PEORIA, Ariz. – Marcus Clouse knew it was going to be a good day of fishing the second he stepped outside this overcast Saturday morning.
“When I woke up this morning and saw that the clouds were out, I said, ‘This is it. This is going to be my day,’” he said.
Indeed it was. The 30-year-old general contractor from Henderson, Nev., capitalized on an unusually fruitful fishing hole to win the Pro Division of the EverStart Series Western Division season opener at Arizona’s Lake Pleasant. Clouse caught the second-heaviest limit of the entire tournament in the finals – 12 pounds, 1 ounce – and walked away with $9,000 and a new Ranger boat for the victory.
“I’m excited,” he said. “I’m just glad it’s over. And I’m glad the clouds came out.”
For Clouse, it was all about the cloud cover this week – and an absolute honey hole he stumbled upon in practice. In four days of pre-fishing before the event, he caught just one bass. Not really knowing what to do when the tournament started, he returned to the spot on the north end of Lake Pleasant where he caught his one fish and found that it held a whole lot more.
“When I got out there the first day, I caught my limit in a half an hour,” he said. “I must have shaken off 30 fish that day.”
Weather conditions in the finals were very similar to what they were on day one: cloudy and cool. After placing second in the opening round and slogging through some sunshine Friday to make the final cut, Clouse opened the window Saturday morning, saw the gray skies and smelled the green.
“I was fishing in about a 10-foot circle along a bluff at about 50 feet deep,” he said. “Today, I actually found out how many fish are there. Between my partner (co-angler Gary Collins) and me, we probably caught 60 fish today. Oh my God, it was a phenomenal day.”
Clouse said the cloud cover prompted the bass in his little hole to come to the surface to feed. For about a half-hour stretch, he and Collins feasted on the frenzy. Clouse caught the bulk of his winning fish on a drop-shot armed with blue-magic- and bold-bluegill-colored RPM minnows, but he also landed several on a spinnerbait, which has been rarely used by anglers at Pleasant throughout the week. He had his limit by 9:30 a.m.
After culling his five fish out to 12 pounds, 1 ounce, Clouse pushed his two-day, final-round total to 19-7, jumping up from fourth place Friday to victory Saturday.
“I can’t even explain it,” he said. “I don’t know what to say. This was really a lot of fun.”
Berry second again
Last year, Art Berry of Ramona, Calif., led the first three days of the EverStart Lake Pleasant tournament only to be edged out of first place in the final round by Brett Hite of Phoenix.
This year, Berry repeated as runner-up at Pleasant with a final-round weight total of 14 pounds, 7 ounces. He collected $8,500 for second place. He also officially caught the biggest bass of the tournament with a 4-pound, 11-ounce largemouth on day one.
“I’m telling you, things like this are what make you better,” said Berry, who caught a five-bass limit Saturday weighing 7 pounds using a slow-action drop-shot in shallow water along a road bed. “Last year, it felt a whole lot worse because it was so close. (He lost to Hite by 7 ounces.) This year I feel good about it because I caught 7 pounds of fish every day and I caught my limit the last three days. I made no mistakes and I executed well. I just never had an opportunity to win. I went out and fished as hard as I could, and that’s all you can do.”
Berry, while still yearning for a win, is drooling over the next three tournament sites in the Western Division: Lake Havasu, Clear Lake and the California Delta.
“My goal right now is to win Angler of the Year,” he said. “Those three lakes are my home lakes. I’ve already won some tournaments on those lakes, so I’m very excited about having the next three tournaments there.”
While he held a slight lead heading into the finals and managed to land 12 bass out of his “bait ball” hole Saturday, pro Jim Lyon of Reno, Nev., literally came up short. Only three of his fish were keepers and they weighed in at a light 3 pounds, 15 ounces. He finished with a two-day total of 12-4 and fell to third place, worth $7,500.
“Actually, I’ve had a wonderful week here,” he said. “Every time I come here, I catch a lot of fish. There’s something magical about this state.”
Bennett fourth, Folkestad fifth
Nineteen-year-old pro Michael Bennett of Roseville, Calif., who at age 17 two years ago was the youngest angler ever to compete in the BFL All-American, climbed up to a fourth-place finish after a ninth-place performance Friday. He caught a limit weighing 7 pounds, 7 ounces Saturday, pushing his final-round total to 11-10 and earning him $6,500.
“I had a great week,” he said at weigh-in. “Yesterday, unfortunately, I only caught three fish, so that’s going to hurt me.”
Western pro standout Mike Folkestad of Yorba Linda, Calif., also managed to catch a limit Saturday – worth 6 pounds, 10 ounces – but he, too, was hurt by a light sack Friday. He finished the week in fifth place with a two-day total of 11 pounds, 2 ounces and collected $6,000.
Rest of the best
Rounding out the top 10 Pro Division finishers in EverStart Western competition at Lake Pleasant are Don Payne of Modesto, Calif., with a final-round weight of 10 pounds, 15 ounces (6th place, $5,450); Kevin Martin of El Cajon, Calif., with 10-4 (7th, $4,800); Dub LaShot of Walterville, Ore., with 8-10 (8th, $4,300); Derek Yamamoto of Mesa, Ariz., with 6-8 (9th, $3,700); and Mike Bush of West Hills, Calif., with 6-3 (10th, $3,200).
The next EverStart Series event is a Central Division contest at Sam Rayburn Reservoir near Jasper, Texas, Feb. 25-28.
The next Western Division tournament will be held at Lake Havasu near Lake Havasu City, Ariz., March 17-20.