U.S. Open Lake Mead

Lake Mead, the infamous man made reservoir constructed during the first great depression, is located in the desert southwest of the United States. Mead, the site of the very first Bassmaster Classic, and one of the first secret Classic locations dreamed up and devised by the legendary Ray Scott is used today for a variety of needs. The original intent for the formation of Hoover Dam that created Lake Mead was to control the Colorado River’s annual spring flooding, which caused massive destruction of farmland, crops, and loss of life down river. Today, the lakes’ dam is used for electricity needs for the southwest, and water from the lake is used to quench the thirst of the bulging population that is in close proximity to the lake. Lake Mead is also enjoyed by pleasure boaters and anglers alike.

Lake Mead loosing water

The reputable Lake Mead is a making a comeback of sorts lately. For the past 10 years, the water level of this lake has dropped precariously over 100 feet, and the lowest depth on record finally came on November of 2010, with an all-time low of 1081.94 feet. The drop in the water level at Mead can be blamed on a variety of circumstances. The lack of snowfall on the western slopes of the Rockies this past decade had caused the once mighty Colorado River to reduce it output into lakes on the river chain such as Lake Powell and Lake Mead. Population growth around Lake Mead and the greater need for its water resources has also contributed a greater strain on the lake, decimating water levels further. Bass holding structure such as grass cover and submerged tree lines had eroded greatly as the reduction of water levels pushed natural cover to disappear in some areas, and emerge in other areas high above the waterline.

To combat the declining water level, personal from Lake Mead National Recreation Area reacted by moving marinas out to deeper water, constructing and extending numerous launch ramps every few months to the deeper depths of Mead.

Lake Mead is filling back up

Earlier this year, the great Lake Mead finally received very positive news. The western Rockies snowfall increased in volume this past year, and the positive runoff has allowed Lake Powell to open its gates feeding Lake Mead with much needed water. Because of these actions, Lake Mead has increased its depth by approximately 15 feet as of June 2011. This has changed the whole dynamics for the upcoming Wonbass U.S. Open that takes place at Callville Bay, Lake Mead on July 18, 19, and 20th 2011. The host hotel is Boulder Station, Las Vegas Nevada.

The Wonbass U.S. Open is a three day event that has been held on Lake Mead on a yearly basis since 1981. The exception was 1991 and 1992 because of a variety of factors including the then stagnant economy. The Wonbass U.S. Open, the wests alternative to the Classic in the east, is a yearly contest that draws the best from the angling world. Familiar names in the angling world, such as Rick Clunn, Rich Tauber, Gary Klein, Gary Dobyns, Byron Velvick, Clifford Pirch, John and Justin Kerr, Mike Folkestad, Aaron Martens, Johnny Murray, and Fred Roumbanis to name a few, have all competed at this event for years, and some of these reputable anglers have gone on to win this grueling competition not once, but twice in some instances. Mike Folkestad from Yorba Linda, California, is the only angler to have won this competition three times, Clunn, Martens, Pirch, Velvick, and Johnny Murray has all won it twice. Las Vegas local and very popular pro-angler Pat Donaho won the event in 1993. This event draws anglers from all over the United States, and other many areas of the world such as Australia, Japan and South Korea respectively.

The Open is one the few tournaments in existence today, to continue a shared weight format. The shared weight is where professionals, who provide the boat, are paired up with a non-boater or co-angler daily. Each day of the tournament, the pairing changes because of the draw. The professional and the co-angler share the 5 fish weight daily, and both the professional and co-angler take their combined weights from that day with them during the three days of competition. The weight is then added up for the three days of pairings, and the winners from both the professional and the co-angler side are announced. What is also tremendous about this tournament is an angler is never out of the money as they have a shot at receiving prize money for the 5 daily big fish and daily big stringers. This tournament also offers anglers the opportunity to fish alongside their angling hero’s. They come away enriched by the experience. They also get a real up close view of techniques used by the professionals that they can put these techniques into their arsenal for future use. Some anglers because of the experience eventually move from the co-angler seat in the back of someone’s boat to the front of their own boats by entering the competition as a professional angler. The tournament is also opened to both male and female contestants alike.

The Open is also unique in that it allows anglers to slide into the water, to bring their core body temperature down, due to the extreme heat. Rules are in place, so that the angler must have physical contact with the boat at all times while cooling off in the water. Anglers take advantage of this rule and will dip their bodies into the water three to five times daily to reduce body temperature. Heat stroke and other mental calamities are not uncommon at this event, and are brought on by the heat and exhaustion by participating at the Open for three tough days. Daily temperatures on Mead exceed 120 degrees in the summer months.

The high winds play a huge role during the Open also. Not only can the wind bring back a good bite, the wind can also play havoc on boats and equipment. It is not uncommon to have 6-8 foot rollers appear during the Open. The lake does not have any natural cover to break the wind, thus the anglers have to traverse this very big lake with caution. Prior years have seen angler’s returning to the launch ramp with engines ripped off, trolling motors badly damaged, and sonar equipment torn asunder.

Preparation for the U.S. Open requires much researched approaches, such as prefishing, proper hydration, acclimation, sun protection, and boat preparedness and each play a huge role in the overall scheme of winning and surviving the Wonbass U.S. Open. The drive from the host hotel in Las Vegas to the Callville Bay launch ramp at Lake Mead is approximately 30 miles each way, and is another part of the endurance factor at the Open. The casinos and nightlife of Las Vegas challenges the discipline of all the participants and this also adds to the allure of the Open.

First place prize for the professional is $50k plus a complete bass boat with all the trimmings and fixings. This year’s Co-Angler champion will be rewarded approximately $10K. There are also prizes for the daily first five big fish and daily big stringer.

With the Open fast approaching in a few weeks, the scenery has changed dramatically compared to last year’s Open. Coves that were naked of plant life and grass coverage last year are now blossoming with submerged trees and grass. This will play a huge part in this year’s Wonbass U.S. Open. The most productive patterns used on Lake Mead will be in full play once again with the emergence of grass, tulles and trees submerged in water in the back of many coves. The bass tend to use these areas on Lake Mead for ambush locations, while the small bass fry tend to congregate in these areas also. Many Bait fish such as blue gill and shad use these areas for protection from predators, so the bass tend to concentrate in these areas to be close to their food sources.

The types of lures that will be used at this year’s Open will be a variety of topwater baits, such as poppers, frogs, knockers and spooks. Other lures such as spinner baits, jigs, shallow and deep crankbaits, and drop shot techniques will also be used heavily in rotation in reaction to the wind and other elements that will be in full force once again on Lake Mead this year.

As of June 28th, 2011 there were approximately 105 professional signed up, with many professionals returning to take another stab at winning it all. Many Reputable anglers throughout the country such as Fred Roumbanis, Rich Tauber, Scott Nielson, Johnny Murray, John Morrow, Dick Watson Paul Bailey, Clifford Pirch, Shaun Bailey, Klayton Belden, Joey Caporuscio Jamie Cyphers, Jeff Klicka, Aaron Martens, and Andy Manahl have all committed to this year’s Open. Legendary anglers, Rick Clunn, Mike Folkestad, Zell Rowland, Gary Klein, and Don Iovino are in the mix also, and their presence should make for a great tournament. The Open usually holds a field between 150 – 200 boats and this year’s water level and grass structure could lure many more anglers back to compete.

To win this year’s Open will require a variety of new and older strategies as well as a constant adaptation to the ever changing conditions that the lake will offer. Topwater users such as the 1982 Open champion Rick Tauber, Wayne Carey, Mike Sisco, Fred Roumbanis, John and Justin Kerr (no relation,) Jeff Klicka and Phoenix native Andy Manahl will benefit greatly by the new grass cover in coves. Dead calm days will favor the drop shot kings in the likes of Murray, Martens, and Folkestad. The young gun crowd made up of the Bailey brothers, Billy Skinner from Lake Havasu, and Klayton Belden from San Diego will be plying their trades across all of Mead in coves and off both new main and secondary points created on Mead because of the increased water level. Don’t discount the Jig throwers such as local favorite Moses Mokuahi, who will use this technique and many others to gain an advantage over fellow competitors. Fast and powerful anglers such as Gary Dobyns, Kevin Luby, Jamie Cyphers, and Clunn will be anticipating those heavy winds that will no doubt appear once again on Mead in order to throw those spinner baits and shallow crankbaits to get the proper reaction from Mead’s bass.

Do not discount the very reputable international anglers such as Australian newcomer professional Carl Jocumsen and South Korean professional Young “Bradley” Yang who have both worked hard to gain a foothold on American soil. Both have made the transition from been a co-angler at the back of the boat to the front of their own ship. They should not be overlooked and watch for them to be positioned towards the top of the leader board each day. On the Co-Angler side, Chris Ricci, last year’s Wonbass U.S. Open Co-Angler champion, and Tami Curtis will once again be a threat to other Co-Angler participants. Both are perennial favorites and can fill a livewell with great weights very quickly.

Not only will lure selection and presentation be vital once again at the Open, mental and physical endurance will also be needed to outlast the environment, the harsh elements of Mead and the stiff competition that will be ever-present.

This year’s Open should be one for the ages.

John O’Brien
Las Vegas, Nevada

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