November 18, 2011 by Gary Mortenson
TEMPE, Ariz. - Heading into the second day of the 2011 FLW College Fishing Western Regional Championship on Saguaro Lake, the Fresno State team of Kong Moua and Christopher Delgado were sitting precariously in fourth place overall with a 4-pound, 11-ounce catch. With the top-five cut looming, Fresno State was nearly 5 1/2 pounds behind the leaders with plenty of teams nipping at their heels. In short, today was a make or break day for the squad.
However, by the time weigh-in had concluded, it was clear that Fresno State fans need not have worried. Bolstered by a stunning 15-pound, 10-ounce catch, Moua and Delgado crushed the rest of the field, vaulting all the way into first place overall with a two-day total of 20 pounds, 5 ounces. Not only that, they built up an almost insurmountable cushion of 9 pounds, 1 ounce over their next closest competitors with only one day of tournament action remaining.
To be sure, it was the day that Moua and Delgado had been waiting for all tournament.
"Yesterday we had a nearly 6-pound deficit and now we have a 9-pound lead," said Delgado. "And that's huge. This lake has been fishing so tough that I didn't think this (outcome) was even possible. For us to come in here and put it to the rest of the field is a real accomplishment for us. Now we have a full bag lead over everyone and that's going to make us really dangerous tomorrow."
Amazingly enough, the duo of Delgado and Moua said they didn't get any practice time coming into the tournament. And it was only at around noon today that they finally unlocked the keys to fishing Saguaro Lake - which, up until today, yielded very little in the way of big stringers.
"We didn't have a fish in the boat at 11:30 a.m.," said Delgado. "Then around noon today, we started to figure it out. The key for us is a combination of both structure and baits. And with the spots we're targeting, we've been able to cull fish, so we know there are a lot more there. We also know what to look for now. And there are a bunch of other places on the lake where we can duplicate (this pattern)."
Moua said that coming into today, the main concern was qualifying for the cut and earning one of the five automatic berths into the 2012 FLW College Fishing National Championship.
"We wanted to win the tournament of course, but our main goal was to get into the top five and qualify for the national championship," said Moua, who also holds the FLW College Fishing record for all-time biggest fish (10 pounds, 9 ounces) caught in a competition. "But today was a big day for us. We won the (FLW College Fishing) on the Cal Delta, so we know what we're doing. I'm just glad it worked out."
Although the team is nearly a lock to win the tournament title, barring a major meltdown, the team is fully aware that in the sport of fishing, anything is possible. As such, they said they are approaching tomorrow's final day of competition with the same level of intensity that they exhibited today.
"Today was great, but tomorrow we have to come back even stronger," said Delgado. "But right now, it's on."
Chico State drops to second
Although Thomas White and Frank Vogt didn't get lost heading back to weigh-in or have to contend with any dying fish like they did in yesterday's competition, the Chico State team probably will look back on that day with fond memories as they were only able to bring one 15-ounce fish to the scales during Friday's weigh-in. However, despite their meager catch, the day-one leaders said they were happy to be fishing in the finals as the second-place qualifiers, not to mention the fact that they will be fishing in the 2012 national championship as well.
"Let's just say we had a bad day on the water," said Vogt, whose team takes a total catch of 11 pounds, 4 ounces into the final day of competition. "The spots we fished, we just couldn't get those fish to bite. We threw just about everything - jigs, drop-shots, jerkbaits and Carolina rigs - but nothing seemed to work today. We we're on fish, but just couldn't connect."
After holding a nearly 2-pound lead heading into today's competition, the Chico State team now faces a 9-pound deficit heading into the finals.
"Yeah, it's going to be tough to catch Fresno State," said Vogt. "But we're going to use some different techniques that we haven't tried yet and try to come up with a better game plan. Then we'll just have to see what happens."
Sac State nets third
Like Chico State, the 2010 defending western regional champions also had a pretty rough day, managing only 2 pounds, 9 ounces on day two. That dropped the duo of Robert Matsuura and Thomas Kanemoto into third place overall with a two-day catch of 11 pounds, 1 ounce. However, despite their struggles, the team said it was happy to have qualified for the finals.
"We're incredibly blessed to be in the top five right now. I really thought we're going to get bumped out," said Kanemoto. "We used the drop-shot all day and we lost two keepers which would have put us in second place. But given everything, we're happy to be in third right now."
As for tomorrow, Kanemoto said the team is going to give it its all.
"We're definitely going to go out there tomorrow and try something new," said Kanemoto. "Fresno State seemingly pulled away from everyone today. But if we can come back with 15 pounds tomorrow, anything is possible. And no matter what happens, we've already accomplished one of our main goals - and that was qualifying for the national championship."
Cal Poly makes biggest move of the day
After claiming a national championship berth in 2010, the Cal Poly team of Damian Bean and Scott Hellesen had high hopes coming into this year's western regional. But after an extremely disappointing first day of competition where Cal Poly only managed a one-fish catch weighing 15 ounces, the team was just hoping for a little bit of redemption. And today they got it.
Bolstered by a catch of 10-pounds, 1 ounce in today's competition, the Cal Poly team shot up the leaderboard, vaulting from 14th place to fourth.
"We ran all new water and really switched it up big time today," said Hellesen, who was also celebrating his 23rd birthday today. "I just wanted to qualify for the national. And today, we did that. So it was a nice birthday present for sure."
Although the team wouldn't divulge their tactics, they did say they now have a legitimately effective game plan to use on Saguaro Lake going forward.
"We just adapted to the lake, found out what worked and stuck with it all day," said Bean.
Chico State puts two teams in national championship
Thanks to the efforts of Bo Harkins and Anthony Dayton, Chico State managed to place two teams in the national championship for the second year in a row. Using a total catch of 10 pounds, 3 ounces, Harkins and Dayton maintained their fifth-place position heading into the finals. And they couldn't have been happier.
"We barely squeaked it out by one ounce," said Harkins, whose team got by the University of Nevada, Reno squad by the slimmest of margins. "We thought we'd end up anywhere between fourth and sixth place. So to finish in the top five is great."
While the team was hoping to produce a better stringer on day two, Harkins and Dayton had plenty to brag about regardless.
"We had two Chico State teams qualify for nationals last year and we have two again this year. So we've had a pretty strong showing once again," said Harkins. "Right now it feels like it's Fresno State's tournament to lose. But you never know. In the finals, anything can happen."
To see a complete list of today's results, click here.
Western College Regional Championship action continues during Saturday morning takeoff, slated to take place at 7 a.m. at Saguaro Del Norte Recreation Site, located at 14011 North Bush Highway in Mesa, Ariz.