Elephant Butte, New Mexico - The inaugural tournament of the New Mexico Bass Team Trail was a success, even though the wind blew and the lake level was dropping like a rock. Success was measured in smiles, paychecks and limits. Run strictly as a non-profit venture by the New Mexico Bass Nation Cedar Cove Club, the tournament returned over 90% of the entry fees through checks and gift certificates from local sponsors.
While the lake didn’t produce as many big largemouth bass as expected, the smallmouth cooperated as 23 of the 37 teams weighed in five fish limits. Father and son team Bobby and Steven Preece weighed in a mixed bag for 11.24 pounds to take the $2,629 first prize. Second place prize of $1447 went to John Clayman and Chris Sanchez who almost upset the field when they caught a 4.35 pound largemouth and a 3 pound smallmouth but just couldn’t cull their squeaker smallmouths. Father and daughter team Dean Riggs and 2018 B.A.S.S. High School All-State team member Alex Riggs took the $370 Big Bass Pot when Alex landed a 5.14 largemouth.
Ten family teams fished the tournament, including a grandfather and grandson team. Three “retired” New Mexico Bass Nation veteran anglers came out of retirement for the tournament, including winner Bobby Preece, Steve Bell and 1998 Bassmasters Elephant Butte champion Dennis Hoy.
Bobby and Steven were surprised that 11.24 pounds could win the tournament, but with the largemouths shutting down, it opened the door for anyone that could figure out a smallmouth bite or find a pre-spawn largemouth. Bobby said they bought the winning baits right off the S-T Bait, Tackle & Marine and Strictly Fishing sponsor tables at registration as did John and Chris. The winning baits were Rite Bite tubes and Gary Yanamoto grubs in the morning and chatterbaits and spinnerbaits when the wind came up.
Most of the fish came off main lake brushy points and nearby secondary points early in the day but some of the field figured out how to take advantage of afternoon shifting 20+ MPH winds from an approaching cold front. Many of the female largemouths that had been found the weekend before either moved out or just shut down as the lake was dropping over 4 inches a day with the beginning of the irrigation season with almost no snowpack runoff from the mountains. Conservation Director, Earl Conway, that has led a massive habitat improvement project for the last three years said “it was disappointing that more large fish weren’t caught, but the lake is vastly improved from where it was five years ago when limits were rare. I’m glad most of the anglers safely figured out a pattern under difficult conditions. This is a very challenging lake that is different almost every weekend. The next tournament, April 14th , will have a whole new set of challenges to keep it interesting.”
For complete standings visit the NMBTT facebook page here.