Bass fishing: 40th installment of WON BASS U.S. Open shifting from Mead to Mohave

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TANKER SMALLIES are somewhat commonplace at Lake Mohave, as WON BASS pro Gunnar Stanton of Boulder City, Nev. proves here with a 7-plus-pound bronzeback taken on a G-Funk Baits Desert Rig in December of 2020. The big smallmouth fell just a bit short of the standing 7.6-pound lake record and there was no shortage of big smallies weighed in at the inaugural WON BASS Laughlin Open at Mohave running in the 3- to 6-pound range.
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Young gun local Mohave pro weighs in on what anglers might encounter come Oct. 10-12

BY BLAKE WARREN

LAUGHLIN, Nev. – After one heck of a 39-year run at renowned Lake Mead, the 2022 WON BASS U.S. Open is officially shifting to Lake Mohave out of Katherine Landing for the 40th installment of the most prestigious bass tournament in the West, due to historically low water levels at Mead. With boat launching capabilities and the majority of ramps currently in poor condition at Mead and forecast to be in even more dire shape come autumn, WON BASS tournament director Billy Egan officially made the call to move the U.S. Open to Mohave back in mid-May.

“It was a tough call, and one that I’d hoped to never have to make,” Egan said of the decision to move the Open away from Mead for the first time in nearly four decades, “but at this point it was really the only call to be made. It’s just a really tough situation at Lake Mead right now as most of our anglers are aware, and the conditions simply won’t be feasible there this October to be able to successfully put on such an important event of such size and scope.”

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Egan’s confidence in making the move to Mohave stems from his recent experience hosting the inaugural WON BASS Laughlin Open out of Katherine Landing back in late March, making it far less of an unknown quantity after such a highly successful event.

“Mohave is just an epic all-around fishery and the smallmouth population there is just ridiculous,” he said. “Add to that there’s plenty of water, terrific and convenient amenities and facilities and great support from the surrounding community, and it’s going to be a great alternative for the 40th anniversary of the tournament.

“Another element factoring into it was that I really wanted to make sure we kept as much of a U.S. Open feel to the tournament as well, and with Mohave being a pure desert fishery in the same river chain within the Lake Mead National Recreation Area, it’s about as close as we could get, and we’re keeping the exact same dates as well (Oct. 10-12).”

While the new venue will feature a very familiar desert setting to Mead at Mohave, one aspect of the move that is almost certain to be pretty darned different is the weights of the bags o’ bass that will be conveyor belting their way to the scales at this year’s Open. Whereas the long-standing axiom for the Open at Mead is, “Ten pounds a day will generally put you in contention for the trophy,” it’s going to in all likelihood boast a slightly different outcome this October at Mohave.

Just for some context, a mere two of the nearly 200 anglers to fish last year’s Open at Mead — champion Roy Hawk and runner-up Cliff King — were able to collect over 10 pounds of bass on both days of the wind-shortened event.

Meanwhile, at the new Laughlin Open back in March it was a much different story, as every angler in the top 35 of the final standings broke that 10-pound mark on each day of fishing. Laughlin Open champ Justin Kerr brought no less than 21.5 pounds to the scales each day and it took at least 50 total pounds to land in the top 30 of the final standings, with a half-dozen anglers also managing to crack the 60-pound mark for the event. Now sure, that was at a very ripe time of year at the back end of March under ideal conditions, but October at Mohave is not likely going to be nearly quite as brutal as the usual grind-it-out affair it generally is at Mead year after year.

Among those top 30 pros at March’s Laughlin Open at Mohave was WON BASS angler Gunnar Stanton of Boulder City, Nev., who finished 16th at the Laughlin event (54.15 pounds) after a pair of strong showings at two of the last three WON BASS events, with a third-place finish at the U.S. Open at Mead in 2021 and a top 30 showing at February’s Arizona Open at Havasu. WON BASS reached out to Stanton just this past week to get his thoughts on how October’s Open might shape up on his home lake for the first-ever U.S. Open at Mohave.

“Honestly, in my experience the tournament is set right smack dab in the middle of the typical fall transition time at Mohave,” said Stanton, 25, who has been fishing the lake since he was 15 with lots of sage advice given to him over the years from Arizona-based desert pros and multiple-time WON BASS champions Justin Kerr and Roy Hawk.

“As far as the conditions go, it can be just about anything out there. Temperatures can range anywhere from the 60s into the 90s. And with any cold fronts that time of year usually comes the dreaded “W” word, wind. It can be really tough if it stays warm into tournament time, and it (the fishing) could get really good if the temperature drops, say 10 degrees, a week ahead of the tournament and kind of stabilizes for the event. You just never really know out here that time of year.”

With the unpredictability of the Colorado River chain desert weather and conditions, Stanton implores that all pros fishing this year’s Open make extra sure every little detail on their boats is dialed in to the max, from bilge pumps to transom bolts and everything in between. “Don’t get too ballsy out here,” he advised. “This is not the place to wing it and take any chances. These Colorado River lakes really test every piece of your gear to the limit.”

Gunnar shared a few other key pieces of advice to those not dialed into the local Mohave scene, mentioning that it will certainly be to the betterment of every angler to simply “go out and just look during pre-fish” and to remove hooks from all or most baits during practice rather than just winging it without much thought. As he put it, “These fish in this crystal-clear water out here tend to learn things extremely quickly, so if you want to succeed during the tournament, don’t stick too many, or any, fish when you’re pre-fishing would be my best advice.”

Stanton also said that the fishing could be just about anywhere on the fall spectrum come the Open, from shallow to deep, fast-moving reaction baits to slow-dragged worms or jigs. Legit “junk fishing” at its finest on the West’s annual biggest bassin’ stage. Just as so many prominent anglers over the years have come to love and feel endeared to the U.S. Open for its countless challenges and unpredictability at Mead, along with its long and well-earned national prestige in the wide world of bass fishing.

As for any personal predictions, Stanton was a tad hesitant with his personal knowledge of just how volatile and unpredictable a fall Mohave can be at any time, but he did offer up a smidgen of just what it might take to claim the 40th annual U.S. Open crown.

“It’s most likely going to be tougher than it was back in March, but I could still see someone figuring things out and blowing it out of the water with over 60 pounds and winning it,” he said. “But I’m guessing it’s going to take somewhere around 18 to 20 pounds a day to win the title and winding up somewhere in the low to mid 50s to land in the top ten. I also think largemouth will play a bigger role in this tournament and I’m guessing probably a green bass will be the biggest fish of the event compared to the WON BASS event in March. The water’s usually drawing down somewhere around 8 to 10 feet that time of year, and that tends to pull those bigger largemouth out of the brush.”

That’s definitely saying something, considering that it was noticeably over 80 percent of the fish weighed at the last Mohave WON BASS event which were smallies — while not a surprise at what it is perhaps the most prolific smallmouth fishery the West has to offer. Yet, those big Mohave largemouth could — and very likely will — have something to say about the ultimate outcome of the 40th annual Best Test in the West.

As for Gunnar, he has his eyes solely on the big prize following his 3rd place finish last October at Mead in his own desert backyard.

“Chasing big bites, going either hero or zero,” he said. “That’s what I plan on doing. I’ve seen Justin’s (Kerr’s U.S. Open) trophy at his house, and I definitely want one of those on my mantel one day. That’s what I’m fishing for. Ideally, I wish it was still at Mead, but I also totally get why that just doesn’t work this year, but even if it’s at Mohave it’s still a WON BASS U.S. Open. I’ve been aiming to win this thing my whole life since I was a kid.”

“I don’t know that I’m really fishing to ever be a full-time professional bass fisherman, I’m just fishing for that trophy. That’s what it’s really all about for me.”

LAKE MOHAVE is all set to be the site of the 40th annual U.S. Open after 39 consecutive years of the tournament being at nearby Lake Mead due to historically low water levels and poor launching conditions at Mead. An epic desert bass fishery and terrific, convenient amenities and facilities ought to make Mohave the ideal alternative site for the most prestigious bass tournament in the West.

 

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