Lake Oroville B.A.S.S. Invitational
Monday November 12th was just like any other day, well almost. I'd gotten home very late the night before from a fairly successful trip to Shasta. No pre-fish, just show up and go fishing. I caught a lot of fish that weekend, going back to basics, doing what I do best, tossin a variety of jigs. Heck, a 17th place finish out of 100 guys, wasn't too shabby going into the up coming Bassmasters at Oroville.
Normally, on this first practice day of a BASS event, I'd be out on the water. But due to the events in New York on September 11th, the software company I work for, who provides software for the hospitality industry, made what they felt to be a strategic move, due to a couple of contract cancellations, and had a reduction of staff. This affected me greatly, as I was moved into a position that required me to be in the office more, working our support line. We also lost all our vacation for the remainder of the year. So here I was, really cursing the Bin Laddens and terrorists of the world, their acts, had now taken an affect on my fishing.
I was very upset, as I worked that day, but it also drove me to succeed. Ya see, I needed a change from what I had been doing previously. I needed ta better focus on the task at hand. That day in the office, I had began to thank these terrorists and their nasty ways, as it allowed me the time, to formulate and thoroughly think about how I wanted to approach this Oroville event. How I wanted to approach the remainder of the year. It allowed me to reflect on what I'd done at Shasta and how I could apply that to the Oroville fishery. It allowed me to think and reflect on the past, how I had fished this lake in previous years when the water was down, as low as it was. I absolutely love fishing in our western lakes when they have no water in them, it's like my preference with the low tides on the Delta. I was gonna be able to target the better fish, cause they would be positioned in areas that I could more easily target them. I knew I would find em shallow and I knew I could catch em on jigs. I never thought about winning at this point, but I knew going in, that I was gonna fish well and have a great week.
Geeze, after finishing 113th at the Columbia, where else could I go but up, right? I hit absolute rock bottom at the Columbia River. It was the worst tournament fishing experience that I've had in my entire career. More so, it eliminated my ultimate dream right out of the gates, there would be no way, I could make the "Classic" through the Citgo Opens, no way. And I had already blown my chance ta git there via the Bass Federation, by showing up late for the day one meeting at the California State Championship. I wasn't gonna give up though, and chuck it in like so many others do. I could still make the Top 20 and qualify for the Citgo Tour (previously known as the K-Mart 150s) by fishing smart and hard through the next 3 events. On that Monday of November the 12th, I made a major adjustment and re-directed my goals for this season. This was a big turning point for me, it toughened me mentally, I needed that.
I spent all evening on Monday getting my equipment ready. I was still without my boat and was fortunate to have one of my sponsors, WesternBass.COM and Tony Stoltz, be so kind as to loan me a boat for this event. What this forced me to do, as this boat did not have quite the storage space as mine, and the fact that I needed to assure that there would be plenty of free space for my partners in the event I used this boat each day, was to limit the tackle I carried in the boat. Fortunately for me, my strategy was gonna be simple, throw jigs. 8 jig rods, one Spook rod, a C-rig rod and a spinnerbait rod, was all I packed. Then every single Yamamoto single tail grub and Hula grub I had on the shelf, a handful of Spooks, blades, Lucky Craft rip baits and my bag of Zoom lizards and my miscellaneous C-rig paraphernalia. I was all ready ta blow bright and early Tuesday morning for the lake. 9:30p and I was off ta bed with the anticipation of a great night's sleep.
Tuesday Morning I was up bright and early as I had a few errands to run prior to leave town. Unfortunately, these took longer than I had anticipated and delayed my departure until 11:00a. By the time I finally hit the Antioch Bridge, it was 11:20, three Redbulls later I was pulling up to the Bidwell launch at 2:00p. I almost chose to forgo launching, but I figured the 2 hours I could spend on the water would help me eliminate an area to practice on for Wednesday. At that point, I chose to go around the corner and check out the Bidwell Canyon Arm. I fish in there an awful lot when I come to Oroville, sometimes it's good to me and at other times it's spotty. But I figured this would be a good place to start and I would have a good idea or not in 2 hours if I would include this area into my tournament plans. I also knew, that if I got on em in there, it would be a great indicator to me on how I would plan tomorrow's practice day throughout the rest of the lake.
As I pulled up onto my first point, I took great notice of how low the lake level was. Most of the points in here are down where there is very little hard bottom, it is mostly orange or dark red mud. This one particular point had a few scattered yellow rocks on I though and it had a little gully trough created by the recent run off. As subtle as this seemed, it would be a very important factor in what I would be looking for the rest of the week, nothing banks, with a subtle change at the water line that carried below the surface. My first cast to the bank with that _ oz rubber football jig, tipped with the Strike King Baby pork in Olive green, was greeted with nothing as the bait when thump to the bottom. It had landed in less than two feet of water, directly on the point. Two subtle shakes and nothing. I then gave it a good ³pop², and it was just engulfed by a fish with the sole intent that it had just caught itıs meal for the day. Whoa, what a violent KERTHAP that was. Fishing with an exposed hook, and one of my high graphite Camerons, CGR663, I only needed a slight pop of the rod tip to assure the fish was there. Oh and did he git pissed off at me fer wappin' him back. That fish took straight off fer deep water and was headin fer the nearest house boat with one of them metal buoy cables attached. Amazing how smart these fish are, this happens way too often to consider it a coincidence. I knew I had a really big fish, and they always seem ta find a way ta git loose. She wrapped me around that cable, and was doin her best dance ta saw me off. Thank goodness I was using that Sugoi fluorocarbon, as I was able to hold on until I got the trolling motor moving and the boat beyond that cable. This fish finally gave up as she realized she had lost the battle. When I got her to the surface, I was in shock to see a fat, golden smallie on the end of my line. This fish was well over 4 pounds, maybe more.
I tossed her back after examining every inch of her perfect bronze body, and them BIG RED eyes, what a beautiful fish. I've never caught anything like this at Oroville, mostly spots and some largemouth. I would catch many of the bronze backs through out the week and some of those smallie/spot hybrids as well. I then proceeded to move to the inside of this point and back to the 'V' wash in the back. Nothing, although, I did git a slight tap down the center of that wash in about 24'. I had heard that this was the magic depth that many guys were catching fish over the last month. But it sure took me a long time ta git down there with that jig. As I fished back out and around the next point, I noticed that in the next cut, there was a distinct rock formation along the south side of the next point. It was on the inside of the exposed point along the side, between the wash in the back and the very tip of the point. I cut straight for it and cast that jig-n-pig right onto the bank at the water line. Kerwap again! Damn, I tossed that jig into less than a foot of water, and this fish just crushed it before it hit the bottom. And it was a good one! Turned out ta be a nice 2.5 pound spot.
I'm now convinced, that in my first 20 minutes of fishing, that I need ta be looking to the shallow, subtle changes on these points and humps back here. I also noticed, with this last fish, that there were a number of small holes about the size of a baseball right on the bank. Pulling closer, I could see a couple of them in the water. As I hit the trolling motor to move away, I see a nice bass bolt off the bank in a cloud of dust. Hmmm, like I thought, these fish are up shallow rooting craws. I remember a number of fish I caught at Shasta, they literally had no lower lips, it was like someone had sawed em off with a file, raw and bloodied. Thatıs how much effort they were putting into catching a meal. I'm loving every minute of this. I proceed further towards the back and stop on another point. These ones got a little steeper drop off. It's got some nice rocks right at the water line, yet nothing 100 feet or so above it and I see two of those distinct little holes. I cast up, bounce the jig down to about 6 feet and kerwap! Nice fish, easily a 3 pound spot. That rascal musta been 22 inches long, hung way off my Will-e-Go board, which only goes to 17 inches. Tossed in again, at right at the same exact point I got whapped again, yet another good spot, a clone of the last one.
Now I can see some fish on the graph, hangin on this point. So here's my chance ta check out a number of other baits. I try the 3/8 oz football jig with the 157, 164, 208 & 209 single tails with no takers. I grab my one Ton football rig with the Yamamoto double tail Hula grub. I toss the 176, then 157, then 214, and then 194 with nothing. I put on the 297 Green Pumpkin and I git clobbered right on the bank. Although I miss catching that fish, it told me what color they wanted. My jig-n-pig and this bait are very close in color resemblance. I grab the jig-n-pig, this time on a 1/4oz and nothing. Hmmm, I toss the 3/8 jig-n-pig, nothing. So I pick back up that _ oz jig and pig, toss it out and at the exact same point I caught the previous two fish, I catch another clone.
Now I'm no dummy, those fish on that point just told me a whole bunch about what they were doing and the baits that I needed ta be using. I banged around a couple more of the points back there, looking for similar situations. If the banks were simple and plain, I never got bit. Toss in a subtle change, be it rocks or some form of a wash out, I got bit by a good fish, solid fish. I was truly amazed at the quality of fish I was finding back here. And I was more tickled with the fact I never saw another boat. So I decided ta git outa there. Pack it up and go find a motel room. I still needed ta do that and clean up some for the checkin. On my way out, I saw a very interesting point that looked a lot different than all the rest, yet there are other points like this through out the lake. So what the heck, I stop, drop the 'T'motor and pitch that jig-n-pig up there.
As I quickly bounced it down to about 3-4 feet, I felt this very soft crunching bite. Hmmm, not like any of the bites I've had to this point. But I do recognize this, kinda like a catfish. As I set and give her the customary "pop" of the rod tip, this fish just slowly moved off the bank about 10 feet then kinda stops and begins to roll, I am certain now I got a big catfish. So I start ta put a little more pressure on it and she decides ta make a run, WHOA! She just starts peeling the 16# Sugoi off that ABU 4600UC, like a loose knitted string on a woven blanket. She then stops and just sat there. So I start ta slowly pump and reel the dead weight up, she's pooped now, but it's a big cat and I'm waiting fer that last run, they never give up that easily. This one did though, and when I saw it, I was now in total shock, it was a HUGE largemouth.
I easily lipped her and began diggin for my little scale, finding it, I attached her and she bottomed it out at 12 pounds. My thoughts and confidence, really began ta soar at this point. Now I'm thinkin, "Maybe I can win this thing".
Now I'm heading fer the ramp, I need ta git off the water, this was a dream like day, I needed ta go find a motel room and settle in. I talk to a couple guys at the ramp. The launch is really a mess, little did I know at the time, how messy it really was as I got there long after 90% of the guys and pulled out after many of them had left. I was concerned how it was gonna shape up for the tournament, it was truly a muddy, messy situation. I spoke to Fred Preston in the parking lot, longtime friend and Nutcase who lives up this way and fishes Oroville a lot. He assured me, it wasn't gonna take much ta win this event from a weight standpoint, probably less than 27 pounds. He didn't believe anyone could sustain a 9 pound average. You don't think that didn't make my day? After tellin him how my day went, I knew it was best ta isolate myself, I've got this very big mouth when it comes ta sharin info and catchin fish, so I figured the less I was exposed ta guys, the less info I would leak out about what I had been doing. Finding a room at the Villa Court Inn fer $50 a night was perfect. Although, Aaron Martens, Bret Hite and Mark Rizk were also staying there. Was amazing, how much of a listener I became, while hangin out with them guys. [grins]
After talkin to the Bennett bothers at the check-in, there was this great buzz about a 12 pounder being caught. I was in line with Rob Vander Koi, he nudged me aside at one point and said, yeah Cooch, I made the same mistake today and on a wry cast got an 8+ myself today. Thank goodness I was at the front of the line, I got checked in, went and visited the Flowmaster gang and had a great meal once again on them. They host a feast at every event and I can't emphasize how much that is appreciated by the anglers. And then it was off to my room. While in my room, I made one change, I remove the one oz football head jig that I was using on my Hula grubs and replaced it with a _ oz jig head. I wanted to be able to cover a far greater amount of water in my practice time, as well as fish slightly deeper to about 40' in an effort to locate as many back up patterns as possible.
Wednesday morning at the ramp was a nightmare, I got there at 5:30a and the line started about 50 yards past the guard shack. I did not finally git in the water until 7:10A. Hopefully, come tournament morning, this mess would be taken care of. The number of boats would be much lower with the field being paired in half, boat on boat. Once launched, I ran straight across to the left of the bridge at the narrow mouth of the Middle & South fork. Great deep water access here and some good looking points and humps extending out into the water. I caught 5 solid two pounders in nothing flat, using that pig-n-jig, all in less than 6 foot of water. I caught a 6th one bouncing the Hula grub in the middle of a creek channel between two points. This fish came out of about 25 foot of water. The _ oz Hula, did exactly what I'd hoped it do.
I then high tailed it to the South Fork. I fished a few of the big rocky areas at the mouth without a single bit. Then ran back to the yellow sand stone banks. Back here I caught two fish on a sandy flat, in about 4 foot of water with my Green Pumpkin 5" Zoom Lizard. Not great fish, but it told me there were fish ta be caught on this type of structure. I've caught some good ones over the years at Shasta, Folsom and right here with this rig. 1st back up pattern had been established! I then ventured up a ways and began tossing the _ Ton Hula jig up to the bank. At first I didn't git bit, then I began to key on a pattern that started ta work. Anywhere on these sandy hard bottom banks, if there was some sort of "V" or crack, there would be a decent fish sitting in there. And these fish were smackin that Hula jig the instant it hit the water. I had problems tyin these fish into my crawdad pattern, there was really no place for crawdads ta be, no mud ta speak of at all. But they were eatin that Hula jig. These fish weren't near as big as those that I'd caught earlier or the day before. So I headed up the middle fork. I found a similar pattern up there.
One thing I noticed in the Middle and South forks, I found the rest of the anglers, they were everywhere in these two arms. Now, two years ago, finding the crowd and fishing with them out on those main lake humps, was very critical to catching the better fish in that event. And due to the amount of water loss, especially since it took away all of the spots guys fished last year, they had moved to these two arms in search of similar situations and were force feeding them that dropshot on the same kind of humps now found high and dry out on the main body. HAR! HAR! HAR! They could have that dropshot stuff, I was outa there and off ta find some less crowded areas.
As I was driving up the main lake, I started to hit all the creek channels and washes on the west side. I noticed something very unique about the ones I was able ta catch fish on, and again, I was back on those 3 pounders, I caught 5 really good ones between Potter's and Bloomer's Revines. If I found a creek channel that had the big steep pinnacle rocky formation, the dark grey rocks, with the black mud in between the rocks, I found crawdad holes. And I would catch the better fish. I spent two hours bouncing in and out of these creek channels on the main lake and once again, found a pattern with in my original pattern. Now I had three solid patterns.
I then ran to the back of the Lime Saddle Marina up the West Branch, I was able ta duplicate both the pinnacle rock pattern I'd just found and the same pattern I found in Bidwell. Now I had three solid areas ta fish, with no other boats around. It was amazing, could it be I actually found something nobody else had found, or did they find it and leave it alone? Day one would answer this for me. I continued my search to find yet another pattern, on the way out of the West Branch, I hung a left into Rich Gulch. A lot of standing timber in the far back, mixed with the mud and chunky rock banks. I found a decent group of fish up on the bank among the fallen timber and various steeper rocks. These fish were just clocking the new jig that I began to show them. It was my standard 3/8oz R&B flippin jig, tipped with the 157 5" Yamamoto Single tail Grub. Not near as good as the fish I found on the main lake, but a solid pattern of fish no less.
Next stop was the far back reaches of the North Fork. I wanted ta go check out the incoming water up there, as well as I knew that the old Train tunnel would be exposed, and the two awesome rocky points at Frazier and Berry Creeks. Turns out, this would be about as far as ya could go, no way I would make it to French Creek. This though, is an area that I have caught many largemouth in the past under the low water conditions. My first pitch to the tunnel yielded my first largemouth of the day, a fat chunky 3 pounder. I fished around the big chunky rock point to the east entrance of the tunnel, not a single bite on that R&B jig-n-grub combo. So I picked up the _ oz Hula jig and tossed it up there and caught yet another 3 pound spot, less than a foot of water, unbelievable. I caught three more really good fish working my way back around that point. Then jumped to the point on the other side. Here, I caught yet another 3-pound chunk up shallow.
This area seemed real promising to me, there was plenty more water up here to fish that I chose not to hit. But more importantly, I was the only one here and it was about 2:00p when I decided ta leave. I hit a couple of spots on the way out with minimal success until I got to the long finger point at the mouth of the West Branch. A perfect spot to use my C-rigged Zoom lizard. First cast up along that point to the shallows and I got hung up in a rock. As I was tryin ta shake it loose, I got absolutely clobbered. Next thing I know as Iım trolling towards the point where I was hung up, my line is taking off into the depths of the main river channel. Wow, I got a really good one on this time. By the time this guy finally gave up and I began to make ground, I knew I had one hell of a chance to win this thing. As I hoisted that last pre-fish spot out of the water, I had one heck of a grin staring right at that chunky 4 pound plus freight train of a spotted bass. Let me git the heck out of here and bring it on boys! 14+ pound limit today, purty solid stuff I felt. I also felt that by going to that heavier _ oz jig head, I started to git more and bigger bites very consistently.
My game plan was very clear and simple, stay shallow, pound the banks with that _ oz jig and cover as much water, as fast as possibly. I did have a little decision ta make though, where to start. Keeping in mind that I needed three days worth of fishing. I didnıt think I could fish in Bidwell for three days, especially if things changed, I didnıt wanna git caught dead in there my first day. I also didnıt want to chance weighing in a monster bag and having the entire field follow me in there, this happens way too often in a BassMasters. So I decided to start in my second best area, the back of the North Fork. I really didnıt believe that anyone else would find this bite in Bidwell and I could git lucky and have it to myself for the last two days. This choice became simplified when I drew Peter Krause from Washington the first day. We decided ta take my boat, and he too had found some fish, using a Senko no less, in the North Fork that he wanted ta fish. It was gonna work out great. I was in bed by 8:20p.
We draw out in flight 2C, that gave us a 2:50p weigh-in time. Fer some reason, probably due to the early darkness and the conditions at the ramp, BASS moved the start of the weigh-ins up one hour. Although disappointing, it was equal fer everyone. Launching was a piece of cake. BASS had quite a crew down there directing traffic and we all were in the water and ready ta go by 6:30a and blast off was at 6:40. We pulled up to our first spot in the back of the North Fork at the train tunnel and only one other boat was up there, on the opposite rock bank. I caught one on my very first cast to the train tunnel, not a big spot, but a 15-16" keeper. I had a limit in the boat in about 20 minutes. They were just clocking the Yamamoto Hula grub. Many of them right on the waterıs edge, these were the better fish. But I was also catching fish out to about 18 feet. Very fast retrieve. Peter didnıt know what hit him, he was fishing the Senko the whole way. Finally got him ta switch, and he started ta pick a few up.
The boat on the other side vanished around the bend up river, and I crossed over. I culled two fish off of that point, not big, but it was only 7:40 and I'd caught maybe 20 fish already. We stayed up there and fished a number of banks, just moving down them real fast with that _ oz Jig. By 8:30a, I'm culling a fish and notice that it's bleeding out the gills. Come ta find out, itıs my thumb that gushing blood! I've handled so many of these toothy critters, my thumb is now raw, 1.5 hours into the event. This is a problem I need to resolve. I start to shake them off without even thinkin of culling. Those that look obviously close, Iım now grabbing around their backs. I make it through the day though without any further blood loss. Thank God this wasn't the NBA, they'da made me sit till the gushing stopped.
Peter asked me about this "One Ton" concept at one point. I explained my concepts behind using it, and that I actually was fishing a variation that I was gonna call the "One Ton Pick-up" jig. It was a joke at first, but my goodness, those fish were picking up that jig the instant before it hit the bottom or right after my first hop-n-pop. It kinda made some sense as we were talking and laughing about it. I probably caught well over 70 fish that first day. By the time we headed out and started ta make the milk run of the main lake cuts, I had about an 8-pound limit with two smaller fish. I culled two more out in one of my cuts, the one with the crawdad holes, before we had ta head in. I was very disappointed though that we had not caught any of those really good fish that I had seen during practice. I figured that I was gonna be sunk way down in the middle of the pack around 50th or so.
As we were pulling up the ramp, we began to here some of the weights, a whole lot of 5,6 & 7 pound limits. I'm startin ta know think, dude, you may still be okay. I git to the check in stand, the guys who check my fish both say, Cooch, ya got one of the better bags fer today, nice limit of clones. I git to the scales and Fish Fishburn too, comments on my nice solid bag. One of em was a smallie no less. Fish says that's got me in the top 6 and about that time I bout fall off the stage. "I'll take it! Oh buy the way, anyone ever seen a spotted "bass thumb?", I showed it to Fish and explained to the crowd how it happened, he then got the camera crews ta do close ups, purty cool, Ole Coochıs thumb got more camera time than the fisherman himself. HAR! By the end of the weigh-in, I'm sitting in 11th at 8 pounds 10oz. COOL! I ainıt even hit my best water!
Day two I draw Levell Sneed. Levell had somewhat of a tough day with 6lb 2 oz, he's way back there in this event. But we both know, on this pond, one 9 pound or better sack will move him right back up there. After discussing our first day, I'm very forward and convincing that I'm onto something special, we decide to take my boat and are gonna start in Bidwell. We'll give it 4 hours and see, if'n he wants ta stay, I got no problems with that, otherwise we can go run his stuff and some of my main lake spots. We got flight 3A and a 3:00p weigh-in for Friday. Fishing with Peter was a treat today, he purty much let me do what I wanted as we were catching so many fish. I was really looking forward to fishing with Levell, it was the first time I'd have a chance to fish with a BASS Western champion.
After Levell and I talked, I noticed there was a portable tackle shop under one of the tents. I went over there to look for some 3/4oz frog hair jigs with a weed guard. I had lost all 8 of the one oz jigs that DeWayne Bonahm had made for me due to getting hung up on some brush and the jagged rocks. I also lost many of the _ oz Footballs that I was using for the one Ton Pick-Ups for the same reason. I knew my bait of choice was gonna change from the Hula jig to the standard jig-n-pig in Bidwell on them muddy banks. Looking over the choices, I grabbed all the brown/purple _ Bite-Me-Jigs on the shelf. And these had weed guards on em. COOL! Back in my room, I respooled two brand new ABU Garcia 4600UC cast reels with that 16# Sugoi. I tied one of these Bite-Me-Jigs onto each of them.
I also made another slight modification, due to something I remembered about Oroville. Something that I had learned from my team partner Pat Dilling and Larry Hemphil, "Oroville bass love that 180 "Bluegill" single tail grub!" I attached a piece of the grub body to one jig as my spacer ahead of the pork trailer. I then attached the 5" grub in this color all by itself. I really felt with the changing weather, we kept hearing it was gonna be storming, but in watching the news on the Weather Channel, I could clearly see that the high pressure system sitting over Nevada, was forcing the stormıs path track to the north, it was gonna by pass us and weıd have bluebird days. With that kinda conditions, I figured that that dark smoke grub, with that green, red & orange sparkle in it, would be my ticket for strikes. I just had a feeling about this grub! Before bed, I ran off to Wal-Mart ta git some medical dressings for my thumb, I needed ta keep that sucker protected, it was stinging purty good and I didn't want it to bother my sleep. Smart move Cooch! I was in bed by 8:15p.
Each morning I was picking my partner up at their hotel. As Levell and I got there in the morning, I gave him one of these Bite-Me-Jigs with that 180 trailer. I said you throw this, I'm gonna start with the pork. It only took 15 minutes for him ta have me down 2 ta zip before I switched. I never put that jig down for the next two days, whenever I was tossing the jig. Only time I didnıt have it in my hands was when Iıd toss that C-rig'd lizard out onto a flat. I just wasn"t catching the right fish on that C-rig. By 9:00a, both Levell and I had a limit in the boat. We decided ta stay and just keep the trolling motor down and cover as much water as possible. It was working real well for me as every now and then I'd catch one that would cull. Then we pulled into a cut behind the Bidwell Marina, there was a real nice creek channel back there with some outstanding rocky stuff under water. As we pulled around a long finger point, I saw Casey Iwai back there. Damn, and about that time Levell popped a real good one off the flat of that point in about 10" of water.
After netting it and getting it in the boat, I started to head to a point over behind the dock away from Casey. As I approached the dock, I knew I needed ta beat Levell to that spot on the point where there was a wash coming right down the center of the point. I made a heave ho pitch that was right on target, only ta turn and find Levell was sitting down retyin his jig. And at that instant, I got hammered. Oh man, was I in trouble. Iım hollarin fer the net as I got a good one. I set up, got a great load on the rod, then lost all contact with this fish as it blasted through the surface and did a summersault, all the while tossing that _ oz jig half the way back to the boat. Dumb move Cuccia, you just lost a 4+ pound largemouth. There was my tournament-winning kicker. I think most guys would have been heart broken, I just said "damn" and kept fishin. Nothing I could do about it. Levell saw the splash and could only marveled at how big it might have been. Later Casey would swing by and ask about it too, "That sounded like a monster Cooch", it was Casey..
Then as we were leaving around that finger point, we ducked inside of a suspended dock, Levell was now draggin his 4²"zoom lizard and he too tied into a really good fish. But dang those big fish are smart. That sucker got him tangled around one of those steel cables which was no match fer his 6 pound test line, SNAP! Gone! We never got a look at that one, but I gotta trust a guy who catches 6 pound smallies ta know when heıs got a good one on versus a 15" rat. Oh well, we kept on fishing. We bounced around some points and washes at the mouth of Bidwell and managed to cull a couple of more fish. My limit now is better than the previous day. It's only noon and we got a lot of time to go chasing some bigger bites.
We hit a few of his areas without a bite. Then we git to one of his better spots down by the dam, lotta boats down here. Again, they are all fishing out much deeper and we slide in between them and the bank. I pick up 5 decent fish here, but not worthy enough ta cull fer a boat ride. Levell git bit several times on his lizard but comes up empty on the hook sets. We then run down to the cuts and washes on the main lake. I cull two of my fish out on that dark grey pinnacle looking rock with the mud and holes in the cracks. My limit is now over 9 pounds and I'm starting ta feel somethin real special. Most of the guys we talk to have indicated that the bite has stiffened up. Not so true for us, although, I have still yet to catch a fish over two pounds, nowhere near the fish I was catching in practice. But it's evident, I'm still catching slightly bigger fish on the average with my jig patterns.
I git to the scales and they are claiming I got the big bag of the day and it's gonna move me way up there. The crowd is really hooting it up good, the camera guys are all gathering around as Fish tells me I've taken the lead. Oh geeze, I can't believe it, but I also know that Dobyns, Rush, Voorhese and Murray have yet ta weigh in. As I leave the stage, ole Fish asks me how it feels, I tell him, "It feels great, I'm doing something I love ta do and thank God nobody else in this event is tossing the jig into the paces that I am! I'm really looking forward to tomorrow and putting on a show for these people." And Fish says, "Well there ya go folks, the ole Coochster is given it up for ya, tellin it like it is!" Then I'm just surrounded by autograph seekers and a number of the press. The head camera guy comes by and asks that I hang around, might have a camera crew with me in the morning. COOL! I ain't goin nowhere dude! When all was said and done, I'm sitting in third place and off to a meeting with the camera gang.
While waiting to meet my 3rd days partner, I hear that the two guys who are ahead of me, Fellow Yamamoto Pro-staffer John Murray who's in the lead and the 1st day's leader Ryan Voorhese who is now in second, have drawn each other. Wow, what a tough luck of the draw. Can you imagine that? Now here's two guys who have been at the top all along, been allowed ta fish their water all day to git their limits, and now they gotta share and fish with the guy right next to em in the standings. This could turn out very sour or possibly work to their advantage. As fer me, it sure left me in a position of hoping that it would cause some problems, not that I would wish that upon anyone, but the obvious indications say this could work out to greatly benefit me.
I meet up with my third day's partner, Sparkey Healy. He's a local guy who is fishing his very first Bassmasters, and he's sitting in 8th place, two pounds behind me. This could also turn out ta be a tough situation. But I hold fast and confident. Sparkey wants ta take his boat, he's fishing one deep area up the Middle Fork, at what I believe is called Sycamore Rock and he's assuring me of an 8-pound limit. But I calmly explain to him that I'm sitting in 3rd and I'm on about a 9 pound average. We're gonna have the camera crew tomorrow, because Iım in 3rd place, weıre gonna take my boat and start in Bidwell, I lost a 4 pounder in there today and I'm the one who caught the 12 pounder in there in practice. "Oh" he says. This is my 14th Bassmasters, and I have the best shot of anyone ta win it, I know I can catch the fish in there for me to win a boat. I also know that it holds enough fish that you could catch em as well and move up. I'll work with ya Sparkey, give me four hours in there and if'n it's not working, I got no problems leaving to run to your fish. You're catching most of yours in the afternoon anyhow, right? If things are going well and you wanna stay, we can do that too. You need to afford me the window of opportunity as the 3rd place guy, ta use my boat and give me the first 4 hours. Let's work together and both of us can take home a boat! He was cool with that, especially once he realized it was me who caught that big one and I was fishing in Bidwell. He knew all too well of the potential of the fish in Bidwell. I think it also eased him that I was more than willing to work with him if it wasn't going well.
I was then off ta meet with the other top 5 guys and the camera crew. Quite a bunch of guys, Murray, Voorhese, Cooch, Dobyns, Batey and Kiriyama , who got moved into the camera group at 6th due to the 1st and 2nd guys drawing each other. Oddly, for some reason, Kotaro, blew off the camera crew and did not show for the meeting. They weren't so happy about that, but who knows what happened, for some guys, the camera crew is no big deal a pain actually, for me, it was all part of the dream come true. I had every intentions of looking forward to the greatest day in my fishing career, win or loose, I was gonna have some fun with that camera crew. And it started with the introduction and info shoot on the bridge. The head guys asked me to step up onto the railing in front of the camera. So I did just that, but not the lower railing, I jumped up onto to the top railing. Not way up there Cooch. "But ya said ta jump up on the railing, I only did what ya asked" Then one of the camera guys spurts out, Hey Cooch, how bout ya give me $100 bucks? And I replied, come see me after I win that boat tomorrow! Talk about crackin the ice and easin the tension, it was only the start of something very special to come.
Getting back to the room and riggin was easy, one rod. The 3/4oz Bite-Me-Jig and 60 of the 180 grubs. It was all I was gonna need. I was in bed by 7:30 and fast asleep by 8:00. As I awoke at 4:00a, I went out to the boat and grabbed one of my CGR603 short rods. I tied up a dropshot, just incase, heck, I drew the guy who is in 8th, who lives here and fishes Oroville quite regularly, just maybe, I might need this rig. I was planning and thinkin ahead, not that I needed to or feared that my pattern would fall apart, but because I thought it was a smart thing ta do, I needed ta be prepared. Sparkey met me at my motel, the Court Yard Inn at 4:50a and we were off to the ramp.
Once we launched, we were instructed to head over to the floating dock to meet our camera crew and they would mike us up. As I joked with Keith our cameraman, we talked a little bit about how some guys were uncomfortable with the mike and it gave an advantage to the guys in the back of the boat sometimes. Okay, well, I could tell that Sparkey was a little bit unsure and overwhelmed with all of this, there was a bunch of focus on me at the time. I really needed Sparkey to feel comfortable, so I was tryin ta include him as much as possible. Then I got ta thinkin, hey guys, we got the number 8 guy in this boat too, and he has a great chance and opportunity as well ta finish this thing off. It's his first Bassmasters, let's mike him too! I don't want ya messin round in the boat if'n he catches a bunch of good fish and decide ya wanna do it on the water, mike him now. Sparkey is really a purty shy guy, nowhere near as outspoken and forward as me, but he was all for havin that mike on at first. Later, as I would learn, maybe that wasn't such a good idea.
We're in the first flight today and as I did yesterday, my blast off consisted of idling from the Bidwell launch to right around the corner beyond the first set of house boats. As we pulled up and started to fish, and it hit me like a ton of bricks. I'm in a Bassmasters, I'm in 3rd place, I got a mike on and the camera is rolling. What an adrenaline rush. I was a ball of nerves that first 20 minutes. I was speechless and very focused on my bait. Sparkey got the first bite on a dart head worm, good fish too, it came unbuttoned. Oh man, bad deal fer Sparkster, very negative effect, you could see it in his attitude. I had ta tell him, "Let it go Dude, it's early, there are a lot of fish in here like that. Don't put any added pressure on yerself, just keep fishin. We moved around to a point that had a houseboat sitting on it behind us. Sparkey dropped his dropshot rig down and hooked yet another REALLY good fish. It wrapped on the cable and came unbuttoned. I think Sparkey lost something at that point, he hadn't lost a fish all week, then ta loose his first two today, and two fish that were bigger than anything he'd caught so far. I kept on him ta hang in there, lot of time left. I was really a bottled up wad of nerves at this point. Still fishing and totally oblivious to the camera crew.
That all changed on the inside of this point, same spot where I caught the 12 pounder, I stuck my first fish. A good solid keeper too. The light came on, it was just the greatest relief I had ever felt. "Five more like this and I'm gonna win a boat guys!" I then cut loose to the camera, I sucked down my first RedBull of the day, a little fuel to the Cooch's babble box. The rest of the day was unreal, all I did was talk to Sparkey and the camera guys. Explaining in details how I was catching em. How they were setting up on certain structure, certain points. Ever now and then I caught one. I got very good at moving these fish around to the camera side so they had the best shots. I remove the fish and talk directly to the camera, it was unreal and totally natural for me. I was having a blast. I told stories, talked concepts, we joked and horsed around all day. And I kept on pumping Sparkey ta hang in there, kinda playin the big brother type. He was missing fish and getting purty tense about it.
He finally put a couple in the boat, but it really got bad when he lost yet another really good fish on that darter head worm. That one sunk him, I could see it. He was letting the pressure git to him. He was being affected by how I was fishing so freely and working with the camera crews. He realized, he was in the boat with someone from another league. It was truly over whelming him and I could see that. At one point, the camera crew wanted to climb in and film me from the boat. They told us this would happen at some point and they were kind enough ta wait till I had a limit. I actually had no problems what so ever and in fact, played it quite well and caught a fish for Keith right away, it was a culler fish no less. He got it all on film. But I could see that Sparkey was a nervous wreck. Hey Keith, I need ta ask ya to step out of the boat, you got a great shot right there and ole Sparkey here is really being taken out of his game with you in the boat. For his sake, I'm gonna ask that you return to your boat. He still needs one more fish for his limit. Keith kindly obliged and Sparkey thanked me.
We fished in there fer quite a while, I had a fair limit and Sparkey was one shy. At this point, he and I sat and talked, had a smoke together. He said "Cooch, I just want one more fish to make my limit, I'll be tickled ta death. This is your tournament bud, you git me that one fish and I'm in heaven". You got it brother. I hollered to the Camera guys, we're heading up the lake and outa this canyon. As we began ta take off, I ducked inside of that same houseboat that Levell had broken off that good one the day before. We kinda lost the camera crew fer a short moment, I shut her down and flew to the front and dropped the trolling motor. "Let's git yer 5th fish dude!" First cast to the bank ole Sparkey's settin up! Fish on! Wahoo! Great call Cooch! You da man! Nice one too. The camera boat at this point was scrambling and caught the last part of me netting it and Sparkey adding it to the well. He was a changed man the rest of the day. We bounced around the lake tryin different things, never able to increase our bag until the last 15 minutes.
We ended up down at the mouth of the West Branch, tried flippin some of the wood, nothing, then crossed over to a very shear and steep canyon point at the mouth of and on the east side of Grizzly Creek. We got into a good school of fish here. Sparkey culled one out, but we was running out of time and had ta leave. We had ta go, 12 minutes ta git back. No problems, we"ll make it with plenty to spare. I wasn't so sure at this point if'n I'd gotten enough weight ta win the tournament, but I was plenty confident that I had caught enough weight to win a boat. It's amazing, I fished this whole tournament and never caught a fish over three pounds during the event. I've left a lot out of what happened on this day, you'll all git ta see it in March on ESPN, I'm hoping it will be a special introduction of Cooch to the rest of the BASS fishing community. I may not have won it, but I had a blast tryin!
As we git to the scales, Fish plays that game they play with the leaders. Gene Batey has had a good day with a 9 pound sack, when he tells me I'm gonna need 8 pounds 6 ounces ta take the lead, I tell him I'm gonna fall a couple of ounces short of that, all the while hoping and praying, that maybe, just maybe, I've underestimated my sack. Oh so close, but one of the few times I have been right on the money. Heck, 5 tournament days of these fish and I finally guessed right. I was three ounces shy and in 2nd place. Wow, what a feeling of joy and elation it was at first up on that stage. Talking to Fish and all the people, holding the fish up for the cameras, it was as I had dreamed. My first dream come true was to fish my first BASS event, I did that three years ago at the Columbia. My second dream come true was ta win a boat, and I'm poised in a position that might allow that ta happen. Life was good at that moment, one I'll never fergit.
Now I had ta play that awful waiting game, I was in the first flight, we had a lot of folks ta weigh in. I no sooner walked off the stage and was greeted with a huge crowd of autograph seekers and journalists, it seemed endless. It helped ta pass the time though, as there were still a number of the top guys who were not yet off the water. I went over and hung out with Gene, we're both ecstatic. Pat Dilling found me, too cool huh! We'd heard all sorts of rumors at this point, Voorhese only had a tiny limit, Murray only had two fish, Dobyns only had a couple at 1:00p and Rush had about 7-8 pounds. We stood around watching, on edge the whole way, it then became a reality when John and Ryan weighed in, there was nobody that could catch us. Then there was a hush as a guy walked to the stage with a big sack, he had a huge spot, and it went 5 pounds 1 ounce, big fish of the tournament. Uh oh, I don't know who this guy is, but he busted the scales at 11 pounds 2 ounces. We got the guys name, Luke Clausen. I'm freakin as I search for him on the board, Batey and I are side by side, I find him, he had 14-09 the first day, oh man, he fell short Gene, 25-11, whew! The dream had become a reality!
I had a blast folks, as much doing it live, as I have had retting it here! Keep the faith in the good Lord and follow your dreams, for there will come a day, that He will lead you to live your dreams just like He has done for me. I am now dreaming of a trip to the Classic, See ya there soon!
Keep A Tight Line!
Andy "Cooch" Cuccia