February 21, 2013 by Gary Mortenson
ROOSEVELT, Ariz. - It's probably a safe bet that when anglers initially circled the Lake Roosevelt tournament on their calendars they didn't foresee that the opening day of tournament action would ultimately resemble a scene from the movie Fargo.
With snow blanketing the landscape as well as plenty of boat decks and key pieces of onboard equipment, EverStart Series Western Division competitors hit the open waters of Lake Roosevelt (in the heart of the Arizona desert) bundled from head to toe in an attempt to come up with some sort of game plan to deal with the frigid conditions that are expected to dominate Thursday's competition.
The scene was truly remarkable. With plenty of saguaro cactus, desert brush and nearby mountain ranges sporting a newly snow-covered cloak - a result of a massive cold-weather front moving across the United States - it is clear that fishing conditions this week are going to be tricky at best and beyond frustrating at worst. Even under ideal conditions, Lake Roosevelt is known to produce a rather stingy quarry. However, throw in below-freezing temperatures at takeoff and couple that with lake levels 30 to 40 feet below normal pool and you have all the makings of a very difficult week of fishing.
"This is going to be the toughest tournament we have all year," said pro Brett Hite of Phoenix, Ariz. "I knew it was going to be tough coming in here but with the weather we've had and the (current) conditions, nothing is going to be easy this week."
Hite said that while the cold weather is significant, it's only part of the issue.
"From previous tournaments we've had here, the water is down anywhere from 30 to 35 feet, although it has come up some in the last two and a half weeks or so," he said. "But most of that new water is coming from snow melt up in the mountains. And that's not only adding really cold water back into Lake Roosevelt but it's also causing the lake to really muddy up. The lake was relatively clear a few weeks ago but now it's got a lot of stain in it. And I can tell you, fishing cold, muddy water isn't easy."
The remaining outlook for the rest of the tournament, which runs from Feb. 21-23, doesn't look anymore promising either.
"There is also no real warming coming our way in the near future so the conditions aren't (conducive) to helping those fish get in a real advanced prespawn mode," Hite said. "So you're really just going to put your head down and fish. It's going to be tough mentally."
However, it's also clear that tough tournaments allow the proverbial cream to rise to the top.
"Every tournament can't be a slugfest and I actually kind of like it when the conditions are difficult," said Hite. "Tough fishing is part of fishing. And this week I really think if you can get a limit each day you're going to be in pretty good shape. And if you can catch a limit with two to three good fish - and by good fish I mean 3-pounders - you should be in contention for a title."
As far as technique goes, Lake Roosevelt has historically offered both deep and shallow strategies.
"That's what's really nice about this lake," Hite said. "If you want to fish deep you can because this lake has some good structure. If I was fishing deep this week I'd probably go with either a Texas rig or a football jig, mostly because of the stained water. But if the prespawn bite becomes active you can also fish shallow with spinnerbaits, crankbaits or flipping and pitching techniques. But the one thing you probably don't want to do is try to do both. I think it's a lot smarter to settle on one (strategy) and stick with it all day."
While Lake Roosevelt does boast 30 species of fish, including both largemouth and smallmouth bass, Hite believes that largemouth bass will be the dominant (and winning) catch this week.
"It's really hard to target smallmouth bass here," he said. `If you do wind up catching one, it's a real bonus. But you can't just target smallmouth here, it's just too difficult."
Hite said that he believes that 10 pounds a day should be enough to keep anglers in contention for a title.
"Somebody is going to catch a game-changer, a 7- or 8-pounder," he said. "But the key is what you do those other days. And conversely, if you have a bad day and you turn around the next day and catch 12 pounds, you're going to be right back in it. Overall though, like I said, I think this is going to be a really tough tournament. But that's the way I like it."
During EverStart Series competition, pros supply the boats, fish from the front deck against other pros and control boat movement. Co-anglers fish from the back deck and compete against other co-anglers. Anglers are permitted to weigh in their best five bass each day. Every angler who receives weight credit in a tournament earns points that determine angler standings. The full field competes on days one and two, with the top-10 pros and top 10 co-anglers advancing to Saturday's final round of competition based on their two-day accumulated weight. Winners ultimately will be determined by the heaviest accumulated weight from all three days.
Anglers will take off from the Cholla Recreation site in Roosevelt, Ariz., 7 a.m. each day of competition. Daily weigh-ins will be held at the Cholla Recreation site beginning at 2:30 p.m.
Takeoffs and weigh-ins are free and open to the public.
Pros will fish for a top award of $40,000 plus a Ranger Z518 with a 200-horsepower Evinrude or Mercury outboard if Ranger Cup guidelines are met. Co-anglers will cast for a top award consisting of a Ranger Z117 with 90-horsepower Evinrude or Mercury outboard and $5,000 if Ranger Cup guidelines are met.
The EverStart Series consists of five divisions - Central, Northern, Southeast, Texas and Western. Each division consists of four tournaments and competitors will be vying for valuable points in each division in an attempt to land the prestigious Strike King Angler of the Year title and automatic berth into the 2014 Forrest Wood Cup.
EverStart Series action continues at today's weigh-in, scheduled to take place at 2:30 p.m. at the Cholla Recreation site, located approximately 6 miles north of Roosevelt Dam, in Roosevelt, Ariz.
Bass-fishing fans take note
Want to watch the weigh in live but can't make it in person? Then tune into FLW Live on FLWOutdoors.com 2:30 p.m. Mountain time (4:30 p.m. Eastern time) to watch live streaming video and audio of today's opening-round weigh in.
This week's EverStart Series tournament on Roosevelt Lake is being hosted by the Town of Payson, Ariz.
Sunrise: 7:03 a.m.
Temperature at takeoff: 27 degrees
Expected high temperature: 46 degrees
Water temperature: 51-55 degrees
Wind: From the south-southwest at 5-10 mph
Humidity: 58 percent
Day's outlook: Partly cloudy