MONETA, Va. — Smith Mountain Lake is just about 2,500 miles from California's Lake Castaic. A straight shot from here in Moneta to the famed California Delta is about 2,700. But for the California anglers on the 2009 Elite Series trail, the Advance Auto Parts Blue Ridge Brawl is like old home week.
Heading into the third day of competition, five of the top twelve anglers in the standings were either born in California, raised there, or at some point called it home. There were eight in the top twelve and ten in the top thirty-nine.
When the standings shook up at the end of the day, there were still five Golden Staters alive to fish another day. While Fred Roumbanis and Mark Tyler (both of whom were raised in California but now call Oklahoma home) had fallen from grace, James Niggemeyer and Skeet Reese replaced them. Dean Rojas, Aaron Martens and Byron Velvick managed to hold onto coveted spots in the final day take-off procession. Notably, Reese is the only one who still gets his mail delivered to the west coast. Niggemeyer now lives near Lake Fork, Rojas resides in Arizona and Velvick calls the shores of Lake Amistad home. Reese is also the only one of the five who hails from the northern part of California.
Niggemeyer, whose 7-2 largemouth looked more like one of the California freak show fish than a typical Virginia specimen, said there's a simple explanation: "(Smith Mountain Lake) looks just like Castaic or Casitas," he explained, referring to two of southern California's best-known and most highly-pressured big fish factories. "It has sparse cover — rocks, shoals and reefs. The only thing that differentiates it is the number of docks."
Dean Rojas, raised fishing the similarly ultra-pressured bodies of water near San Diego, concurred with Niggemeyer. "It's what we grew up doing," he said. "There's no vegetation here." Asked whether he'd rather be on a lake like this one than one of the more typical vegetation-choked impoundments that fill the Elite Series schedule, Rojas didn't hesitate for a moment. "I'd rather be here," he said.
The two anglers exchanged a knowing look when queried as to whether they were using any tricked-out lures produced in their home state. Checking to see if anyone was listening, Rojas then confirmed that they had exchanged tips about certain "old school stuff, custom-painted and hand-poured lures."
"They're deadly on finicky fish in clear water," Niggemeyer added.
But then Rojas proved that while you can take the angler out of California, once he gets a little bubba in him that influence can be harder to extract: "But we're putting these lures on 25-pound line so it doesn't matter as much."
Apparently it does matter, though, because for at least one more day the west side is flying their flag proudly.