May 17, 2014 by David A. Brown
BETHEL ISLAND, Calif. - His jersey bears the phrase "Living the Dream" but Mark Daniels was a total nightmare for his Rayovac FLW Series Western Division competitors during the final round of his commanding victory on the California Delta.
That "Dream" stuff refers to Daniels' 2013 TBF National Championship, which afforded him the use of a Chevy Silverado and fully-rigged Ranger boat, along with entry fees for the 2014 FLW Tour. The nightmare was the 26 pounds, 12 ounces he weighed on day three. His sack - the largest of the final round - pushed his tournament total to 72-7 and gave him a nearly 7-pound margin of victory.
Hailing from Fairfield, Calif., Daniels brings plenty of Delta experience to the table. Despite the excitement and horizon-expanding experience of fishing some of the nation's top bass waters on the FLW Tour, he said a win at home is a special deal.
"It feels great to be back home and to be able to fish out here on the Delta," he said. "There's no place like the California Delta - it's one of the best fisheries in the nation. This place just continues to put out monster bags time after time and it's just really special.
"Fishing against the caliber of anglers you fish against on the Rayovacs and on Tour, the opportunity to win doesn't present itself that often. I knew I had a shot to win and I knew I had to fish thoroughly and execute. Everything went smoothly today. I didn't lose a fish and I think that was the difference in me winning or taking second, third or further down the standings."
Daniels didn't exactly get off to a blazing start as his first-day's weight of 17-7 landed him in 21st place. Things started cooking in the second round when he landed 28-4 - the heaviest bag of that day and second largest of the tournament. His 10-pound, 14-ounce mule won the daily Big Bass award.
Entering day three in third place and just 9 ounces off the lead, Daniels sealed the deal by again catching the biggest bag of the day.
"Day one was a little rough on me and I never got the good bites," he said. "As the week progressed, I continued to change baits and techniques until I found where some of those prespawn females were staging and I was able to dial in on them today."
Daniels caught the majority of his fish by punching a Reaction Innovations Kinky Beaver through weed mats blown against rip rap. He also caught fish on a buzzbait, a topwater frog and a Texas-rigged Senko.
Notably, Daniels decided at the last minute to enter this event.
"It started off with me (coming home last weekend) to surprise my mom for Mother's Day," Daniels explained. "I was hanging out with some of my buddies I've been fishing with for years, we caught a couple fish and I said, `You know what, I might just jump into this tournament.' I did and it's been a great week."
Some might even call it a dream.
Grover finishes second
Kyle Grover's tournament was kinda like an Oreo - good stuff on both ends, but really sweet in the middle. A day-one limit of 18-10 put him in 15th place, but Grover rose to first a day later with a huge performance of 27-10. In the final round, the pro from Trabuco Canyon, Calif. bagged 19-5 and settled in at second with 65-9.
Grover used a Chatterbait to catch all but his twin 9-pounders of day two. This tactic worked well for most of the tournament, but he found himself needing a change of pace to capitalize on his big opportunities.
"I found a really good spot the first day where I kinda spooked a bunch of fish off of one little island that had a spawning pocket with bluegill in the back of it," he said. "I spooked all these big ones because I was going so fast, throwing the chatterbait.
"I pulled in there yesterday morning and I threw the Senko right up there where they were sitting and got them," he said. "I think one of the big keys was changing my line because they're really spooky. I think these Delta guys need a little finesse in their lives. I dropped down to 12-pound test, caught a 9-pounder, let the spot sit for an hour, came back and caught another 9-pounder."
For the chatterbait, Grover used braided line because he needed the extra strength to deal with grassy habitat. He was throwing his bait into the vegetation and ripping if free from snags.
Ultimately, Grover said he was impressed with the Delta's generosity: "I'm not used to coming to a place where you can catch a few in practice and it's not a big deal," Grover said of the Delta's abundance. "It was just a really fun week. I had a blast."
Au improves to third
Two days of breaking the 20-pound mark kept Arizona pro Vu Au near the top of the field throughout the tournament. He placed third on day one with 25-3 moved to fourth the next day with 20-1 and ended in third on the final day with 18-3 and a tournament total of 63-7.
"I caught most of my fish on a chatterbait with a (Zoom) Brush Hog trailer," Au said. "Once I got my limit, I'd through a Koppers frog to try and find a big bite."
Au said that making the top-10 was particularly special because his younger brother Tai also made it to the final round.
"I'm really happy that my little brother is here today too," Vu said. "I paid his entry fee so he could fish this tournament. I have a great time fishing with him."
Hawk takes fourth
Roy Hawk knows well the Delta's fickle nature, so while he made no assumptions after his big day-one performance, he was certainly very happy to get off to a strong start. The pro from Lake Havasu City, Ariz. caught the tournament's heaviest stringer - 29-11 - on day one and took the early lead by a margin of more than four pounds.
That would be Hawk's only trip past the 20-pound mark, but amassing that much weight early on kept him in good shape for a strong finish. On day two, Hawk caught 16 pounds and followed with a final-round bag of 13-14 to finish with a 3-day total of 59-9.
For most of the tournament, he flipped a Yamamoto Flappin' Hog.
Tosh punches his way to fifth
Placing fifth was clearly not the goal for Stephen L. Tosh, Jr., of Turlock, Calif., but given his great comeback story, that was a respectable finish. Tosh started the event with a modest limit of 14-1 and found himself in 54th place after day one.
On day two, he got back on track with a 23-pound, 10-ounce limit that lifted him to eight place. Adding 20-15 in the final round enabled Tosh to end his campaign in the No. 5 spot with 58-10.
Tosh caught all of his fish by punching a Yamamoto Psycho Dad with his Paycheck Baits Punch Skirt.
Best of the rest
Rounding out the top-10 pro leaders at the Rayovac FLW Series Cal Delta event:
6th: Jerred Jennings, of Stockton, Calif., 57-11
7th: Greg Leonard, of Elk Grove, Calif., 57-7
8th: Tai Au, of Glendale, Ariz., 52-3
9th: Timothy Venkus, of Wilton, Calif., 51-9
10th: Benjamin Byrd, of Moab, Utah, 50-12