OAKLEY, Calif. – Despite furious charges by Clifford Pirch and Mike Folkestad Saturday that included one enormous largemouth bass, pro Mike Saso of Elk Grove, Calif., won the EverStart Series Western Division season finale with a total of 10 bass weighing 36 pounds, 2 ounces over the last two days of competition at the California Delta.
If upsets can occur in tournament fishing, this was one of them. Saso, a 40-year-old local truck driver who had never before entered an FLW Outdoors tournament, signed up to compete in this event just minutes before registration ended Tuesday night. After making the cut with just over 35 pounds of fish the first two days, he posted a huge 22-3 limit of fish Friday to take a 5 ½-pound lead. Saturday, all he really needed to do was catch another limit, which he did, weighing in five bass worth 13-15. In the process, he defeated some of tournament fishing’s heaviest hitters from the Left Coast, including 2004 Western Division points champ Folkestad and 2003 California Delta champ Gary Dobyns.
Saso collected $8,000 and a new Ranger Comanche 519 for his first major win.
“I’m speechless,” he said. “This is more than I know how to handle. This is more than I’ve ever won in my life.”
Saso’s strategy the last two days on the delta was to roll with the tide. He started each morning fishing in Sherman Lake then worked his way over to some key spots in popular Franks Tract. It was there that he won the tournament, which he did by catching three solid bass in the 4- to 6-pound range late Friday afternoon.
“The last 45 minutes yesterday, holy cow,” he said.
“It was tough,” he said. “I lost one that was huge on a Rat-L-Trap. The bite was actually even later today. I couldn’t be there when I needed to be.”
No matter. His 13 pounds, 15 ounces was just enough.
Asked what his future plans are in tournament fishing after winning an EverStart event on his first try, Saso said he wants to spend time with his 11-year-old son, who is big into motocross, and that he’ll probably maintain a low profile for a while.
“But I will be back,” he said. “Trust me.”
Pro Clifford Pirch of Payson, Ariz., finished in the second spot and collected $7,600 after mounting a furious comeback attempt Saturday with a limit weighing 19 pounds even – the second-heaviest sack of the day. He caught 34-8 over the last two days.
Pirch, a 2003 EverStart Championship finalist, used a variety of baits to catch his fish, which included several over 5 pounds. He said that each area that he fished on the delta “kind of had its own personality.”
His big sack was certainly aided by a 4-pound bass that he caught on his last cast Saturday, but it was the two that he missed earlier in the morning that he’ll remember.
“I was fishing a top-water, and I lost two fish that were about 5 (pounds apiece) this morning,” he said, smiling. “They both just blew it out of the water.”
Folkestad, of Yorba Linda, Calif., punctuated his 2004 standings title – which he secured earlier in the week – by landing an enormous 11-pound, 5-ounce kicker largemouth in the finals, which might be the largest bass ever caught on an EverStart Series Saturday. Combined with his four other fish, his limit was the largest of the day at 19-8 and earned him third place and $6,700.
“I had a great tournament,” he told the weigh-in crowd. “I couldn’t seem to do anything wrong. This delta’s one of the best fisheries in the nation. You guys should be really proud of this place.”
While Folkestad caught the bulk of his fish this week using Roboworms on a drop-shot, he landed his big bass Saturday morning pitching a Brush Hog in some trees.
“I caught that fish at 8:30,” he said. “After that, 2 ½-pounders were the best I could catch.”
The other big-bass hunter this week, Bernie Gaunt of West Sacramento, Calif., ended up in fourth place in the Pro Division and earned $5,800 after posting a two-day weight of 30 pounds, 2 ounces in the finals.
Gaunt, who caught a 12-pound, 9-ounce bass and led on day one, caught almost all of his fish this week at a relatively small area using a drop-shot with a Roboworm.
“(The area) is about 100 yards long and 50 yards wide,” he said. “I think we had close to 200 pounds (of bass) taken off that 100-yard stretch this week.”
Opening-round pro leader Gary Howell of Stockton, Calif., finished with 30 pounds, 1 ounce and earned fifth place. He collected $5,300.
“Everything almost went perfectly,” he said. “The first three days I never lost a fish that mattered, but today I lost a 4-pounder early.”
Rest of the best
Rounding out the top 10 Pro Division finishers in EverStart Western competition at the California Delta are Jimmy Reese of Witter Springs, Calif., with a final-round weight of 30 pounds, 1 ounce (6th place, $4,800); 2003 California Delta champion Dobyns of Yuba City, Calif., with 23-10 (7th, $4,300); Bob Cagle of Yuba City, Calif., with 22-5 (8th, $3,800); Jason Cordiale of Orinda, Calif., with 22-0 (9th, $3,350); and Clayton Meyer of San Diego with 19-7 (10th, $2,900).
All of the top 10 pros except Cordiale caught five-bass limits Saturday.
This concludes the 2004 Western Division season. The top 30 pros and co-anglers in the year-end standings have qualified for the 2004 EverStart Series Championship to be held at Lake Cumberland near Burnside, Ky., Nov. 3-6.
The next EverStart Series event is an Eastern Division contest at Lake Guntersville near Guntersville, Ala., May 19-22.