August 1, 2009 by Brett Carlson
PITTSBURGH - Pro angler Rusty Salewske is a no-nonsense guy. He works hard on the water, both in practice and during tournaments. On day three of the Forrest Wood Cup, his workmanlike effort on an otherwise slow day launched him from 10th to first. He also took one giant step toward becoming the latest Western pro to claim the richest championship in professional bass fishing.
Salewske's 6 pounds, 6 ounces may look good on paper, but he described his day as an absolute struggle. Although he caught over 30 fish, only five were keepers. His first Three Rivers smallmouth that measured didn't come until 10:30 a.m.
"I've caught a limit every day, but I've only culled one fish since I got here," said Salewske, who qualified for the Cup through the National Guard Western Division of the Walmart FLW Series.
The Alpine, Calif., native starts his day by going through four locks on the Allegheny River. Of the 10 pro finalists, no one travels farther. Salewske doesn't begin fishing until just after 9 a.m., but once he reaches his destination, he has the entire area to himself. He found the spot with friend and fellow Western pro Brett Hite on the very last day of practice.
"I started today by throwing topwaters on a seawall, but that didn't work so I had to switch it up. Every day I've got to figure out what they're doing, but I know they live there. The only reason I got a limit is I found a little pattern at the end of the day."
Salewske's adjustment was abandoning the topwaters and focusing on shade pockets. He would fish extremely fast for 100 yards or so until he received a bite. Once he got that bite, he would then slow down and work the shady area thoroughly with a 1/4-ounce jig and Smallie Beaver. Salewske cuts the baby Beaver in half - giving it a smaller profile.
"I tried a crankbait and spinnerbait too, but the jig caught all my fish today. If you were in my boat, you would catch every fish I caught today on a drop-shot or a shaky head or anything - it's not the bait. It has nothing to do with the bait. It's finding out what they're doing. Once we figured it out, our last hour was insane. I probably caught 20 and my partner caught a bunch too."
Despite ending the day with a flurry, Salewske is unsure what tomorrow will bring. He reiterated that every day has been different, and he expects he'll have to adjust again tomorrow.
"I guarantee I'll waste three hours on shade pockets tomorrow morning," he quipped. "I always start with what worked the day before, but it never seems to last."
Salewske didn't expect to have a 15-ounce lead, and he's doing everything in his power to block out the thought of fishing with $1 million on the line tomorrow.
"I'm shocked with where I'm at right now. To be honest, I didn't want to be in first place; I wanted to be in second or third. I just didn't want the added pressure. So far I've been able to fight off thinking about the million."
Curtis catches another limit
In the early 2000s, David Curtis was crushing the Triple A competition on lakes like Sam Rayburn and Toledo Bend. In the summer and early fall, the Trinity, Texas, native is nearly invincible. Using deep-diving crankbaits, creature baits and big jigs, Curtis has made a career out of finding loads of offshore bass. But in the past few years, he's become increasingly versatile, and he's displaying those skills this week on the Three Rivers.
After finishing the opening round in fifth place, Curtis moved up to where he was after day one - second place. His limit weighed 5 pounds, 7 ounces.
"It was a grind like it has been the entire tournament," said Curtis, who has won more than $600,000 in his FLW Outdoors career. "I had some good fortune today. The second stop I made I managed to catch four keepers. I really wasn't anticipating that at all. That really lifted my spirits. I'd be lying if I didn't say my confidence was lagging this morning."
Curtis is fishing rocky banks along the Ohio River, but he wouldn't say which pool nor would he say what baits he is using. On day one, he threw mostly a spinnerbait as he capitalized on the mayfly-hatch bite. But that pattern died on day two, and at takeoff this morning, he vowed to fish instinctively. Of all the pro finalists, the reigning Stren Series champion has been by far the most reticent.
"I know everybody else did too, but I came here on a mission to win. I don't want this to sound arrogant, but I've already got plans for the money if I win. I came here with the hopes and the expectations that I was going to win."
Meyer continues to ascend
Western pro Cody Meyer finished the opening day of the Forrest Wood Cup in 10th place. On day two he climbed to fourth, and on day three he rose to third. Like Curtis and Salewske, Meyer has caught a five-bass limit each day - Saturday's coming in at 5 pounds even.
"It was supertough; I think I'm running out of fish, and I'm just really happy to have five," said Meyer, who qualified through the Stren Series Western Division.
After using a drop-shot rig with a 4-inch Jackall Cross Tail Shad yesterday, Meyer switched up to an 1/8-ounce grub today. He pitched the grub along rocky banks - focusing on overhanging trees.
"I'm basically fishing the shade line, and I caught all of my fish off of one small area."
To get to that area, Meyer travels through two locks in the Allegheny River. On day one he fished in the Monongahela.
"I'm just flying by the seat of my pants. Today it seemed like the fish suspended a little, and the grub does a better job at getting deeper. I pitch it up under the trees and then bring it back down to about 6 feet."
After fishing in the Allegheny on days one and two, Michael Iaconelli opted for new water in the Ohio on Saturday. His intent was to target less-pressured fish, and for the most part it worked. Although he failed to catch a limit, his four bass for 4-12 put him in striking distance with one day of competition remaining.
"I had No. 5 on twice, but they got off," said the former Bassmaster Classic champion. "But they were small fish."
Iaconelli is fishing 90 miles an hour with an array of baits including jerkbaits, spinnerbaits, topwaters and drop-shots. He has 12 rods on his deck - six of which are baitcasting rods, and six of which are spinning rods.
Iaconelli's co-angler partner caught a limit today weighing 6 pounds, 4 ounces.
"Being in front of the boat, that's tough to stomach. But on the bright side, I know I'm around the right fish. What they're doing right now is totally different from what they were doing when we got here."
Just 2 pounds off the lead is bass fishing's first instant millionaire, Scott Suggs. The Folgers pro, who won the Cup in 2007, caught only three bass Saturday, but they weighed 4 pounds, 6 ounces. Surprisingly, two of those three fish were largemouth bass, the other a smallie.
Like most, Suggs has been adjusting all week. Yesterday he fished behind an island that broke the ripping current in the Allegheny. Today he tried to fish offshore, but it didn't work.
"I wasted a bunch of time trying to find that perfect current break," he said. "I know those fish didn't move, but I couldn't find them today."
At 1 p.m. he retreated into a little backwater area and caught the two keeper largemouths on back-to-back casts. The water there is hardly deep enough to get a boat in. Essentially, Suggs is at a crossroads. He needs the water to come down and clear up for his smallmouth pattern to work, or he needs it to come up so he can safely enter this backwater area.
"My biggest problem (with the smallmouth area) is that there's entirely too much flow. It's blown all of my stuff off. I don't even recognize my spots anymore."
Rest of the best
Rounding out the top 10 pros at the Forrest Wood Cup after day three:
6th: Greg Hackney of Gonzales, La., 4-3
7th: Dave Lefebre of Union City, Pa., 3-15
8th: David Walker of Sevierville, Tenn., 0-13
9th: Bryan Thrift of Shelby, N.C., 0-12
10th: Larry Nixon of Bee Branch, Ark., 0-10
The final day of the 2009 Forrest Wood Cup on the Three Rivers will begin Sunday at 7 a.m. at Steelers Quay, located at Art Rooney Drive across from the South Plaza of Heinz Field in Pittsburgh.