LAKEPORT, Calif. – Every angler experiences that moment when they realize they can handle the fierce competition they face. For co-angler Dante Ray of Sparks, Nev., that time was today as he won his first EverStart event since he began fishing FLW in 2003.
The lowest position Ray saw all week was after day one when he sat in third place with a weight of 19 pounds, 6 ounces. After catching the biggest stringer seen in the Co-angler Division all week on day two – 24-6 – he claimed the lead. Though his weight slipped some today, Ray still brought 18-12 to the scales giving him a three-day total of 62-8 and a margin of victory of 12-5.
“I feel so blessed right now,” said Ray. “I am speechless. It means everything to me and solidifies how far I have come since 2003.”
Ray spent some time prefishing on his own before the tournament started to help get dialed in as to what was working on Clear Lake. He found a schooling fish pattern in shallow grass that he hoped he would be able to take advantage of during the tournament.
“One bait I relied on this week was an Atomic Baits 3-inch Pot-Bellied Shad,” the winning co-angler said. “That thing resembles the silversides perfectly. I’d just throw it up shallow at the schooling fish and they’d eat it. The other bait I used this week – especially yesterday and today – was a Tailspin made by Dave Nollar. They just couldn’t resist it.”
Ray was in contention to win earlier this year on the California Delta but in the end it wasn’t meant to be. Having come so close already, it meant even more to try and get it done Saturday.
“I was actually pretty relaxed when I woke up this morning, or as relaxed as I could be. I knew I had to just go out there and give it my best. The Lord truly blessed me.”
One thing that played into Ray’s hands was that he got paired with pro leader Jason Borofka. When the two met up to discuss the final-day gameplan Ray discovered that Borofka was on good fish but it wasn’t until later in the day when they would bite.
“I told my pro what I had found in practice and he kind of raised his eyebrow at me. This morning he said that we could stay up north until he felt like his fish would start biting. When we pulled up there, it was on. I was using that Tailspin with 6-pound Seaguar fluorocarbon with an iRod Genesis II and a Shimano Sustain. The fish I caught this week were in 12 to 21 feet of water. I was able to cover a lot of water with that bait and find those schools.
“This is my second year of fishing all four tournaments. By winning here it told me that I’ll be OK. God blessed me and hard work really does pay off.”
Ray has never owned a boat before, until today. For winning the event he is now the proud owner of a Ranger Z117 with a 90 horsepower outboard.
Stewart Jr. leaps to second
It’s not too often you see a co-angler increase their weight as a tournament rolls on. It’s even more impressive when you never weigh a five-fish limit the entire week. John Stewart Jr. of Glendale, Ariz., started his week off with four bass weighing 10 pounds, 1 ounce. Day two saw another four bass but this time they hit the scales at an impressive 18-5. Remarkably, his final-day catch was another four bass weighing 21-13 to catapult him to second place with 50-3 for three days.
Stewart also made it out to practice this week, though he wasn’t as successful as Ray.
“My practice was rough this week,” he said. “I caught two fish in three days of practice and they were small.”
The Arizona co-angler got off to a slow start each day. He never boated a fish before noon during all three days of competition.
“It’s tough watching your boater catch fish all day long,” laughed Stewart.
A River2Sea Bottom Walker did the damage this week.
“I caught a 5- and 7-pounder on that River2Sea Bottom Walker yesterday. My boater actually turned me onto it. So I just stuck with it today. My boater won the Triton tournament out here last weekend and we were on some good fish. It was getting late in the day and my boater was fishing shallow so I turned to cast deep and caught a 5-, 7- and 9-pounder in five casts.”
For his efforts, Stewart walked away with a check for $3,892.
Janes, Nourot, Kunde round out top five
Nick Nourot of Benicia, Calif., made a big jump from eighth place on day two all the way to fourth thanks to three bass weighing 12 pounds, 6 ounces. With a three-day total of 40 pounds, Nourot netted a check for $2,724.
Jordan Kunde of Palo Cedro, Calif., rounds out the top-five co-anglers with a three-day total weight of 35 pounds, 13 ounces. Kunde added one fish weighing 5-12 to his days one and two weights of 12-0 and 18-1, respectively. He was awarded $2,335 for his efforts.
Rest of the best
Rounding out the top-10 co-anglers in the EverStart Series Clear Lake event:
6th: Christopher Dixon of Granada Hills, Calif., three-day total of 34-13, $1,946
7th: Richard Crine of Anaheim, Calif., three-day total of 31-11, $1,687
8th: O’Neal Martin of Roseville, Calif., three-day total of 30-2, $1,168
9th: Kevin Marcheschi of Santa Rosa, Calif., three-day total of 29-7, $778
10th: Spencer Moran of Carmel, Calif., three-day total of 27-2, $623