OROVILLE, Calif. – Situated in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountain range, majestic Lake Oroville is fed by the Feather River which served as one of the main navigation conduits to supply gold miners during the California Gold Rush in the 1800s. But while golden nuggets aren’t necessarily the quarry for the 115-boat field that hit the open waters of Lake Oroville shortly after 7:30 Thursday morning, hefty spotted bass and the occasional oversized largemouth could literally translate into a $40,000 payday when all is said and done.
However, landing the tournament’s top prize won’t be easy. With a crisp early morning temperature just inching over the 30-degree mark, light winds and clear skies serving as backdrop for the opening event of the 2013 EverStart Series Western Division season, anglers will have their work cut out for them as they attempt to dissect the 167 miles of shoreline and nearly 16,000 acres of surface area that comprised Lake Oroville.
But the good news is that the fishery seems to be healthier than ever.
“I grew up fishing this lake and I really consider Lake Oroville to be on the upswing,” said EverStart pro Michael Wright. “Five or six years ago I won a tournament here with only 6 pounds on the final day. But now there are fish everywhere. You’re not going to see many non limits. I think 95 percent of the field will have limits today, if not more. And I think it’s probably going to take 10 to 11 pounds a day just to make the cut and anywhere from 35 to 38 pounds to win.”
Lake Oroville is renowned for its healthy spotted bass population. But to win the event, anglers just might have to sneak a few keeper largemouth into their daily limits in order to contend.
“You can catch a lot of fish here but it’s the size you have to worry about,” said Wright. “The majority of the fish caught will be spotted bass. But you’re going to see some largemouths as well and those are probably going to be some of the bigger fish that come to the scales.”
Because Oroville doesn’t have an overabundance of vegetation to attack, anglers will most likely find success targeting hard cover, points, breaks and anywhere else where there is a dramatic depth change.
“Subtle changes seem to be dynamite for spotted bass,” said Wright. “If you find areas where there is a transition from rock to clay, that’s a good place to start as well. Personally I’m going to be looking for rocks, isolated hard cover, points, point-breaks and anywhere else the fish can move up or down in the water column fast.”
According to a number of pros, a variety of baits should produce results – including the infamous A-rig, large swimbaits and drop-shot techniques.
"I think during the first 30 minutes of competition each day reaction baits are going to be key,” said Wright. “But once it starts warming up, and the sun really gets overhead, then I’m going to change things up and go with a drop-shot and start throwing tubes and worms as well. I’m definitely going with more of a finesse style as the day progresses.”
As always, the key to finding the proverbial gold at the end of the rainbow is to maximize the number of big bites.
“The (Department of Natural Resources) has done a really good job stocking this lake over the past few years so there are plenty of fish,” said Wright. “But it’s really feast or famine here with regard to getting the big bite. There are some big fish in this lake. The trick is getting them to eat.”
During EverStart Series competition, pros supply the boats, fish from the front deck against other pros and control boat movement. Co-anglers fish from the back deck and compete against other co-anglers. Anglers are permitted to weigh in their best five bass each day. Every angler who receives weight credit in a tournament earns points that determine angler standings. The full field competes on days one and two, with the top-10 pros and top 10 co-anglers advancing to Saturday’s final round of competition based on their two-day accumulated weight. Winners ultimately will be determined by the heaviest accumulated weight from all three days.
Anglers will take off from the Spillway Launch at the north end of the Oroville Dam in Oroville, Calif., at 7:30 a.m. each day of the three-day competition – which runs from Jan. 17-19. Daily weigh-ins will be held at the Spillway Launch beginning at 3:00 p.m. Takeoffs and weigh-ins are free and open to the public.
Pros will fish for a top award of $40,000 plus a Ranger Z518 with a 200-horsepower Evinrude or Mercury outboard if Ranger Cup guidelines are met. Co-anglers will cast for a top award consisting of a Ranger Z117 with 90-horsepower Evinrude or Mercury outboard and $5,000 if Ranger Cup guidelines are met.
The EverStart Series consists of five divisions – Central, Northern, Southeast, Texas and Western. Each division consists of four tournaments and competitors will be vying for valuable points in each division in an attempt to land the prestigious Strike King Angler of the Year title and automatic berth into the 2014 Forrest Wood Cup.
EverStart Series action continues at today’s weigh-in, scheduled to take place at 3 p.m. at the Spillway Launch at the north end of the Oroville Dam in Oroville, Calif.
This week’s EverStart Series event is being hosted by the City of Oroville.
Bass-fishing fans take note
Want to watch the weigh in live but can’t make it in person? Then tune into FLW Live on FLWOutdoors.com shortly before 3 p.m. Pacific Time to watch live streaming video and audio of today’s opening-round weigh in.
Temperature at takeoff: 31 degrees
Expected high temperature: 61 degrees
Water temperature: 46-48 degrees
Wind: From the north-northwest at 4-5 mph
Humidity: 61 percent
Day’s outlook: Sunny