Stren Western: Delta sticks smash big-bass record – twice

BETHEL ISLAND, Calif. – Pro Steve Sapp weighed in a 14-pound, 1-ounce largemouth bass in Stren Series Western Division competition Thursday. However, he was only able to celebrate for all of about 45 minutes, right up until the point co-angler Tom Sawicki weighed in a 14-5.

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the California Delta.

Jaws dropped and eyes popped at Russo’s Marina Thursday afternoon when Sapp weighed in his 14-pound, 1-ounce fish, which – at the time – took the title as the heaviest fish ever weighed in at an FLW Outdoors tournament, beating a record of 12-14 set by Chris Costello of Gilroy, Calif., right here at the California Delta in Wal-Mart BASS Fishing League competition in 1999.

The fish also broke the Stren Series single-bass record of 12 pounds, 11 ounces set by Jeary Wheeler of Batesville, Ark., at Texas’ Sam Rayburn Reservoir in 2003.

Then, in a series of events that could only happen at the Delta, Sapp’s 14-pound, 1-ounce fish – the biggest ever caught in FLW Outdoors competition, for about 45 minutes – ultimately didn’t even turn out to be the biggest one of the day. A few boat flights later, Sawicki came in with his 14-pound, 5-ounce largemouth and snatched away the record just like that.

“You know, that’s why I love fishing here,” Sapp said. “The cool thing about it is that you don’t even have to be the guy fishing in the front of the boat. That’s just the neat thing about the Delta.”

“As a co-angler, what goes through your mind as you see guys in the front of the boat coming in with huge fish is, ‘How do I do that?” Sawicki said. “Well, I think it’s just a lot of luck, a lot of patience and having great pro partners.”

Even more of a testament to the power of this almost ridiculous bass fishery: At the end of the two-day opening round at the Delta, Sapp and Sawicki – the record-bass catchers – didn’t even lead their respective divisions.

Sawicki, a co-angler out of Modesto, Calif., with just two prior Stren Series events under his belt, fished behind pro Shaun Bailey of Agoura Hills, Calif., Thursday. Bailey was bed-fishing, but he made sure to keep Sawicki within casting range of fish most of the day.

“Shaun Bailey is just awesome. He always kept me in pockets where I could fish,” Sawicki said. “On the big one, he was working a bed and I was just pitching back into a pocket, blind-casting the whole time. I probably threw it in there 25 times before she hit.”

Amazingly, Sawicki caught his sow on a light drop-shot rig. Fishing about 5 feet of water, he used a Lamiglas Drop-Shot Special rod with a Shimano spinning reel. His bait was a 4-inch Roboworm, and he caught the record fish on 12-pound-test Yozuri line “that I bought at Wal-Mart,” he said.

“Oh, she thumped it. There was no question that it was a big bite,” Sawicki said. “She came up a couple of times and then got into some weeds where I thought she’d settle down. But she dug in and made another run to try and make it to deeper water. I thought, ‘Oh no. That’s the last thing I want with this kind of rig.’ But Shaun kept coaching me on through the whole thing. It seemed like it lasted about five minutes, but it was probably only two.”

Fortunately, he had retied his line just prior to the big bite because he had caught another, smaller, male bass off a bed shortly beforehand.

Sawicki caught the heaviest limit of the day in the Co-angler Division by far. With five bass weighing 25 pounds, 2 ounces, he vaulted from 98th place on day one into third place and the cut on day two with an opening-round total of 32-14.

“How exciting is that?” he asked. “That’s the first double-digit fish I’ve ever caught. I’ve come close before, but I’ve never broken 10 pounds. I was shaking for about 30 minutes afterward.”

Sapp, a veteran pro out of Manteca, Calif., caught his monster on a 3/8-ounce, black-and-red Triple Rattleback jig with a Zoom Chunk trailer. He was fishing in the Middle Delta area, quietly working a shallow pocket near a dock when fortune struck.

“I caught one about 4 pounds, and then a 9, and then that 14-pounder,” he said. “They were all basically in one area. I had seen fish in there before in practice, but none that big. Let’s put it this way, my heartbeat went from 65 beats a minute to 250 when I caught that big one.”

The behemoth was Sapp’s fourth keeper of the day. Apparently, catching a 14-pounder, especially in a big tournament, does strange things to an angler.

“When I got to the next spot, I was so excited about that fish that I ended up culling out my fourth fish,” he said. “I caught another one, and I just instinctively reached in the livewell and threw back the one with the cull-float on it. Then I turned around and said (to co-angler Kirk Beardsley), ‘You know what? I only got four fish.’”

Steve Sapp's record catch - including his 14-1 kicker (left) and a 9-pounder (right) - launched him into third place for the pros on day two with an opening-round total of 46-10.But Sapp hardly suffered for the understandable gaffe. Later in the day, he came back up to Franks Tract near the marina, caught a smaller fish off a bed – which he says he rarely does – and filled out his limit. In the end, his five bass weighed in at a massive 35 pounds, 7 ounces and set a new Stren Series record for one-day weight, breaking Ricky Scott’s mark of 34-4 caught at Texas’ Lake Amistad in the Central Division earlier this season.

His record catch also launched him from an 11-pound, 3-ounce, 127th-place showing on day one into third place for the pros on day two with an opening-round total of 46-10.

“This is one of the best days I’ve ever had fishing,” Sapp said. “I just changed up and went back to jig fishing, and it worked out.”

Obviously, both Sapp and Sawicki won the Snickers Big Bass award in their respective divisions. Sapp earned $725 and Sawicki $245.

The pro who nearly beat Sapp to the one-day weight record Wednesday, Sean Stafford of Fairfield, Calif., maintained his top spot in the division on day two by adding a limit weighing 15 pounds, 6 ounces to his massive weight of 33-9 from day one. He totaled an incredible 48-15 in the opening round.

“I had all my fish by 8:30 this morning,” Stafford said. “Then I spent a couple hours trying to help my nonboater get his limit. In the afternoon, I ran around looking for a big bite. I was bed-fishing, and I just fished a few that I found today. The good thing is that I kind of expanded on my main spot.”

Matt Lowery of El Cajon, Calif., stayed steady and caught his second stringer over 20 pounds in two days. His 25-pound, 1-ounce limit Thursday was the third-heaviest of the day, and his opening-round total of 47-3 earned him the second pro qualifying position heading into the cut.

“I’m just throwing a topwater and going after the big ones in the afternoon,” he said, saying he threw a Vixen spook and a swimbait Thursday. “I’m catching all postspawn fish. I’ve just got to give them time to rest so I can agitate them enough to get them to bite tomorrow.”

Veteran pro Mike Folkestad of Yorba Linda, Calif., also caught his second 20-pound-plus limit of the week – 23 pounds, 12 ounces – and landed in the fourth spot with a two-day total of 45-6.

“It’s kind of slow, but I’m just fishing for bigger fish, mostly postspawners,” he said. “I’m throwing all kinds of baits at them.”

Donald Davis of Discovery Bay, Calif., caught a limit weighing 18 pounds, 8 ounces and rounded out the top five pros with 43-13. He made his long run down towards Merced, Calif., again Thursday.

“That’s one guy I didn’t want to see make the cut. He’s the only one that scares me,” Davis laughed about Sapp. “I’m just going to do my best to hurt them tomorrow.”

The top 20 pros made the cut into the two-day final round starting Friday at the California Delta. The cut weight settled at 36 pounds, 2 ounces.

Rounding out the top 10:

6th: Shawn Milligan of Roseville, Calif., 43-3
7th: Nick Welton of Galt, Calif., 43-0
8th: Rob Reihl of Tracy, Calif., 41-0
9th: Charley Almassey of Oakley, Calif., 39-10
10th: Randy McAbee of Bakersfield, Calif., 39-6

Each of the top 10 pros – in fact, the top 20 – caught limits both days of the opening round.

Roy Desmangles Jr. of Lincoln, Calif., leads the Co-angler Division with a two-day total of 10 bass weighing 34 pounds, 13 ounces.Desmangles maintains co-angler lead

Day-one co-angler leader Roy Desmangles Jr. of Lincoln, Calif., held onto the top spot with a two-day total of 34 pounds, 13 ounces. He caught 12-1 Thursday.

“I’ve been fishing a drop-shot, mostly,” he said. “My pro partner (Paul Cormany) took me to a sweet spot, and I appreciate it.”

Allen Vance of Mineral, Wash., placed second with an opening-round weight of 33 pounds, 15 ounces.

As mentioned, Sawicki took third place for the co-anglers with 32 pounds, 14 ounces.

Co-angler Jack Kemper of Benicia, Calif., qualified in fourth place with 31 pounds, 14 ounces.

Hideki Maeda of Japan qualified in fifth place with 30 pounds, 5 ounces.

Rounding out the top 10 co-anglers to make the cut:

6th: Mathew Saavedra of Redding, Calif., 29-13
7th: Whitney Uyeda of Buellton, Calif., 29-11
8th: Edwin Shaver of Lake Havasu City, Ariz., 29-5
9th: Gary Haraguchi of Brentwood, Calif., 28-15
10th: Jim Tatum of Bishop, Calif., 28-8

The top 20 co-anglers advance into the next round. The co-angler cut weight settled at 25 pounds even.

Day three of Western Division competition at the California Delta begins as the semifinal-round field of 20 boats takes off from Russo’s Marina at 6 a.m. Pacific time. Anglers’ weights are reset to zero for Friday, and winners in both fields are determined by the heaviest accumulated weight over the next two days.