UPCOMING EVENT: Walmart Bass Fishing League - 2016 - Lake Okeechobee

The winds of change

Tarking a more relaxed approach to the final round helped Philip Garcia turn in a winning performance at Clear Lake.

KELSEYVILLE, CALIF. - Even the tallest towers can crumble. That's the lesson Yuba City, Calif., pro Philip Garcia learned en route to winning the Stren Series Western Division on Clear Lake. Entering the event in second place, Garcia trailed Lincoln, Calif., pro Wade Curtiss by 9 pounds, 9 ounces. Curtiss set the bar high on day one with his limit weight of 34 pounds, 11 ounces. He led the pro field each of the first three days, but a final-round stumble gave Garcia the opening he needed to steal the spotlight with the final day's heaviest stringer - 17-3 - and a winning four-day total of 73-10 worth $25,000. On a day marred by the chill and blustery conditions of a brutal cold front, Garcia decided to give stress and anxiety a day off and go to work with a more productive attitude. The specter of big fish lost and the task of climbing the tall mountain of Curtiss' lead had worn on his psyche. However, the final tournament day dawned with Garcia sporting a new mindset. "I think that being so far behind the leader actually helped me relax," he said. "I didn't worry about (Curtiss' weight) - I just went fishing and had fun. Believe it or not, at 6:49 a.m., I had my limit," Garcia said. "I caught them all on a swimbait - five right in a row." Philip GarciaAfter securing his limit in an area with a lava-rock bottom in about 20 feet, he fished a wacky-rigged cinnamon-black Senko and a 1-ounce football jig. The larger head may have been overkill, but it was less likely to tangle in the rocks than a lighter head, and that meant more fishing time. Working his jig in a broad, sweeping pattern with high arcs and deep falls, Garcia created a more boisterous presentation that agitated low-lying bass. "It was more of a reaction bite with the jig than the fish nosing down on it and eating it. This is a technique I use for spotted bass, because they're more aggressive." Helpful to his day's results, Garcia said, was targeting a protected area: "Where I was fishing was nice and smooth." Final-round slip lands Curtiss in second Hampered by wind, Wade Curtis threw a swimbait and caught four fish to place second.Wade Curtiss of Lincoln, Calif., had an impressive run. However, in the end, Mother Nature has a way of humbling anglers now and then. Bringing a 66-pound total into the final round, Curtiss was the odds-on favorite to sweep the show, but ultimately settled for a second-place finish with 72-13. He wanted to fish tule stands in the midlake area, but extremely rough water denied him access. "I couldn't fish the spots I wanted to fish because of the weather, so I ended up going to Cache Creek." Curtis used swimbaits and red crawler worms on drop-shots. The only pro to not weigh a limit in the final round, he finished just 13 ounces behind Garcia. A fifth keeper would have pushed him into the top spot, but Curtis had no regrets or speculation. "I had four bites and got all four of them." Long run rewards Copple with third place Fishing dropshots and wacky rigged Senkos in the north end of Clear Lake gave Scott Copple a third place finish.Scott Copple of Lehi, Utah, made a grueling run to the north end of the lake and fished an area known as "The Keys," where canals, rock edges and weeds present a diverse array of targets with a wind break from houses. Fishing a drop-shot with a 4-inch worm and a wacky-rigged 5-inch black-and-blue Senko, Copple bagged the day's second largest stringer - 17-1 - and finished with a third-place total of 71-5. "First thing, I got them on the rock banks, and when I couldn't get that to go anymore, I slid over to the weeds and started dropping the Senko in the holes," he said. Stone chisels out fourth-place finish Looking for the homerun bites, Jared Stone fished big swimbaits and finished in fourth place.After entering the final round in third place, Jared Stone of Lakeport, Calif., weighed 14 pounds, 5 ounces to end his campaign with a 70-3 total worth fourth place. Stone caught his fish on a 7-inch Osprey swimbait in 4 to 8 feet of water. Slinging a large bait, he said, requires attention and preparation: "Once you throw it, you have to get ready for a monster to eat it. You just have to know that every cast could be a big fish." Stafford takes the gypsy road to fifth Without any distinct pattern to pursue, Sean Stafford went junk fishing and scratched out a limit for fifth place.No plan - no problem. Fairfield, Calif., pro Sean Stafford took a lot of ribbing from fellow anglers, but his reliance on junk fishing carried him to a fifth-place finish with 68-2. His final-round limit weight of 13-7 was hard to come by. "Every day, I came in with 15, 16, 17 rods out," he said. "I wasn't really on anything. I just kind of bounced around the lake this week. I probably used seven or eight different baits to get (my fish). The wind kind of hurt me today because I didn't have any key spots to sit on. I just caught them here doing this and there doing that - hard to do when there's 6-footers out there. Best of the rest Rounding out the top 10 pro leaders at the Stren Series Clear Lake event: 6th: Brian Nollar of Homer, Alaska, 66-11 7th: Ron Colby of Page, Ariz., 66-8 8th: Cody Meyer of Redding, Calif., 66-2 9th: Corey Fenske of Granite Bay, Calif., 64-11 10th: Jason Milligan of Anderson, Calif., 61-7

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