the next morning, but I am awake before the alarm sounds. I drive to Big Break find Don and help him launch his boat. We pull into a slip and he arranges his gear and gives me a jig to tie on for our first stop. He has been fishing this level of tournaments for years and is fully sponsored from bow to stern. His sponsors included: Ranger, Mercury, Berkeley and Loomis among others. He is quite a character, a big man over 250 lbs I'd guess, about 55 and bald. He is excited and friendly. He likes to smoke Swisher Sweet Cigars, just how much I found out later.

We are in the third flight out, boat 37 of 104. Launch is scheduled for 5:10. We are all outside Big Break bobbing around in a moderate wind. The Launch Boat makes some announcements and then we all stand while the Star Spangled Banner plays. I feel the adrenaline start to pump as the music finishes. The blast off goes smoothly, but the water doesn't stay that way long. Even though they left one at a time, there are boats going every direction, leaving a variety of wakes to go along with the chop that the wind is putting on the water. We are flying across wakes bouncing around and it doesn't take me long to find the panic strap to get something to hold on to. I look over at Don driving. He has the throttle all the way down, he's wearing dark glasses that I know he can't see very well out of and he has his cigar stuck between his teeth as we fly up the San Joaquin. We finally clear most of the traffic and have a smooth ride the rest of the way up river, which takes about 35 minutes.

We pull up near his dock and find another boat fishing near it. He's not pleased. We decide to fish near by for a few minutes and the other boat goes on by without any luck. We actually tie up to the dock. Don says he doesn't want to spook the fish with the electric motor holding against the incoming tide. We've been fishing around and under the dock about 5 minutes when Don hooks a fish and calls for the net. It's still folded up under the console so I have to fight with it for what seems like 5 minutes, but was really only seconds. We get the fish in the net and it looks to me to be over 5 lbs, but he thinks it's only about 4. We fish a few more minutes and then move to the other end of the dock where we tie up again. It's ten minutes before he sets the hook again. This time the fish wraps around the piling and Don is having a heck of a time getting it in. This one looks slightly smaller than the first one, but not much. Wow, what a start! From that point things really slow down. We start fishing areas working our way back down the San Joaquin, but all we can catch is dinks. We decide to head for White's Slough. Don's landmark for his turn, a large tree, has evidently blown down. He is slightly lost. I recognize where we are and, feeling pretty good, show him how to get to Honker Cut. On the way we stop and fish some of "my spots" which also makes me feel pretty good even though we still only catch dinks.

We eat and have a cold drink as we idle through the 5 mph zone past Kings Island. It's after ten now and we haven't had a keeper in over three hours. We start fishing some algae covered areas with a rat and throw spinner baits, buzzbaits and flip in the sparse tules. Still only dinks. Woosh! Finally I have a good fish on a buzzbait! It pulls hard and tries to head for the weeds, but I'm able to get it to the boat where Don nets it. I am beside myself with excitement. I have contributed to our weight with a 2 1/2 pounder. Even better, I broke our drought. Don congratulates me with a pat on the back and we keep fishing with new energy. It must have been a suicide bass because we are back to nothing but dinks again. We decide to head for the Mokolumne and have another cold drink as we idle through Tower Park marina. I'm driving the boat as Don does some house keeping up front. He's mad at himself because he broke a G. Loomis rod earlier when he left it laying across the deck and stepped on it. He's promising to be a good boy for a while and not leave stuff laying around.

We stop and fish the riprap and after a few minutes Don catches a squeeker on a crankbait, one fish to go for a limit. It's after 1:30 now and we are starting to think about the ride back to Big Break. The wind has really started whipping and there are white caps around us on the Mokolumne. Our weigh-in is at 3:30 and about 1:45 Don catches a 14 incher. We have a limit! We shake hands and declare that not many have worked harder to get one.

We tie everything down tight for the ride home. I suggest that I should wear my rain gear, Don laughs and assures me that I am in good hands. No rain gear, slight mistake. We are heading down the San Joaquin about 40 mph. The wind is also moving about 40 mph, but in the opposite direction. There is about a 3 foot chop on the water and we are working over cruiser wakes as well. Don is doing a great job. The boat is riding right up on top and the nice soft seats are taking the shock out of most of harder hits. We are farther down river and I can just see the Antioch bridge. I can also see that the rollers are 4-5 feet high now. I am getting wet from the spray and wind. I remember the Ranger ad, "When you are getting more than you bargained for..." I look over at Don, he's got his hands off the wheel lighting his cigar. Maybe he's done this before. We finally pull into a slough, where there is only about a 2 foot chop, to get dry. Then it's homeward bound. We stop in a marina close to the weigh-in to fish for the last fifteen minutes. Don is changing his shirt to one with his name and his sponsors on it for the weigh in.

We pull up to the dock and I take care of the boat while Don takes the fish to the scales. The two big fish are 5.5 and 5.23 and our total weight is 15.77! Unfortunately, one fish has died and we are assessed a .2 penalty so we have 15.57 for the first day. At the time, it puts us in third place, with two big fish in the top five. I help Don recover the boat and wipe it down. We wish each other good luck the next day and he heads for his motel. I hang around and watch a little more of the weigh-in. After it's done we are each in 5th place and one of Don's big fish is tied for 5th as well.

This time I sleep till the alarm goes off. I meet Dan at the dock and put my stuff in his boat. Dan is a younger fellow who works as a floor covering contractor in Fremont. He has some sponsorship from Rattletrap and Quantum. He had a tough day Saturday with less than 8 lbs. He promises to try to put us on some better fish today. He wants to help me add to my good weight from the day before. This morning we are 66th out. The traffic and wakes are there again and we head across Frank's Tract bouncing around with everyone else. We finally stop somewhere in Old River and start fishing tule banks. The area looks real good, but we get nothing. We move around some but still not even a bite. We are using topwater, spinnerbaits, cranks and flippin'. Still nothing.

It's after ten now and we still have not had a bite. Dan is frustrated and I think a little embarrassed. I am starting to think that my good day yesterday will go for nothing. I didn't have any great plans of winning when I signed up anyway and I am seeing a lot of good looking water. We are both fishing hard and finally I catch a dink inside Mildred Island. Hope springs, but soon leaves as nothing more happens. We head for the San Joaquin and start fishing around the entrance to Disappointment slough. The name fits. We run into one of Dan's friends. He has broken his trolling motor mount and is trying to figure out what to do about it. We offer our sympathy and head up into another slough.

It's after noon now and we still don't have a fish. I decide to eat my sandwich and relax for a few minutes. We are working a weed line with spinnerbaits and rattletraps when Dan catches our first keeper (13 inches). I put the last half of my sandwich away. It's about 12:30 now and Dan catches a short fish and then another keeper. Things are looking up. The tide is going out and the weed bed is becoming more visible. Another keeper and Dan tosses me a rattletrap like the one he's using and tells me to fish it off the back of the boat. He's caught 5 fish, 3 keepers, in 20 minutes. I am encouraged. I catch a 12 incher and then another one as we work up and down a stretch of weeds. Dan catches another keeper. This one is a real squeeker. I have another fish on and it feels pretty good. I get it to the boat and Dan nets it. It's about 14 inches and makes our limit. Dan tells me to put a diaper pin in it and put it in the live well with the other small fish. He shakes my hand and I feel as if I've contributed. Our fish are small, total probably less than 8 lbs. We keep fishing and things just keep getting better. We are catching fish like crazy. Many of them are small though. I keep hooking fish but they are coming off before we can get them in the boat. I sharpen the hooks and keep trying. One time, the rattletrap pulls loose as Dan is netting the fish and flies up and sticks in his forearm. I know the hooks are sharp. Fortunately none of the barbs penetrate and he's not hurt. I really feel like a rookie now. Dan catches another keeper to cull our smallest fish. I quit losing fish. I have figured out that I need to set the hook hard when these fish hit. They are hooking themselves, but not well. I am using a soft rod and the hooks are not penetrating past the barbs. We are catching fish on every other cast now. We are even having double hook-ups one after another. Still a lot of small fish but we are getting keepers too. We cull the fish I caught and a couple more. I have lost track of whose fish we have in the well, but it doesn't matter. We are catching keepers and just throwing them back because we can see they won't help.

We decide to move some to see if we can find some bigger fish. We go out and fish an island but don't catch anything better. We go back to our good weed bed and have time to make one more pass before we need to head for home. We catch a few more fish, but nothing of any size. In two hours we have caught at least 50 fish with 15-18 keepers. I will definitely remember this afternoon.

We tie everything down tight and head out into the river. The wind is blowing, but not as bad as yesterday. The boat traffic is worse though, and there are a lot of big cruisers. Dan is doing a good job on the rough water, but misses a wake and we stick the bow into it. Just a little wet, but I am beginning to think it's part of the Delta experience. We head up Old River to False river and zip past some more cruisers. Now we are back out on the San Joaquin and we are running next to another Ranger. I can see the other boat coming completely out of the water and know that we are doing the same thing. This is unquestionably an E ticket ride! We get close to Big Break and go into another boat harbor to take one last shot. No luck here. Back at the weigh-in I tend the boat while Dan takes our fish up: 10.42 lbs.! What a difference a couple of hours can make! This weight should keep me in the hunt for a check. Dan leaves me at the dock, I give him some gas money, thank him for all his hard work and patience and hope his arm is okay.

I look around for Don or Andre to see how they've done and find that Don has 10.3 lbs so we have almost identical weight for the two days. Andre has about 9 lbs for the day and is disappointed he didn't do better. I open my cooler and see the rest of my sandwich. I have it along with a coke, then a beer. I watch the weigh-in until the end and then go relax while I wait for the award ceremony.

I hear Larry Viviano, the WCB President, start talking and head over for the stage. They are starting with the 20th place amateur. He has 23 pounds and change so I am encouraged with my 25.99. They are alternating with amateur then pro for each place. Don goes up to collect a check for 11th place in the pros. I hear my weight being announced and go up to receive the 7th place plaque, check and merchandise. Larry asks if this is my first West Coast tournament and I say yes and I will probably be back. I watch the rest of the awards and listen to the top finishers tell how they did it.

All in all this has been a great week-end. Everyone I fished with and met was great. My partners helped me with advice and lures. They really wanted me to catch fish to help the team and I was never back seated without water to fish. I got my money's worth even if I hadn't lucked out and drawn partners that were able to put us on some fish. The prizes were a total bonus.

Observations: Many of the pros fishing these events are not much different than we are at the club level. They get frustrated sometimes just like we do. Not everyone is a Gary Dobyns, Dave Gliebe or Dee Thomas (successful CA Pros), but they all have confidence that they can win. These guys tend to fish fast. They don't give up if fishing's slow. Many of the amateurs fish the whole circuit gathering points to fish in the West Coast classic. Some of these amateurs are clearly "Hot Sticks." A number of the pros credited their amateurs with putting good fish in the boat or even putting them on fish.

Do I recommend the experience? Definitely, I do recommend that a person sign up with a friend, it's much more enjoyable if you share your experience with someone you know.