Summoned onto an international stage for its debutant ball, Roosevelt Lake this week turned coy.
Blame the wily bass who went deep and kept their big gaping mouths shut as a storm front gusted in — cutting off the launch ramp with a landslide.
Most fishermen reported a frustrating day, with many straggling into the weigh-in with fewer than the five-fish limit.
The top four finishers had a five-fish total weight of just over 13 pounds — an average weight of just 2.6 pounds.
Among the professionals, Andy Scholz, of Reno, and Brent Ehrler, of Redlands, each collected $500 for catching the biggest fish of the day — 4 pounds, 11 ounces.
Clifford Pirch was the top local angler, placing 15th after two days of fishing.
“It’s been extremely slow,” said FLW Outdoors communications specialist Julie Huber, after talking to most of the top fishermen as they completed the Wednesday weigh-in. Some of the best bass fishermen in the world said they fished all day and got only 8 or 10 bites.
Almost the sole exception to that rule was Gerald Loughran, of Glendale, who said he caught between 15 and 20 fish. Alas, they were mostly small — since he was fourth in the standings at the end of day one. The five fish he kept totaled 13 pounds, 4 ounces.
“Gerald said he’d been fishing the lake for 35 years, so he knew what to expect — no surprises for him,” said Huber.
Most of the top finishers on the opening day said they had the most luck fishing deep as the storm blew through, using patterns that imitated the schools of shad that have increased sharply in the lake in the past two years.
The day proved a nail-biter for the local advocates of the tournament, who hoped the televised coverage of the tournament that had the potential to reach a billion homes world-wide would showcase the dramatic rise in bass populations in the lake in the past five years, thanks to high water, submerged brush and lots of bait fish. Coming in, the lake had a reputation for a steady, one-bass-an-hour catch rate, even for the average fisherman, and a sharp rise in the number of big fish.
Instead, fishermen found themselves working hard to get a bite — even when their fish finders revealed schools of shad with a lurking fringe of predatory bass. But for reasons known only to the bass, not much worked on Wednesday or Thursday.
“Some said it was the weather, but others said that the fishing was also tough on their practice days on Monday and Tuesday when weather wasn’t a factor,” said Huber.
Who can ever say why bass won’t bite?
“Was it the fall transition? The weather? The full moon?” queried Huber.
Not only that, opening day got off to a rough start when a thunderous dawn cloudburst sent water crashing down a wash.
The flood deposited a six-foot-deep layer of rock and mud that closed Highway 188 from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. Fortunately, most of the anglers were already on the lake, getting ready for their carefully orchestrated takeoff, with “flights” of boats launched at 10-minute intervals until more than 200 boats had blasted out onto the lake. One angler got stuck on the wrong side of washout. But that didn’t stop him.
“He couldn’t get through, so he hiked down to the lake. He climbed down an embankment, got into a boat and made it back to the ramp — and started his fishing day 90 minutes late,” said Huber.
“Everything went wonderfully — the Payson volunteers were instrumental in moving people up and down from the boat ranch.”
Aside from the meager totals, the televised weigh-in went perfectly — with 98 percent of the 351 fish caught by the 93 professional anglers returned to the lake alive — older and presumably much wiser.
So will the tough fishing spoil Roosevelt Lake’s chances for becoming a regular on the professional bass tournament circuit? Will those free-spending bass fishermen and their fans expected to interject $600,000 into the local economy this week be back?
“We do have a certain amount of expectation,” said Huber delicately.
“But, no — just because the fishing is tough doesn’t rule a lake out. We know we’re here in the fall, and weather conditions played a part. Lots of things get taken into consideration — like what the guys say about it. Sometimes the fishing’s tough — it just happens. So is a 7 to 3 football game a bad game? Not necessarily — it just means the defense showed up.”
So come on, boys — and we’re talking to all those big bass out there, hanging out all smug in deep water watching the shad swim past.
Let’s get out there and bite!
Let’s swallow one for the gipper!