March 5, 2009 by Patrick Baker
KELSEYVILLE, Calif. - Two California bass pros rooming together during the Stren Series Western opener on Clear Lake got upgraded to the penthouse suite Thursday. Steve Ericksen and Adam McAndrews are enjoying the view from the top of the leaderboard, having turned in the heaviest weights of the opening day at 27 pounds, 7 ounces and 26-11, respectively.
The area has been soaked with wet weather in recent weeks and just started to crawl out of a cold front today, so weight expectations for this Clear Lake tournament had been relatively low. With the sun breaking through the clouds midday, the bite heated up and weights came in strong Thursday, with 15 pros and two co-anglers passingt the 20-pound mark.
A San Jose, Calif., native, Ericksen said he struggled while prefishing before things turned around for him today. He reported catching a lot of bass during practice, but they were coming deep and weren't the right size. Capitalizing on six of only seven bites today, he exchanged quantity for quality to come up with his massive five-bass limit in only his second FLW Outdoors event as a pro.
"I had a really rough practice," he said. "I'm not a deep(-water) fisherman."
Ericksen did manage to catch a couple in relatively deep water, 15 to 20 feet, while fishing the southern part of Clear Lake with heavy jigs. But it was the midlake area of the northern side where he really found his stride, fishing "a really slow, methodical presentation" in 8 to 12 feet of water.
"Angles are very key to my bite," he said, "as well as the speed of my retrieve - too slow and they won't bite, too fast they won't either."
Ericksen said he cast all kinds of big plastic creature and imitation baits, in natural and dark colors, to his north-lake targets. He would make passes up and down the docks, whether new or in disrepair, and tules until he found just the right presentation to entice a bite.
"Hopefully they'll hold up," he said of his fish-producing spots. "I didn't hit `em too hard in practice, so I've got that going for me."
McAndrews right behind
There's never room for two at the top of a fishing tourney, so McAndrews will be gunning for his travel partner's spot when competition resumes Friday. And he may just hope Ericksen talks in his sleep - about his honeyholes on the north side.
"We ran around the south end all day," McAndrews said, adding that he never strayed too far from Kinocti Harbor (the takeoff site). "We were just fishing down south and fishing slow."
The Santa Clara, Calif., pro was understandably tight-lipped about the methods he used to acquire a 26-pound, 11-ounce limit, but allowed that he fished "mostly soft plastics in 12 to 15 feet." Ironically, his failure to execute on a few fish Thursday has actually bolstered his confidence heading into day two.
"We're going to get `em tomorrow," McAndrews said. "I missed three or four good ones today, so I've got those to go back to."
And if McAndrews, fishing in only his second FLW Outdoors event this week, needs any more incentive to outfish his friend, making up for 2008 could be added to the list. Last year they both fished the Clear Lake event in the Pro Division with this final score: Ericksen, 56th and $825 in earnings - McAndrews, 177th and $0.
Riehl's in third
The Stren Western rookies will have to work hard to fend off veteran Rob Riehl, however. The Tracy, Calif., pro is not only a Stren Series standout - three top-10 finishes on the California Delta - he's making waves at the tour level. Riehl fished the Walmart FLW Series National Guard Western circuit in 2007 and 2008, finishing the seasons ranked 28th and 16th, respectively, with the latter earning him a trip to the prestigious Forrest Wood Cup.
"I'm swinging for the fences tomorrow," Riehl said. "I'm due for a win; I've been fishing really consistently for four years now."
The five-bass limit Riehl caught today weighed 26 pounds, 2 ounces, leaving him only a pound and some change out of the lead and giving him confidence. But it didn't come easy; he said he lost seven fish, including a string of six in the span of 20 minutes.
"I didn't think I was around fish," he said of his practice, "but that changed today."
Riehl fished the north end of the lake in the Lakeport area, flipping Zoom Brush Hogs and a black-and-blue jig to 1 to 2 feet of water.
Lee in fourth
Angels Camp, Calif., pro Robert Lee brought a 25 1/2-pound limit to the scale today, also giving him confidence heading into day two despite losing "a couple big ones."
"I'm ready," he said. "I've got the bites, I've got the pattern; we'll see what happens."
Part of his self-assurance likely comes from his experience. Lee is the reigning Angler of the Year in the Stren Western Division, where he has notched five top-10s. And like Riehl, Lee has fished the last two years in the FLW Series Western, where he has scored a top-10 and been ranked as high as 21st.
Perhaps in an effort to keep others from finding the ones that got away, Lee didn't want to divulge any specifics about his locations or techniques at this point in the tournament. He said simply that he "fished the whole lake ... circled it" and added that he was using reaction baits and jigs.
Variety works for Saavedra
According to Redding, Calif., pro Mathew Saavedra, he virtually threw everything but his depth finder at Clear Lake's bass population to sack a limit Thursday weighing 24-10.
"Swimbaits, jigs, worms ... we caught `em on a little bit of everything," he said.
Saavedra fished both ends of the lake, with his morning bite the strongest when he was on the north side. He fished in anywhere from 5 to 15 feet of water throughout the day, but landed his 9-11 kicker (just an ounce away from Big Bass) in 6 feet of water on a brown Pepper Custom Baits jig.
Sunny skies finally broke through the wet, cloudy weather Thursday afternoon, and a few anglers crossing the weigh-in stage said they hoped things would go back to dreary for day two. But more said the warmth was just what was needed to kick-start the Clear Lake bite, and Saavedra concurred.
"I think it's going to bring those fish up shallow," he said of tomorrow's forecast for better weather. "It should help me for sure."
Edging out Saavedra for Big Bass honors in the 11th hour was pro Chad Martin of Plumas Lake, Calif., whose 9-12 lunker earned him $333 and helped propel him into sixth place.
Rest of the best
Rounding out the top 10 pros after day one in the Stren Western at Clear Lake:
6th: Martin, five bass, 23-4
7th: Troy Lindner of Los Angeles, five bass, 22-7
8th: David Valdivia of Norwalk, Calif., five bass, 22-0
9th: Jeff Billings of Clearlake, Calif., five bass, 21-11
10th: Wayne Breazeale of Kelseyville, Calif., five bass, 21-9
Goldston has Midas touch in Co-angler Division
Tommie Goldston of Gardnerville, Nev., better get used to the spotlight. He first competed in the Western Division last year as a co-angler, but managed to rack up a top-10 finish plus a berth into the Stren Series Championship - all that fishing three qualifiers, one shy of a full slate.
He proved it was no fluke Thursday by leading the Co-angler Division with a five-bass limit weighing 22 pounds, 12 ounces to give himself nearly a 2-pound lead heading into day two. He fished the south end of Clear Lake in two different spots "about the size of a football field."
"I'm doing the same thing that everybody else is doing," Goldston said. "I caught my fish shakin' soft plastics in 9 to 20 feet of water."
Goldston didn't want to reveal too much about his method, other than to say he caught fish on baits in seven different color schemes.
He had more to say about pro partner Dave Nollar, however: "I got to fish with one of the ambassadors of the sport ... and just one of the best human beings on Earth."
Baker breaks 20
Another co-angler making waves is Kyle Baker of Lancaster, Calf., who is in second with a five-bass limit weighing 20-15. Baker is just kicking off his second year of Stren Series competition after a stellar 2008 debut in which he ranked No. 9 in the Western Division, notched two top-10 finishes and qualified for the Stren Championship.
Baker was runner-up at last year's event on the Cal Delta, and he came in third at Clear Lake. With today's performance, he's poised to repeat or improve upon the latter finish.
"It felt good," he said of his day fishing with pro Wayne Breazeale. "I tried to capitalize on the bites I had."
Those bites came throughout the day on the north end of the lake, fishing a Zoom finesse worm on a shaky head in 10 to 20 feet of water.
The Co-angler Division Big Bass award of $166 went to Ken Stevens of Redding, Calif., for his 7-pound, 13-ounce fish.
Rest of the best
Rounding out the top 11 co-anglers after day one in the Stren Western at Clear Lake:
3rd: David Keithahn of Patterson, Calif., five bass, 19-11
4th: Charles Peak of San Jose, Calif., five bass, 19-2
5th: Sean Kavanaugh of Chico, Calif., five bass, 18-13
6th: Craig Smith of Truckee, Calif., five bass, 17-14
7th: Arthur Narverud of Napa, Calif., five bass, 17-9
8th: Mark Haworth of Hollister, Calif., five bass, 17-7
9th: Tami Jennings of Saint George, Utah, five bass, 16-11
9th: Garrett Maddex of Oakdale, Calif., five bass, 16-11
9th: Thomas Wang of Saratoga, Calif., five bass, 16-11
Day-two competition starts Friday at 6:30 a.m. Pacific time at the marina at Konocti Harbor Resort & Spa located at 8727 Soda Bay Road in Kelseyville.