Blake Warren – ON THE HOOK

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Wednesday, July 03, 2019
A long, Long con
Wednesday, November 27, 2019
Back to the vets

Mead Eater
Wine country it is not, Lake Mead. That’s for damn sure. But apparently freshly-crowned U.S. Open champion Nick Salvucci feels just as comfortable, if not moreso, making casts with the rugged Nevada desert as a backdrop as he does at his home waters nearer to the endless vineyards and rolling hills of his current hometown of Paso Robles.

Apparently, third time was the charm. In just his third-ever U.S. Open, Salvucci conquered Goliath — actually, make that two Goliaths, in the forms of both Lake Mead itself and the largest-ever field in Open history stacked with some of the biggest names in bass fishing out on the water.

It was no fluke victory either, be sure of that. Recent history tells the tale clearly. Three consecutive Opens, three straight Top 5 finishes, climbing rung by rung of the Mead ladder until reaching its apex this past Wednesday afternoon at Callville Bay Marina when his 4-fish bag was the very last of the event to be weighed and the scale reading showed nearly 9½ pounds, vaulting him into the rarefied air as U.S. Open champion by exactly 2½ pounds — just over a ¼-pound less than the lead he’d built going into the final day of fishing with over 11 pounds on each of the first two days — over runner-up DeeJay Evans and his own eye-popping Day Three bag of 12-plus pounds.

Fifth in 2017, runner-up last year and now reigning king of Mead after Wednesday’s crowning — Salvucci has become The Mead Eater in just three short years’ time. Since the Open’s repositioning on the calendar to October back in 2017, he has transformed into Mr. October. And he has done so at what is often referred to as “the great equalizer” in Lake Mead, among the toughest bass fisheries in the entire country to show up day after day and produce consistently.

Even a number of past Open champs and many top-shelf anglers who have proven their mettle on Mead over the years have found it quite the tall task to match Salvucci’s impressive consistency and staying power since arriving on the Open scene three years ago. Just ferret away this little nugget: since the weigh-ins on Day One of the 2017 Open (his first), Salvucci’s very lowest standing after any day’s fishing has been 14th place (after Day Two in ’17), and he was either in first or second for the entirety of last week’s mammoth event in the desert.

Consider that the past three Opens have boasted the largest fields in its long and storied history, capped by this year’s astonishing 254 pros (208 In ’17, 224 in ’18), and Salvucci’s torrid run is all the more impressive within the confines of proper context.

Fifth, second, first? What? And all while up against countless of the very best and most skilled pro bassers in the West and beyond? Talk about fortitude, decision making, consistency and relentlessness at the very place that requires the utmost in terms of mental toughness.

Salvucci’s quietly fierce determination to conquer Mead and the Open was revealed on the stage in the moments just prior to claiming the 2019 title with a simple response to WON BASS Tournament Director Billy Egan’s question about whether or not he thought he had enough to seal the deal right before his Day Three bag hit the scales.

“I sure hope so,” he said on the stage with the seeming utmost disappointment on his face if he just so happened to fall short. “I can’t take another second [place].”

Can’t take another second? At the U.S. Open? For real, out of 254 boats and some of the best fishermen around?

A “second” for most guys — even those who have been repeatedly coming to the Open for years, those who consider Mead their “home lake” and reside there, and those who have perennially scratched their names into the Top 20, Top 10 or Top 5 at one point or another — could, and by all means should, be very much satisfying with such an impressive accomplishment, though it’s also certainly clear that all the top dogs are there annually to win the darn thing just as well.

But it seemed, at least for all intents and purposes from afar, that Nick Salvucci was locked into a Talega Nights-esque “Ricky Bobby” mentality of “If you’re not first, you’re last,” and that steely focus and determination certainly appeared to be the driving force behind this past week’s impressive victory coming on the heels of two consecutive Top 5 finishes the years prior.

Congratulations to the new Open champ. Here’s to guessing that come October, 2020 at his seemingly new fishing home away from home, the Mead Eater will still be a little hungry...

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