Mike Birch

Frontal conditions challenged the field in the Costa FLW Series Western Division event presented by Power-Pole on the California Delta. Many of the top finishers junk-fished for their limits in the wind and cold, primarily using reaction baits.

Some of the Cal Delta bass were still on beds, but many had already spawned. Charley Almassey targeted postspawn fish that were chasing bedding bluegills for the victory.

Here’s how the rest of the best caught their fish.

Winner’s pattern

Top 10 baits gallery

 

Mike Birch

2. Birch junk-fishes for second

Mike Birch came out swinging on day one. The local from Oakley, Calif., brought in a tournament-best limit of 33 pounds, 8 ounces to lead by nearly 11 pounds after the first day.

Birch’s pattern was pure junk-fishing. With his boat deck littered with rods, Birch caught fish on a variety of lures, including a vibrating jig,River2Sea Whopper Plopper, Yamamoto Senko, drop-shot, punch rig and crankbait.

“With this weather changing, they don’t want to set into anything,” he explained on the final day. “They’re going up and down and moving around.”

Birch ran his boat in 4 to 7 feet of water along tule lines and levee walls. He cast to isolated weed clumps in areas with current.

The local had several of these areas, mainly around Mildred Island, and managed them throughout the event. He saved his best area from practice in Delta Cove for the final day of competition but only caught one fish out of it. Birch finished in second with 58 pounds, 8 ounces.

“I think a lot of the other anglers found my primary areas,” he says. “They [the bass] got throttled, and I fell a little short.”

 

Roy Hawk

3. Hawk clinches AOY with third top 10

Roy Hawk made his third top 10 of the season at the Cal Delta and ran away with the Strike King Angler of the Year title by a margin of 30 points over second place. The Lake Havasu City, Ariz., native took home a $2,000 AOY prize package, including deposits for the 2017 season.

Hawk started his days near takeoff then worked around Mildred Island. His strategy’s two-prong approach included working a bladed jig early then upgrading with bigger spawning fish.

“I don’t know how many were spawning, but you had to be around bedding fishing, in my opinion,” he explains. “Each day my bigger fish were sight fish.”

Hawk covered a lot of water with the bladed jig, working it on rock dike edges and inside grass lines. He sight-fished with a Yamamoto Flappin’ Hog.

Hawk finished third with 56 pounds, 13 ounces.

 

Robert Lee

4. Lee lands in fourth

Robert Lee had a modest first day with 14 pounds, 10 ounces, but late in the day he figured out what the fish wanted and turned his tournament around on Friday with the largest bag of the day at 26 pounds, 7 ounces.

Lee junk-fished in areas with grass and current. He threw moving baits such as the Bobby D’s Grinder bladed jig and a Lucky Craft BDS 3 square-bill crankbait to catch the majority of his fish. He also tossed a Reaction Innovations Pocket Rocket worm to holes in the grass.

Lee thought he’d make a final-day push, but the conditions didn’t line up as he’d hoped. He finished fourth with 55 pounds.

“The big fish weren’t there today,” he said after the final weigh-in on Saturday. “The water was clear, and the stripers moved in.

“I must have caught at least 40 keepers today, but they were little tiny fish. When they’re on the bank it means the big ones aren’t there. Little fish don’t come in when the big ones are feeding. I thought the big ones would move in, but it just wasn’t windy enough and the water didn’t get stained.”

 

Michael Caruso

5. Caruso milks tule island for fifth

Michael Caruso made his second straight top 10 despite the Cal Delta event being his first on the vast estuary. He finished fifth with 53 pounds, 5 ounces.

“In three days of practice I didn’t find anything great,” he recalls. “I just went fishing.”

Caruso worked a number of isolated tule islands in White Slough. He mainly used a Senko but mixed in a drop-shot and topwater lures as well.

He was poised to make a final-day comeback until a float tournament of around 30 people came right through his primary area. Caruso watched a 9- and 6-pounder get caught right in front of him then bailed at around 9 a.m. to run new water. Caruso still ended up catching the second-largest bag of the final day at 17-08.

 

Bobby Barrack

6. Barrack targets recovery areas

Cal Delta legend Bobby Barrack threw a multitude of baits, including, you guessed it, a frog to finish sixth with 52 pounds, 8 ounces.

“I was catching absolutely spawned-out, spent fish,” he explains. “I caught a fish in practice that was 26 inches long and didn’t weigh 9 pounds.”

Barrack located postpawn fish in areas that had a little current next to deep water. He threw a Dandy Baits spinnerbait and a vibrating jig but caught one or two of his better fish each day on a Snag Proof Wobbletron frog.

“I lived and died with the frog bite [on Saturday],” he says. “I gambled.

“I was running a lot of different spots. I had two hours and 15 minutes left and ran 35 minutes one way so I could throw a frog in this one little area. I only caught one 2 1/2-pound fish to get rid of a 2 1/4.”

 

Harvey Pulliam

7. Pulliam works the edge for seventh

Harvey Pulliam, a former professional baseball player for the Kansas City Royals and Colorado Rockies, brought in a three-day total of 50 pounds, 1 ounce to finish seventh.

“These guys who do this for a living, man, I really respect them,” say Pulliam. “This is some hard work, and it’s tougher than playing baseball.”

Pulliam worked weed edges with a spinnerbait and flipped a Reaction Innovations Sweet Beaver during the low tide. Pulliam also made long runs to Snodgrass Slough at the end of each day in search of a kicker fish, and it paid off on day two when he flipped up an 8-pounder.

“I needed that low tide because it brought them to the weed edge,” he explains. “The big fish were sitting out there.”

 

Bryant Smith

8. Smith works tule berm for eighth

Bryant Smith of Castro Valley, Calif., brought in a three-day total of 49 pounds, 1 ounce for his eighth-place finish. A tule berm at the mouth of Disappointment Slough was his main spot throughout the event.

“In practice I caught a couple of good ones there real quick,” he recalls. “I knew what they were doing and just picked it apart.

Making several passes around the berm, Smith threw a Senko in shade pockets and a vibrating jig in open lanes.

Smith’s weights fell each day in the event, as the spot’s fish didn’t replenish.

“I milked it for all it’s worth,” he explains. “The big ones were hard to come by, and I had caught most of them already.”

 

Benjamin Byrd

9. Byrd targets bass chasing bluegills

Utah pro Benjamin Byrd’s three-day total of 48 pounds, 6 ounces earned him a ninth-place finish.

“I found some fish in practice in schools,” he recalls. “I had four or five areas with a bunch of big fish swimming around.”

Byrd worked areas in White, 14-Mile and Disappointment sloughs. The spots were close enough that he could bounce back and fourth between them during the day. He was catching postspawn bass that were chasing schooling bluegills and picked the areas apart using aSenko, drop-shot and Pepper Custom Baits jig.

 

Dane Mitchell

10. Mitchell cranks for top 10

Dane Mitchell from Lake Charles, La., brought in 48 pounds, 5 ounces over three days of competition.

“I was cranking rocks with grass mixed in, but the key was to have a flat nearby,” he explains. “They were spawning in there, but there were some fry and postpawn bass too.”

On the first two days, Mitchell used crawfish-colored Strike King KVD HC square-bill crankbaits in the 1.5 and 2.5 sizes. He switched to a bluegill color on the final day. Mitchell swapped the stock treble hooks out with larger and heavier hooks and threw the baits with 16- to 20-pound-test line.

A high-speed reel was critical to his success.

“You have to move them before they move you,” he says. “I had 24 to 26 pounds on the hook days one and two, but the way I’m fishing, you just miss some.

“Its not your typical crankbait bite. It’s like a topwater bite. You’ve got to let them get it good, but then you have to get the upper hand and have their head coming toward you.”