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Written By: Cal Kellogg, April 28, 2014
Location: Pardee Reservoir,
For the past several years Kent Brown of Ultimate Bass Radio, working in cooperation with the Jackson Rancheria Casino and Hotel and the staff at Lake Pardee has hosted a media day, which has become a tradition here in Northern California.
The event pairs members of the outdoor media with some of the hottest professional bass anglers on the West Coast. The event typically produces lots of big bass for the pros and lots of good bass fishing content for the writers, photographers and videographers.
During the day members of the media get to fish with one bass pro in the morning and another pro in the afternoon. This year Media Day took place on April 13. I teamed up with trophy bass specialist Russ Graves in the morning and well known “Delta Rat” Ken Mah in the afternoon.
Dawn broke chilly and overcast on April 13 with marine layer fog clinging to the ridges surrounding Lake Pardee. A light breeze rippled the surface of the water. In short conditions looked absolutely perfect for tossing big swimbaits, so Russ and I wasted no time dropping his bass boat into the water.
“I wasn’t going to bring my insolated bibs today, but I’m sure glad I did. I wasn’t expecting it to be this cool,” I commented to Russ as we motored through Pardee’s long 5 mph zone.
After clearing the 5’s Russ dropped the hammer and we streaked across the main body and up the river arm at 55 miles an hour. Russ knows Pardee very well. His plan was to probe key structure with his trademark Huddleston swimbaits.
In the past I’ve fished during Media Day, but this year I decided to focus on chatting with the pros and taking photos and video.
“I’ve been out on Pardee quite a few times this year. I got a 9 pound bass yesterday, but overall I’d say the lake is a bit off for big fish this year,” Russ commented as he started casting and slow rolling a trout pattern Huddleston. “I’ve been getting lots of fish in the 4 to 5 pound class, but I’m not seeing as many fish over 7 as I generally do.”
When I fished with Russ on Media Day a couple years back he nailed a 7.5 pound bass on his first cast, but there were no such heroics this year. When no strikes came at our first spot, we headed to a second location and then a third….Nothing, the bass were playing hard to get. As Russ fan casted I picked his brain about fishing swimbaits.
“The bass seem to be holding about 15 feet deep these days,” said Russ. “I’m letting my bait sink a bit and I’m slow rolling it above the fish. In this clear water they can see the bait for quite a distance and if they want it they’ll charge up and smash it.”
“Tell me about key locations for working swimbaits,” I asked.
“It’s all about ambush points. You are trying to catch the largest most dominant fish in the lake, so they will be positioned at the best possible feeding locations. Remember the big fish want to eat trout, so you want to set up in areas were trout are likely to cruise. Sometimes you’ve got to think like a trout angler to catch big bass I guess,” Russ laughed.
As Russ worked the bait I noted that he reeled just fast enough to make the bait’s tail work, but a few times on each retrieve he’d give the reel one hard crank. Basically he would twitch the bait using the reel rather than the rod tip, so I asked him why?
“Lots of times big bass are followers. They’ll follow the bait for quite a distance. Sometimes they strike, sometimes they won’t. I find that a subtle dart or twitch will sometimes trigger a strike from a follower. When you fish swimbaits you typically aren’t going to get a ton of strikes, but you’ve got to fish as if there are bass looking at your bait all of the time. I’m also a big advocate of keeping your bait in the strike zone. That’s why I try to cast into deep water and fish uphill as much as possible. The uphill retrieve keeps your bait in the strike zone for a maximum amount of time,” tipped Russ.
Despite the lack of action the morning flew by. It was soon 10:30 and time to head in to switch partners. Noticing the time, Russ said something along the lines of, “I’m going to make one more cast.”
You guess it. He fired out the bait and when it was about halfway back to the boat a bass hammered it. I was so surprised that I couldn’t get my video camera out of my jacket.
The big largemouth surged, jumped and did it’s best to toss the lure. I gave up on the video camera and grabbed the net. Russ guided the bass to the boat, I made the scoop and the next thing I knew I was taking photos of a husky 6 pounder with a swimbait hanging from it’s jaw…Happy angler, happy writer, embarrassed bass!
As we motored back to the docks Russ and I had a good laugh when we reflected that on our first session he got a big fish on his first cast and this year he got the fish on his absolute last cast…
Back at the docks it soon became clear that Russ and I weren’t the only ones that found the fishing tough. Mike Reynolds of Modesto had landed a 9 pound largemouth on a drop shot rig and a few smaller bass had been boated, but that was about it. The Pardee Media Day event typically produces double digit numbers of 5 plus pound bass, but we didn’t see that kind of action this year.
For my afternoon session I was paired with Ken Mah. Ken is a Delta guy although he actually won his first boat during a tournament at Lake Shasta. The combination of Pardee’s clear water and the bad attitude of the bass made for a tough afternoon. Kenny didn’t draw any strikes, but I had a great time chatting with him and he did show me a pretty unique presentation that I’ll share.
Ken wanted to show the bass something unique, so he rigged up a dark colored chatter bait with a short section of swimming Senko. Chatter baits aren’t something you typically reach for in clear water.
“In situations like this I like to fish a chatter bait along the bottom pretty much like I’d work a jig, but every now and then I give it a hard tug with the rod. This causes the bait to shoot up off the bottom while kicking out a lot of vibration. I then let it fall back to the bottom and continue jigging it along. Some days this presentation works great, today not so much,” Ken chuckled.
I’d like to thank Kent Brown for his hard work making Media Day a reality and of course all of us owe a debt of gratitude to the staff at Lake Pardee and to the folks at the Jackson Rancheria Hotel and Casino. I know I speak for all the media folks that attended the event in thanking all of the bass pros that made themselves available. While tournament bass fishing isn’t really a passion of mine, I have utmost respect for the bass pros I’ve met. Their fishing skills are second to none and when you get to know them they are very open about all things bass and bass fishing. They are great ambassadors of the sport-Cal Kellogg.
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