OAKLEY, Calif. — Success on the water starts between the ears and Hunter Schlander ’s mental game served him well, as the Modesto, Calif. pro made the right decisions and won the Wild West Bass Trail Duel on the Delta presented by City of Oakley with a 3-day total of 49.21 pounds.
Starting off with 12.90 on Day 1, Schlander added a second-round limit of 22.19 — the event’s biggest bag — and qualified for Championship Sunday in third place. Turning in a final-round bag that went 14.12, Schlander edged second-place Clint Groenewold by twenty-two hundredths of a pound.
“Day 2 was very important; not only was it a big bag, but it helped my confidence, because the first day, I only had (a moderate bag),” Schlander said. “I knew I needed to make some adjustments and when I caught that big bag, it gave me a lot of confidence in what I was doing.
“That changed my mindset and I had a lot better attitude going into today.”
As Schlander explained, his early struggles in the morning hours of Day 1 prompted him to fish new water on the second day. Starting in the Central Delta and chasing the outgoing tide though southern areas, Schlander’s Day 2 start was decent, but once the momentum built, he knew he was on the right track.
“I caught some solid fish to get me going and then, like 9:30-10 o’clock, I caught a 7 1/2 and I had some real momentum going,” Schlander said. “Then I ran to an area that I knew had a lot of big fish, but I knew it had to be windy to catch them.
“On Day 2, it was blowing 10-20 and I got a 4-pounder right off the bat. I hunkered down in there for 3 hours and right at the end, I got a 5 and that gave me my weight.”
With the final morning bringing much calmer conditions, Schlander knew his Day-2 big-fish spot was unlikely to deliver the goods, so he made a gutsy call to scrap that deal and run new water. Another good decision would end up delivering just what he needed to cross the finish line.
“I feel like the way the Delta is fishing right now, you cannot keep trying to fish the same areas day after day,” Schlander said. “I’ve done this before where I’ve tried to milk an area for a couple days and it never really pans out.”
Boldly running to areas he had not even pre-fished, Schlander caught a pair of 3 1/2-pounders right off the bat. His second spot gave up a 4-pounder and the rest of his limit.
While Schlander spent his later hours trying to punch his way into upgrades, he caught his final-round weight in the morning by targeting riprap with tules and alternating between a Texas-rigged black/blue 6-inch Yamamoto Senko and dropshot with a 6-inch Roboworm in the margarita mutilator color.
“The key was having an open mind and being willing to try new areas,” Schlander said. “It just seems like the fish aren’t grouped up like they should be in certain areas, so you had to keep moving and trying new areas and trying new things.
“You couldn’t just milk one spot, so the key to success was trying to bounce around and keep an open mind.”
Reflecting on his achievement, Schlander said: “It was awesome. This is my home water and it’s so hard to win out here. I’ve been close a few times, but I could never finish it. It was pretty exciting to get it done, especially with a lot of my family and friends there.”
Clint Groenewold, of Discovery Bay, Calif. finished second place with 48.99. His daily limits were 16.59, 18.77 and 13.63.
Spending his tournament in the South Delta, Groenewold targeted tule islands with grassy perimeters. He based his techniques on tide level.
“In the morning, when the tide was high, I caught them on a 1/2-ounce green pumpkin Z-Man ChatterBait JackHammer with a matching Yamamoto Swimming Zako,” Groenewold said. “I would just slow roll the bait, making sure I was keeping in contact with the grass.”
During low tide, Groenewold punched a Missile Baits D Bomb and a Big Bite Baits Yo Mama, both in crawdad and bluegill colors. He used a 1 1/4-ounce to 1 3/4-ounce weight depending on tide height.
“I was punching hydrilla, but most of the key fish came in areas with some type of mat like hyacinth,” Groenewold said. “The punch bite was pretty aggressive the first two days. But as it went on, the bite became less aggressive — you had to soak it more.”
Rodney Brinser of Discovery Bay, Calif. took third place with 46.99. His daily weights were 13.60, 19.49, and 13.90.
Fishing the Central and South Delta, Brinser chased the tide and looked for healthy grass. When he found promising areas, he pitched a dropshot into holes amid the vegetation.
Lauding the action of his Dobyns 702 Champion rod, Brinser used a 6-inch Roboworm Fat Straight Tail in margarita mutilator with a homemade 1/4-ounce cylinder weight. For weedless presentation, Brinser Texas rigged his worm on a No. 1 Owner Rig’n Hook.
“I just fished really slow and methodical,” Brinser said. “The Delta is fishing very different right now, but it just came together for me this week.”
APEX pro Jason Austin of Ione, Calif. won Big Bass honors with his 8.35.
Brian Fesler of Gridley, Calif. won the co-angler division with 36.05. Anchoring his weight with a 6-pounder on Day 2, Fesler turned in daily bags of 10.27, 13.91, and 11.87.
Throughout the event, Fesler fished matted vegetation, shallow wood, tule edges hydrilla beds. The latter produced his Day-3 catch.
“I caught most of my fish on a 5-inch Senko, rigged wacky and Texas style and a dropshot with a margarita mutilator Roboworm,” Fesler said. “I used the 6-inch and 4-inch worms. When it got really tough, I switched to the larger worm.”
Fesler thanked his pros, Jason Austin, Ron Tobey, and Jake Arbuckle, Fesler for facilitating his success.
“It’s very difficult to do this from the back of the boat but all three of the guys I fished with were complete professionals and allowed me to relax,” Fesler said. “When I’m able to relax, I fish better.
“I had three amazing pros. I wouldn’t have won without them putting me on fish.”
Mario David Marroquin of San Leandro, Calif. won Big Bass honors among co-anglers with a 6.68.