He refers to himself as a water dog.
A 4-year Coast Guard hitch, followed by 24 years aboard an oceanographic survey boat that sailed all over the world, plus his current five years as a licensed captain on “Clean Ocean” warrants the moniker.
But, now you can call him by a name he earned just last week. His title: state champion.
Creston’s Dale Ball earned the honor, and he plans to defend it next year.
Never miss a local story.
Ball seized the bass fishing title from the grasp of 38 anglers after two days of tough fishing at Clear Lake.
He barely qualified for the title round in the first California Bass Championship. Consider these events: He advanced out of his first qualifying tournament by six- hundredths of a pound and then survived in the regional qualifier by 1.15 pounds.
He traveled a precarious route to achieve victory. One of the deterrents was the BP oil spill. It could have rendered him unavailable for the fishing challenge.
The champ’s daytime job is skippering a 150-foot long oil spill vessel.
“For a while, I thought we were going to be sent to the Louisiana coast to assist in cleaning up the spill,” he said.
That never transpired, but there were a couple of other close calls which would have ushered him to the sideline along with such gifted anglers as Bassmaster Elite pro Jared Lintner of Arroyo Grande and Randy McAbee Jr. of Bakersfield, who has been the recipient of bass boats by virtue of winning multiple major tournaments.
The 53-year-old Ball shuttered as he harkened back to March 5, the opening round of the three-tiered title chase. The elimination event was staged at Clear Lake, a venue he has been fishing frequently since 1996.
The mandate was qualify among the top 10 anglers to advance or go home. With 48 entrants, it was one of the largest of the 16 local tournaments.
“Conditions were great. The water was warming. Bass were in a pre-spawn mode. Limits were no problem,” Ball said. “I weighed in early. Four guys had weights ranging from 19 to 24 pounds. My limit was among seven in the 18-pound range. I was sweating bullets as I dropped from seventh to nintth place.”
The slide stopped there. His 18.42-pound weight fashioned on jigs was a ticket forward by the slimmest of margins.
On July 23, the last of the four regional tests to round out the field for the championship event, was slated for the Sacramento River, a venue that Ball had never fished.
“Had my ship been sent to the Gulf Coast, I not only would have missed this tournament, but the opportunity to qualify for the CBC,” Ball said.
As it was, in order to compete, Ball had to switch days off with the other skipper of the Clean Ocean.
“The current was horrendous as a result of late rains and water being let out of the two main reservoirs that feed the Sacramento River — Lake Oroville and Shasta Lake,” he said. “Most days I had just one to three keepers in six days of practice.
“The last day of practice I went seven miles up a narrow drainage slough and was fortunate to find a few keepers.”
All of Ball’s tournament catches were made with a Scrounger lure which he described as “a leadhead with a soft plastic bill.” Three spotted bass were bagged by 9 a.m. and three largemouths far up the Sacramento Slough. A culled spot left him with a rare 6.24-pound limit and sixth place. Only one other angler shared the slough. Tenth-place weight was 5.09 pounds. Ball advanced by a matter of 1.15 pounds.
Black Snag Proof frogs were the lures he rode to the champion’s mantle at Clear Lake. They worked in four days of practice and the pattern held. Ball bolted to the top of the leaderboard on Day 1 with an 18.66-pound limit. He led by 1.95 pounds midway through the two-day event.
After catching seven keepers Thursday, Ball managed just five bites Friday and one of those fish came unbuttoned.
As he approached the scales Ball confided, “I was upset over that lost fish. I figured I’d need 16 to 18 pounds and thought I’d be a pound-and-a-half short with my bag I guessed at 14 pounds.”
He anticipated some competitor bringing a 20-pound bag to the scales. One did, but Mike Moreno’s 20.74 sack was all he had after blanking on the first day.
Tournament officials worked a progressive weigh-in updating the leaderboard standings after each competitor. Ball was the final angler. Bakersfield’s Richard Neal, a regular competitor in Central Coast tournaments, weighed 19.74 pounds, the second-heaviest sack of Day 2. He ranked eighth coming in with a 13.68-pound limit and an event total of 33.42 pounds.
Ball had badly underestimated his efforts. The scales read 16.70 pounds and a 35.36-pound total. The surprised fisherman was state champion by 1.94 pounds thanks to having the day’s fifth heaviest bag. His reward was $15,000, an impressive carved trophy and a boat wrap.
Through the years, California has hosted numerous major bass tournaments but the structure of the California Bass Championship contested for the first time has some factors that validate its claim to crowning the first state champion. Four hundred forty nine anglers participated in 16 local tournaments staged all over the state. Four regionals were next, each with 40 men who had survived local events by placing in the top 10. Through the first two rounds each competitor fished solo. In the state showdown, a marshall was in each boat giving credence to total honesty. Also entered were three other SLO residents who each earned $1,000. Darrin Bishop of Paso Robles, winner of the Region 2 tournament at Lopez Lake, placed 15th with a tournament weight of 18.14 pounds.
“I had a horrible practice but I was encouraged by my 12th place and 12.98-pound limit,” he said. “I’d hoped to have 14 pounds, but I was penalized for having a dead fish. I switched to swimbaits the second day hoping for big bites. It didn’t happen. The wind and algae were a problem.” His Day 2 weight was 5.16.
Jim Keeney of Paso Robles, finished in 16th place with a 17.98 total. His 14.20-pound bag had him in seventh place on Day 1. “I had to release four fish the first day and one the second because I caught ’em on rip baits and they were hooked outside of the mouth. (It’s a DFG rule that those fish must be released, confirmed tournament director Tom Leogrande.) “I caught two more fish Friday but only 3.78 pounds. The algae was thick and horrible.”
Casey Langley of Arroyo Grande settled in 19th place with a 15.68-pound total. He was in 14th place with a Day 1 weight of 12.94 pounds but caught only 2.74 pounds Friday.
“Bass blew up on frogs I was throwing but they weren’t eating. Wind blew thick algae into areas I wanted to fish clogging my reels. It was fun and I plan to enter next year.”
Top 10, Day 1 & 2 Weights. Total Weight, Winnings1 Dale Ball, Creston 18.66, 16.70, 35.36 pounds, $15,000’ 2. Richard Neal, Bakersfield, 13.68, 19.74, 33.42 pounds, $5,000; 3. Richard Dobys, Yuba City, 14.32, 16.94, 31.26 pounds, $3,000; 4. Jimmy Reese, Witter Springs, 13.32, 16.56, 29.88 pounds, $2,000; 5. Chris Franks, Petaluma, 11.54, 17.82, 29.36 pounds, $1,000; 6. Kyle Rasmussen, Angels Camp, 13.16, 13.50, 26.66 pounds, $1,000; 7. Tom Salo, Yuba City, 12.76, 13.54, 26.30 pounds, $1,000; 8. Jess Settem, Moorpark, 12.50, 13.07, 25.57 pounds, $1,000; 9. Kent Brown Roseville, 16.71, 7.69, 24.40 pounds, $1,000; 10. Paul Tilton, Orwood, 15.39, 7.67, 23.06 pounds, $1,000. White seabass
The white seabass bite has tapered off. Last week, 158 were caught by anglers out of the Port San Luis boat launch. But none were caught Monday or Tuesday this week. Whopper of the Week was a 31-pound, 5-ounce white seabass by Arroyo Grande’s Graham Lovejoy on Aug. 15. Patriot Sportfishing
The sixth-annual Lingcod Contest began Sunday with Dave Pimentel of Arroyo Grande taking the Day 1 lead with an 11-pound, 9-ounce ling.
The contest has no entry fee and continues through Nov. 15. Call 595-7200 for schedules and reservations. Virg’s Landing
The biggest of 57 lings harvested by passengers last week was a 14-pounder by Casandra Scaduto of Visalia.
Call 772-1222 for schedules and reservations. Central Coast Sportfishing
The heaviest jackpot fish last week weighed 13 pounds, 4 ounces and was caught by Daphne Martin of Bakersfield.
Call 772-3474 or 704-2084 for schedules and reservations. Santa Margarita Lake
Donnie White of Maricopa caught a 22-pound catfish with a nightcrawler Aug. 13 at Vaca Flats. Bluegill and redear are your best bet. Lopez Lake
Anthony Simite, 7, of Arroyo Grande, caught his first fish, a 1-pound crappie. Whale Rock Reservoir
After five straight weeks of at least one trout being caught, eight anglers were blanked last week.