by Dan O’Sullivan
Each year the Western United States has one major event that has served as our premier event. For 31 years, the U.S. Open has given our region something that the rest of the country has paid attention to. Sure, our region introduced major finesse tactics and swimbaits to the industry, but the U.S. Open has given the industry a tournament to watch.
This year was no different, and while the world got to follow it more closely with the live coverage presented by Costa, they got to see how interesting the event can be. This year's U.S. Open presented the bass fishing world with some components and happenings that showed why the U.S. Open is unique.
Lake Mead is one of those places that you either love -or you hate. It can be one of the toughest fisheries in the world, and anglers are never quite sure what they are going to get from this Colorado River impoundment. This year, the 142 pro and their AAA anglers were confronted by severe weather changes.
During practice, the field dealt with the usual desert heat and dry conditions, but as the event began, clouds formed on the horizon and rains peered the area. Temperatures dropped slightly, but it wasn't enough to change the temperature of the lake much, so it created interesting fishing conditions.
As bass anglers, we learn that clouds, wind and rain stir up baitfish, and the bass follow. That didn't happen on the first two days at this year's U.S. Open. While a great deal of the field made adjustments to typical reaction presentations that would dominate in those conditions, the response was sketchy.
What we learned on day two was that the air temperatures had not dropped enough to affect the water temperatures much at all, so it did not have the effect of moving the bass anywhere. Anglers like Joe Uribe Jr. made the adjustment back to deep fish, and moved way up the leaderboard.
Lake Mead has a way of keeping anglers guessing, and this year as no different.
The U.S. Open has been responsible for jumpstarting the careers of many anglers. In the past, anglers like Rich Tauber, Byron Velvick, John Murray and others have come to prominence by winning this event. While it used to have much more appeal to the touring pros, as it used to be the only tournament paying out $100,000 to the winner, the U.S. open still draws Nationally known competitors.
Rick Clunn was in the field once again, as were the anglers mentioned above. Aaron Martens, Clifford Pirch, Brett Hite, Morizo Shimizu, Randy Blaukat and Kevin Stewart were all National pros that fished this year. match them with some of the best anglers from our region, and the opportunity to shine was certainly present.
The one who shined most this year was the winner; Rusty Brown, a guide from Tustin, Calif. Brown showed how much consistency matters in a U.S. Open. The angler who is able to string together three days of solid weights is the one who has the best chance to win, and Brown did precisely that. Brown's 30.32 pounds was posted by him bringing consistent 10-pound limits to the scales, and he earned his trophy.
It was not the most dramatic way to win, but it is usually what gets it done at the U.S. Open.
While Brown will go down as the Champion, there are two moments that will always be the most vivid memories of this year's U.S. Open for me. The first will be the sportsmanship displayed by Vacaville, Calif. pro Billy Hines, who was fishing his first U.S. Open.
During practice, Hines was working on his tackle for the next day, and had an accident where his foot slipped on his fender, and he fell to the ground, landing on his back. He spent the next 36 hours in his motor home, on the bed hoping to recover enough to compete. When it became clear that he wasn't going to be able to do so, Hines called tournament director Billy Egan and forfeited his entry fee so that a AAA who had wanted to fish as a pro, but whose sponsors couldn't pay at the last minute, could step up and compete.
It was an act of unselfishness and sportsmanship that truly stood out amongst the field of competitors.
Then, the memory from the competition itself that jumped out at me has to be the final day charge of Pirch. A two-time U.S. Open champion, Pirch was in 43rd place after day two of the event, and brought 15.87 pounds to the scales on the final day to almost win the event. Not only did he catch the biggest bag of the event, but that limit included a 5.20 pound largemouth; which was the big bass for the tournament as well.
While the performance itself was impressive, doing it during a U.S. Open is even more so. I talked to as many Western bass fishing people as I could following the event; including people at WON bass, and none of them can remember a bag that big being weighed in during the U.S. Open. It truly was an impressive performance, by an angler that has shown that the U.S. Open is an event he intends to keep his name associated with.
I have to commend Egan, and his staff for the way they run the event. It is a reminder of our glory days as a region when Pro/ Ams were truly events, and anglers looked forward to signing up for them. I also want to commend Bob Twilegar for his commitment to continue making the U.S. Open a grand event. the amount of prizes and cash he commits to the U.S. open is staggering. Chuck Buhagiar and his sales team are instrumental in making sure those cash and prizes are made available, from the Nitro / Mercury prize boat, to every sample at Sponsor Row, the anglers benefit.
Finally, to be able to be a part of bringing the U.S. Open live to the fans is an honor to me. To work with Mark Jeffreys and Dave Rush from BASS ZONE is something I always enjoy, and to be able to help present this event to the world is an honor. If it wasn't for Costa last year, and former WON salesman Mike Bohn, who was able to convince Costa that it was going to be a great event, we wouldn't have been able to be a part of it.
I'm proud to be able to do it, and proud that so many people get to see what a spectacle the U.S. open is, and has always been.