The logistics of getting out to California were challenging for many of my fellow pros, so I hired someone to bring my rig out west. That would give me more time at home, where our new house project is still underway, and it meant that I could fly out and spend some time with Jasper Engines and Transmissions clients before the practice period started. I met up with some great guys at Lake Berryessa and we enjoyed a couple of fantastic days on the water, which got me in a good frame of mind.
After that was done, I moved down to the Delta. It’s a body of water where I don’t have much history, but it sets up well for the way I like to fish. It is loaded with all sorts of vegetation and reminds me of Florida, just with the addition of tides.
My practice went well. Gerald Swindle and I roomed together and we stayed down near the water until the tournament started, at which point we moved closer to the launch site in Sacramento. I spent a lot of my practice days in some well-known productive areas, but I also tried to go off the beaten path a little. The days were long – 6am until 8pm – and it was critical to figure out how the tides affected the bite. I caught a lot of fish, including a 10, an 8 and several over 5, but the big fish bite was inconsistent. My best areas had quality fish in them, but I had no idea if they’d bite when I got there.
On Day One I committed to making the best out of what I thought was my most fertile area, but just getting there was a challenge. It took over 90 minutes of running, and there was all sorts of confusion about where you could run and where you had to idle. On top of that, there were five to ten boats around you at all times, so it was nerve-wracking and I was admittedly tensed up when I started fishing.
My stress level certainly didn’t help my performance. From the very first pitch I was keyed up and not in the right frame of mind to execute. With only five hours to fish, each mistake is brutal, and I lost three good fish right out of the gate. When it was time to make the long run back I had only 13-09 in the livewell, good enough for 61st place.
I knew that I had a lot of ground to make up on Day Two, and I’d located a backwater in practice that I felt had the potential to give me the quality fish I needed. I knew it would be crowded, but I’d caught a 10 there during practice, so it was worth the additional stress. My plan was that if I could sack a decent limit elsewhere I’d spend the rest of the day down there.
I managed to cut my run time down from the day before, and overall I just felt more calm and comfortable. When I stood up I was a different person than I was on Day One, and I had a limit in 12 minutes. Now I just needed a big bite. The first day I’d made it back to weigh-in with just two gallons of fuel left, so on Friday I elected to refuel early to eliminate the worry of running out of gas.
After refueling, I went to my big fish area. I saw some great big ones there, but it was obvious that they had been fished for previously. They were cruising around and ultra-spooky. I managed to catch a few, but only culled once. It was frustrating knowing that the right ones were there for me to make a move but that I didn’t have the skill to get them to bite. Still, I gave it all that I had.
I weighed in just a little bit less on Day Two and dropped four more spots. It was frustrating knowing that I’d had the bites to be well up in the money but that being keyed up cost me those fish. A positive mental attitude goes a long way, especially if you don’t have a lot of history to rely upon.
I had two main lures on the Delta, one for high tide situations and the other for when the water was out. When the water was up I was flipping the full-sized D Bomb (in the appropriately-named California Love color), paired with a pegged ½ ounce Reins tungsten weight. I fished it on a Denali 7’8” extra-heavy Kovert rod paired with a Shimano Ci4 spooled with 20 lb. Gamma Edge fluorocarbon. The key was to get the lure through the cover and then let it sit for 10 or 15 seconds before hopping it. The fish were spooky and didn’t want to bite, but by testing their patience you could make them eat it.
When the tide went out and the water cleared up, I went “power shooting.” Basically that’s a heavy dropshot with a short leader. I used a Senko and all you had to do was pitch it into a likely spot and hold it still. That little bit of current would float the bait and make it quiver and then it would suddenly start swimming off. I fished that on a 7’ heavy Kovert.
The other pieces of equipment that were crucial were my Phoenix boat, my Mercury outboard and my Humminbird Onix units. Most of us hadn’t made the run from Sacramento down to the Delta prior to the actual competition, and the map we were given was crude and inexact at best. My equipment never failed me and consistently makes my job easier.
Despite the fact that I didn’t drive out to California, this was one of the most grueling tournaments I’ve ever fished. Because the Delta is so vast, the practice days were exceptionally long and it seemed like there were off-the-water obstacles – parking issues, road construction, things like that – at every turn. I compared it to Groundhog Day because just when you thought things would get easier it was the same thing all over again.
Next up is Havasu. I’ve never been there and haven’t done much research, but I’m excited because I hear that it’s a dynamic fishery. I’ll go into it with an open mind and hope to be reporting back with a better finish next week.
65th Place; 10 fish, 26-13
We'll keep you updated but you can follow Chad on his website: http://chadmorgenthaler.com/2015/05/03/the-california-delta/#more-3267
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