OAKLEY, Calif. – He didn’t need a lot, but what Brian Carpenter got was just enough to give him a whisper-thin victory at the FLW EverStart Series Western Division tournament on the California Delta.
When the Bethel Island, Calif. angler took to the stage, Phillip Dutra, of Antioch, Calif. squirmed nervously in the hot seat with his leading weight of 67 pounds, 5 ounces. After posting first- and second-day scores of 24-4 and 24-15, it did not look like Carpenter would break 20 again. Nevertheless, he would need only 18-3 to take over the top spot and after his last of five fish settled on the scaled, Carpenter had weighed exactly that. Holding off day-one leader, Jeff Michels, Carpenter claimed his first FLW win by a mere one-ounce margin.
Carpenter's success depended on daily adjustments. The cloudy skies of day one delivered a strong reaction bite, but the mostly sunny conditions of day two found the fish unwilling to chase. Flipping a green pumpkin craw into tules and punching a few mats moved him up from fourth to second.
Today, Carpenter had to work with more water than he'd had the previous days. Essentially, the afternoon outgoing tide was advancing about an hour later each day, but the strong southwest winds of day three actually held the water in its high stage well into the afternoon. This left Carpenter with no opportunity to capitalize on the falling water that he had found most rewarding on the previous two days.
"The tide was so high that I had to change up my game plan and go fish banks that are normally two and a half feet deep, but today they were four feet deep," he said.
Moreover, day three's fierce blow, which reached 30-plus mph, muddied much of the Delta water and further complicated matters. With irrigation pipes pulling and pumping water throughout this vast drainage, muddy water is nothing new. However, Carpenter explained that the sudden change in water clarity on his key spots shut down the bite.
"Today, we figured out that the bigger fish had backed out of my water," he said. "When the water's really clean and it gets dirty all of a sudden, those fish are gone. If it's dirty already and this happens, fine; but not today."
Carpenter ended up locating new areas where today's high water had turned spots of previously meager depths into viable targets. He tried punching early and within the first 60 minutes, he picked up a good fish on a green pumpkin craw with a red dyed tail. After another three hours passed with little activity, Carpenter knew he'd have to run and gun to salvage his day.
"I told my co-angler 'We have to go make a milk run'," he said. "We hit about 30 spots today to find some clean water."
Carpenter ended up catching the majority of his fish on various crankbaits, including the Lucky Craft BDS, Strike King KVD 2.5.
Dutra takes a close second
Days one and two found Dutra mostly junk fishing and the final day followed suit. "I fished nine different baits and I caught fish on seven of them. I fished crankbaits, chatterbaits, spinnerbaits; I was flipping cover with Senkos and I fished swimbaits."
On day two, Dutra had his weight fish within the first hour of fishing, but the final round required a full day of effort. "It was a little tougher today than I thought it would be, but I got them."
Dutra secured his top-10 berth by moving up from 10th to fourth on day two with a 24-pound sack – his biggest of the event. Notably, he had the second largest bag of day three and he was the only pro to break 20 pounds all three days.
Michels finishes third third
Day-two leader Jeff Michels struggled with the blustery conditions of day three and saw his productivity slip from two days of 20-plus (27-5 on day one, 23-4 on day two) to a 14-pound, 4-ounce bag in the final round. A total weight of 64-13 earned him a third-place finish.
Michels returned to the same slough he had targeted the previous two days and fished the same 200-yard stretch of bank. He caught his fish by flipping 6-inch wacky-rigged green pumpkin/black flake Senkos around tule berms.
Michels fished his baits on Decoy wacky hooks. He hooked his baits straight through the body.
Big bag lifts Almassey to fourth
At the afternoon check-in, Charley Almassey said he had felt no pressure during day three because starting the final round in 10th place left him nowhere to go but up. Well, the Oakley, Calif. angler took that principle to heart by sacking up the day's heaviest limit – 24-10 – and climbing six spots to finish fourth with 63-10.
Almassey caught his fish on Bobby D's chatterbaits in white and Delta craw and a white spinnerbait. The windy conditions, he said, played well for his style of fishing.
"I'm not a puncher and I can't sit there and throw Senkos all day," Almassey said. "My reaction bite really turned on today. The tide was very low this morning and the fish were out on the edges where they were easy to get with reaction baits."
Venkus finishes fifth
Timothy Venkus, of Wilton, Calif. started the event with a 27th-place finish on day one, but earned a top-10 spot by catching a big day-two sack and racing up the standings to sixth place. With weights of 18-11, 22-1 and 17-12, Venkus finished in fifth place with 58-8.
Lamenting the arduous task of competing in brutally windy conditions, Venkus said: "Fishing is supposed to be fun, but this was miserable. I cried most of the day."
Venkus caught his fish by flipping Texas-rigged plastics, wacky rigging Senkos and cranking.
Best of the rest
Rounding out the top-10 pro leaders at the EverStart Series Cal Delta event:
6th: Salvador Herrera, of Discovery Bay, Calif., 57-10
7th: Mike Folkestad, of Orange, Calif., 55-13
8th: Eric Parra, of Galt, Calif., 55-5
9th: Ron Johnson, of Chandler, Ariz., 52-8
10th: Roy Hawk, of Salt Lake City, Utah, 51-13