By David A. Brown
RICHLAND, Wash. — Seasonal patterns may be running behind, but that didn’t stop Ronald Mace from sacking up a 5-bass limit of 24.25 pounds that leads Day 1 of the Wild West Bass Trail Pro-Am on the Columbia River presented by Tri-Cities, Wash.
Anchoring his bag with a 6.58-pound smallmouth, the Kennewick, Wash. pro established a lead of 5.44 over second-place Travis Whitney. Focusing on the river’s lower region, Mace leveraged his 40-plus years of experience to set the first-round mark.
“I practiced there, but I’ve been on the river since I was 12 and I’m 56, so I know it well,” Mace said. “The key is find the bait and chasing the bait.
“You can find the bait on your electronics, but when the water is nice and flat, like it was today, you can see the smallmouth cruising around.”
Mace said a late spring pushed the smallmouth spawn deeper into the year, so there seems to be a lot of postspawn fish that have not yet settled into traditional summer patterns. Moreover, Mace said the Columbia is pulsing with heavy current and that’s making it difficult to find concentrations.
“It’s actually been kind of tough,” Mace said. “The fish I caught today were more spread out; not grouped up like they should be.”
Mace said he devoted his time to fishing areas of less current. His most consistent scenario was a big flat with a mix of sand and weeds — primarily hydrilla and milfoil. With smallmouth roaming loosely, Mace caught his fish in depths of 2 to 12 feet.
“It just varied throughout the day,” he said. “They were in the same places in the morning and afternoon. I fished several spots and some of them produced fish multiple times.”
Mace caught his fish on swimbaits and Texas-rigged Yamamoto Senkos. Dialing in specific casts and consistently hitting the high-percentage area was key to his success.
Noting that he caught about 15 fish today, Mace said the river’s delayed progression denied him any flurries or active periods. Persistence, he said, was essential to his success.
“It was kinda slow today; you’d get one here and there,” Mace said. “It was just stay after it, keep your head down and you’d catch one. It just went to plan.”
When his big fish bit around 10 a.m., Mace did not initially realize its size. Fortunately, the big fish was fairly docile, as smallmouth go.
“It was in some shallow weeds and I saw him come out and eat my bait,” Mace said. “It was a good fish. It didn’t go crazy. Once I got that one in the boat, I thought I might have a good day.
“Before takeoff, I told my co-angler I’d probably have 20 pounds today. I ended up being quite a bit better. There’s a good chance I’ll be doing the same thing tomorrow.”
Hailing from Kennewick, Wash. Whitney caught a limit of 18.82. Spending his day downriver from takeoff, Whitney fished below the Casey Pond area, around Badger and Crescent Islands where he targeted the 5- to 7-foot zone.
“We had a really cold spring and everything is late,” Whitney said. “The fish aren’t out on the main river because there’s a lot of current. I caught my fish along weed lines off the main river.”
Whitney caught fish on a homemade 1/2-ounce chartreuse and white double willow-leaf spinnerbait with a Zoom Twin Tail and a 4.3-inch Keitech Swing Impact Fat on a 1/4-ounce ball head jig.
“I’ll probably do the same thing tomorrow,” Whitney said. “It may be hard to do that again, but I think I can go back and get a decent bag.”
Justin Campbell of Pasco is in third place with 17.75. He fished 30-40 miles upriver and targeted rocky current seams in 1-6 feet of water.
“I fished slow plastic rigs and caught most of them on a tube presentation,” Campbell said. “I just cycled through a few key areas. They tended to reload and you’d catch a couple every time. I caught probably 20 bass today.”
Mace is in the lead for Big Bass honors with his 6.58.
Hayden Figueroa of Roseville, Calif. leads the co-angler division with 14.46 pounds. Fishing the upper reaches of tournament waters, he and his pro partner caught most of their fish in about 15 feet of water.
“It wasn’t really about the depth as much as the current; you had to find the current seams,” Figueroa said. “The fish were pushing bait in those current breaks and we were taking advantage of that.”
Figueroa caught fish on what he called “a plethora of baits.” He caught his biggest at midday on a reaction bait.
“The key was making sure you worked your bait all the way back to the boat,” Figueroa said. “The big one ate close to shore, but throughout the day, we caught fish that bit close to the boat.”
Joseph Androyna of Graham, Wash. holds the Big Bass lead among co-anglers with a 4.56.
Saturday’s takeoff is scheduled for 5:15 a.m. Pacific at Columbia Point Marina Park. The weigh-in will be held at the park at 3 p.m.