Bass Fishing, Bass Lures, Bass Boats, Russ Bassdozer

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The Last Buffalo Hunt in Las Vegas
An Epic Documentary of the 2004 US Open

By Russ Bassdozer

September 13-15, 2004 - Some say the U.S. Open is the toughest tournament in the world. It takes place in one of the harshest angling environments you could ever face on scorching Lake Mead, Las Vegas, Nevada. Burning desert heat peaks over 110 degrees during the US Open, and places a tremendous strain on anglers, not only physical but mental. By the end of the day, you're not fishing any more. You're merely hanging on. Your casts are off. Your concentration to keep lure contact with the deep bottom is wasted. By weigh-in, the intolerable sun has torn you down to a tattered fraction of the angler you started the day as in the cool desert dawn.

Lake Mead doesn't give up its highly-pressured bass easily either. It's as much a desert under water as above. Bass, like roaming caravans of green-finned camels, tirelessly wander the featureless clearwater desert. If you intercept the route of these nomads one day, the bass can vanish without a trace the next.

Like every sporting game in Vegas town, it's easy to get in the US Open. All you have to do is show up with high hopes, put big money down on the table - and you're in. But in the US Open (as in any game in Vegas), you're not likely to go home a winner. The house is stacked against you. Aaron Martens, John Murray, Gary Dobyns, Mike Folkestad, Tim Klinger, Mark Kile, Dean Rojas, Byron Velvick, Dave Gliebe, Art Berry, Ish Monroe, Dean Rojas and many dozens more of the West's best players fill the US Open field. Make no mistake, guys like these are superstars in the fishing world today. They're highly-trained professional athletes you're going up against. This is what they have prepared themselves mentally and physically to perform daily. They're physically fit for fishing all day every day. Strong for the sport, as the saying goes. The desert heat won't bother them like it will bother you. They're not going to stop to eat. What they tie on their rods in the parking lot when they launch will still be tied on when they come back in. They won't snag or retie or change lures or rummage through their tackle box. They won't miss a beat nor a bass. Their first cast is going to be as perfect as their last, and every flawless cast in between. This is what they do for a living, not what you do. The U.S. Open is their arena - not yours. For 22 years, the U.S. Open has been the biggest money tournament west of the Mississippi River - and the pros who fish it have every reason to expect your money to go home in their pockets.

With that being said, there are few other sports events in the USA today where an ordinary everyday fellow can walk in off the street, pay up and have a go against a field filled with so many top professionals. That's the allure of the U.S. Open. It's the richest tournament west of the Mississippi - and the most difficult.

This year's U.S. Open was made bittersweet by the prospect it may be the last time it is held in Las Vegas. After 22 years in Vegas, the U.S. Open may move to the much easier angling environment of Clear Lake, California in 2005. So I made a point to be at this (my first) and possibly the last U.S. Open in Vegas. Before it disappeared forever, I wanted to document what it was like to fish the toughest tournament in the world, to witness what may be the last buffalo hunt, the last stand, the final shoot-out before the U.S. Open shimmered away into the harsh glare of the sandy Vegas desert heat, never to be seen there again.

Here are first-hand accounts of a few of the victors. A documentary of how the hunt went down for them, where they made their stands, how they brought down the herd of hopefuls. You may have read lots of tournament result reports before, but never one like this. Please enjoy


(Note: Many of his top-ranking peers regard Aaron Martens as the most innovative bass angler in the world today.)

Bassdozer: Aaron, in the past 2-1/2 months you've won $300,000 (2nd at the CITGO Bassmaster Classic on Lake Wylie, 2nd at the FLW Pro Tour on Lake Champlain and first at the US Open on Lake Mead) and you have over one million career earnings. Most impressive is, what you do, Aaron, your methods, no one else even uses them. Here at the US Open, you fished a worm slower than most die-hard wormers have ever fished a worm in their life. At the CITGO Bassmaster Classic, you came in second using a spinnerjig, something most bass anglers have never used. One year ago, you finished second at the CITGO Bassmaster Classic using a white hair jig. Not many anglers use white hair jigs, but you almost won the Classic with one. That's crazy. You practically single-handedly popularized dropshot fishing in the USA, Aaron. Hardly no one knew what dropshot was, meanwhile you were racking up a fortune with it. Many people are saying you are rewriting the bass fishing book, opening up anglers views to new ways to catch bass. How have you, a young man only 32, risen to the top of bass fishing, Aaron? Where do you get your angling ideas from and who do you get them from, Aaron? What I mean is, many pros often credit another pro as a mentor or figure they looked up to and tried to study or copy their fishing styles. Are there any pros you tried to pattern yourself after at any point?

Aaron: For the most part, my methods, what and how I fish are based on growing up fishing with my mom, Carol. I never modeled myself after any pros nor did I ever try to adhere to any conventional wisdom found in the last 15 years back issues of bass magazines. That would have mentally restricted me. I never have held any preconceived notions of how I was supposed to fish. My mom and I were fortunate to be able to fish the right lakes (highly-pressured big bass lakes) in California. Instead of partying and going to the beach and surfing, I'd go fishing with my mom most every day. It was great. I learned my techniques from her and just grew up doing them. I can't say we really followed anyone else or that we tried to do what other people were doing. The lakes I grew up on, we targeted the 2-1/2, 3, 4 pounds and better fish. We didn't go after the smaller bass at all. So the techniques we evolved were geared to bigger fish and that is what I still do. These techniques don't always hold up well. You get far fewer bites but bigger fish. Lakes I grew up on - Castaic, Pyramid, Casitas - they're really pressured. When it comes to fishing on the pro tours, it really helps to have learned on such highly-pressured lakes. Living in Alabama now, and fishing the BASS and FLW lakes, I really do not get to fish this way any more. I call it "old school" and don't do it very often now, maybe only 4, 5, 6 times a year. So it was nice to do something at the US Open like I used to do with my mom. It was great to fish "old school" again.

Bassdozer: By the end of the second practice day on Lake Mead, wiping down boats in the parking lot, word was already spreading that you were on 15 pounds a day using jigs, and that you were going to win the US Open, Aaron. By the end of the third practice day, rumor had changed to that you were shaking brass 'n glass with worms. You were crowned the winner in the parking lot before the tournament even started.

Aaron: I love it! That's too funny how the word gets out like that. I guess I am always amazed at how that parking lot scuttlebutt gets started. I really wonder how that happened since I did not tell too many people at all what I was doing.

Bassdozer: I know by now you probably were shaking worms and dropshotting, that you did not win with jigs. Did you use, as rumored in the parking lot, brass (bullet sinker) and glass (bead)?

Aaron: Those rumors are so funny! To shake a worm, I just use Tungsten by itself. The Tungsten weight is so heavy that it creates a lot of potent energy. Shakes causes a sharp fast vibration and commotion. Brass doesn't have the power to shake like tungsten does to cause all that sound and commotion. I don't use beads because you just don't need one with tungsten. Tungsten makes enough noise by itself. Plus the tungsten hits a bead so sharply, it's so hard it can crack a glass bead and cut the line on you. Noise and vibration is best using tungsten. At the US Open, I was shaking the tungsten pretty slowly, real subtle, but it was still more than enough power and vibration to attract bass.

Bassdozer: One of the camera boats that covered you on day two, the talk back at the parking lot was the camera crew saw you make antagonizing slow retrieves, up to twenty minutes per retrieve was what they were saying...

Aaron: That's really funny how those stories get to be that way. I didn't time my retrieves, but I'd say I was spending more like 4-5 minutes per retrieve.

Bassdozer: That's still a torturously slow retrieve, Aaron. Most guys probably have never spent 4-5 minutes on one retrieve. Was there anything you discovered on Lake Mead that caused you to slow down and take so long?

Aaron: Nothing new. It was just the old school Lake Mead. It's just how I fish there. In 1993, Lake Mead was way down (low water level) like it is now. I won a tournament in 1993 doing this exact same thing. I just fished Mead the same way I won that event in 1993.

My need to fish slow was based on where I was fishing. I was within minutes of the weigh-in marina. These are highly-pressured fish. They've probably been caught within the last week. They're smarter, more aware of and used to dodging normal lures and typical retrieves. Equally important, I fished deeper than most guys would feel comfortable to fish all day, and deeper than the experts with reaction baits could get to my fish. So the bass down there were not seeing a lot of lures go by them at my level.

Bassdozer: A lot of anglers reported that bass were working stripers like they were rented mules. Were you using striped bass as part of your pattern or in any way to help you locate and catch bass, Aaron?

Aaron: Stripers are all over Lake Mead and they were present in the spots I was fishing. However I wasn't on a striper pattern. I was on a bluegill and shad pattern.

Bassdozer: Do you think the bass you were catching were eating bluegill, Aaron?

Aaron: They always eat bluegill on Lake Mead.

Bassdozer: How do you think a bass relates a skinny worm like you were using to a bluegill? A worm is thin-bodied but a bluegill is thick-bodied?

Aaron: It's more in the color and the way you move it. Most of the bluegill bass eat are really small and thin at that size. This size of bluegill can't really swim well or fast, and because of this, they spend a lot of time quietly hiding under rocks - hardly moving at all. Bass can't really get at them easily and because of that, a lot of the bluegill get hit or injured but not eaten. That's what I am trying to imitate with the colors and the ways I move a worm - a small bluegill that's not a good or fast swimmer to begin with - and that's been injured by a bass. On day one, I'd say I used more plum colors and more Berkley worms. Day two and three I fished more Roboworms. I rotated through about five colors, mostly purples, greens and browns. I don't think any one color was more effective. They were all solid bluegill patterns.

Bassdozer: Did you learn anything new on Lake Mead? Anything you felt was interesting or is going to help you win the next time you return to Lake Mead, Aaron?

Aaron: I really didn't learn anything new this time. It was a matter of finding enough spots that had big fish on them. I felt I almost did not find enough. After the practice ended, I said to my wife Lesley that I was going to be one day short on fish. I almost was.

Bassdozer: One last question, Aaron. Several anglers reported seeing you running figure-eights and donuts over your fishing spots. They speculated that you were doing this in order to stir up bait schools, to get the food chain going, to get the bass feeding. Other anglers were waiting for the striper pushes to make these bait movements happen. Were you using your boat to move the bait balls, the way other anglers were waiting on stripers to do that?

Aaron: No, I was just making the most of my time by graphing my areas quickly, looking for what was down there at the time - shad, tiny stripers, baby bass schools - and deciding whether there was enough bait present to fish a particular spot right then. If there wasn't any bait, I'd blast over and graph the next spot and the next spot. I wanted to fish right when I saw the bait on a spot, which was unpredictable. It was a matter of finding enough spots that had bait on them at the same time I was.

Bassdozer: Aaron, I kept tabs on what guys were doing to avoid the debilitating desert heat. More than most, you were dressed "desert style" and you did not seem as stressed by the heat as much as some of the other anglers. What did you do to prepare for the extreme desert conditions at Mead?

Aaron: First thing as soon as I woke up every morning before I did anything else, I drank 32 ounces of water. On the drive to the launch ramp, I drank constantly. I drank about 2 gallons of water, Gatorade and V8 juice daily during the competition. In order to remain hydrated, I drank about every fifteen minutes. It took a little bit to get used to the heat at first - about two days. I think it's wise to use the full three day practice. Your body needs that long to acclimate, plus Sunday (a no fish day) to rest and recover. Still, I never got totally used to it - I was never truly comfortable. The clothing I wore helped a lot. A big full-brimmed hat, loose clothing, and a lightweight long sleeve shirt.


(Note: Stan Vanderburg is co-host of California's Rod & Reel Radio fishing talk show.)

I could only break away for two practice days, and I lost the first day due to engine trouble. After idling out past the no-wake buoys, we got up on plane for about 100 yards and my motor quit. All kinds of bells and whistles were going off. I had to turn tail, take it to a mechanic or two, and one who finally diagnosed it as water in the fuel. Seems I had tanked up with 52 gallons of watery gas I got from a station on the way out. So I ended the first day of practice draining 52 gallons of gas that was diluted with water.

Left with only one practice day then, as we were pulling in one area, a group of fish were chasing shad down the bank. Throwing reaction baits, we were getting as many or more stripers than bass, so I said to my partner to throw something stripers won't eat - a brown or green jig or tube - and we started whacking bass almost exclusively. That was the entire practice for me.

The evening before competition, I wracked my brain wondering what to do, whether I should go back there? Would the bait stay there? Would the bass stay there? I didn't know. So the first day, I ran up there see if they were still pushing shad. I moved around the point and marked some shad, so we slid in there, started working our way down the bank deeper into the cove, when suddenly we saw shad pushed up far back in one pocket getting hammered. That flurry didn't last long.

We moved out toward the outside point, and once again the Lowrance lit up with shad spread out under the boat. As I watched, the shad balled up on the screen and I could see gamefish streaks lunging in at them from the main lake side. I watched the shad ball flushing in toward the point. I said to my partner, "Give it a minute and they'll be up on the bank!" We both threw up on the bank and started working downhill back out toward what I was seeing on the graph.

This became the pattern over the next three days, just reading the Lowrance. I tell you, I became one with that Lowrance unit. Every time I saw streaks pushing shad, it was usually stripers pushing shad in from out on the main lake. Stripers would push the shad up on the rocky points. I'd watch these pushes happening on the meter, then we'd throw in at the place they were heading toward on the bank, and catch one or two bass. Once the striper push hit the bank, the whole thing would just break up and disappear off the screen. Then we'd go to the next point where we could mark shad spread out, and wait until we saw the stripers push up. Sure enough, we'd see the shad ball up on the screen, streaks start hammering them and push them up on the point. We'd catch 1-2 bass out of each of the pushes as they hit the bank, and then we'd move to the next point.

Every morning, we just hit this same 1/4 mile that had about eight points. We'd meter through all eight points, catch what we could, then circle back to the first point and meter through all the points again. By nine every morning had a limit. The pushes would always come from main body, mostly little stripers pushing shad. I assume there were some bass underneath somewhere, coming in with the stripers. As soon as the stripers got to the bank, they'd roll out deep again and disappear. I guess the bass coming in with them would linger longer on the bank, which is when we'd pick up 1 or 2, sometimes more.

After that, we'd spin the boat back around, move out and meter across the point between 30-40 feet deep. If we could see shad all over the place, it was important to see which way they were moving, swinging the bow back and forth to see which way they went on the meter, and keeping the boat moving in that direction. Sometimes the pushes went down one side of the point, sometimes the other side. These were long extended points with deep drop-offs. There was no way you could tell what was going on, except on the Lowrance. There's no way to explain it except to say my Lowrance and I became one for those three days. I don't know how else I could have done it. Sometimes they'd push from the main point but miss the bank until a secondary point, then they'd get pushed back out to main point again. It seemed there were some bass hanging off the insides of the secondary points where it was 25-30 feet deep, hanging on deep weed edges extending out of the coves. So if the stripers got to push the shad in that far, then these bass would push them back out again. Once in a while, they just splattered the bait all the way into the sandy, grassy backs.

We did get some bass on the watermelon with red flake (color 208) 3/8 oz Yamamoto Hula jigs, but the majority came on oxblood with red flake Roboworms on a dropshot or Texas rig. We really had to slow down. After the morning bite put a good limit in the livewell, we'd upsize to the same worms in the 7-inch size, either oxblood or green, on a Texas rig.

We did not get a reaction bite going, but second place finisher Brent Ehler was also in our water. We swapped spots and conversation, and he finished second on reaction baits. I had a whole deck of reaction baits out the whole time, and I had Brent Ehlers (2nd place), Andre Moore (3rd place), Gary Dobyns (9th place) throwing reaction baits all around me, but I never had to use them.

As the biggest tournament in the West, the U.S. Open is usually nerve-wracking for me. Usually I spend the whole tournament tormenting myself, "Am I on them?" This year, my answer was, "Yes, I am." I don't think a lot of other guys discovered how to fish these areas effectively like I was, and I believe we caught more fish than most guys. We caught over 20 bass daily. They were not all keepers or not all helped to cull, but it was just a great time. We had one good fish in three pound range each day, two good fish like that the third day, and the rest of our limits were all good solid fish too.

I had a good limit by nine every morning, and my demeanor remained pretty calm. It was a pleasant feeling. I was tickled to come from behind after losing a practice day, having the engine screwed up like that by bad gas. I just had this little pattern, I stuck to it and it stayed solid for three days.


(Note: John Murray has won over one million in tournament cash and prizes. John is a 2-time U.S. Open Champion.)

My strategy was to locate the biggest schools of 2" to 4" stripers that I could find. In my case, I really did not locate any serious shad schools, but there were a few places where schools of these tiny stripers would almost black out the graph. The best schools of largemouth I found were in these few places where the tiny stripers were thick. I felt these meal-sized stripers took the place of shad. I can't say for sure the bass were eating the tiny stripers. I did not see the bass spit any up. They're kind of thorny and probably wouldn't get spit up easily anyway. Nevertheless, the largemouth in these locations were real fat, and there was not much else for them to eat except these plentiful baby stripers. Regardless of whether they were eating the stripers, the only good bass I found were in these few places where the tiny stripers were packed in solid. During practice, I caught a lot of bass with a Rico popper with a striper pattern paint job. However, the bass didn't react well to topwater for me during the tournament. Instead I went to cinnamon-colored Yamamoto Kut-Tails and Roboworms. A long cast was necessary, and I would just let the bait hit the bottom, then not move it. I was fishing the worms more like a drop bait, not working them back to the boat. I'd just wait after the initial drop, then wind in and make another long cast. One key to getting bit was the wind. If the areas I was in slicked off, so did the action. When it was slick, all I would get were little ticks and taps. Then I would take off to locate a breeze blowing in another spot. If I was fishing in the breeze where I wanted to be, most hits from the bass were solid takes.


(Note: Ted Roper is a successful local tournament competitor on Lake Mead and nearby desert lakes.)

My pattern was to fish around some type of baitfish, small stripers or smallmouth bass fry. We'd know we were around them when dozens of these would chase our reaction baits or worms back to the boat. We fished the same 3/4 mile stretch all three days. It was a series of small coves in the Overton Arm. Lots of different type of structure was in this stretch - long drawn-out points, rocky bluffs and sandy, grassy coves. Two wolf packs of bass were roaming this stretch. They would pop up, unpredictably at random. We would catch one out of the wolf pack then they would disappear. We wouldn't see them again for an hour or two. Between chance encounters with the two wolf packs, we'd fish for singles - solitary bass buried in the grass or a lone bass poised off a point. So we were fishing two patterns. First, the normal way to go for singles like we always do. These singles tended to be in the textbook spots - you know, shady side of a rock, pointy edge or indentation on a ledge. You'd cast where they were supposed to be according to the textbook - and once in a while, they were. The second pattern, coming across the wolf packs at different times throughout the three days. Whereas the singles were in grass or predictable ambush points, the wolf packs would come at us from out of nowhere, from the open water, suddenly by there, then disappear.

Stripers were in the area, but not a lot of big schools of stripers. Seemed a single striper or two were running with the bass wolf packs. It was not the other way around where you expect a bass or two to run with a striper school. Time of day was important. One day we did not have a keeper until 1:30 PM. It was a late bite every day. Flat calm were the best conditions. Purple Berkley Power worms, dropshot, Rio Rico topwaters produced, but especially a crankbait from Japan called a "Power Dunk" that was given to me by a friend from Washington. It runs about eight feet deep, and it was just about the same size and same brown color as the smallmouth fingerlings bass were feeding on in this area.

I liked the faster format for the pre-tournament meetings this year. Mike Kennedy got us in and out, and the weigh-in was better organized and quicker than ever. It was the best sponsor row ever. We all got a lot of great tackle samples from the sponsors this year. I am so glad they dropped the meal break between meetings too. That used to make for a long drawn-out meeting day - and the meal wasn't that good anyway.

The greatest thing about the U.S. Open is that it can turn an ordinary angler like me into a bass pro. This is my sixth U.S. Open and my best finish (seventh). It's something to be proud of. I found these fish on this stretch in May. I checked them again and spent time getting to understand their movements and habits in August. I checked there again one practice day just to make sure they were still there. Throughout the season, I was fortunate to have made a relationship with and an understanding of these fish and this area - and it paid off big time.


(Note: Western tournament dominator Gary Dobyns has creeled over one million in career cash and prizes.)

Practice days for me were either really good or really bad. When the stripers were pushing bait hard, I found a lot of bass inside the backs of coves. Other days, the stripers were way out on rock reefs and extended points toward the outside of the coves. It took a few hours every day to figure it out. It wasn't easy. Just when I felt I got it figured, the stripers would flip-flop on me, move out of the backs onto the points - or vice versa. During practice, the morning were good, the afternoons were a struggle. Come the first two days of competition, the afternoons proved best once the stripers started feeding. Day three, the bite was really good in the morning. Both my partner and I lost a few key fish that morning, but we had four bass on board. So I was not at first overly concerned about dumping a few good fish. In the afternoon, I felt, the bass would again get active when the bait got moved around by the stripers just like the first two afternoons. That third afternoon striper push never happened for me, and we never added that fifth keeper. In hindsight, I should have picked up a worm, because any fifth keeper would have moved me up into the top five and any worm fish would have been worth $4,000 to me. However, I was stubborn. I was in third place day one and day two. I wanted to win it all on day three. I did not want to settle for placing in the top five. I did not throw a worm. I stayed with the topwater bite, I wanted to win the U.S. Open fishing aggressively in my style, not with worms.

I did not find tons of shad in my areas, but even still, the shad were so much bigger and more plentiful that previous US Opens. Some schools of shad were over the 4" mark. The striper population was large - bigger and healthier than prior seasons. The striper schools I was using to move bait were mixed sizes, mostly 2-3 lb. stripers with some larger stripers mixed in. There were more bass than normal and they look healthier than recent years. The bass were fat.

I lived and died with the topwater bite. I had three topwaters tied on. When there wasn't much moving, I'd throw the Super Spook with a really slow action - doosh... doosh... doosh.... real slow. On the other hand, I'd pick up a big Sammy working it really fast around active fish. I also threw a Reaction Innovation's Vixen (a new topwater) but not as much as I used the Super Spook and Sammy. I'd wet the Vixen when I felt I had overused the other two and needed to mix it up on the fish. What hurt me really bad was there was no wind during the event. I stayed bullheaded and threw the topwaters non-stop. I had to make do without any wind to help the reaction bite. When there's no wind, I just fish my exact same reaction baits - except much faster - about as fast as I can move the bait and the boat. I was finding bass both in schools and singles. It seemed they were more schools earlier on in the event, and more single fish toward the end of the event. The deal with topwater is you are always going to lose some fish. They're jumping just to hit a topwater and they just love to stay on top and jump some more. Lake Mead is an awesome topwater lake. You have so many shad and such clear water. You're just going to lose a percentage of fish like that. Other lures, you can find 5-6 fish a day and maybe do well, boating them all. With topwater, you need to locate a few extra fish each day just because you will lose a percentage of them. So you have to locate a couple of extra fish each day in order to compensate for that loss factor on topwaters. Exactly what percentage of fish you will lose on topwater, that is a tough question. When there is foul or windy weather, the bass are going to commit to hitting topwaters solidly. When there are flat conditions, they don't commit as well. They hit halfheartedly, and you will lose more. That's what happened to me the third day. I had a poor third day, losing a few key fish. Overall, I didn't feel very good about my performance.


(Note: Nick Grebb is a veteran Western tournament pro, cashing a check more often than not.)

I had a sweet little deal going on but just didn't realize early enough just how good it really was. I was impressed by this spot during practice, but I really didn't figure it out until during the tournament on the end of the second day. In hindsight, had I known what this spot was holding, I could have pulled a solid 10 to 12 pounds out of it every day. Maybe even won the US Open.

I was moving all over the lake during practice, making those long runs. I got an early draw on day one of competition so I decided to make the long run. That was only good for 7.33 lbs. I started the second day doing the same thing and only had three fish by 3 PM. Desperate now, I blasted out of there and floored it 30 miles to this little spot I am talking about. First cast, bam, a good fish. Then bam again, I landed two keepers using two Lucky Craft topwaters rigged one ahead of the other. There's our limit! I exclaimed to my partner, "Throw in there with the dropshot!" First cast, yes sir, he pulls out a two plus and now we've culled our littlest fish. We caught a couple of others keepers that didn't help - and it was time to go weigh.

Morning of day three, I made a beeline straight back to this sweet little spot and we have 10-1/2 pounds in the livewell in 15 minutes. It's the final day so I have no reason to save any fish, so we really lit them up. The next two hours, we boated 15 more two-pounders. It was just a little stretch of sand no longer than my truck and trailer. This was a main channel location with lots of boat traffic whizzing by. Most of the channel was clear water, but this one little spot was kicked up and cloudy. I could not see any grass there, but throw in a crankbait and you'd grab a ton of grass. The cloudy water was loaded with shad and lots of little stripers. Mostly 8 to 10 inch stripers plus a few to 1-1/2 pounds. I found out if I kept the boat in close and threw out, mostly stripers were caught on the outside perimeter of the spot. But if I stayed out and threw right up on the sand, there were bass in close. I felt they had the shad sandwiched in between them - between the stripers and the bass - and they weren't letting the shad get out of there at all. The shad were bigger (about 2" to 2-1/2") than most shad I had seen other places and there were just tons of shad locked in there thick. It was kind of an intense little situation. What really surprised me too was that the livewell was loaded with spit up crawdad pieces. When I saw all the craws spit-up again on day three, I tossed a watermelon tube out there, and they were just crushing it. So there was just a whole food chain being jet-fueled in this one small spot here. I really did not know what I had there. No sir. Had I realized what was going on during practice, I could have come out on top of the U.S. Open - or real, real close. I feel these bass were holding there all day - at least whenever I stopped there. After catching a whole load of 2 pound clones there the morning of the third day, we went searching for a kicker, but couldn't get one. We returned to this little spot toward the end of the day, and the bass, the stripers the whole food chain was still locked in there like they had never left. It was just a little pocket, and I mean little, off the main channel that was dirtied up a little more than the rest of the area. I never saw another boat in there although half the field had to pass it on the way out and on the way back in to weigh.


(Note: Tim Klinger won $200,000 at the 2004 FLW event on Beaver Lake.)

The US Open started kind of funny for me. I had a really bad practice and only caught three keepers over the three practice days. Although I live there (Lake Mead), I was on the road fishing the FLW tour all season. I had only spent 7-8 days on Mead this year. My luck turned when my roommate gave me a dropshot bait which was working well for him. It was a custom hand-pour in a purple color. This bait looked somewhat like a Slug-go. On day one, right away, I metered a school of bait, put the dropshot bait under them and started pulling fish. I metered around, finding bait in 4-5 other areas close by and pulled more fish out from under the bait clouds with the dropshot. Then that just kind of shut down. I switched to a 3/8 oz. Yamamoto Hula jig in 221 (cinnamon with purple) and caught 3-4 more bass on that. This was all around Middle Point.

I believe the bait balls on the meter were shad, baby bass and tiny stripers. I felt the bass were eating a little of each - whatever was wounded, falling out of the bait schools in front of their faces making an easy meal. Unlike some of the other anglers, I did not get into a situation where stripers were pushing bait into the bass. I did rely on the wind however. Whenever a little bit of wind arose, it would push the bait in closer toward the shoreline and the bass would react to that, go on the feed.

On day two, I started throwing the same Yamamoto hula jig and dropshot bait in the morning. This was around Temple Bar. My partner landed three good fish on topwater. I switched to topwater too, but wasn't getting any bites. There was a lot of bait around the backs of coves in the grass and also around the outside points. We were catching single bass. Just one bass here and there. We never encountered any wolf packs of schooling bass. We ended day two close to the weigh-in marina with only a little time left, fishing a sunken boat wreck. We culled two fish there in the last five minutes. I felt the bass were just using the sunken boat as a shady place to rest when they were not out chasing bait clusters in the area. I had other bites there just before we had to go weigh.

Day three, I started the morning on the same wreck, but no luck. I boated back up to Middle Point again, and by 11:30, we were back at Temple Bar where we put the first keeper in the boat. After that, we went to the back of Gregg Basin where there were some thick grass coves. First cast with a crankbait, I landed a bass. Second cast, a bass hurled itself out of the water to hit the crankbait in mid-air before it even landed. The bass was looking up and had seen it coming on the cast. That told me to go to topwater, and I hit a few on a Spook (a bone white Super Spook Jr.). A breeze came up, wiping out the topwater action so we switched to spinnerbaits just under the surface during the breeze. The spinnerbaits were 1/2 oz white w/purple pearl accents in the skirt with a small gold Colorado and silver willow blades. All told, we boated 8-9 bass in an hour back in Gregg Basin. We peeled back to Temple Bar. We had 5-6 blow-ups on topwater but never landed any of them. They were swirling on it and even jumping over the topwaters but not committing to taking hold of them. Although the Yamamoto hulas worked the first day and a half, I never really went back to using them after that. With fifteen minutes left on day three, we culled out our last small bass on a Texas-rigged Zipper worm.

Overall, I fished what I would normally do at this time of year on Lake Mead. I basically kept my baits in the water and covered a lot of country miles. I covered miles with the big motor, hitting many far apart spots, and miles with my foot on the trolling motor. What surprised me was to hear how guys were catching schooling fish so well. As for me, I never saw a wolf pack of bass during practice or during the event. I was also surprised - no, shocked - to see how many quality bass were caught this year at the U.S. Open. The bass fishery here is great, better than it has been in a while, and there's no reason why it won't be even better next year. There's been some talk to move the U.S. Open away from Mead. I don't think that is a good idea. I don't want to see the U.S. Open move, and I don't think the move will get a lot of support from the anglers who fish it. The U.S. Open is Vegas. The anglers have a lot of fun. There are lots of places to get together, to eat, to party. Fishing will always be fun wherever you go, but the atmosphere of the U.S. Open would be gone if it moves somewhere else. Somewhere else, there's not going to be too many good places to go out, not too many good restaurants to eat at. It would still be fishing, but it wouldn't be the U.S. Open. That's how I think of it.

The 2004 U.S. Open is over. It has shimmered away and vanished into the harsh glare of the desert heat. After 22 years, it may not return next year. There's no trace to be left of it, no way to know what it was like to be in the hunt, to be in the world's toughest tournament, except for this story. - Russ Bassdozer

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