By David A. Brown
REDDING, Calif. — Knowing when to go is just as important as knowing where to go and APEX pro Jeff Michels proved that point by making a key Day-3 decision that enabled him to sack up the limit he needed to close out a wire-to-wire win at the Wild West Bass Trail Pro-Am Championship on Lake Shasta presented by Bass Cat and Mercury Marine with a total weight of 31.61.
After catching 12.33 — the event’s biggest pro bag — on Day 1, Michels added 9.91 in the second round and carried a lead of just over half a pound into Championship Sunday. During the weigh-ins’ final moments, Tournament Director Randy McBride informed Michels he needed 8.79 to unseat Alex Klein, who had taken the lead.
When the scales settled, Michels’ limit catch of 9.37 was enough to push him across the finish line by just over half a pound. For his efforts, Michels earned a Bass Cat Cougar FTD with a Mercury Pro XS 250 valued at $80,000. He also earned a $500 Garmin contingency award.
“This is the first tournament I’ve won wire-to-wire,” Michels said. “This is my seventh pro level win on Shasta, but I think this one’s the best of all because it’s a (championship event) and I’ve never had a chance to win an individual (championship).”
A lot had to go right, but Michels attributed his final-round success to scrapping Plan A and giving Plan B a chance to get the job done — which it did. For the first two days, Michels did most of his work on the main lake, but he started the final day by following a hunch.
“It was a gamble; I knew there was a bunch of really good fish up the Sacramento River Arm, so I went up there,” Michels said. “Looking at the fish on Garmin Panoptix, I noticed that they were relating to little pods of bait out in the channel. They weren’t relating to any hard structure.
“I stuck it out for about an hour and a half, caught three small ones on a 3.3 Keitech Swing Impact Fat (electric shad color) on a 3/16-ounce jig head and told my co-angler (Roy Desmangles) ‘We gotta go. These things are not gonna go for us.’”
At that point, Michels ran down to the Pit River Arm with the intention of grinding it out and picking through what he knew would be smaller fish, in hopes of pulling together a 10-pound limit. He may have missed that goal, but he came close enough with a mix of finesse and reaction strategies.
“Most of the fish I weighed came on a wacky-rigged natural shad colored 5-inch Yamamoto Senko,” Michels said. “I also caught a couple on the Strike King 7XD.
“I was trying to bounce that crankbait off the bottom in 10-14 feet. The rocky banks were okay, but if you had a rocky bank with a little point that jutted out, that was the money.”
While his Day-3 decision clearly impacted his final standings, Michels points to the 5.66-pound fish he caught on Day 1 as the difference-maker. That’s a head-turner any day of the week on Shasta, but Michels said the circumstances of the catch were simply amazing.
“It all comes down to that big fish and the 7-6 Dobyns XTC spinning rod I used — that thing loads so well,” he said. “That first day, I was by myself and the hook was barely in that fish; it actually wasn’t even past the barb.
“The fish jumped five times and I fumbled the rod and actually dropped it, but it stayed loaded the whole time. Without that fish, I wouldn’t have even made the top-10, let alone won. Those rods are so forgiving; they’ll allow you to make stupid mistakes and they’ll bail you out.”
APEX pro Alex Klein of Oroville, Calif. finished second with 31.02. Klein placed second on Day 1 with 12.20, then slipped to third after he added 9.42. He closed out the event with a Day-3 limit of 9.40.
Klein, who won the Wild West Bass Trail Pro-Am on the California Delta in Sept., spent the tournament in the Sacramento River Arm and focused his attention on isolated boulders with proximity to deep water drop-offs. He caught his fish by dropshotting a Zoom Fluke in the albino color and a Strike King KVD Perfect Plastic Dream Shot in ghost shad.
“This morning, there was a flurry and I caught them really quick and then it died,” Klein said. “I probably caught about 20 keepers today and I had my limit the quickest of all three days; I had it in the first 30 minutes. We landed on them first thing in the morning.”
Joe Orozco of Oroville, Calif. finished third with 30.84. His daily weights were 9.69, 10.80 and 10.35.
Using products from his tackle company, Orozco caught fish on the Bass Union A-rig with 2.8 Keitech Swing Impact Fats in the teaser positions and 3.8 Keitech Swing Impact Fats in Tennessee shad on 1/4-ounce jig heads, a 1-ounce Bass Union Finesse Football Jig in matte green pumpkin with a green pumpkin Yamamoto Double Tail trailer, and a 3/4- to 2-ounce prototype jigging spoon. He also caught fish on P-Line Laser Minnow and a Strike King Sexy Spoon.
“I would say that Garmin Livescope was a huge factor; and not just the forward facing, but also the Garmin Perspective,” Orozco said. “I run two Livescope systems simultaneously so I can see forward and the perspective at the same time to see what’s around me.”
Michels won the $760 Toad of the Tournament prize for his 5.66.
Michael Kotur of Redding, Calif. won the co-angler division with 28.14. After turning in bags of 7.84 and 7.85 the first two days, Kotur caught the event’s heaviest bag — 12.45 — on Day 3 and won by a margin of 3.08 pounds.
Earning a Bass Cat Pantera Classic with a 200 Mercury Pro XS valued at $60,000. Kotur thanked the three pros he fished with for putting him on fish.
“This week, I had Gregory Troughton, Jack Farage, and Alex Klein; all of those guys were on fish and I just ended up with some really good draws,” he said. “Every day, you have to adapt to what your pro is doing and I found a way with a little swimbait to target suspended fish. I found what they wanted to eat.
“After that I drug a Yamamoto Senko around until it got bit. I ended up with a 2 1/2 and one about 3.30 in the afternoon that ate a Senko up shallow. I got the right bites at the right times.”
David Haun won the $355 Toad of the Tournament prize on the co-angler side for his 3.19.