The fish were the winners as the Tri Valley Bass Club launched its 2010 tournament campaign Saturday at Nacimiento Lake.
Nacimiento was a transformed lake. The 36 teams for the most part failed to solve the puzzle associated with a playground that recent rains had changed from 16 percent of capacity to 36 percent of capacity in the past two weeks.
Competitors had to deal with the cold, foggy weather while being vigilant to avoid debris, both floating and submerged.
The fish were winners because 72 men only brought 34 bass to the scales at the end of the day. A number of the 19 teams that did not catch a 13-inch fish didn’t stick around for the weigh-in. They went home early.
The Tri Valley tournament essentially was won on Brad Austin’s third cast of the morning.
“We were fishing close to the dam because the water was clearer there. I threw a white spinnerbait and hooked the biggest spotted bass my partner and I have seen,” the San Miguel angler said.
The 5.02-pound spot outweighed the bag weights of all but the second- and third-place teams. Only three teams caught four fish.
The lake record of 5.49 pounds was set by Arroyo Grande’s Casey Langley in tournament competition Nov. 11, 2006.“We were nervous coming in for the weigh-in,” Austin admitted. “We thought we’d need four fish to win it.”
His partner, John Phillips of Santa Margarita, said: “My role this tournament was like a guide. I told Brad where to cast and he caught all three of our fish. Austin’s other two bass were taken on jigs in 15 to 20 feet of water. Each catch was made tight to the bank by the dam.”
Phillips and Austin have their sights set on capturing Angler-of-the-Year honors, an achievement held for the past two years by the Templeton father-and-son team of Jay and Matt Short.Atascadero’s Brad Shepherd took part in what seems like a rite of passage each January: a plunge into the icy lake waters. “I was wearing my heavy hunting boots because my usual lighter footwear leaked,” he said. “We were fishing across from the marina in about 5 feet of water. I was bending over, trying to untangle a snagged lure when I slipped on the wet deck, did the splits and went into the water.
“I grabbed onto the trolling motor so I was in and out of the water quickly. I wasn’t soaked but eventually my three layers of clothing were wet. This happened around 8 o’clock. I was wet all day and it was cold.”
A while later Austin and Phillips passed by and Shepherd said: “You’ll never believe what happened to me.”
The tournament winners had a good laugh.
“At the end of the day Shepherd was still laughing. And that was good,” Austin said.
Nacimiento Lake will be the site of a fifth tournament this month when the San Luis Obispo County Bass Ambushers begin their season Saturday.
Tri Valley Top 10, Number of Fish, Weight, Winnings — 1. John Phillips, Santa Margarita, Brad Austin, San Miguel 3, 7.75 pounds, $890; 2. Scott Garman, Morro Bay, Cory Woodman, Cayucos, 4, 6.05 pounds, $355; 3. Jay Short, Matt Short, Templeton, 4, 6.03 pounds, $270; 4. Shawn Wilson, Mark Gomes, Paso Robles, 4, 4.57 pounds, $150; 5. Mark Scribner, Pismo Beach, Graham Grove, Atascadero, 3, 4.33 pounds, $130; 6. Mike Wiseman, Dustin Bowlin, Nipomo, 2, 3.28 pounds; 7. Nathan Bywater, Chris Cordero, 2, 2.94 pounds; 8. Johnny Johnson, Rob Marquez, Santa Maria, 2, 2.46 pounds; 9. Frank Fernandes, Robert Saito, Santa Maria, 2, 21 pounds; 10. Brad Shepherd, Atascadero, Robert Bruggeman, Pismo Beach, 1, 1.97 pounds.1st Big Fish, 5.02 pounds, Phillips & Austin, $250; 2nd Big Fish, 2.10 pounds, Garman & Woodman, $110.