A slow start turned out to be a mere inconvenience for Jim Keeney at Nacimiento Lake on Saturday as he won the inaugural 2011 San Luis Obispo County Bass Ambushers tournament by 1.56 pounds.
The 67-year-old from Paso Robles made an early morning dash to the Nacimiento River, where he had caught fish in practice a few days earlier. But, by 11 a.m., he only had two fish.
His luck improved once he moved to the main lake. He estimated his initial limit to be seven pounds. That would have placed him no higher than 18th in the 25-angler field.
“By dragging a one-ounce jig on the lake bottom, my hookups improved. Most of my fish were caught at a depth of 20 to 35 feet, but I even caught some at 40 feet,” Keeney said.
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Kenney said he caught 15 to 20 fish with a final upgrade around 2 p.m. His winning limit weighed 11.70 pounds.
Runner-up Damon Meeks had a tournament partner who no doubt learned more than he could ever have anticipated. Meeks caught a 10.14-pound limit, including a rare smallmouth on plastic worms. His co-angler, Paul Bailey of Creston, also managed a limit including a largemouth.
Bailey, who’ll turn 66 on Saturday, was competing in only his third Ambusher event. He’s a longtime friend of Damon’s dad, Ken Meeks.
“I was so excited to catch a limit drop shotting but I did have a hard time getting them out of the live well,” Bailey said.
What you bring to the scales is what you weigh. Somehow, Bailey only brought four fish to be weighed. Tournament rules didn’t allow him to return to the boat for his elusive fifth fish.
“I blew it,” he groaned. “I even had a hard time getting that fish out of the live well after weigh-in. I guess I need one of those grabber gloves. It was a lot of fun. I’m signed up as a co-angler so I’ll be fishing the rest of the season. The fishing bug has bitten me now.”
Added Damon Meeks: “I think Paul would have beaten me if he had weighed all five fish.”
Bailey settled for 16th place with 8.06 pounds.
Fishing a Wacky Rigged Yum Dinger down to 25 feet, Jim Slusher of Atascadero placed third with a 9.98 pound weight. His son Tim placed fifth in his first tournament. He weighed a 9.35-pound limit caught drop shotting Robo worms.
Cambria’s Erik Zillig was fourth. He used soft plastic jerk baits, Zoom flukes, for a 9.66-pound limit.
Ambushers Top 10
(All 5-fish Limits), Weight Winnings
1. Jim Keeney, Paso Robles, 11.70 pounds, $352.50; 2. Damon Meeks, Atascadero, 10.14 pounds, $211.50; 3. Jim Slusher, Atascadero, 9.98 pounds, $141; 4. Erik Zillig, Cambria, 9.66 pounds; 5. Tim Slusher, Atascadero, 9.35 pounds; 6. Dan Barrios, San Luis Obispo, 9.29 pounds; 7. Neal Franklin, Atascadero, 9.18 pounds; 8. Ron Raymond, Paso Robles, 8.79 pounds; 9. Mitch Wasley, Paso Robles, 8.78 pounds; 10. Austin Bonjour, Atascadero, 8.62 pounds. 1st Big Fish, 2.77 pounds, Ed Bryant, Paso Robles, $130.
FLW college tourney
The initial release on the Jan. 15 National Guard Western Division College bass tournament at Lake Shasta did not have any report on the Cal Poly entry.
It’s probable the public relations staff in Minneapolis was looking in the wrong segment of the standings.
For only the second time in their past six tournaments, Scott Hellesen and Damian Bean did not finish in the top five in the standings.
Hellesen and Bean placed 11th in a field of 39 teams with five fish weighing 5 pounds, 3 ounces.
“We are looking forward to doing much better in our next tournament at Lake Roosevelt in Arizona Feb. 19,” Hellesen said via e-mail.
Hellesen and Bean will represent Cal Poly in the national college championships at Kentucky Lake on April 7-9. They qualified in October by placing fifth in the western regional at Folsom Lake.
During the 2010 college campaign, Hellesen and Bean placed fifth at Lake Shasta, second at Lake Mead and first at the California Delta. Their efforts earned $11,500 for Cal Poly scholarships and a like amount for the Bass Club at the university.
Tri Valley Opens at Lopez
Tournament competition begins Saturday at Lopez Lake.
Mark Scribner, 51, and Graham Grove, 19, were the unlikely 2010 Anglers of the Year while placing no higher than third in the eight events.
Last year’s biggest bass, 11.96 pounds, was caught at Lopez in April by Nipomo’s Felix Camacho and his cousin Ken Camacho of Santa Maria. The duo won again at the September fishoff at Cachuma Lake.
This year’s tournament entry fee is $80 per boat. Blast-off will be at first safe light on Saturday. For more information, call tournament director Steve Vidmar at 354-1912 or 621-9051.
Whale watching trips are scheduled for Saturday and Sunday. Reservations for the 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. trips are appreciated. Cost is $35 for adults, $15 for children ages 4-12 and $10 for children ages 3 and under. Call 595-7200 for more information and to make reservations.
“Currently, the lake is eight feet higher than when the summer season began last year,” marina manager Jerry Weatherly said. Crappie, bluegill and redear are being caught but not in big numbers, Weatherly said.
Santa Margarita Lake
Sandra Lopez, at the marina, said that a few bass, crappie and catfish are being caught but none large enough to brag about. Catches using hot dogs have dropped off, but the hot dogs are still enticing some catfish along with mackerel.