REDDING, Calif. — It was only one fish, but it was the kind of quality meriting a second chance. That mentality paid off in a big way for APEX pro Jeff Michels of Lake Head, Calif., whose 5-bass limit of 12.33 pounds leads Day 1 of the Wild West Bass Trail Pro-Am Championship on Lake Shasta presented by BassCat and Mercury Marine.
After experiencing a fast start, Michels finished his limit at 9 a.m. with a 5.66 — a fish that did not immediately cooperate.
“I was very fortunate to catch that one,” said Michels, who won the 2021 regular season event on Shasta. “I had fished that spot earlier and I saw that fish on Garmin Panoptix, but it wouldn’t eat a Strike King 6XD.
“I came back 45 minutes late and I caught that fish on my first cast with a wacky-rigged 5-inch Yamamoto Senko in natural shad.”
Spending his day on the main lake, Michels caught his fish in 7-15 feet. His big-fish spot comprised a small flat with a break that dropped into a creek channel. The fish had the shad pushed up onto the edge and that’s where he spotted his day-maker.
“That whole flat was loaded with fish and I was fortunate that the big one bit first,” Michels said. “With Panoptix, I could see where they were sitting.”
Michels’ other scenario found him targeting 45-degree hard banks, where he positioned his boat in 45 feet and caught fish in 15-25. There, he alternated between the Senko and the crankbait.
“I got off to early start and I was catching fish at a pretty good clip,” Michels said. “That low light of early morning is key for getting bit. After the crankbait bite ended around 9, I had to go super slow and just keep that Senko on the bottom.”
After covering a lot of area today, Michels is hoping the rainy, cloudy conditions forecast for Day 2, will make the reaction bite lasts much longer. He plans to retrace his Day-1 steps, but with a more aggressive game plan.
“Tomorrow, I hope I never have to pick up a spinning rod,” Michels said. “I think with that wind, it’s going to help the reaction bite.”
APEX pro Alex Klein of Oroville, Calif. is in second place with 12.20. Coming off his September Pro-Am win on the California Delta, Klein devoted his day to the Sacramento Arm where he felt he had two factors working in his favor.
“It was mostly because of past history; I’ve fished there a lot,” Klein said. “Also, it’s one of the biggest sections of the lake, so there’s a lot of room to move around.”
Klein fished depths of 25-40 feet and looked for isolated boulders with deep water access. When he found fish, they were typically in small clusters of two to three, so amassing a solid start took a lot of movement.
“It’s not fast and furious; I’m having to work for it,” Klein said. “I didn’t have my limit until 11.
“There was never a time I was catching them (rapidly). It was one here, one there — never a flurry.”
Klein said he fished with 7-foot St. Croix spinning rods and 6-pound Sunline FC Sniper fluorocarbon. This combo, he said, offered the right sensitivity with the stealthy presentations he needed to get bit.
“I caught all my fish on two down baits,” Klein said. “I’m just keeping it simple and trying to find the right bites. It’s hard to find that 2-plus-pound fish.”
APEX pro Nick Wood of Montague, Calif. is in third place with 11.26. His two-pronged game plan involved looking for a big bite early and then filling in his limit elsewhere.
“The area where I’m fishing to get a big bite is pretty slow, but I have a couple of areas that I can run to and finish off a limit,” Wood said. “I’m only getting a couple of key bites early in the morning and then I’m having to run to another area.”
Wood described his big fish spot as bait-oriented with off-colored water. With fish moving onto a shallow flat to feed on shad, he targeted them with a Keitech 2.8 Swing Impact Fat in Tennessee shad on a 1/4-ounce swimbait head.
The limit spot also has a lot of bait, but it’s populated by smaller fish. Wood caught those limit fillers mostly on an umbrella rig with Keitech 3.5 Swing Impact Fats, a 6-inch Nichols flutter spoon and a wacky-rigged 5-inch Yamamoto Senko in natural shad.
Michels is in the lead for Toad of the Tournament honors with his 5.66.
Thaddeus Vinson of Medford, Or. leads the co-angler division with 8.58. Vinson, who won his division at last year’s regular-season event on Shasta, reported a tough day, likely due to a year’s worth of fishing pressure.
“It was very hard today and I went into the weigh in just hoping to be in the top-30 and within striking distance, so I was surprised to find out I’m leading,” Vinson said. “I fished a mix of reaction and slow baits — a weedless 4-inch green pumpkin Yamamoto Senko and a 3/8-ounce jigging spoon.
“If I found some baitfish, I’d throw the reaction bait and if I wasn’t casting to shad, I was dragging a worm.”
Robert Ryans holds the Toad of the Tournament lead among co-anglers with a 2.6.
Saturday’s takeoff is scheduled for 6:30 a.m. Pacific Time at Bridge Bay Resort Marina. The weigh-in will be held at the resort at 3:30 p.m
By David A. Brown