Tri-Cities Tournament Recap

With pre-tournament high water conditions and a cast of extremely talented anglers, one would have thought largemouth might be king in our Early Summer CBBC qualifier. Weight guesses ranged all the way up to 24lbs, many fully expecting someone to put the beat-down on the green fish. However, tournament morning brought strange conditions that surely changed the outcome of the tournament. Falling water, sometimes an angler’s worst nightmare, greeted the field. This undoubtedly made the already post-spawn largemouth fishing even more difficult, and potentially would make fishing in the Reach even worse…
1st Place – Clint Johanson & Ben Hanes – 20.75lbs.
When I moved to Tri-Cities in 2004, I started out fishing the Hanford Reach. I remember reading articles in Bassmaster about Gene Batey taking Ray Scott, the founder of B.A.S.S., fishing in the Reach, and Clint Johanson placing in the top 3 in national tournaments by devoting his time upriver. I determined this was a section of the river I wanted to learn thoroughly, and I pretty much lived up there for 7 years. I learned the Reach can be good, but oftentimes, it can also burn you bad. I remember at first being puzzled by extremely high-water situations, and I really struggled trying to figure the puzzle out, as my exploration was done with pretty much no help. It wasn’t until 2011 that I felt I finally had a good grasp on how to fish the Reach in high water, and since then, that section of the river has not really had many high-water situations. I was actually really excited with the pre-tournament, super-high water, and would have been even happier had it stayed at around 26-28 feet. We had to adjust with the falling water.
Clint and I started out in the backwaters of the Reach. We were hoping to find big females that were either on beds or had just moved up, as the water was only around 59 degrees. After hitting a couple high-percentage spawning areas that yielded only small males, we made the decision to move out. In Clint’s words, the big females might be “on the outside looking in.” This would match my high-water past experience also, as it seems like the bigger fish significantly delay their spawn in high flows. I guess the trick is knowing which seams and rocky-bottoms to hit, because when the water is so high it’s running over sagebrush, you need to know where the fish usually spawn and which seams they usually hang out in, because fishing a seam in sagebrush is not going to work, and they do not spawn in prairie grass! Often, this means you’re fishing in 7-14 feet of water, and that’s basically the depth we targeted. We used an assortment of slow-moving soft plastic baits and swim baits to get our fish. We targeted 5 areas adjacent to spawning grounds. There were a lot of fist-bumps, laughs (Clint might seem quiet at first, but he’s hilarious!), and culling. It was a really fun day and we were very fortunate to have won, as there were a number of extremely solid fisherman in this tournament, and I fully expected to see some giant bags. We were blessed.
2nd Place – Ron Mace & Gene Batey – 19.81lbs.
We got 30+ keepers! We were all over the river from north of Richland down to Burbank, and we had a great day of fishing! Most of the fish we caught were on Sniper Snubs.
3rd Place – Mark Westcott & Mel Williams – 15.90lbs.
When we went out to do some practice fishing, we never dialed in any quality smallmouth fishing. We knew some fantastic bags could and probably would come from the Hanford Reach but we just didn’t figure them out up there. So… Our focus shifted south and fishing for largemouth shallow. We made a rotation of a few locations and managed to catch a few pretty good fish here and there. There was no one place that stood out but we did manage a decent limit. We never had that five-plus that we would catch in practice doing the same things but no complaints. We had a four-plus and most were in the three range. Our fish came on spinnerbaits, chatterbaits, and flipping soft plastics. All of our fishing was in 3 feet or less. Even the better smallmouth came from flipping soft plastics shallow targeting largemouth. If we could go back and do it again, I think we would do the same and maybe just budget our time in some of the areas differently.

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