Dean Rojas couldn’t have planned this week any better than it has played out, so far. His fellow Bassmaster Elite Series anglers have experienced everything that attracted Rojas to “Arizona’s West Coast” over 15 years ago, when he left California’s West Coast city of San Diego.
No one has enjoyed this week more than the 41-year-old Lake Havasu City resident. And Saturday was his best day yet. Rojas was in 52nd place Thursday, the first day of the Bassmaster Elite at Lake Havasu presented by Dick Cepek Tires & Wheels. He barely budged in the standings Friday, finishing in 50th place. But, wow, did Rojas make a move Saturday. His five-bass limit of 19 pounds, 9 ounces shot him all the way up to 8th place and easily qualified him for today’s Top 12 final.
“I changed areas more than anything,” Rojas said in explaining his surge. “Today I fished areas where I know big fish live. They bit today.”
If Rojas could draw up the perfect scenario for him in a tournament this would be it – out of the spotlight until the final day. That’s part of the reason he moved to Lake Havasu City in the first place, to stay out of the spotlight. Several California native anglers, like Aaron Martens and Justin Lucas, have moved to Alabama to be nearer the heartland of the B.A.S.S. tournament circuit. Rojas prefers to keep his distance.
“It’s paradise for me,” he said. “I’m not in the mainstream of bass fishing, where I want to be in it all the time. I can get away and come in with a fresh look. I’m right where I need to be.”
In Major League Baseball, it’s known as the Cactus League, the 15 teams that have their spring training facilities in Arizona. MLB’s other teams congregate in Florida in what’s known as the Grapefruit League. Rojas has found a Cactus League equivalent and the perfect offseason training facility in Lake Havasu.
“That’s why I moved here,” he said. “This is my training ground. This is what taught me how to catch fish back East.”
Lake Havasu has a surprisingly wide variety of bass fishing environments and a good mix of both largemouth and smallmouth bass populations. If you want to learn how to catch bass in deep, clear water, you can do that here. If you want to learn how to catch bass in shallow acquatic vegetation and stained water, you can do that Aaron Martens calls Lake Havasu “the ultimate junk fishing lake,” which is a compliment, if you’re unfamiliar with the term. He’s referring to the fact that you can fish 20- to 30-feet deep, then go to the bank and fish shallow, then move to an in-between depth and catch bass in all three zones.
David Walker remarked earlier this week how one area of Colorado River that forms this lake reminded him of the Louisiana Delta. Bobby Lane said an area reminded him of fishing his home state of Florida. Mike Iaconelli said the rocky points in clear water were reminiscent of some great smallmouth bass lakes in the Northeast.
When Brian Snowden came in on Day 1 with a mix of smallmouth and largemouth bass, he said Havasu fished like his home lake – Table Rock – built on the White River in the Ozarks. And Jeff Kriet has mentioned over and over how much Havasu resembles Lake Murray, his home lake, located near Ardmore, Okla.
Seeing these Elite Series anglers bring a fresh approach to Lake Havasu has been an educational experience for Rojas.
“I’m very observant of how these guys are approaching the lake,” he said. “I’ve lived here so long, I almost have to step back, as a fan, and watch. It’s really neat to watch these guys catch ‘em here.
“You’re going down the lake and you’re like, what? Why is he fishing there? I never fish there. Then you see him catch one or catch a big bag. They’re coming in with a fresh mind, a fresh attitude. It’s cool to watch.”
Rojas’ ultimate definition of cool would be if he rallied to win the $100,000 first place prize on Sunday. Don’t put it past him. The temperatures are warming to more seasonable weather, and Rojas likes it that way.
“This is Havasu weather,” Rojas said. “I know how to catch them in this stuff. I’m excited. I wish I wasn’t so far back, but it’s going to be a shootout. I look forward to the challenge.”