May 7, 2006 by Jeff Schroeder
BETHEL ISLAND, Calif. - During the heat of a winning streak in 2000, bass-fishing legend Rick Clunn once said: "What you've seen Tiger Woods do in golf is ultimately possible in this sport. It's just a matter of fulfilling potential." Well, Jimmy Reese ought to know something about that because he's a former golf pro, and he also just won two out of the last three Stren Series Western Division tournaments of the year. "It's unreal, completely unreal," Reese said. "I just want to thank these stud fishermen for putting on a great show this week." No slouch himself, the pro from Witter Springs, Calif., finished off a season that was about as studly as an angler can have by catching yet another five-bass limit Saturday - 17 pounds, 12 ounces - and winning the Western Division closer at the California Delta. His two-day winning weight was 39-1, and he earned some $20,000 in cash and contingencies plus a Ranger boat. This was the second time this season that Reese has cleared that kind of bounty. Two tournaments ago he won at nearby Clear Lake in early March, and with a top-five finish at Lake Havasu in February and top-20 at Lake Shasta in late March, he actually cemented his Western Division Angler of the Year standings title when he made the cut this week. "It's crazy. It's crazy," was all he could muster Saturday afternoon. Crazy is the fact that Reese somehow seemed to be able to muster at least one good kicker fish almost every tournament day this season. And "kickers" in the Western Division generally mean huge 6-, 7- and 8-pound largemouths. And that is exactly what he did Saturday on the Delta to win. Reese started the day throwing the 1/2-ounce crawdad-orange Rat-L-Trap that helped him gain the lead Friday, caught a few keepers, and then he switched over to a drop-shot armed with a Margarita Mutilator-colored Roboworm. He filled out his limit to about 13 pounds. "Then 11 o'clock rolled around, and I figured it was time to go swinging for the fences," he said. "I went to a spot where I had a 5-pound bed fish, and I knew there was also a 7-pounder close by, but when I got there, there was a boat sitting there," Reese said. "I asked him if he was fishing in a tournament. He said, `Yup. Angler's Choice.' Then I asked him if he caught those fish. He just said, `Yup.' I asked how much they weighed. He said, `Five and 7 pounds.' Right there I thought I was sunk." Armed with his secret weapon of the week, a custom swimbait he borrowed from a friend but would only identify as a "7-inch, wooden swimbait," Reese started casting down the bank. "I didn't go 50 yards and I stuck that 7-7," he said, describing his kicker catch. "Afterward I went over there to look at the spot, and there was nothing there. No bed or anything. It was just 2 feet of water, and that fish was just cruising." Even so, Reese lost a few fish on his swimbait in the afternoon and didn't think he had enough to win. "I dumped a couple 5-pounders later in the day," he said. "I thought these guys were going to whack them because they were chewing today. I had no idea I'd win this." Kerr comes up short again, takes second Justin Kerr of Simi Valley, Calif., posted the heaviest catch of the day - 19 pounds, 3 ounces - but came up just short of his first pro Stren Series win. He caught 37-11 in the finals and finished second, earning $10,000. For Kerr, it was his fourth top-10 finish in the Western Division and third top-five, but the young pro didn't hide that he's hungry for a win. "It's been a real struggle for me for four years. I've been so close how many times?" he said. "But everything has to go just right to win one of these things, and Jimmy's just been on fire." Kerr caught his fish by throwing frogs on the low tide and switching to a drop-shot with a fat, red-crawler Roboworm once the tide started moving. "I was just pitching it to holes," he said. "I lost one fish the whole four days, and it had to happen today. When it happened, I turned to my co-angler and said, `That fish is going to cost me.' And it did." Sapp third Steve Sapp of Manteca, Calif., couldn't duplicate his 14-pound, 1-ounce jawdropper from Thursday. In fact, his entire limit weighed just a little more than that, 14-9, and he finished third with a final-round total of 35-10. He earned $8,950. "It was just a struggle all day. Everything changed every day, all week," said Sapp, who threw a swimbait Saturday. "What these young guys are turning into, it's pushing us old guys out of the way. It just shows you how far this sport is coming." Strelic fourth Pro Jon Strelic of Alpine, Calif., finished fourth and collected $7,950 with a final-round weight of 35 pounds, 7 ounces. He caught a limit weighing 16-2 Saturday. "I had a great week, we had great weather, and we had great fishing. We caught lots and lots of bass," said Strelic, who threw a shallow-diving crankbait most of the week. Almassey comes back for fifth Charlie Almassey of Oakley, Calif., caught the second-heaviest limit Saturday - 18 pounds, 11 ounces - and bounced back from ninth place to finish fifth with a final weight of 32-3. He earned $7,450. "I found a place yesterday where I hadn't prefished or anything," he said. "It just looked right, so I went there this morning. I switched from a chartreuse Zara Super Spook to a drop-shot with an oxblood-colored Senko." Rest of the best Rounding out the top 10 Pro Division finishers at the California Delta: 6th: Matt Lowery of El Cajon, Calif., 31-11, $6,450 7th: Tom Kilduff of Dewey, Ariz., 30-12, $5,450 8th: Rob Riehl of Tracy, Calif., 24-3, $4,950 9th: Ken Mah of Elk Grove, Calif., 23-0, $4,450 10th: Donald Davis of Discovery Bay, Calif., 21-1, $3,950 Coming up This concludes the 2006 season of the Western Division. The next Stren Series event is a Central Division contest at Sam Rayburn Reservoir near Jasper, Texas, May 17-20.