January 17, 2013 by Gary Mortenson
OROVILLE, Calif. - As expected, the first day of 2013 EverStart Series Western Division competition on Lake Oroville featured a tight contest from the outset. In fact, by the time Thursday's weigh-in had concluded, weights were so bunched up that only 4 pounds separated eighth place from 93rd - a remarkable statistic to say the least.
However, for veteran pros, the results weren't entirely surprising as that's how Lake Oroville fishes historically. With plenty of fish in the 1- to 2-pound range, and a dearth of behemoth bass, anglers who made the successful jump up the leaderboard were almost required to show off a few nice kickers.
And nobody did that better than EverStart pro Jeff Michels of Lakehead, Calif. Boasting a five-fish limit of 13 pounds, 5 ounces, Michels now sits in the proverbial driver's seat heading into Friday's all-important day of competition - the day in which the top-10 cut in the both the pro and co-angler divisions will be announced.
Michels, who actually surprised himself with his day's catch, said he couldn't be happier with the results.
"This morning I thought 7 pounds was all I was going to get," he said. "But I found one spot and got lucky on it. I caught two nice ones there right away, left and came back and landed another two quality bass later in the afternoon. It feels good to be in the lead. But let's wait and see how I'm feeling after tomorrow."
Michels said that he was familiar with the area from past events, but he didn't know that it would produce as well as did.
"I knew the general area pretty well so I just tried to zero in on where the bigger fish were," he said. "Then, during the first day of practice I was able to figure out a little bit better where exactly I wanted to fish. The area really isn't that remarkable. It's basically a nothing pea gravel bank."
While a number of pros targeted bass by using reaction baits in the morning and switching to a more finesse-based approach later in the afternoon, Michels said that he stuck with reaction baits for the entire outing.
"Yeah, I threw reaction baits all day long," he said. "I was using a small, 3 1/2-inch swimbait and 6-pound test line. I only had two spinning rods on the deck the whole day. Some guys were throwing bigger baits but here you have to match the hatch and the (baitfish) really aren't much bigger than 3 or 4 inches."
However, the real question for Michels is: Can that spot produce for two more days?
"I think it can," he said. "I might not be as successful throwing what I did today but I think I can slow down and still catch them with something else. I know this spot has some big fish on it. There is a giant there in the 5- to 6-pound range. And now, I just have to get it to bite."
Lockhart stays within striking distance
As one of the last anglers to weigh-in today, Glen Lockhart of Biggs, Calif., definitely saved the best for last, producing a whopping 13-pound catch that propelled him all the way into the runner-up position heading into Friday's competition.
"This is my home lake," said Lockhart. "I've won three boats here and I've been here long enough to know what structure to fish when the lake levels rise and fall. But even though I'm familiar with it, Lake Oroville is a tough fishery - it's really difficult to catch fish over 2 pounds. But I got lucky with that big one today."
The big one Lockhart was referencing was a hefty 4-pound, 8-ounce bass that took top honors in today's big-bass competition. The award also came with a nice $230 check.
Lockhart said that he targeted bass in 12 to 15 feet of water in the morning and then moved out deeper to 30 to 35 feet later in the afternoon.
"I threw straight jigs all day," he said. "You need to be slow and methodical with the high pressure system and all of the boat traffic. But I did run around quit a bit. As far as the areas I was targeting, I was mostly looking for breaks."
Like all veteran pros, Lockhart knows there are still plenty of hours left to log before he can even think about hoisting the tournament trophy.
"I feel really good. I'm real happy right now," he said. "But I could easily come back tomorrow with only 7 or 8 pounds. So you just never know."
Dobyns ties for third place
While Gary Dobyns is one of the most recognizable sticks in the western United States, it was his son, Richard Dobyns who carried the day for the family name. Boasting a 12-pound, 8-ounce catch, the younger Dobyns claimed third place overall - easily out-fishing his father who struggled to a 57th-place finish by the end of the day.
"I'm ecstatic,' said Dobyns of his finish in today's competition. "I had way more weight than I thought I had."
However, Dobyns - who currently resides in Yuba City, Calif. - said it was far from easy.
"It was real tough out there today," he said. "I had to cover a lot of water and I was changing depths all day. I wound up fishing anywhere from 5 to 40 feet. Basically I was running all over the place. With the big cold snap we had the fish were really inactive. So you really had to slow things down once you started fishing."
"I was bouncing jigs and throwing tubes, targeting anything and everything," Dobyns continued. "There wasn't any rhyme or reason to it except I was looking for anywhere where the wind was moving water."
So what is the game plan moving forward?
"It's going to be another scramble," he said. "I'm going to run, run, run until I run into some fish that want to feed."
Friend joins Dobyns in third
Ryan Friend of Oroville, Calif., parlayed a similar 12-pound, 8-ounce catch into a top-five finish as well.
"This is my home lake so I obviously spend a lot of time here," he said. "I tried to go with my confidence spots today. I really wanted to concentrate on targeting bigger fish and not really worry about catching a limit. But it all kind of worked out today."
Like the majority of the field, Friend said the bite was difficult at best.
"I think the bite was a little bit slow for everyone today," he said. "I fished way more finesse-style baits than anything. I did throw some reaction baits sporadically, but I mostly stayed with finesse baits.
"I have certain areas here that I have confidence in," Friend continued. "But it's hard with a 115-boat field. If you run around too much, you wind up finding out that the spots you want to fish are already occupied. That's why it's important to keep your line wet as much as you can."
Friend said that he targeted tapering points and chunk rock to land the majority of his catch.
Rounding out the top-five pro standings was Wayne Breazeale of Kelseyville, Calif., who landed a 12-pound, 5-ounce catch. Breazeale was one of only five anglers to break the 12-pound mark in the entire field.
Tate grabs lead in Co-angler Division
Using a catch of 10 pound, 7 ounces, James Tate of Calabasas, Calif., grabbed the top spot overall in the Co-angler Division.
Tate was followed by Steve Biechman of Redding, Calif., and Chuck Kavros of Grass Valley, Calif., who tied for second place with a total catch of 10 pounds, 5 ounces.
Rounding out the top-five co-anglers: Aaron Seay of El Cajon, Calif., (fourth place with 10 pounds, 1 ounce) and Jack Farage of Discovery Bay, Calif. (fifth place with 9 pounds, 13 ounces).
EverStart Series action continues during Friday's takeoff, scheduled to take place at 7:30 a.m. at the Spillway Launch at the north end of the Oroville Dam in Oroville, Calif.