By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
For Sean Stafford, the long wait was worth it.
The Fairfield, Calif. resident spent nearly 2 hours sitting in a folding chair on the weigh-in stage on the final day of last week's WON Bass U.S. Open at Nevada's Lake Mead. He'd weighed in a big bag in the second flight that put him in the lead, then there was nothing to do except send text messages to friends and relatives and exchange pleasantries with other anglers until somebody bumped him off.
About a hundred guys too their shot at dethroning him, but none succeeded. All the time spent on that hard-bottomed seat certainly didn't do his 6-foot-5 frame any good, but the coveted trophy and the $80,000 or so in cash and prizes made it all worthwhile.
His 13.16-pound stringer on day 3 propelled him from 9th place to the top of the heap at the event many consider the most grueling in the country. His 34.40 total for 3 days clipped two-time winner Clifford Pirch by just 15 hundredths of a pound.
Here's how he did it.
Stafford practiced for 4 days leading up to the tournament – his ninth appearance in the event. On 2 of those days, he caught multiple quality fish on topwater offerings. On the other 2, he struggled to even get a bite on the surface.
"One day, I didn't catch a keeper the whole day," he said. "Another day I got some small ones on plastics and stuff, and I did lose a 3 1/2-pounder in the weeds on a tube. That kind of told me something.
"I wasn't very confident, to be perfectly honest. I decided that I'd just start (the tournament) in my favorite area and run around the lake and fish places I knew."
> Day 1: 5, 9.94
> Day 2: 5, 11.50
> Day 3: 5, 13.16
> Total = 15, 34.40
Desert weather in the late summer can be volatile, and as is sometimes the case at the U.S. Open, each of the 3 days featured its own distinct conditions. Day 1 was mostly clear and breezy, day 2 brought violent wind accompanied by a powerful monsoon that dumped buckets of rain in the afternoon, and post-frontal day 3 was as calm as a fly on the wall at a PETA convention.
As the numbers above illustrate, Stafford's adjustments got better as the derby wore on. His topwater tactics played well over the first 2 days and he also enticed some fish with a spinnerbait, and then he went the finesse route on the final day to catch his best bag under the toughest circumstances as most of the field struggled mightily.
He fished the Upper Basin throughout the event and focused on grass and brush, particularly where one or the other intersected with rock or some other feature on a point, and it was critical to have a dropoff nearby. Most of his fish came from water that was 8 to 15 feet deep.
He rotated through four or five sweet spots in one general area on day 1 and weighed three largemouths and two smallmouths, but nothing over 2 1/2 pounds.
"When the shad were around, the (bass) would be real aggressive, but they'd obviously been eating crawdads," he said. "I had a bunch of little crawdads in my livewell at the end of the day."
He caught a 3 1/2-pound largemouth on day 2, which accounted for most of his weight increase, as he climbed from 21st to 9th in the standings. He went into the final day trailing leader Pirch by a little more than 3 pounds.
He'd thrown a tube sparingly over the first 2 days, and he gave one to his co-angler to begin day 3. The back-seater promptly popped a 2-pounder to account for their first fish of the day (the U.S. Open is a shared-weight event).
"I gave topwater about an hour in the morning and I had three or four fish offer at it, but that was it. I gave that up and started with the tube, and I moved out a little deeper. I was trying to graph bushes and stuff in 10 to 15 feet.
His fortunes improved dramatically when he boated a near-5-pounder at about 10:30. He went on to make two culls in the last hour and a half that improved his total by about 2 pounds.
Stafford's final-day bag contained a fish that weighed nearly 5 pounds.
Then he weighed in and began his long ordeal in the chair.
"At first, I thought for sure I was going to get knocked off," he said. "But then I see all these guys going by and the weights aren't very good – only five or six even had 10 pounds.
"I started thinking, 'Maybe I've got a shot at this, because no one's catching them today.'''
Winning Gear Notes
> Tube gear: 7'2" medium-heavy Shimano Cumara rod, Shimano Chronarch casting reel (7:1 ratio), 12-pound Seaguar Tatsu fluorocarbon line, 1/4-ounce bullet weight, 2/0 Owner Wide Gap Plus hook, 3 1/2" Canyon Plastics Gitzit Tube (watermelon).
> Spinnerbait gear: 7'11" medium-heavy Shimano Cumara rod, same reel (5:1 ratio), 15-pound Seaguar Tatsu fluorocarbon, 1/2-ounce War Eagle spinnerbait (white with gold/silver double willow-leaf blades).
> Topwater gear: Same rod and reel as spinnerbait, 10-pound Power Pro braided line with 8' monofilament leader, Lucky Craft Gunfish, Heddon Zara Spook or Lobina Lures Rico (various colors, primarily shad patterns).
The Bottom Line
> Main factor in his success – "I didn't have high expectations, except of myself to fish hard, and I didn't get myself locked in to any one thing."
> Performance edge – "Probably the Lowrance electronics. It was important to be able to see the dropoffs, the brush and the baitfish."
Much of the tackle referenced above is available at the BassFan Store. To browse the selection, click here..
> For the complete final standings, click here.