Klein’s Punch Game Conquers Delta for Narrow Win

By David A. Brown

OAKLEY, Calif. — The fishery that had consistently befuddled Alex Klein rewarded his diligence with a 3-day winning total of 66.23 pounds at the Wild West Bass Trail Duel on the Delta presented by the City of Oakley Calif.

“The Delta has been my Achiles heel, so to win here is absolutely incredible,” said the APEX pro from Oroville, Calif. “I can’t believe this happened. I’ve been close so many times and for it to happen on the Delta is just amazing.”

Klein placed fourth on Day 1 with his limit of 22.92. He gained two notches in the second round with 19.56 and crossed the finish line with a Championship Sunday bag that went 23.75.

Klein entered the final round 2 1/2 pounds behind Obedie Williams, who led days 1 and 2. At the final tally, Klein had edged APEX pro and decorated Delta giant Ken Mah by half a pound.

“I’ve been here (multiple) times and I’ve always come up short,” Klein said. “To finally make a top-10 and then to win on the Delta is something I’ll never forget.”

Throughout the tournament, Klein stayed in the San Joaquin River where he fished matted grass. The key elements he looked for were good water flow hitting the grass and proximity to deep water.

“I don’t run the tide; I don’t understand that like the locals do,” Klein said. “I stayed in one area where I had some history from when we fished the APEX Cup Pro Tour Championship last October.”

Anchoring his final-round bag with an 8.84, Klein successfully executed a game plan based on a one-two punch. He threw a 1/2-ounce Heavy Hitter bladed jig with a Yamamoto Zako trailer and drove a Big Bite Baits College Craw through mats with a 1 1/2-ounce weight.

“Every morning, I would throw a (bladed jig) until they quit biting and then I’d pick up a punch stick,” Klein said. “I didn’t get many bites punching, but when I did, they were the right ones.

“I put in so much work to figure out the punching technique and today it happened. It was a magical day. It was a magical week — everything happened just how it was supposed to. When things go your way, you know when it’s your time because nothing goes wrong.”

Notably, Klein credited Mah and fellow APEX pro Nick Salvucci for helping him improve his punching game.

“I have to thank Ken and Nick; they both helped me tremendously when I reached out to them and asked them how to set up my punching,” Klein said. 

“I have practiced at home all year long just for this — to be ready for that bite. It was a lot of hard work, but I’m so happy it paid off.”

After a mild opening round, Day 2 turned windy with a front’s approach. With Day 3 bringing more wind, dim skies and rain, Klein said the key to his success was enduring the blustery conditions and blocking out these challenges.

“I was (partly) protected, but it was a mental game with the wind,” he said. “I just stayed focused and I really watched my line. I didn’t miss any punch bites and fishing clean is what it comes down to.”

Mah, who makes his home in Elk Grove, Calif. finished second with 65.67. placed second on Day 1 with 25.59, and slipped to fourth after a stingy Day 2 yielded a smaller limit of 12.47. The final round saw him roar back up to second with 27.61 — the day’s biggest bag and the tournament’s second biggest, behind the 27.71 Williams weighed on Day 1.

Spending time in the North and Central Delta regions, Mah fished a variety of grass and matted vegetation. A banner day that produced a pair of book ends in the 7- to 8-pound range, came down to a relaxed approach.

“I ran all over,” Mah said. “The first day, I burned 36 gallons, yesterday I burned almost 30 and today I burned about 25. A lot of times, on the Delta, we talk about these little windows that open up and if you’re in the right place at the right time with the right bait, you can catch ‘em.

“This week, I fished less ‘local’ and fished more free. Normally I’m on this clock — I gotta be here, I gotta be there. But this week, if I pulled up to a place and the grass looked good, I put a bait on it and I kept going. I definitely would not have done as well as I did if I had fished too constricted.

Mah caught his fish by throwing a Berkley Choppo prop bait and a D&M Buzzbait in open water and punching mats with a Big Bite Baits Yo Mama in the confusion color and a Big Bite Baits Fighting Frog in red melon. He used punch weights of 1 to 1 3/4 ounces, depending on cover density.

Hailing from Discovery Bay, Calif. Williams caught his big Day-1 bag fairly easily, but struggled with a windier Day 2, which yielded his first fish at 11. He finally gained some traction late in the day and finally found a 7 1/2-pounder shortly before heading back for weigh ins, where he’d record a limit of 17.3.

The third round proved even tougher for Williams, as he weighed a final limit of 13.56 and settled at third with a tournament total of 58.57. Areas with an attractive blend of grass and hyacinth were his focus.

“I ran spots that looked good in practice and then I’d rotate (among) them,” Williams said. “I’d fish them at low tide and then I’d come back and fish them at high tide.

Williams fished the grass perimeter with a black and yellow Whopper Plopper and then punched the cover with a Big Bite Baits Yo Mama and a Yamamoto Flappin Hog. He used green pumpkin and crawdad colors for his plastics.

Craig Gong won the Toad of the Tournament award for his 10.05.

Colby Huntze of Discovery Bay, Calif. won the Co-Angler division with a 3-day total of 40.48. Huntze placed 12th on Day 1 with a limit of 10.73 and earned his final-round spot with a limit of 10.94 that moved him into eighth. On Championship Sunday, Huntze rocketed into the lead with a limit of 18.81 and took home the trophy.

“I punched 14 out of 15 of the fish I weighed and I caught one on a buzzbait on Day 3,” Huntze said. “I was using a Bobby’s Perfect Punch Rod, 65-pound Suffix braid and a Shimano Curado K.”

“Day 1, I caught seven keepers, yesterday, I caught five and today, I caught eight. The wind was pretty gnarly today, but they bit better in the wind. They actually ate it today.”

Mike Hummel won the Toad of the Tournament prize among co-anglers with a 7.47.