Spotties, Spotties, Spotties

swba-spotties-article-1That was the word of the day for the 2005 series opener, “The Cabin Fever Reliever”, the bay bass tournament that marks the official beginning of the “Race for the Cup” series.

Using artificial baits, teams fished for 7 hours with the goal of catching a limit of 5 Spotted Sand Bass that would out-weigh the rest of the field. All fish weighed were to be documented, tagged and released back into the bay by volunteers of the Back Bay Science Center. Directed by John Scholl and funded by the Department of Fish and Game, the center’s primary mission is to provide a hands-on facility where students and the public can study and enjoy the estuarine ecology of Newport Bay, the marine ecology of the ocean, and promote natural resource conservation and stewardship throughout the watershed.

February 5th, 6AM: Thirty-two teams showed-up for registration and inspection at the Dunes Launch Ramp in Newport Beach, California to do battle with the ever elusive Spotted Bay Bass, only on this day it seemed the “Spotties” would prove to be less evasive than they were during last year’s opener. Twenty-seven out of the thirty-two teams weighed fish. Eight teams weighed limits, and there was a total of seventy-nine Spotted Bay Bass weighed. All fish weighed were successfully tagged and released back into the bay.

A new team that did particularly well after all the results were tallied was team Rice Rockets. Ivan Lau and John Hwee finished in 4th place with a limit of bass that weighed 9.31lbs, which included a big fish that went 2.25lbs, an impressive finish considering the odds against them.

SWBA spoke with Ivan Lau of team Rice Rockets regarding his and partner John Hwee’s tournament success, knowing that one week prior to the event, they had not yet secured a boat to fish the series opener. We asked Ivan how purchasing a used boat, in need of repair, so close to the season opener, affected his and John’s outlook on the opening tournament and season.

“I bought the boat a week prior to the tournament. It had a motor but no controls. James and I had an idea to cut the bow section of the boat out to make it more fishable. But when we looked at it, we knew we had our work “cut” out for us. We really didn’t know if we would be able to fish this first tourney in the season, since we weren’t sure if the boat would be operational, let alone float! I had to borrow a tiller mount outboard from my uncle Friday night and pray that it was still working. We really didn’t know if we would be fishing up until 11:30pm Friday night when confirmed that the motor would start up.swba-spotties-article-2

After I knew the outboard would run, I was inspired and ready to fish. Johnny and I really didn’t have much of an outlook being that we didn’t really have a boat, up to that point. But after we got the boat running, the season opener looked promising”.

SWBA: Obviously, with the boat being repaired, you and Johnny were not able to get out and pre-fish for the tournament. What did you do in order to prepare yourselves for fishing the tournament?

“We really couldn’t do much but basically remain in standby mode. We checked reports online, got our gear ready, loaded up on the six-pound CXX, and just waited for the outcome of the boat. I haven’t fished Newport since the last tournament which was February7th, 2004, and Johnny actually hasn’t ever fished the bay from a boat before, but has walked the shore of Lido Island during the summer”.


spottiestimeSWBA: Even though weather was not a factor on the day of the tournament, the bay did have a large influx of freshwater from a series of storms a few weeks ago. How did you find the conditions in the bay, and more specifically, how were the conditions in the areas where you fished?

“The bay in general was still really stained, much like the local freshwater lakes. And with the constant flow of water from tidal movement it makes it harder for the silt and debris to settle in the bay (Johnny). There were cul-de-sacs that we fished that had fairly clear water and we fished baits accordingly. We used a lot of clear and red flake patterns in those areas. The wind was also a factor in keeping the water clean. The protected cul-de-sac that we fished was fairly protected from the wind, and that kept the water very clear. As we turned the corner into the main channel and other parts of the bay, the water instantly became more stained, and we switched lure color accordingly. We weren’t really sure about the salinity of the bay and the areas that we fished, but I think the salinity may have still been a little on the low side. The bites that we got from fish felt more like largemouth bites. More of a subtle tap than the standard spotty THUNK… They seemed to be a little lethargic, and oriented very closely to structure, even in the clear water”.

SWBA: In terms of water depth, clarity and structure, was there any specific pattern that the bass seemed to be receptive to in those areas?

“During high tide, first thing in the morning, we casted as far into the docks, and worked our baits back to the boat shaking and hopping. That seemed to work, while the fish were aggressive during the high and outgoing tide. We would get bit halfway back to the boat away from pilings in the morning. During high tide, it seemed like fish were cruising. We got sporadic short bites away from pilings, but every fish that committed to our baits seemed to be oriented to the base of the pilings. As the slack low tide settled in, the bites basically disappeared from underneath the docks. We then fished straight vertical on the pilings. We would flip a bait next to the piling and watch the line on the fall, hop it a few times on the bottom, and then repeat. That also worked really well for us later on in the day”.

SWBA: What areas within the bay did team Rice Rocket target, and what areas produced the fish that made up your 9.31 lb. stringer?

“It’s kind of funny how we found our first spot, because we were almost late to the shotgun start. Half an hour before the start, the motor wouldn’t turn over. I almost thought about running the trolling motor all day, but we decided to pull the boat out of the water and head back to the registration table so James could take a look at the motor.

He worked some kind of crazy voodoo magic and got it started on the first pull, after I struggled to get the motor to turn over for a half hour or so. After that fiasco we were back on the water. We were the last boat out on the water so we were in the back of the pack. “We didn’t want to fight the crowds, so we veered off into the first cul-de-sac and just started to fish it”. We caught 4 keeper fish within an hour in that area, flipping the docks, and we left the spot after the bite slowed a little. We decided to leave that area so that we could come back later on in the day and try to hook a few more keepers and possibly cull a few fish. Then we hit the channel for a few short fish. We fished Lido Island targeting the mooring buoys and the docks, for a few short fish. John caught a tiny Sandy that couldn’t have been more than 3 inches on a 3-inch grub off Lido Island. We headed toward the Lido Bridge and flipped the pilings in the deeper water for nothing. The wind started to pick up and made boat control tough, so we left that area and fished our way back up Lido Island and back to our original spot. We stopped in the main channel and fished the docks to try for a bigger fish, but didn’t hook any. So we were off to our original spot where we finished off our limit and culled 1 fish. When we arrived in that area, John’s second cast to a piling, he hooked and landed our kicker fish. Not 30 seconds later, I hooked a nicer fish, and we were able to cull our first fish. After that we continued to fish the same area for a while, but weren’t able to get any other bites. We noticed that our big fish wasn’t looking to good so we decided to head back to the weigh-in”.

“We didn’t want to fight the crowds so we veered off into the first cul-de-sac and just started to fish it”

SWBA: “Were there any situations in which you had lost fish that potentially could have enhanced your overall stringer weight?”

Johnny: “YES! Ivan and I still talk about that and the big “What If”. We were fishing one of the islands and I was pitching with a spinning rod, for a more vertical fall on the pilings and decided to throw further up the dock. I got bit and lost a bigger fish that pulled drag.

I was really bummed. I was hoping that it wasn’t too spooked off by that experience and threw back in the same area with the SAME rod and reel, and lost another, if not the same fish after having it on, and halfway to the boat. It just came unbuttoned. I should’ve picked up the casting gear when I had the second chance. Ivan also lost a fish on the hook set that broke his line on the same piling. He says it felt like a better fish and was more pissed at himself about his line breaking than losing the fish. So we lost 2, possibly 3 fish that might have made the difference, but we’re still very proud of the stringer we came in with”.

SWBA: The three teams that finished ahead of you as well as the teams that finished just behind you are capable of winning the overall points chase in August. Knowing this and recognizing the level of competition you’re up against, how do you intend to prepare yourselves for Rd. 2?

“I’m working on getting a bigger boat for coastal use. We need to pre-fish this tourney more because we’re up against some of the best Calico fishermen in Southern California ”.

SWBA: Considering your approach to fishing, which event of this year’s series are you most looking forward to?

“I’m really looking forward to the PV shootout because I’m more comfortable, but not more confident, with the surroundings there. I used to fish that area twice a week after school”.

SWBA: Aside from yourselves, what team do you expect to do well in the 2005 series?”

“I think team Wallsout will do really well. I’ve fished with those guys before and I know they’re great fishermen as well as fierce competitors. Eric knows the areas that hold fish really well, and they both know how to pull them out of their spots. I have respect for all the teams, and their abilities, but from my personal experience, I feel that these guys will be one of the teams that do really well this year”.

SWBA would like to thank team Rice Rockets for taking the time-out to share their tournament experience, and we wish them luck in the events to come.

By James Shambkin



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