By David A. Brown
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Prior to Day 1 of the inaugural DiscountTackle.com Western Bass Shootout, Ken Mah had entertained countless conversations about whether or not the California Delta’s delayed spawning season would kick off this week. Suffice it to say, the seasoned pro from Elk Grove, Calif. emphatically answered that question with a leading limit of 27.58 pounds.
Central to Mah’s pre-tournament pondering was the long and bitterly cold winter that had held back the usual spawn timing. The week’s warming trend had fostered optimism, but it wasn’t until Mah got his baits wet that he realized that what he’d been waiting for was actually unfolding right before him.
“The fish have finally moved to the bank — it has happened,” Mah said with a grin of knowing anticipation. “It was a nice day. I didn’t have to make any hard decisions.
“On Tuesday, my (winning) weight estimate was 57 pounds and, since then, these big fish have moved to the bank. Guys are going to catch them on Day 2.”
Explaining his course to uncovering the day’s potential, Mah said he started where he thought the fish would be and adjusted shallower until he found the party.
“In practice, I had developed a decent crankbait pattern with a Bill Lewis SB-57 squarebill in Ozark craw,” he said. “I honestly think that from Wednesday when practice ended — we had an off day on Thursday — ’til the start of the tournament, those fish went from prespawn staging out in that deeper hydrilla to the bank.
“When I say they went to the bank, they just went one level shallower. In that prespawn phase, I was catching them in 5-7 feet, but they had moved them into 2-4 feet; and that makes them susceptible.”
With his biggest bass weighing nearly 7 pounds, Mah said he caught good ones on the squarebill, but he boated his best fish by throwing a 1/2-ounce chartreuse/white Bladerunner spinnerbait with tandem gold willow-leaf blades and punching a Big Bite Baits Yo Mama in the confusion color with a G-Money punch skirt and a 1- to 1 1/4-ounce weight.
“I pretty much caught fish everywhere I stopped, but there are a lot of bucks (male bass) up,” Mah said. “I probably caught 17 keepers today and 10-11 were a pound to a pound and a half.
“I caught big ones periodically. I had a nice one in the morning, went on a little flurry mid-morning and then I culled one of my bigger ones 10 minutes before I came in today.”
Heading into Day 2 with a lead of 4.63 pounds, Mah said the key to his opening success was decision making — trusting what he found and fishing his gut.
“I stopped on some stuff that just looked right, even thought I didn’t necessarily catch them in practice,” Mah said. “I just said, ‘Yeah, let me go fish that. Two of the five fish I weighed in came through that type of decision making.”
John Pearl of Upper Lake, Calif. is in second place with 22.95. Noting that his opening round results were better than he expected, Pearl said his day got off to a quick start and the action kept him busy until check-in.
“I fished a bank this morning and caught a small one, then I moved about 100 yards and caught one that was almost 7, then I caught a 3, then I caught a 2,” Pearl said. “They just bit and it was wide open for the rest of the day.”
Pearl caught all the fish he weighed on a 1/2-ounce War Eagle spinnerbait with tandem willow-leaf blades in gold and silver. As he explained, the state’s harsh winter plus voluminous rains actually worked in his favor.
“This year on the Delta, there’s not a lot of grass up on the bank,” Pearl said. “A lot of years, you can’t throw a spinnerbait because it gets gummed up. This year, high and muddy water prevented the light penetration and the mud silted up the weeds and they died.
“In a lot of the areas I’m fishing, the outside weed edge just isn’t there and the fish are moving to the bank because it’s the only cover. I usually don’t throw a spinnerbait down here — I want to through a ChatterBait and I want to punch. I can’t catch them punching, but they’ll bite that spinnerbait.”
Beau Joudrey of Oakley, Calif. is in third place with 22.04. Also noticing shoreward movement, he said the seasonal reproductive instinct has the fish chomping at the bit.
“These fat, healthy fish are pulling in off the main channels and setting up to where, if you can find them, they’re there,” Joudrey said. “But it’s hard to find them because they’re few and far between.”
Joudrey said he got all of his work down with spinning tackle and a finesse bait.
“I had a limit with one big one by 7:30,” Joudrey said. “Then I went and found a bed fish and that finished out he day for me.”
Gregory Troughton of Discovery Bay, Calif. is in the lead for Big Bass honors with his 9-61.
Saturday’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.