By David A. Brown
After overcoming an unexpected regulatory hurdle, the Wild West Bass Trail Superclean Showdown Pro/Am on Lake Shasta will proceed with a modified schedule that will likely deliver a supercharged season opener. Anglers familiar with this gem of Northern California know the Sacramento River reservoir offers an ideal venue to kick off a new year.
On Tuesday, the Shasta-TrintyNational Forest advised WWBT management that Lake Shasta had been designated off limits for events. After a series of meetings with the SCHD, other state and local authorities and event host, Bridge Bay at Shasta Lake, it was determined that the tournament will be held Jan. 15-16 (shortened from its original dates of Jan. 14-16.)
Under WWBT’s normal pro/am format, a full field competes for two days, after which the top-10 pros and top-10 amateurs advance to the final round. For the Lake Shasta event, the full field will compete both days, with a winning pro and a winning amateur determined by the heaviest 2-day total weight for each division.
Meteorological factors are shaping up to deliver stellar fishing conditions. Daytime highs hovered in the upper 50s through midweek, but Thursday begins a warming trend that will see upper 60s to low 70s through the weekend. Also, recent rains have ceased and the weekend forecast shows dry, partly sunny conditions.
APEX Cup angler Jeff Michels said the rising temperatures will warm the red clay bottoms of long, tapering points and spur several fish to move shallow. Elsewhere, gravel banks, steep bluff walls and shallow wood will also produce fish.
“There will be guys catching fish in one foot of water and guys catching them in 60-80 feet of water,” Michels said. “The lake is (approximately 105 feet below full pool) and with the recent rains, it’s finally starting to come back up. It’s not a lot, but rising water is much better to fish than falling water, so the storms did help us out in that respect.
“It’s still really clear in 95 percent of the lake. The rains did put a little color into it and that’s going to help.”
Michels and fellow APEX Cup angler Greg Gutierrez, both with past wins on Shasta, agree that anglers will fish throughout the entire lake. Gutierrez has covered a lot of water in practice and reports seeing boats in just about every region.
“It’s going to be all the way up in the river arms where there’s running current, to down by the Shasta Dam; everywhere is going to be in play,” Michels said.
Shasta’s habitat diversity plus the warming trend will likely open the door for a broad range of baits and tactics. Recognized as one of the nation’s top spotted bass fisheries, Shasta also holds good numbers of hefty largemouth. Spots will numerically dominate, but look for a few kicker largemouth to dramatically impact the weigh ins.
Gutierrez said he expects umbrella rigs, jerkbaits, crankbaits, jigs and worms to produce. Michels adds the float-and-fly, dropshot and big swimbaits. Anglers throwing the latter may decide to swing for the fence.
“If a guy can put together six or seven (swimbait) bites a day and get half of those to the boat, they’re going to be tough to beat,” Michels said. “I think that with the original tournament schedule, it was going to be really tough to string together three days of strong swimbait fishing. Now, someone can go out and gamble the first day.
“If that gamble pays off, they could bag 20 pounds-plus. You can set yourself up really well in one day of swimbait fishing.”
Gutierrez offers this insight: “Right now, the 2-pound (spotted bass) are a premium and 3-pound fish are what will really make the difference. All three of the lake’s arms have that quality of fish, you just have to find them.”
Gutierrez expects 12 1/2 to 14 pounds a day to be competitive, but he notes Shasta’s reputation for the occasional 5- to 8-pound spotted bass, plus those big largemouth could produce fireworks. Michels generally agrees and said he’s not ruling out the potential mega bag.
“My gut feeling says 25 to 26 pounds for a winning total, but 35-36 wouldn’t surprise me,” he said.
WWBT CEO Jeremy DeHart expressed his gratitude to local and national agencies, as well as Bridge Bay at Shasta Lake (General Manager Kevin Abel) and partners such as Phil’s Propellers, Redding Yamaha and Lake Shasta Caverns for the commitment and cooperation that yielded a safe and efficient solution for preserving the event.
“With the many hurdles that Covid-19 protocol presents, this required a join effort with many people coming together to find a solution to make this event possible,” DeHart said. “U.S. Congressman Doug LaMalfa’s office, with District Representative Brenda Haynes, was very influential to make this possible.”
DeHart also stated that, while respecting and complying with local regulations remains paramount, WWBT management is pleased that its competitors will be able to begin a new season as planned on one of the premier western fisheries.
“We look forward to having a great event for the anglers to kick off our 2021 pro/am season,” DeHart said. “Given the circumstances and our ability to work with multiple entities, the anglers should have a great opportunity; there will be an abundance of fish catches.
“At the end of the day, when we take away all the challenges, we have what we all know and love — getting back on the water and building the camaraderie among our fellow fishermen and the community.”