SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Overcoming a slow start and maximizing active periods, Ken Mah of Elk Grove, Calif. caught a limit of 21.25 pounds to lead Day 1 of the APEX Cup Pro Tour Championship on the California Delta presented by BassCat/Mercury.
“There were several lulls and two main windows when they bit and within those windows is where I did my damage,” Mah said. “The morning lull, I believe, was a matter of being off the water for 30 days (tournament off-limits period). I caught a few 13-inch bass early, but I didn’t have my first scorable fish (14-inch minimum per APEX rules) until 9 a.m.
“I think the biggest thing is fishing with confidence. You can get in a hurry, you’re fishing too fast, you’re running your trolling motor too fast and you look up and half the day’s gone.”
Mah spent his day on riprap banks with current and clean grass (not a lot of slimy coating). His primary bait was a 1/2-ounce Bill Lewis Rat-L-Trap in Toledo Gold. He also threw a 1/2-ounce custom vibrating jig in green pumpkin with a green pumpkin red flake Big Bite Baits SwimOn trailer.
“When I came to the right type of grass or matted vegetation, I would pull out a punching rod,” Mah said. “I used my go-to setup: a 1 1/4- to 1 3/4-ounce weight with a peanut butter and jelly Big Bite Baits Yo Mama on a 4/0 Gamakatsu Superline hook.”
Mah noted that with fall diminishing the grass lines and the day offering a minimal outgoing tide cycle, he often had difficulty getting a good look at how the grass was lying. Throwing his Rat-L-Trap on 16-pound Sunline Crank FC, he did his best to aim for the outside weed line.
“With the morning high tide, it was hard to see, so I’m envisioning where that edge is,” Mah said. “I’m trying to hook the grass and one of my biggest fish — a 4 1/2-pounder — bit when I ripped it out. I popped the bait free and when I caught back up to my bait, it was swimming off.”
Noting that many of his bites were non-aggressive, Mah said he found it essential to remain focused and keep his head in the game. Diligence paid off with a day that gradually blossomed.
“After a couple hours of not catching anything, I just kept fishing and fishing and things just started to develop,” Mah said. “It was just being confident, staying put and fishing what was in front of me.”
Mah, who won the APEX Cup on Thermalito Afterbay presented by Garmin Fish & Hunt and DUO International, said he was pleased to record a strong start and position himself well for the event’s qualifying rounds.
“This is definitely better than I was shooting for,” Mah said. “This time of year, I figured 17 pounds would be a really good bag. Day 1 is just a positioning day, so I went out with the goal of catching 17, so I’m 4 pounds ahead of where I thought I would need to be.”
Also leading the Most Keepers standings with 14, Mah said he feels confident that he’s in good shape to make Sunday’s championship round, with either total weight or keepers. Notwithstanding his numerical advantage, Mah knows he has to turn in a solid Day-2 performance.
“I gotta catch some fish tomorrow, it’s not a gimme,” he said.
Austin Wilson of Citrus Heights, Calif. is in second place in the Total Weight standings with 20.01 pounds. Spending his day in the mid-Delta region, he fished a 2-mile stretch with a mix of clean hydrilla and hyacinth.
Wilson started his morning with a 3/8-ounce green pumpkin ChatterBait with a Missile Baits Missile Craw in green pumpkin red flake. Later in the day, he would flip the thicker cover with a Berkley PowerBait Bunker Hawg on a 5/0 Owner Jungle Hook and a 1 1/2-ounce Wicked Weights tungsten weight on 65-pound P-Line braid.
“I was just covering water and making as many casts as possible,” Wilson said. “The Chattebait excelled in sparse grass. I was reeling it over the holes where fish sit and ambush.
“I also caught some on an unweighted Yamamoto Senko Texas rigged with a 4/0 worm hook. When wind wasn’t right for the ChatterBait, I’d throw the Senko along the edge of the grass.”
Rounding out the top-5 were Luke Johns with 16.27, Juan Acosta with 15.90 and Nick Cloutier with 14.14.
Hailing from Tracy, Calif., Acosta is in second place in the Most Keepers standings with 11. Running about 40 minutes south of the takeoff, he focused on flatter areas with grass.
“These areas had a lot of bait, mostly schools of shad,” Acosta said. “If you can find the shad, that’s where the bass will be. These areas also have crawfish and other baitfish, so there was a lot for the fish to eat.”
Acosta caught most of his fish on a 1/2-ounce homemade vibrating jig with a Berkley Havoc Pit Boss. He also caught keepers on a Reaction Innovations Vixen (shad pattern) and a Bill Lewis SB-57 squarebill.
Specific tide stage was not critical for Acosta, as long as he had moving water. The key, he said, was making long casts.
“A lot of my bites came after I made three to four cranks,” Acosta said. “You had to bomb it.”
Following Acosta, Travis Huckaby had 10 keepers, while Nick Cloutier, Zack Thompson and Bill O’Shinn all had eight.
After two days of full-field competition, the top-10 anglers advance to Sunday’s Championship round. The final field will comprise the top-5 anglers with the Most Keepers and the top-5 anglers with the highest Total Weight. Total days weight and keeper count from days 1 and 2 are accumulated. In the final round, weights and keeper count are zeroed.