January 20, 2013 by Gary Mortenson
OROVILLE, Calif. - Heading into the opening event of the 2013 EverStart Series Western Division season, Ryan Friend of Oroville, Calif., decided that he wanted to participate in an FLW tournament as a boater for the very first time in his career. However, despite a difficult tournament, Friend managed to shake off some rookie nerves, pull off some last-minute heroics and turn in a stellar three-day performance resulting in a total weight of 37 pounds, 5 ounces - good enough to capture the very first EverStart Series title of his career. Needless-to-say, Friend was ecstatic with the result. "This is absolutely the best win of my career," said Ryan, who netted the top prize of $33,000 as well as a brand new, fully rigged Ranger Z518 boat with 200 HP outboard engine for his efforts. "I can't really explain how I'm feeling right now. I grew up here reading about these guys and to be standing on stage and competing against them now is unbelievable. This is my first experience as a boater at an FLW event and to win it's just amazing. I really had just an awesome week." Although Friend fished extraordinarily well all week, targeting bass in 15 to 20 feet of water primarily with lighter, finesse jigs, he knew that he would need one heck of a sack in today's competition to fulfill his dream of capturing an EverStart tournament title. "It was really slow today but I pounded my spots as much as I could," he said. "I was basically targeting flats, clay banks and shallow points with boulders all week. At around 1 p.m., I had about 10 pounds in the boat, but I didn't have a big kicker fish like I had the first two days. And I knew I had to get that big bite because on this lake, if you don't get one of those, you're in real trouble." As luck would have it, fate smiled on Friend just as time nearly expired in today's contest. "With about 20 minutes to go, I went back to a spot I'd fished the first two days and finally hooked into a big fish," said Friend, referring to 4-pound, 14-ounce giant. "When I finally got that fish into the boat, I couldn't believe it. It just goes to show that you can never give up. Overall, the day ended up great. Pretty much everything just went right for me today." After receiving word from the tournament director that he in fact had pulled off the win, the normally reserved California native gave a huge fist pump to the crowd and shouted, "Boom!" The relief on Friend's face was palpable. "I knew that I had really beaten up my spots," he said. "And I'm just glad I don't have to go fishing tomorrow because I'm not even sure what I'd do. This has just been an awesome week." Michels rebounds to second place After suffering through a terrible practice, Jeff Michels of Lakehead, Calif., thought he was in for a long, tough tournament. But then on the last day of practice he found a magic spot, a pea-gravel "no-nothing" bank where he struck pay dirt. From that point on, Michels was a genuine threat the win the tournament. But while he led on day one, fell to third place on day two, Michels couldn't quite muster enough fish to put him over the top in today's finals - settling for second place overall with a total catch of 33 pounds, 6 ounces. "At the beginning of this tournament I thought I'd only be able to catch about 7 or 7 1/2 pounds a day," he said. "But then I found that spot and everything changed. Unfortunately today that spot dried up. I tried running around fishing a bunch of points but it wasn't enough. But overall, I'm pretty ecstatic because my expectations were super low coming into this tournament." Michels targeted spotted bass with a smaller 3 1/2-inch swimbait in a "pond smelt" color on 6-pound test to land nearly all of his catch. "It really is a great niche bait," he said. "The key was that it matched the hatch almost perfectly. I fished all week in about 15 to 18 feet of water. I don't think one of my fish came deeper than 23 feet. It was also very important to reel as slowly as you could because the bite was so tough." While Michels didn't walk away with the ultimate prize, he took a giant step towards one of his main goals - winning the EverStart Series Western Division Angler of the Year prize, which offers an automatic berth into the prestigious Forrest Wood Cup. "That is my main goal," said Michels, who took home more than $12,000 in winnings. "So it's definitely a good way to start the year." Leber climbs leaderboard on final day Although Brett Leber of Dixon, Calif., started the day in seventh place, his 12-pound, 3-ounce catch (the second biggest stringer of the day) vaulted him all the way into third place by the time the finals had concluded. "I feel pretty darn good," said Leber, who ultimately boated a total, three-day catch of 33 pounds. "I just stayed consistent all three days. And I'm proud of that." Leber said that he targeted secondary points to land the majority of the day's catch. "I started out fishing reaction baits in the morning but I caught most of my fish ripping and dragging a red worm," he said. "One thing is clear, this is definitely a contact sport, especially in the morning when it's 27 degrees." Overall, Leber said he had no complaints. "It was a good tournament for me," he said. "I really had a great time." For his efforts, Leber took home just over $8,200 in winnings. Breazeale nets fourth place Day-two leader Wayne Breazeale of Kelseyville, Calif., knew heading into today's event that it was his tournament to lose. Unfortunately for Breazeale, during Saturday's finals his big-fish bite completely vanished, leaving him scrambling to piece together whatever limit he could. In the end, it wasn't enough. "This is the worst I've done all week," Breazeale lamented. `I lost a big one early and it all went downhill from there. I caught a lot of fish, but they were little. Basically, I just didn't get the right bites at all today." Breazeale said that he attacked Lake Oroville primarily fishing tubes. "I was dragging them along the bottom in anywhere from 30 to 50 feet of water," he said. "I was looking for rock and wood. Unfortunately it just didn't work out for me today as I'd hoped." Ultimately, Breazeale ended up with a three-day total catch of 32 pounds, 5 ounces. His weight was good enough to net him nearly $7,400 in winnings. Dobyns slips to fifth Richard Dobyns of Yuba City, Calif., had been in the title hunt all week. However, his 9-pound, 6-ounce sack in the finals dispelled any notion that he would be hoisting the trophy at the end. However, Dobyns - who had been running and gunning all week - said he was more than satisfied with the final outcome. "I really can't complain about anything," he said. "I tried to swing for the fences today but it just didn't work out. But heck, I made the top 10." Dobyns said he caught all of his fish on a combination of Senkots and tubes but just couldn't put together the weight he'd been hoping for in today's competition. "I ran around all day," said Dobyns, who ultimately recorded a total weight of 32 pounds, 3 ounces. "I probably hit 30 to 40 different spots so it was a real scramble for me out there. I got a couple of good bites on the first two days but I just couldn't get them today." Dobyns said all week that he was fishing "anything and everything," especially windblown areas of the lake that produced some of his better bites. However, although he'd hoped to bring home a title, he said that he did manage to accomplish one very important task this week. "The best part is that I beat my old man," said Dobyns, referring to his father, legendary western angler Gary Dobyns who placed 37th in this event. "I think he's beaten me the last eight tournaments in a row so it's nice to finally beat him." For his efforts, Dobyns walked away with a check for nearly $6,600, as well as the all-important family bragging rights. Best of the rest Rounding out the top-10 pro finalists: 6th: John Maes of Roseville, Calif., 31-12 7th: Cody Meyer of Auburn, Calif., 30-3 8th: Alax Parker of Oroville, Calif., 30-3 9th: Jason Borofka of Salinas, Calif., 30-1 10th: Glen Lockhart of Biggs, Calif., 28-5 EverStart Series action returns Jan. 24-26 with the Texas Division contest at Lake Amistad in Del Rio, Texas.