OROVILLE, Calif. — Given the challenging conditions, J.R. Wright said he was happy to find his limit of 12.93 pounds that leads Day 1 of the Wild West Bass Trail Pro-Am on Lake Oroville presented by Price Family Dealership.
On a tight leaderboard, with only 2.12 separating first from 10th place, the pro from Truckee, Calif. holds a slim margin of .06 pound over second-place Ryan McIntosh. While he had a limit by about 8:30, Wright made his final cull at 1.
“The bite was really tough, I didn’t catch many fish; I caught maybe 10 fish,” Wright said. “For Oroville, this time of year, that’s horrible.”
After historic drought conditions shrunk this Feather River reservoir to a sliver of its normal size, Oroville has benefitted from the voluminous rains of early 2023. Refilling the drained lake has been a largely positive event, but Wright points out the challenge of this too much-too fast scenario.
“With the lake coming up so fast, these fish got all spread out,” he said. “The lake is up 60-70 feet and then you add the cold water to it. So you have fish that were starting to come up and the lake (rose) and now they’re not in their typical pattern.
“On top of the recent rains, we’re getting cold storm after cold storm. Usually, this time of year, we’d get a rainstorm or two and get running water and the fish pour to the back of the (inflows), but it’s coming in too cold.”
Despite the disruption in their usual locations, Wright said the fish are doing their best to adjust and determine viable prespawn positioning.
“They’re prespawn right now, they’re just not full-blown,” he said. “Every fish you’re catching is a good, healthy fish.”
Amassing all of his weight with spotted bass, Wright fished the Middle Fork and the main lake. Covering a lot of water he caught one of his limit fish deep, but did his best work on points in about 10 feet of water.
“I was just looking for a good rough point with rock,” Wright said. “Oroville has a lot of sandstone points and you just had to have something out of the ordinary, like a rock off the end of it, or a few rocks.
“I caught a 2 1/2-pound fish 50 feet deep along a steep rock wall.”
Fishing a mix of reaction and slow baits, Wright said he fished everything on 7-pound Daiwa J-Fluoro. The dual benefit, he said, was a faster sink rate and maximum bait action.
Looking ahead to Day 2, Wright said the forecast for rain and heavy wind will likely require a lot of moving.
“The weather will definitely change things,” he said. “I’m just gonna run around and fish a lot of points and hope I run into the right fish.”
Making his home in Oroville, McIntosh is in second place with 12.87. Anchoring is limit with a 5.88 largemouth certainly helped his cause.
“That was the very first I caught,” McIntosh said. “My thought was try to get a limit and not let a kicker go to waste. I didn’t have a limit until 12. It was a grind to say the least.”
Also lamenting the dramatic impacts of the cold weather and rapidly rising water, McIntosh said his tournament preparation clued him in on a promising scenario. That deal only yielded one bite, but it was a day-maker.
“I was trying to catch them out of shallow vegetation in the South Fork area,” McIntosh said. “The rising water covered some shallow bushes. I got that one big largemouth in 5 feet of water.
“My other four were suspended spotted bass. I caught all of my fish on a slow presentation. It’s a time-consuming, super slow technique and the bites don’t come fast.”
Relying heavily on the sensitivity of his Powell Rods, McIntosh said his Buck ’N Bass bibs kept him warm and allowed him to stay focused on detecting bites.
Brandon Gee of Yuba City, Calif. is in third place with 12.68. As he explained, his day was lean and fragmented, but he managed to put together a solid bag.
“It was brutally tough; I only caught five fish all day,” Gee said. “I caught one fish first thing in the morning, then spent most of the day in a community hole, where I caught three.
“Then, I came back out to the main lake and caught one big one. It wasn’t pretty but I got it done.”
Gee said he caught fish on a mix of habitat features in 0-50 feet. He used mostly finesse presentations, including a homemade finesse jig and 2.8 Keitech Swing Impact Fat swimbaits on ball heads.
McIntosh is in the lead for Big Bass honors with his 5.88.
Jason Fookes of Anderson, Calif. leads the co-angler division with 9.74. Fookes leads Shawn Nash of San Jose, Calif. by .04 pound.
Vance Hayes holds the Big Bass lead among co-anglers with a 3.11.
Saturday’s takeoff is scheduled for 6:30 a.m. Pacific at Loafer Creek Recreation Area. The weigh-in will be held at Loafer Creek at 3:30 p.m.