March 7, 2009 by Patrick Baker
CLEARKLAKE, Calif. - Roy Hawk is flying high after picking up his second FLW Outdoors win Saturday on Clear Lake. But it took catching the biggest limit of the Stren Series Western season opener on the final day - not to mention the biggest bass he's ever caught in his life - to overcome a considerable weight deficit and pull it off.
When the day started, Hawk was in eighth place and 10 pounds, 9 ounces behind rookie Steve Ericksen, who led the tournament over the first two days. He knew there were big largemouths at Rattlesnake Island - he caught a 9-pounder there on day one - so he immediately headed north from the day-three launch site at Redbud Park in Clearlake, Calif., after the 6:30 a.m. takeoff.
What the Salt Lake City pro didn't know was that he'd land a 12-pound-plus monster, his heaviest single catch to date, along with another massive lunker to take his limit of fish to the 33-pound mark. That was enough for the Stren Western veteran to unseat Ericksen and pick up the win, complementing the Walmart FLW Series win he notched last year at Lake Mead.
The crowd gasped when Hawk pulled out his fourth bass at the weigh-in, probably in the 9-pound-plus range. But when he followed that with his behemoth kicker, the crowd went nuts, and he had a three-day total of 73-7, giving him the win by 2 pounds, 6 ounces. For his efforts, he won a fully rigged Ranger boat, powered by an Evinrude outboard, and trailer plus $20,423.
"Man, I'm about to throw up - I tell ya," he said, overcome with elation. "It's been an odd week for me. I only got about five hours of practice (due to equipment problems). I had to go more with my gut feelings."
Clearly his instincts were razor-sharp this week. On Thursday he caught an early limit at Rattlesnake Island, allowing him to scout out some backup locations and clueing him in to the big bite there. On day two he "moved around a lot ... everywhere from Rattlesnake Island to Soda Bay to - I don't even remember."
Today Hawk and co-angler partner Mark White went back to his honeyhole to check out how the bass would react to warmer temperatures and no wind. But Hawk would have to endure some tense hours before hitting pay dirt.
"I was paired up with a great friend of mine today," he said, "but he caught his five fish before I even caught one ... those were our 10 bites."
Over the first two days, with consistent limits of 20-2 and 20-5, Hawk boated his fish on 1/2- and ¾-ounce Pepper jigs as well as Lucky Craft crankbaits, including a LV500 in "ghost minnow" color and a deep-diving CB D-20 in "chartreuse shad." He fished the crankbaits "fairly slow, trying to get it to bounce off rock structure in 5 to 15 feet."
"I caught the big ones today on the CB D-20," he said, adding that he had no idea he could put 33 pounds on the stage today, but that "anything is possible here on Clear Lake."
Ericksen misses first win
Ericksen came from San Jose, Calif., to fish in only his second Stren event as a pro after fishing this same event last year and winding up 56th. Coming into the final day Saturday after leading the first two days of the event, he seemed poised to pick up his first win with nearly a 7-pound lead on his side. But the 20-1 limit he reeled in today, added to his 27-7 and 23-9 sacks from the first two days for a total weight of 71-1, came up short.
However, Ericksen showed his sportsmanship today, good-naturedly congratulating Hawk when his winning weight was revealed.
"That 33-pound bag kind of takes the sting out of it," he said. "It's tough to compete with that any day."
After fishing deep on the south end of the lake in practice, Ericksen changed things up when the tournament started, targeting mostly tules but also docks and standing wood up north. He adjusted the speed of his presentation daily, but exclusively fished big baits: mostly creature and imitation baits, but also some jigs and swimbaits, in natural and dark colors.
As runner-up, Ericksen earned $8,169.
Randy McAbee Jr., the 2007 Walmart FLW Series Angler of the Year in the Western Division, was shaking his head in disbelief after finding out Hawk caught his massive sack today fishing a deep-diving crankbait. That's one of McAbee's signature patterns and the method he was using here on Clear Lake this week.
Though the Bakersfield, Calif., pro cranked his way through a good practice and first couple of days - weights of 20-15 and 23-2 - he predicted problems for his final day after hearing the forecast yesterday.
"I knew I was probably done with this clear and warm weather," he said Saturday. "The wind sets them up on these points and boulders that I'm fishing."
But McAbee, who fished all over the lake, said his big bites came on swimbaits, including an Optimum in "Clear Lake Special" color as well as a new variation of the Osprey Tournament Talon that will soon hit the market.
"I'm chucking it out and letting it drop to about 40 feet, then just bouncing it back real, real slow," he said of his swimbait technique.
With Saturday's bluebird skies and calm conditions, his bite faded, and his final limit weighed 18 pounds, 3 ounces for a tourney total of 62-4 worth $6,536.
Saavedra stays in fourth
In the wake of the recent Alex Rodriguez scandal, Redding, Calif., pro Mathew Saavedra had some topical fun with Hawk when he walked onstage: "I think, starting next year, I want him tested for steroids."
Though Saavedra's 15-9 five-bass limit today was puny in comparison to Hawk's hogs, his 58-3 total was more than respectable, earning him fourth place and $5,719.
"I come from around Lake Shasta, where the worse the weather is, the better the bite," he said, adding that's why his weights deteriorated over the course of the tourney. "I had a great practice, but the warmer it got, the more I struggled."
Saavedra's primary bait was a 1/2-ounce brown-and-purple Pepper jig that he fished on the north end of the lake.
Another stalwart of Western FLW Outdoors events to finish in the top five, Rob Riehl of Tracy, Calif., picked up his fourth top-10 finish this week, but didn't get the win he was hoping for after sacking a big 26-2 limit on day one. He brought 15-11 limits to the scales on day two and today for a total of 57 1/2 pounds worth $4,902.
Riehl said the changing weather nearly destroyed his pattern: "Being a (California) Delta rat, I really struggled. I went out flipping in shallow, shallow water. The warmer it got, the spookier they got."
A green-pumpkin Zoom Brush Hog and black-and-blue jig were his primary baits.
Rest of the best
Rounding out the 10 pros to finish the Stren Western opener at Clear Lake:
6th: Matt Newman of Agoura Hills, Calif., three-day total of 57-4, $4,493
7th: Chad Martin of Plumas Lake, Calif., 56-7, $4,085
8th: Sean Minderman of Spokane, Wash., 55-4, $3,676
9th: Michael Tuck of Antelope, Calif., 54-15, $3,268
10th: Jeff Billings of Clearlake, Calif., 49-11, $2,859
The next event in the Stren Western Division will be held April 16-18 on Lake Roosevelt in Payson, Ariz.