Anglers take Flaming Gorge smallmouth to task

The 2012 Cabela’s Bassmaster Federation Nation Western Divisional will be won on culling strategy: It’s about accurately predicting the weight of the fish you’re going to catch. If you get it wrong, you might as well not be fishing.  See the Day One standings here.

Competitors are not permitted to cull on Wyoming’s Flaming Gorge. So if you decide to keep a 2-pounder at 9 a.m., then you catch four more fish, you’re out of luck when a 5-pounder bites your line at noon.

That’s what happened to several anglers today during the first round of competition.

Bubba O’Neill is one of those anglers. “I let go of nine fish today, and I didn’t get a limit because of that.” He weighed in four fish for a total of 7 pounds, 11 ounces, and currently sits in 42nd place.

O’Neill — who holds the Wyoming state record for the largest smallmouth, caught right here on Flaming Gorge in 2003 — had a set number in his mind of what he would keep. “I was out here last weekend and caught three 4-pounders and 30 over 3 pounds. So today, I decided I wasn’t going to keep any fish smaller than 3 pounds.”

It didn’t pan out for O’Neill today, but he said he’ll do the same thing tomorrow. “Go big or go home,” he said. Others, like Dave Gerhardt of Colorado, swore off the tactic, saying it cost them too many fish — and too much weight — today. Only 33 limits were weighed in today, out of 132 anglers.

Competitors had luck with a variety of plastics today, including swimbaits and jerkbaits. The fish were skittish, said some. The bass are in prespawn and spawning stages, and the fish on beds were visible. Many anglers reported the bite shut off at noon, about when the wind picked up.

The host team, Wyoming, leads the state competition by 10 ounces. “We are really working hard as a team to win it this year,” said Becca Golightly, Wyoming B.A.S.S. Federation Nation president. “These are our home waters and this is our chance. Our guys are really working together to make it happen.”

Wyoming’s weight is 83 pounds, 15 ounces. Utah is a scant 10 ounces behind, followed by New Mexico with 82 pounds even.

The overall leader of the tournament so far is Ryan Furno of Aloha, Ore., with a limit of 13 pounds, 5 ounces. Furno currently has a 2 1/2-pound lead for his home state of Oregon. "I kept all the fish I caught until I got a limit," said Furno, later lamenting that he lost a 4-pounder that would have cushioned his lead even more. If Furno maintains his lead in Oregon for two more days, he’ll be headed to the 2012 Cabela’s Bassmaster Federation Nation Championship in October.

Other state team leaders for the day are Andy Bravence, Arizona; Jason Hemminger, California; Frank Villa, Colorado; Brent Shores, Idaho; Shane Baertsch, Montana; David Naugle, Nevada; Franco Vallejos, New Mexico; Tyler Swaney, Utah; Gene Batey Jr., Washington; and Larry Wilkins, Wyoming.

Currently leading for the Cabela’s Big Bass award is Robert Bereiter of Tucson, Ariz. He brought in a 3-pound, 13-ounce smallmouth early in the weigh-in that no one could top.

The competition resumes tomorrow with a 5:30 a.m. MT launch time at Buckboard Marina in Green River, Wyo. The weigh-in takes place near the launch ramp at 2 p.m. MT (4 p.m. ET). The weigh-in video is available on Find photos and updates on throughout the tournament and see the standings after Day One here