LAKE HAVASU CITY, Ariz. — Never have so many bass fisherman felt so at home in the middle of a desert. No matter what part of the U.S. they come from, Lake Havasu feels like home.
Just look at the Day 1 leaderboard of the Bassmaster Elite at Lake Havasu presented by Dick Cepek tires. The top 10 anglers represent every section of the country from the Midwest (leader Edwin Evers from Oklahoma) to the Great Lakes (10th-place Kevin Van Dam – Michigan), from Florida (Shaw Grigsby, Bobby Lane, Randall Tharp) to Texas (Kelly Jordon, Mike Kernan) to, of course, the West (John Murray, Cliff Pirch).
Northeast anglers feel at home here too.
“I love it because it fishes a lot like smallmouth fisheries in the Northeast,” said Mike Iaconelli, who is in 60th place with 13-8. “It reminds me a lot of that. I probably caught 20 keepers today. I just never caught one that approached 3 ½ pounds.”
Brian Snowden mentioned on the weigh-in stage that Lake Havasu fished like his home lake – Table Rock – built on the White River in the Ozarks. David Walker said parts of Havasu reminded him of the Louisiana Delta.
Finally, Jeff Kriet was astounded at how much Havasu fishes like his home lake – Murray – near Ardmore, Oklahoma.
“It fishes almost exactly like this,” said Kriet, who is in 41st place with 14-9. “It’s 50-50 with brown ones (smallmouth bass) and black ones (largemouth bass). My home lake has the same water color. It’s got cattails in it, if you want to do that. It’s as identical to my home lake as anything I’ve ever seen. I feel at home.”
The surrounding landscape doesn’t look like anyone’s home, except for Dean Rojas, who lives in Havasu City. But now everyone knows why Rojas moved here in 1998 from San Diego, for the variety of bass fishing environments, plus the fact that San Diego was becoming unaffordable.
“Lake Havasu was a perfect training ground,” said Rojas, who is in 52nd place with 14-1. “This is where I learned to fish the Elites. This lake has everything I need to learn to compete against the guys back east.
“The (Colorado) river looks like Florida. It’s all backwater, oxbows, tules and wood.
“There are some areas that have dirty water. Some are gin clear.
“It got me ready for fishing river systems – current and current breaks, all that stuff. And then if we go to lakes like Clarks Hill (on the Georgia-South Carolina border) or any of the big clear lakes where you are fishing out in 20 to 30 feet of water, I knew how to fish there too.
“Lake Havasu taught me to fish all the aspects I would face on the (Bassmaster Elite Series) tour.”
Lake Havasu’s 19,300 acres weren’t always the bass fishing paradise they are now, as demonstrated by Evers’ tournament-leading 20-pound, 7-ounce five-bass limit Thursday. A concerted effort to place manmade fishing structure – everything from brush piles to bass bungalows to crappie condos to catfish houses – has helped improve the fishing. As has, apparently, the accidental introduction of an invasive specie – the coin-sized quagga mussel, similar to a zebra mussel.
John Murray, who is in second place with 19-8, has been fishing tournaments on Lake Havasu since 1985. He’s won four bass boats in tournaments here and has compiled numerous top five finishes over the years. He remembers well a totally different bass fishing experience.
“It would take like 10 or 12 pounds to win,” Murray said. “It’s nothing like it was then. Quagga mussels kicked up the food chain. Divers say there are crawfish all over the (lake) bottom now. (Quagga mussels) are why the world record redear (sunfish) came from here.”
Redear sunfish aren’t nicknamed “shellcrackers” for nothing. They are quagga mussel-eating machines. The world record was caught here on February 16, 2014. It weighed 5.80 pounds, was 17 inches long and had a 19.5-inch girth.
That world record redear is just one example of the healthy food chain that has all these bass tournament anglers feeling right at home – no matter where they live.