By David A. Brown
PLUMAS PINES, Calif. — Knowing when to pull the plug and leave an unproductive scenario turned out to be the best decision Scott Hellesen made en route to retaining his lead at the APEX Pro Tour season opener on Lake Almanor presented by Bridgford Foods.
Adding 14.61 pounds to his Day-1 limit of 17.58, the reigning APEX Pro Tour Angler of the Year from Paso Robles, Calif. carries a 2-day total of 32.19 into Championship Saturday. Doing so required Hellesen to embrace an early disappointment, regroup and redirect his efforts.
“First thing in the morning, I pulled up to the point where I caught all my fish yesterday and three boats had jumped on it before I even got there,” Hellesen said. “I had to scrap that and go run all new water.
“The key decision was to not try to battle on my point where the other guys were. I sat there for an hour and a half and it was just a zoo — nobody caught anything. I finally pulled the trolling motor up and said, ‘I gotta go figure something else out.’ That’s ultimately what saved my day.”
Hellesen, who also leads the Most Scorable Bass standings with 23, stayed within 3 miles of his Day-1 spot and broadened his scope by fishing points with stumps and boulders and the backs of shallow pockets. His thought: Hit the outer areas for staging prespawners and then move inside to look for spawning fish.
“The points produced the best; I had my limit by 1 o’clock today,” Hellesen said. “I figured that was enough to make it to (Day 3), so I went and ran a totally different area of the lake, but that was (unproductive). I at least narrowed my search down so tomorrow, I have a 3-mile square I can bounce around and fish points and pockets.”
Hellesen said a jerkbait produced several of his Day 1 catches, but Day 2 found the fish unwilling to commit. He ended up catching his fish on a 3/16-ounce prototype Garagetek Bait Co. underspin with a 3.5 Keitech Easy Shiner and the same swimbait on a 1/8-ounce ball head.
Hellesen relied on the balanced action of 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.
“I was going slow,” Hellesen said. “I would throw out that swimbait, let it hit the bottom and barely turn the handle. I was fishing the underspin like a spinnerbait — just a straight retrieve.”
Sizing up his final push toward victory, Hellesen said: “It will be the same game plan. There’s a lot of 3 1/2-pound fish (in my area) and if I can catch five of those, that will give me 17 1/2 pounds and that will be pretty hard to beat.
“The way I’m fishing, you give me 8 hours out there and I think I can get it done.”
Ryan Friend of Oroville, Calif. remained in second place in the Total Weight Division. After catching 17.09 on Day 1, he added 14.99 and tallied a total of 32.08.
Friend, who trailed Hellesen by half a pound in the first day’s leaderboard, narrowed the gap to a tenth of a pound. He also tied Nick Cloutier for second place in the Most Scorable Fish category with 21. Friend caught 13 on Day 1 and added eight in the second round.
Replicating his Day-1 plan, Friend started on steep banks and then transitioned to flats in 5-15 feet. He caught his fish on a mix of reaction and slow baits,
“It was very similar; today was pretty much identical to what I did yesterday,” Friend said. “I ran the same the thing, got a few good bites early and had my weight by 11. I knew that would probably be enough to make it (to Championship Saturday), so I spent the rest of the day looking around and practicing a little bit.”
Friend said it seemed the fish he could see on Garmin Livescope weren’t as active as they were on Friday. Spawning focus, he said, likely put blinders on the fish.
“I think tomorrow will just be a matter of getting the right bites,” Friend said. “I have two or three small areas I’m going to spend the whole day in. Those are the areas where I feel like I’m going to have the best opportunity to get five big fish.
“I’m not going to run around the lake and try a bunch of new stuff. I know the fish are in the areas I’m fishing and there are some good ones in there. I just need to focus all of my time in those areas and try to get five of the right ones.”
Rounding out the top-5 were Cloutier with 29.30, Austin Bonjour with 29.23, and Luke Johns with 25.51.
Hailing from Oakley, Calif., Cloutier added nine scorable bass to the 12 he caught on Day 1. Working on the lake’s west side, Cloutier found all of his fish on one point and caught them in 2-25 feet of water.
“It’s a flat point, so I think they’re using it as a staging area and a spawning area,” Cloutier said. “All of the ones I caught were prespawn; they were all fat and healthy.”
Cloutier caught most of his fish in the early hours on an umbrella-rig with Keitech 3.3 Swing Impact Fats in Tennessee Shad with 3/16 ounce Owner ball heads. By late morning when wind picked up and the sun hung high in the sky, he switched to jerkbait.
Looking ahead to Saturday’s final round, Cloutier believes he can catch a competitive bag without changing his game plan.
“I’ll start on the same spot; that’s all I have,” he said. “There are a lot of fish there but it’s been getting hammered. The first hour of the morning will tell me how my day is going to go.”
Rounding out the top-5, Luke Johns had 18, while Matthew Nadeau, John Pearl and Mason Macabee shared a 3-way tie at 15.
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.
Take-off and weigh-ins area at Plumas Pines Resort.