By David A. Brown
PLUMAS PINES, Calif. — Scott Hellesen wasted no time in making his point, as the seasoned pro from Paso Robles, Calif. sacked up 17.58 pounds to lead Day 1 of the APEX Pro Tour season opener on Lake Almanor presented by Bridgford Foods.
Hellesen, the reigning APEX Pro Tour Angler of the Year, sized up his options and adhered to the timeless angling axiom: Don’t leave fish to find fish. Parking on a single main lake point was all he needed for the Almanor lead.
“I’ve never been here, so I pickled the point that I thought would be the best smallmouth prespawn spot,” Hellesen said. “The flat was on the north end of the lake, so in theory, the water should be a little warmer.”
Describing his area as a flat point with 3-10 feet of water, Hellesen said he’d fan cast around the spot to locate the active fish. The sweet spots, Hellesen said, mostly coincided with big stumps.
“I sat there for 3 hours and caught 15 fish off of one point,” he said. “I caught all my fish in the morning; after 10 o’clock, it was calm and sunny and I just couldn’t get them to bite.
“After that, I knew I had a decent bag, so I ran around the lake and went practicing. I covered a bunch of water, looking for bed fish. I tried a bunch of different stuff and literally did not get another bite the rest of the day.”
Hellesen caught his fish shallow in the early hours. Once that bite tapered off, he transitioned to deeper water and reconnected with the fish.
“I think it was water clarity; we had 7-8 of visibility and once that sun got up high, the fish moved into deeper water,” Hellesen said. “I could see the fish on Lowrance ActiveTarget and I’d throw my bait to them.”
Hellesen said a 3/16-ounce prototype Garagetek Bait Co. underspin with a 3.5 Keitech Easy Shiner produced six of his keepers, with another reaction bait accounting for the rest. For the proper presentations, Hellesen used a 7-foot medium-light Stealth Stix Skinny Pete spinning rod with a Shimano Stradic, 8-pound Daiwa J Braid and 8-pound Seaguar Tatsu leader.
Also leading the Most Scorable Bass standings with 15, Hellesen said he’s hoping he can exploit his productive point for at least another day.
“As long as no one sits on my point, I should be fine,” Hellesen said. “My plan is to go there first and if everything goes right, I’ll catch 10 of them off of it and then go find fish for the final day.”
Ryan Friend of Oroville, Calif. is in second place in the Total Weight standings with 17.09 pounds. Also making his first trip to Almanor, Friend fished off instinct and put together a strategy based on likely fish movement.
“I started early on steep banks (with depths of) 12-20 feet; it was just something that looked good and had some low light,” Friend said. “I was planning on covering a lot of water to see if there were any up shallow feeding.
“I didn’t find the gold mine. I plucked a few fish off that steep area early, then I got on a good bite later in the morning.”
Throwing a mix of reaction and slow baits, Friend did most of his work on main lake flats in 5-15 feet. His search turned up four particularly promising flats, but one ended up delivering the majority of his weight.
“For this deal, without Garmin Live Scope, I would have been severely handicapped today,” Friend said. “With this clear water and these fish wanting to spawn, making a long cast was important.”
Rounding out the top-5 were Hayden Lee with 16.87, Nick Cloutier with 15.46 and Zack Thompson with 14.92.
Luke Johns of Folsom, Calif. is in second place in the Most Scorable Bass standings with 14. Noting that the seasonal movement is getting under way, Johns said his strategy centered on finding likely spawning areas.
“We’re kinda just on the front end of the spawn right now,” Johns said. “There were a couple of fish up early, but I think there will be more up tomorrow.
“I was just targeting places where I knew fish would be moving to as I got warmer. I was just fishing rock and hard bottom areas.”
Johns caught fish in 0-20 feet and found that areas with any abnormalities would usually point to a promising spot. The early morning period proved most productive, with the day taking quickly taking a distinct downturn.
“I caught 10-11 by 8:30, then I caught three the rest of the day,” Johns said. “I was catching them on reaction baits in the morning and once the sun came up, I had to slow down and finesse them.”
Johns threw his reaction baits on Sunline Crank FC, which offered the right stretch to let the fish get his treble hooks. Also, refitting his baits with Owner Stinger trebles helped keep those smallmouth pinned.
Rounding out the top-5 were Friend with 13, Cloutier with 12 and Lee with 11.
After two days of full-field competition, the top-10 anglers advance to Saturday’s Championship round. The final field will comprise the top-5 anglers with the Most Scorable Bass and the top-5 anglers with the highest Total Weight. Total days weight and Scorable Bass count from days 1 and 2 are cumulative. In the final round, weights and keeper count are zeroed.
Takeoff and weigh-ins area at Plumas Pines Resort.