RICHLAND, Wash. — It might have felt like a sightseeing tour, as much as a fishing tournament, but Justin Campbell’s run-and-gun strategy yielded a 5-bass limit of 21.41 pounds that leads Day 1 of the Wild West Bass Trail Columbia River Pro-Am presented by Tri-Cities.
Notably, the pro from Pasco, Washington holds a lead of 3.17 over his team tournament partner Travis Whitney. As Campbell explained, his travel-heavy game plan was one of necessity.
“I did a lot of running today; I went 20 miles upriver and 20 miles downriver,” he said. “The fish are few and far between. I fished 10 different spots and caught 25 bass. “I just went fishing and tried to hit as many spots as I could and tried to run into them.”
Campbell said he mostly targeted shallow current seams, particularly a mix of rock and sand. The morning found fish less-than-aggressive, but that changed midday when increasing sunlight spurred the sight-feeding smallmouth into greater activity.
“I had a pretty decent limit by 8 a.m., then I got two big ones that jumped my bag up,” Campbell said. “I had 3-hour lull from about 10 to 1, but then I ran into a little pack of them. I had one that was a little over 5 pounds and one that was 5 1/4 — both in sandy, weedy areas.”
Campbell said he fished no deeper than 7 feet all day. In addition to the current seam scenarios, he caught one of his keepers off a bed in 3 1/2 feet. He had spotted the fish on Tuesday and today’s return made for a swift encounter.
“As soon as I saw the bed, I caught that fish on the first cast,” Campbell said.
Noting that he kept a spinning rod in his hand all day, Campbell said he used multiple finesse baits. He varied his choices mostly based on habitat, but also switched it up to show his fish some diversity. On every spot he fished, Campbell fared best by making the longest cast possible.
Essential to this was a 6-10 Alpha Angler DSR dropshot rod and 10-pound Power Pro braid with 10-pound Seaguar InvisX leader. Also important, Campbell said, was flexility. Expecting a tough bite, he made sure he didn’t trust his day to a single area.
“Probably the best thing I did was leave the ramp with no real plan,” Campbell said. “I fished with an open mind.”
Hailing from Kennewick, Wa., Whitney is in second place with 18.24. Committing his time to the Boise Cascade area, he found that securing his limit required covering several miles of river.
“We had to work for them,” Whitney said. “We got into little pockets of fish, but mostly we had to pick them off one here, one there. It was kind of a grind because the fish are still transitioning; there’s not a lot of fish in key areas.”
Whitney found his fish by working main river weed lines in 8-10 feet. He caught several fish on a 1/2-ounce spinnerbait with No. 4 and 5 homemade willow-leaf blades, a Zoom split tail trailer and a trailer hook.
Whitney also caught keepers on a 4.8 Keitech Swing Impact swimbait (silver with blue back) on a 3/8-ounce swimbait head and a Zoom Fluke on a 4/0 Gamakatsu wide gap hook.
“I stuck with key areas where I know I can get big bites,” Whitney said. “I just kept cycling through these areas.”
John Capers of Umatilla, Ore. is in third place with 17.42. Spending his time between Columbia point and the Wallula Gap, Capers focused on fishing main river weed lines in meager depths.
“I was fishing as shallow as I could,” Capers said. “That’s just my preference. If I can find them shallow, I prefer that over catching them out deep.
“Since I was fishing shallow, I got up as close as I could without spooking the fish. I turned off all my graphs and just went super stealthy.”
Capers said he caught all of his bass by power fishing. He rotated through a few different baits and relied heavily on 8-strand Daiwa J-Braid. He used the green color and varied his line size from 30 to 65 based on the density of cover he was fishing.
Bill O’Shinn is in the lead for Yamamoto Toad Big Bass honors with his 6-0.
Luke Wilson of Mount Shasta, Calif. leads the co-angler division with 15.07. Paired with pro angler Anthony Salazar, he caught the morning lock schedule and fished all day below the McNary Dam.
Targeting points off the main channel, Wilson fished four different finesse presentation and caught his weight on two of them. With minimal current and wind to stimulate the fish, he found he had to fish his baits very slowly.
“I was varying my baits to give the fish a different look,” Wilson said. “We’d catch some, then we’d have a little lull, so I’d switch it up to try something new.
“My pro was on good fish and it was an area where we both could catch them. He was allowed me to do my deal, he did his deal and we both caught fish.”
Richard Alcantar holds the Yamamoto Toad of the Tournament lead among co-anglers with a 5.45.
Saturday’s takeoff is scheduled for 5:15 a.m. Pacific at Columbia Point. The weigh-in will be held at the Columbia Point at 3 p.m.