|All it takes is preparation when it comes to this
Saturday's San Diego Anglers Open Bay Bass Tournament
This Saturday (Feb. 4) marks the running of 17th annual San Diego Anglers Open Bay Bass Tournament, and the majority of the 120 to 150 people attending a recent pre-tourney seminar in Lakeside at Fish ‘n Marine by bass guide Bill Schaefer were asked two questions:
The first was, “How many of you are entered in the tourney?” Nearly every hand went up. Second question by Schaefer: “How many of you think you will win the tournament?” Only two or three hands went up.
Schaefer went on to talk about confidence fishing. And tackle and methods. The usual seminar fare. But coming from Schaefer, the information may have eliminated some people’s common mistakes of tackle and technique. But Bill’s two questions and the answers were revealing to the event’s organizers, particularly co-directors Dwayne Patenaude and Mike Kezele.
“We realized that people come because it’s a fun event, and that you have to make sure it’s a fun event, but we realize now that even the teams themselves feel only a handful of them stand a chance of winning it.”
And that is the truth. Of the 150 two-man teams and a smattering of lone yakkers who enter, I would say maybe 20 of them really think they could win the event by bringing in the heaviest 5-fish bag of bay bass. You can weigh in spotted bay bass, calicos and sand bass. The primary targets among top 25 teams are “grump” sand bass in the 2- to 4-pound class that smack swim baits in deep structure send down by ½- to 1½-ounce leadheads.
Of those 20 teams who feel they have a shot, few likely attended that seminar because they know Schaefer isn’t going to give away the real gold standard info: The “spots.” The structure, where the spots are, the color of swimbaits to fish them, when to fish them. You find those spots on your own. They are heavily guarded.
The real contenders know that knowing the bay’s structure and heavily prefishing – and getting two kicker fish of 4 pounds will – take the title. Bottom line, this is one tough smal-boat tourney to win. Ask Schaefer. He’s a fantastic fisherman. But he’s never won it. Been a bridesmaid at least four times.
In fact, Schaefer has an award named after him. Doug Kern, fellow top 10 competitor and longtime sponsor of the event as owner of Fisherman’s Landing Tackle, has a great sense of humor. Thus, Kern each year offers up annual $100 Bill Schaefer Bridesmaid Award for the second place team. All in good fun.
In my mind, this is one of the premier tournaments of the SoCal saltwater season. The 300-plus anglers fill the field each year because it’s a fun, meticulously run tourney put on by the club’s members at Shelter Island. Free Ballast Point beer, a big top tent, goodie bags, paydowns to 25th, dozens of raffle drawings, and a fantastic barbecue for anglers and guests. Win or lose, it’s worth the $135 team entry, and a great way to spend a Saturday before hunkering down for a Super Bowl Sunday.
This is my fifth attempt and like many, I’m serious about doing well. I’m putting in the time, the tackle and gaining bay and swimbait knowledge each year. And I’m competitive, which is why after fishing with two close friends in previous years, I risked ticking them off and asked Floyd to fish with me last year because, well, he’s even more seriously crazed about doing well than I am.
But do I think we’re going to win? I’m not going to come out and say we will, but we could. But we’d have to beat the likes of Schaefer, the legendary team of Ed Howerton and Dennis Burlason, who have won it at least twice, and year in and year out finish in the top 10. They placed third in 2011. There’s Brian Hyder and Warren Plaisted who have won it twice.
Last year’s champs, calico bass tour vets Josh Dunlap and Karl Erbacher are back, even though their prized calico spot they have ridden to top finishes the past two years is now in the new Pt. Loma MLPA closure area at the mouth of the bay on the outermost edge of the tourney boundary. It’s a tiny, productive kelp spot they knew well, and which kicked out a 6-pound calico for the pair en route to the win.
Said Patenaude, “Yes, they decided to throw their hat in the ring.” As he pointed out. Erbacher and Dunlap said they didn’t want to act like whiners and skip this event just because their calico bass spot is now out of bounds. “They said that just like other areas on the coast they have learn while fishing for calicos on the calico bass circuit, they’ll learn the sand bass spots on the bay.” We’ll see.
The talent level is so deep in this tournament that you have to be realistic.
“It’s amazing how competitive this thing has become,” said Bob Aaronson of Vista, who fishes each year on his 24-foot Scout with Rick Maxa, co-host of Let’s Talk Hookup and tackle manager of Fisherman’s Landing. They placed seventh last year, then took second in the Tournament of Champions bay event that is open only to the top 25 teams from the previous S.D. Bay Open.
“The goal for the regulars is always to finish in the top 10, and if you get a kicker fish or two, you can win it,” said Aaronson. While only one team can “win” the event, teams also vie on different levels. There are cash awards for biggest spottie, calico and sand bass, a halibut optional jackpot, and there are the bragging rights. Who finished above who.
The top prize is not huge money, Vessel Assist offers $1,500 for first place this year, but there is the glory of being in an elite field and beating them. Or beating your friends. Rockcod Rick Maxa always wants to win and be in the top 10, but it’s a moral victory for him if he can beat Doug Kern, his boss at Fisherman’s Landing. All in good fun. Competition, with a hard edge.
Floyd and I finished 19th last year, my first top 25 finish in four tries. That’s significant because you get your entry fee back, and that finish marks you as a “player.” Before last year my best finish was 26th, just out of the money. This year we’d like to make that top 10. We’re putting in our time, not just fishing the bay, but “looking for new spots.” And our prefishing will be focused on finding the ones holding fish.
As a tourney director of three tournaments, I appreciate a fun event when I compete in one, and this is the only one I fish competitively.
San Diego Bay is in my back yard, you might say. I got the bug for fishing the bay 20 years ago, and I had the luck of being taught a few things by the big bay bass master himself Gary Brown, who won nearly every San Diego club bay tourney he ever entered. No one could figure out his method.
Eventually, Brown gave up the secret of his long-cast method of drifting over deep bay structure for grumpy sand bass, but only after he hurt his back, had to give up his job of installing wood (back then) garage doors and started a company called Fish Trap Lures. He eventually sold out to Barry Brightenburg, but in an effort to sell plastics, his secret was out.
The trick is not the “method,” though. It is learning the spots, the drifts, matching the tides with the timing of working the structure, the colors of swimbaits for this and that spot, and the tackle for each area. And prefishing. Serious, serious prefishing. Two weeks ago the bay was fishing poorly. Maybe 11 pounds would win it.
“But this week I heard from guys it picked up. Some big bass. Not a lot,” said Patenaude, “but some bigger fish. Now I think that it will take 15 pounds to win it.”
First and foremost, no matter where we finish, we’re going to have a great time, all due to the club and their volunteers. I know what it takes to put on a great annual event. It takes year-around dedication to make it happen.
Pat McDonell is editor of Western Outdoor News and directs WON’s Cabo, Ensenada and Catalina tournaments.