STOCKTON, Calif. — After all the chatter about the schizophrenic water temperatures and 35-mile-per-hour winds, the one condition that most influenced the standings on Day One at the 2010 TroKar Duel in the Delta in Stockton was the one that's the most predictable: the tide.
Yes, 53-degree morning water temperatures had something to do with the California Delta's largemouth population's willingness to bite. And, yes, three prior days of gusty winds influenced the water clarity. But for many of the 93 anglers who fared the best on this complex of sloughs, canals and back bays, properly reading and fishing the tide was the key.
"Knowing how to fish those (tidal) conditions really helped on a day like today," said North Carolina pro Dave Wolak, whose 19-pound, 8-ounce bag trails only Stephen Browning's 21-11 after the first day of the 2010 Elite Series' kickoff event. "It's all relative when you're fishing a tidal fishery. You can be in a great spot, but if you hit it when the tide's not right, you won't find any fish."
This morning's tide was on the low ebb when the field motored out of Weber Point Park this morning, bottoming out at around 10 a.m. in what Wolak described as "a dead, rancid, slack, low tide" before the mid-morning tide change. As is usually the case in any fishery with a tidal influence, the bite turned on in flurries for several anglers as the tide began to flood and "new" current flushed back through the system.
"I had one stretch, probably between 10 and 11, where I had three bites on, just like that," said Browning. "That doesn't sound like much, but I only had six bites all day. That's half my bites in that little period of time when the water was changing."
What Browning and Wolak figured out — and some of the other competitors so frustratingly did not — is that being in the right place in the right time on the right tide is critical when you're competing on such a complex fishery without the benefit of an archive of GPS coordinates to refer to.
"The best, best tide on this river is when it's dead low and then starts to come in," said Mike Iaconelli, who sits in 18th with 14-0. "That's absolutely critical to keep that in mind, because it's the key tide. All my success today revolved around fishing certain places at certain tides: I have one spot I want to fish when the water's lower and another I want to fish when it's higher, and I'm making a big run in between those places to fish both of them at the best time possible."
Looking ahead: The Day Two tide cycle will supply the same low-slack-to-flood exchange between 11 a.m. and noon in most places throughout the Delta, which also means one more hour of fishing the morning ebb and one less hour on the afternoon flood. The outgoing tide will mean more current pulling on the outside weedlines, which will typically drive fish further off the bank, especially when combined with the prevailing colder-than-normal water.
"I think it's real easy to fish over the top of 'em here," confirmed Greg Hackney, who bagged 14-14 on Day One.
Which might mean more attention to jigs, Senkos, deeper-diving cranks and swimbaits. It also might mean that anglers like 1999 Bassmaster Classic champion Davy Hite — who played a specific tide but didn't get a bite all day — could find themselves in the position of having to re-analyze some of the areas they scouted in practice.
"I waited 2/3 of the day in one area to get what I thought was the right timing to catch my fish, and I didn't catch 'em," Hite said. "I've never fished as many miles of perfect shoreline and habitat — hundreds upon hundreds upon hundreds of miles of grass, rocks and wood — and never even gotten a bite. Now you have to wonder 'Do I go out and fish totally different?' Maybe, but you don't want to go on a wild goose chase, either."