PAYSON, Ariz. – David Stachowski and Greg Valenzuela emerged victorious in the hard-fought 2019 Wild West Bass Trail Arizona Team Championship, held May 9-11 at Theodore Roosevelt Lake about 80 miles northeast of Phoenix. The weigh-in was held at Green Valley Park in Payson.
Stachowski and Valenzuela, both from Tucson, put in three solid days during the competition to win the championship with a perfect 15-bass three-day tournament limit weighing 55.96 pounds. On the first day, they brought in 19 pounds including a 4.53-pounder. On the second day, they added 19.39 pounds capped with a 4.78-pound kicker.
“In practice, the bass were moving and following the shad,” Stachowski advised. “The shad spawn was huge. In the mornings, the fish were on shad and going crazy. By tournament time, the activity was slacking off. We went to fish one of the deeper tree lines and found fish. On the first day, we caught 19 pounds pretty quickly and left to save those fish for the next two days.”
“On Day 2, we returned to the deeper trees,” Valenzuela echoed. “The trees were in 15 to 18 feet of water far from shore. The fish left the shorelines to go out to the deeper trees. The key was finding the green trees. There was not a fish around the dead ones. On Day 3, we went right back to those trees.”
On the third day, they sealed their victory with 17.60 pounds. They returned to the trees and lured them out with Whopper Poppers. They also caught fish by flipping a variety of soft-plastic creature baits including Brush Hogs. To fish around those trees, they used Vicious No-Fade Braid line in 65-pound test.
For the victory, Stachowski and Valenzuela won a fully equipped Ranger RT188 boat package. The champions also earned three $250 bonus checks from Yamamoto, P-line and Lowrance for a total of $25,750 in winnings.
In second place for the 60-boat event, Johnny Johnson of Lakeside and Andrew Napolean of Mesa brought in three straight 5-fish daily tournament limits for 54.99 pounds. They also fished around deep trees on good drop-offs. They caught 17.89 pounds with a 4.67-pound kicker on opening day.
“On the first day, I lost a good bedding fish that probably weighed about six to eight pounds,” Johnson lamented. “I about lost my mind on that! I caught a couple small fish earlier on that same bait. I can’t stress the importance of retying often, especially when fishing a tournament. On Day 2, we went to a spot that Andrew found in practice where the shad were spawning. The shad spawn was key to how we were fishing.”
On Day 2, Johnson and Napolean put in a 20.02-pound effort dominated by a 5.44-pounder. They added 17.08 pounds to the board on the final day. They pocketed $4,500 for second place and a $305 big fish bonus.
“The tournament leaders found the exact same fish,” Napolean revealed. “On Day 3, they were only about 20 feet away from us, but we were fishing differently. They were flipping and we were throwing reaction baits. The majority of our fish came off Persuader spinnerbaits, but some of the biggest fish came off Arizona Custom Baits paddle-tailed swimbaits.”
Taking third, 2018 champions Rich Kereny of Phoenix and Dean Kreuzer from Mesa finished with 15 bass weighing 41.56 pounds to earn a check for $2,700. They caught 15.89 pounds on the first day with a 4.34-pound kicker. They added 12.47 pounds on the second day and finished with a 13.20-pound bag on the final day.
In practice, Kereny and Kreuzer could not find a fish deeper than six feet, but did find a 200-yard stretch of bank that held some fish on the final day of practice. The pair mostly used 5-inch wacky-rigged Senkos in green pumpkin and watermelon colors or Confidence Tackle Supply swim jigs.
“We went down the banks throwing Senkos into salt cedars and shaking them,” Kereny reported. “In a little over an hour, we caught more than 30 fish on Day 1. We also caught more than 30 fish on Day 2, but only nine on the final day. The cover was very specific. It had to be a very steep bank with rocks and just one or two isolated salt cedars there.
When looking for big fish, Kereny and Kreuzer headed as far as they could up the Tonto River. The Tonto River or Tonto Creek flows into the upper end of the 22-mile-long Theodore Roosevelt Lake. The largest lake entirely within Arizona, Theodore Roosevelt Lake covers about 21,493 acres entirely within the Tonto National Forest. The anglers had to work their way through trees and other obstacles, sometimes lying on the deck of the boat, to get to their honey hole at the end of the Tonto River.
“We went up the Tonto River until the boat couldn’t go any farther,” Kreuzer explained. “We threw Senkos into two inches of water and let them come down the rapids with the flow like trout fishing. However, that was only good for one big fish at a time. Once we caught that one, it spooked all the other fish. After we caught a big fish, we had to leave and let the area settle down. Then, we’d come back later. We caught our biggest fish each day like that.”
Steven Mack and Seth Furmanek finished fourth with 40.55 pounds. This included bags weighing 14.13 pounds, 11.73 pounds and 14.69 pounds with a 4.54-pound lunker to collect $2,000.
Rounding out the top five teams, Chris Traver and Michael Whitlock finished with 36.53 pounds. They landed daily catches of 14.62, 12.92 and 8.99 pounds. They also caught the tournament big bass, a 5.58-pounder. For fifth place, they pocketed $1,500 plus a $305 bonus for the big bass.