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Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Showdown at Havasu January 9-11
How pros Dean Rojas, Roy Hawk, Joe Uribe and Josh Bertrand see the inaugural WON BASS Arizona Open playing out


WON BASS Contributor

LAKE HAVASU CITY — A winter bass tournament winner will be cold-forged at Lake Havasu when the inaugural WON BASS Arizona Open kicks off a new tradition January 9-11.

Not only is this event the perfect opener for the 2019 competitive bass fishing season, the timing is ideal. Sure the water will be chilly, but there’s something about this season at Havasu that produces big fish. To find out why and collect some thoughts on how the event will play out, we asked Havasu local bass pros Dean Rojas and Roy Hawk and lake regulars Josh Bertrand and Joe Uribe to share their thoughts. All of these high-caliber pros are gearing up to fish the tournament, so take some of what they say (or better yet don’t say) with a grain of salt.

Dean Rojas, the natural

bassmastereliteseriesBASSMASTER ELITE SERIES pro Dean Rojas makes his home at Lake Havasu so he figures to have a home-field advantage at the WON BASS Arizona Open. He says catching 5 each day will be the biggest goal. PHOTO COURTESY DEAN ROJAS

Rojas is a natural one to ask about Havasu in winter. The Bassmaster Elite Series pro has made his home here since, well, forever. He’s thrilled WON BASS is coming to his home waters.

“I want to thank WON BASS for bringing the Arizona Open to Havasu, the diamond of the Colorado River system. January is an interesting time, it will showcase a lot of the great things Havasu has on offer,” he said.

How so? Havasu offers shallow cover, deep water, and fish on rock, grass and brush. All techniques are in play, but he mentioned two by name. “Lipless cranks and dropshotting play a factor in catching Havasu bass this time of year,” Rojas added.

Winter is a fickle time. The longtime Havasu resident warns that it’s susceptible to high winds. “We won’t see what happened at the U.S. Open (when dangerously high winds scrapped day 1), but one of the days we’ll have wind, it’s just a matter of how much we have,” he said. Plot your tactics accordingly.

Rojas said when preparing for the actual competition days, it would be good to have fish all over the lake, in the lower end, upper end, and the river. “Conditions could change hourly, the wind comes up and goes flat, a lot of things happen in January, a lot of variables,” he said. “But I think Havasu is the one lake in the southwest where you could hold an event in January with over 100 boats and have the potential to catch 25 pounds.”

Rojas well knows the biggest weights Havasu has seen come in January. The fish are in early, early pre-spawn at that point, and the water is as cold as it’s going to get. “The days are starting to get a little longer. It’s the time of year when big fish are eating. Every lake in the country has a time big fish bite. At Havasu that’s January. The big ones just bite, we could hit it while we’re there, you never know,” he added.

Catching five will be the biggest goal. “If you come in with 5 you have a good chance, but to catch more you have to get lucky on those big ones,” Rojas said.

Grass beds, those that are left, will be at a premium in the winter. Rojas doesn’t see this as a problem. Secondary stuff, the brush piles and natural rock structure of the lake itself will stand in for the grass. “Havasu is known for a huge habitat enhancement program for many years with plastic cages placed throughout the whole system. There’s a lot of cover for the fish to get under,” he said.

One more note. The lake level was still high as Rojas spoke. He said it’s likely to drop prior to the Open. “The usual winter drawdown could drop the lake 3-4 feet and could spread the fish out more,” he said.

Homestanding Roy Hawk

HERE’S ROY HAWK with a chunk of a Havasu largemouth. The Bassmaster Elite Series pro figures it’ll take a bunch of these to win the tournament — maybe 52 pounds! PHOTO COURTESY ROY HAWK

THIS PHOTO SENT by Roy Hawk demonstrates that the smallies at Havasu come bonus-sized too. PHOTO COURTESY ROY HAWK

Bassmaster Elite Series pro Roy Hawk also calls Havasu home turf. He’s a big believer in the Arizona Open, especially this year. “We encourage everyone to come out. The Arizona Open will be the single biggest tournament in Arizona this year, when there’s no FLW, no Wild West. Guys should come out and be supportive of it,” he said.

Hawk said the winter has been a mild one so far, and Havasu is fishing at a 6.5 or 7 out of a 10 scale. He predicts the winner will need to come up with heavy limits each day. “It’ll take 55 pounds or close to that. Maybe 52 pounds,” he said.

Havasu will make for a level playing field. “It’s so diverse from one end to the other. You can fish dirty water or clear, current or no current, you can flip, you can fish in 25 to 30 feet. Finesse and heavy gear both come into play,” Hawk said.

In some ways, this diversity makes the lake hard to break down. “Just fish to your strengths and if you’re catching fish narrow it down,” he said.

If Hawk is wrong about the mild winter and the conditions go south, he figures the fish will pull off. When the conditions are good there are always fish up shallow in the reeds, up the coves and up the river. “We catch them shallow year round,” he said.

Hawk shared a few of his favorite winter baits. In general, they are: the A-1 rig, tailspinners, Rat-L-Traps, crankbaits, jerkbaits, and dropshot year round. Small, do-nothing baits like the Ned rig, the fly, and small tube jigs without a lot of action to them work very well in the winter, he said.

Winter is a tougher time of year. Hawk figures 50 percent of the field could come in shy of a limit at least one of the 3 competition days. “It’s a technical time of year, but we’ll see some weight, some 20 pound bags. It could be tough for sure, you won’t catch 50 a day like some times of the year,” Hawk added.

Lake regular Joe Uribe

FLW PRO JOE URIBE figures to be in the mix at the WON BASS Arizona Open. He’s won a couple tournaments at Havasu, highlighted by a 26.5-pound daily limit. PHOTO COURTESY JOE URIBE

FLW pro Joe Uribe’s parents have a place in Lake Havasu City, making him a regular visitor from his home in Surprise, Ariz. He’s won two FLW events at the lake, highlighted by notching a 26 1/2 –pound daily limit with a 9-pound kicker. “That was in February. This is the early part of January in the dead of winter. Fishing could be tough. The lake level could drop after the first of the year making access harder for anglers venturing into the Colorado River backwaters and tributaries,” he said.

The shared weight format will help. Uribe said getting 5 bites a day will be an accomplishment, but the size of the fish will be good. “They’re feeding heavily on threadfin and gizzard shad as well as small gamefish like bluegill and crawdads. There’s no lack of forage,” Uribe said.

Uribe figures it will take 15 pounds a day to do well, and 18 pounds a day to win the Arizona Open.

In his opinion, the usual winter pattern has a lot of largemouth and smallmouth in and around manmade structure, brush piles, palm fronds, shallow reefs and points. “There’s a lot of cover at Havasu,” Uribe says, echoing several of his fellow pros.

Some competitors may chase the bass that school up with the stripers to hunt the baitfish so plentiful on the lake, but most anglers will find better consistency finesse fishing, Uribe figures. “Light line, small baits, long casts… The water is clearer the colder it gets. It could be interesting. Some anglers may find largemouth in and around the tules,” he said.

Havasu is a big lake. The California side holds deeper water and lava-style rock. The Arizona side features flatter bays and coves for anglers to target. “Anglers can venture south by the dam, into the Bill Williams arm where there’s shallow water, tules, baitfish and stained water,” Uribe points out.

Frequent visitor Josh Bertrand

JOSH BERTRAND, Bassmaster Elite Series pro, says the colder months of winter produce the biggest fish at Havasu. If you can find a group of big female bass, you can rack up the weight fast. PHOTO COURTESY JOSH BERTRAND

Bassmaster Elite Series pro Josh Bertrand loves Lake Havasu. He’s been fishing it for 15 years on and off. “I’ve watched the lake get better and better over the years. I only get to fish it a couple times of year but I have a handful of top ten finishes in regional tournaments,” he said.

“There’s so much you can do as a fisherman. There are largemouth and smallmouth, all kinds of different cover, rocks, grass and artificial structure,” he added. “Finesse and power anglers, anyone has a legitimate chance to do well. It’s rare you can have both. Guys will get checks doing a lot of different things. Different sections of the lake all fish differently. Get to a section of the lake you feel comfortable and get them to bite,” he said.

Bertrand isn’t put off by the colder water of winter. It’s a common time for fish to be fattened up. “They feed for the winter, their metabolisms are revved up and fish get grouped up. When those guys (single day lake record holders John Bailey and his partner Mike Williams, and runner up John Galbraith and Billy Skinner) caught gigantic bags they found the motherlodes. Sometimes the fish school by size, and if you can find a group of giant females you can catch a huge bag of fish,” he points out.

“You should expect fewer bites than spring but the bites you will get will be bigger fish on average. At Havasu the average quality is one of the best in the country,” Bertrand said.

Havasu is home to some big gizzard shad, bait when full grown almost too big for average bass to eat. “There are always some that are the perfect bite size for a 5-pound fish. It’s one of those high risk, high reward things to target,” he said.

WON BASS Arizona Open Sign Up

To sign up or for more information on the WON BASS Arizona Open, visit wonbass.com and click on “Schedule and Results,” or visit wonews.com and click on the “Events” tab, or call WON BASS Tournament Director Billy Egan directly at (949) 366-0248.

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