Rumble In The Desert
Who will crown himself the Best in the West at the U.S. Open on Lake Mead?
BY PAUL LEBOWITZ
WON BASS CONTRIBUTOR
LAS VEGAS — The WON BASS U.S. Open is finally here, the pinnacle of bass battle in the West, a storied tournament with a history that reaches back to 1981. The high stakes for this event that fishes Oct. 12-14 bear this out. The winning pro will take home $100,000 based on the 250 boat field, plus a beautiful new Bass Cat Puma FTD with a Mercury ProXS 250 worth $64,000 for a total championship value of $164,000!
Staged on Lake Mead, a fair and unforgiving venue that requires even the best bass anglers to bring nothing less than their “A” game, the stunning desert scenery of the U.S. Open sets a dramatic stage.
Of course, this is a shared weight, Pro-Am event, and the co-anglers will have something to say about who finishes first on the Pro side. With a new AAA each of the 3 competition days, the deck will be constantly reshuffled.
Co-anglers sport their own stakes too. The AAA Champion will win $10,500 and a great prize from sponsor Huntington Beach Honda, a 2021 Honda Fourtrax Rancher 4×2 ATV worth $5,499, bringing the AAA cash and prize total value to nearly $16,000, and that’s not counting the value of the quiver of 6 technique specific St. Croix rods that also come with the AAA championship.
Other opportunities to win include three daily $1,000 Big Fish prizes for each division, Pros and Cos, as well as $2,000 daily Big Stringer money on each side. It’s plenty of incentive for anglers who might otherwise be out of the running to keep on fishing. Cashing a check at the U.S. Open makes is a highlight in any bass angler’s career.
In light of COVID-19, the 38th edition of the U.S. Open will look a little different, with no Sponsor Showcase and grand Awards Ceremony due to limitations on the size of gatherings. Those changes will not take away from the event according to elite level Pro Josh Bertrand.
On the contrary, he said, “It adds to the event, everyone’s been cooped up so long, wanting to compete, wanting to be at a big event. I think it’ll be as big or better than any U.S. Open ever. Guys are dying for this moment.”
Regional Pro Joe Uribe, Jr. has fished several bass tournaments this year, and he made a point of saying it’s on the anglers to protect their sport and tournament organizations by working well together.
“The most important thing is we protect our fishery and the tournament organization so we can continue having these events during the pandemic,” he said. “The State of Nevada is taking this very seriously. Let’s all do our part, work together as a team and follow the instructions of Tournament Director Billy Egan.”
To exultantly lift the U.S. Open championship trophy, the Pros who fish the 2020 U.S. Open will have to get by 2019 champion Nick Salvucci. Catching lightning in a bottle consecutive years is impossibly difficult, but he’s already nearly done it. In 2018 Salvucci narrowly finished second. Can he put in another exceptional performance? Only time will tell.
Fans can follow the drama via live BASS ZONE broadcasts of the 3 daily weigh-ins. A link to the live broadcast will be available on the WON BASS Facebook page and at wonbassevents.com.
Setting the stage
Major league bass pro Roy Hawk will be looking for his second U.S. Open championship. Hawk credit the Open with establishing his career. In 2002, he won his first boat by cashing in a big fish. “It put legs under me,” he said. “A guy in Idaho can’t fish the Bassmaster Classic,” Hawk points out.
But anyone can sign up and fish the U.S. Open so long as they register early enough. The U.S. Open filled its 250-boat field nearly a year in advance. It’s a tremendous opportunity according to Hawk. “The guy from Idaho can get one shot a year against real anglers for real money and he could win it and change the course of his life. That’s the mystique of the U.S. Open. He knows, it happened for him.
Hawk won in 2015, and he likes what he sees this year. I’m expecting a win,” he said boldly, but what high level pro doesn’t? That’s the necessary mindset for success. But there’s a little more to it.
“It’s kind of unique, the water level is almost exactly the same as when I won,” Hawk said. “I don’t know if will play out the same, but it is a familiar water level. The tournament should be a lot of fun, fishing this last spring was really good. When it’s all said and done, when you look at statistics, the winning bag weight will be fairly low (compared with other events), but guys could have 16, 17 pounds, maybe a 20-pound bag. Catch 12, 13 a day and you’ll be real close, you might be in second.”
Looking back on his 2015 U.S. Open championship, Hawk said he relied on his own intuition. “I believe the Lord gives you signs. I have no ego in that. When you have that feeling, your gut instinct, that’s what I do. It (the 2015 victory) gave me a lot of confidence in that. I just rolled with it, didn’t have any stress with it and knew what I was supposed to do, even the last day when I struggled. I knew it would happen eventually. I was in a situation where I really needed to win. It changed the course of my life.”
Hawk doesn’t feel like he’s fishing against the field. He’s fishing against himself. “All I can control is my performance, that’s it,” he said. “Whether I win or lose I can’t take it personally as long as I’ve done everything possible to control every variable. My job is the performance aspect, to be the best person I can be on and off the water.”
Aaron Martens, a huge name in the sport, is tied for most U.S. Open championships with three, back-to-back in 2004-2005, and again in 2011. His fans will be glad to hear he’s feeling great after two successful surgeries to remove cancerous tumors from his head. Martens has been incredibly open about his battle.
“I feel terrific, normal, every day is better,” he said. “I pray about it, I believe (the cancer) could be gone… I’m feeling young again.”
Martens was planning on an extended pre-fish. He says it’s a time he enjoys with family.
“I sure don’t know what to expect this year,” he said. “The amount of fish pressure makes it tricky. That’s what makes the U.S. Open so much fun because it’s hard, it’s not an easy event. It’s like a marathon of tournaments. It’s like an Ultra because of the work you put in it. It’s a tough tournament.”
Martens added that extreme boat pressure makes the fish harder to locate. He grew up fishing desert bass, and he feels comfortable he can catch them once he locates the fish. “I used to do that as a kid,” he said.
Popular regional Pro Joe Uribe Jr. said the U.S. Open is cherished by the bass fishing community, whether the anglers are elite level Pros or club fishermen. “It’s the big hoorah of the year, a chance to compete at the highest level,” he said. “It’s 3 days and no cuts. You fish against some of the best anglers out west and in the country.”
Uribe feels at home on Mead, calling it an even playing field. “There are so many variables,” he points out. “It’s tough fishing on a big body of water and the fish will be on the move. Where will they be today? It’s feast or famine, they are either there or not and don’t replenish fast.”
Mead will be a bit of a mystery for every angler. There haven’t been many events on the lake due to a long coronavirus shutdown earlier in the year. Uribe shared what he’s heard.
“The fishing has been decent. We’re just now transitioning to fall time. I live in Arizona where it’s been triple digits every day. This week it started cooling down. If we see transition, the bait fish moving up in the shallows, it’ll be a good time.”
It isn’t every day guys can say they are fishing for $100,000, one of the largest prize money payouts in the sport. “I always try to put myself in position to compete,” Uribe said, echoing an often heard sentiment. “I’m not competing against the other boaters, it’s me against the lake.”
Elite level Pro Josh Bertrand said he looks forward to the U.S. Open. “It’s such a unique tournament, it’s as special as any tournament out there,” he said. “It’s such a unique classic on a such a special lake and it means so much to win it. It’s a huge deal.”
Like the others, Bertrand said the pressure exerted by a 250-boat field plays directly into his strategy. “With that many boats, the most important thing is figuring out what the fish are doing. It changes how you do things, it’s a huge factor. All 250 guys have an equal shot.”
The lake is a new puzzle to solve every year. “Whatever spot you caught them on last year is irrelevant,” Bertrand said. “The grass will grow differently, the bait will go to different areas, it’ll change within 2 weeks. I don’t think any lake changes like Mead. It’s always fishing different every time you go and that’s what makes Mead fair.”
Bertrand, like Uribe, is focused on the lake’s transition from summer to fall. “It’s interesting because the last couple of U.S. Opens I’ve been to, in 2017 and last year, we had major cold fronts roll through at the end of practice. In fall you don’t know if you’ll get a late summer bite, a transitional bite, or a fall bite. It’s been the hottest summer ever in the desert. It will be interesting to see what shape the lake is in and when that fall bite will start to hit. Will it be when we’re there or after?”
For a guy who fishes most events on his own, Bertrand sure appreciates his co-anglers. “They always have something to offer, no matter the situation,” he said. “They may be a great angler, they may be experienced on Lake Mead, they might come in with a really open mind and adjust on the fly and try something you recommend. So many co-anglers put key fish in the boat. You’re working together, it’s a big deal.”
What will it take to win? “It’s always different every year, ranging between 10 and 13 pounds a day,” Bertrand said. “You have to catch a couple 3 pounders every day. If it’s good (fishing) you have to fish bolder and more aggressive.”
A tough bite means a different approach. “If 29 wins for 3 days and you make the adjustment, you might be able to finesse more and fish for bites rather than swing for the fences and strike out.”