By David A. Brown
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Ken Mah carried three goals into Day 2 of the inaugural DiscountTackle.com Western Bass Shootout and, while the California Delta denied him one, he checked the boxes on his first two and held onto the top spot with a 2-day total of 48.17 pounds.
The local favorite, who makes his home in Elk Grove, Calif., Mah took the early lead with a Day-1 bag limit that went 27.58. Carrying a lead of 4.63 pounds into the second round, Mah added 20.59 to extend his margin to 8.79.
As Mah explained, making key adjustments, both in location and presentation proved crucial to his success.
“The area I started in yesterday didn’t look right, so I went to a completely different place and threw the same Bill Lewis SB-57 squarebill in Ozark craw I had been throwing all week and caught a really good limit, like 16-17 pounds by 8 o’clock,” Mah said. “When you have that after catching 27 pounds — I figured I needed 10 pounds to fish Championship Sunday, because if you don’t fish the final day you can’t win.
“So, I figured once I got that, my next milestone was to get to 20. Then my next milestone was to get to 23, which did not happen.”
Describing his targeted habitat as clean grass with deep water next to rock banks, Mah said he believes the week’s warming trend has triggered a spawning movement. While that’s largely a good thing, he noted that this is a fickle time of year, often lacking in consistency.
“The fish are changing; they are moving to the bank, but they’re starting to eat funny,” Mah said. “I think there’s a large group of them that are getting ready to spawn right now. All the fish I caught yesterday were fresh and pale and fat. Today, I caught some that were red and beat up (from bedding).
“That’s what happens, when they start to spawn, they’re finicky on your bait, they don’t eat it that well, so I really had to change my cadence. With my crankbait it was more of an erratic retrieve. Even though I wasn’t hitting any cover, I would pause it.”
Looking ahead to Sunday’s final round, Mah said he’s concerned about his preferred tide stage slipping away. Tides advance about an hour each day, so what happened today will happen a little later tomorrow.
Mah recognizes the numerical advantage he brings into the final day of competition, but he also knows the not-so-simple calculations inherent to spawning season on a tidal fishery.
“I’m definitely not in the clear, for sure, with this talented field,” Mah said. “I have to look at the tide chart and I think I’m going to have to make another gutsy decision on what to do on Sunday.”
Kyle Grover of Rancho Santa Margarita, Calf, moved into second place with 39.38. Building on a first-round limit of 19.77, Grover anchored his Day-2 limit of 19.61 with an 8.36.
“I had to just go fishing today, because the main area that I was fishing had a lot of us fishing and I don’t think any of the guys caught them very good there,” Grover said. “That’s why I went to one my dad’s favorite spots on the whole (Delta). I caught one there yesterday and today, I went in there and I caught an 8 1/2 at about 9 o’clock.
“I caught them good on a 1/2-ounce Chatterbait with a double tail trailer yesterday but today, it was not happening in my area. I left and went to a zone where they spawn. I fished really slow with a Texas-rigged 5-inch Yamamoto Senko on spinning tackle with 12-pound test.”
While water clarity prevented Grover from sight fishing, he surmised that his big fish was on, or near a bed. Keeping his distance and moving slowly helped him fool his giant.
“I absolutely ground it out the rest of the day,” he said. “I went back to the winding zone, but didn’t really catch much. Then about noon, I went to another spawning area and started throwing the worm and caught one about 5 and that was it.”
At final tally, Grover weighed in three fish on reaction baits, but he amassed most of his weight with the two big ones he caught on the Senko.
Luke Johns of Folsom, Calif. played a patient game and earned his Championship Sunday berth by adding 23.89 — the event’s second heaviest bag — to the 13.89 he weighed on Day 1. With a 6.54-pounder in Saturday’s catch, Johns made a big move from 22nd to third.
Starting in a slough not far from takeoff, Johns alternated between a Picasso Inviz Wire spinnerbait with tandem gold/silver willow-leaf blades and a Picasso Shock Blade (bladed jig) with a Hog Farmer Spunk Shad trailer. His strategy: Wind the reaction baits until the incoming tide got right and then go looking for bed fish.
“I told my (observer) ‘The tide is about to change and as soon as that water starts rolling back in, I should catch some fish,’” Johns said. “Literally, 15 minutes later, I stuck that first 6-pounder. About 15 yards down the bank, I stuck another 6-pounder.
“Then, I rolled over to an area that I only looked at in practice; I didnt; even fish it. I found some good fish setting up to spawn and was able to put two more in the boat and really upgrade my limit.”
Johns caught his bed fish on the Yamamoto Yama Craw. Made with the proprietary Mega Floater Formula, the craw stands up like a live craw in defense mode.
‘When that happens, it’s game on,” Johns said.
Gregory Troughton of Discovery Bay leads the Big Fish competition with the 9.61 he caught on Day 1.
Sunday’s takeoff is scheduled for 6:30 a.m. Pacific Time at B & W Resort Marina. The weigh-in will be held at the SAFE Credit Union Convention Center at 3:30 p.m.