Outside the West, Utah's Scott Nielsen isn't a known quantity. He fished the Bassmaster Classic once (1997), the Bassmaster Tour in 2004
and the Stren Championship in 2005 – and he fished the Wrangler Nationals back in the day – but his bread-and-butter has always been regional stuff in the West.
He's a Lake Mead veteran, so it wasn't a total surprise when he won the recent WON Bass U.S. Open. What was surprising was how he utterly spanked the field. On a lake where tournaments are often decided by ounces, he won by an incredible 9.35-pound margin.
And he did it against defending champs like Aaron Martens and Byron Velvick, who both finished in the Top 5.
It was the biggest win of Nielsen's career and netted him $135,000 in cash and prizes. Here's how he did it.
Like many western anglers, Nielsen hits Lake Mead whenever there's money to be won. Two weeks before the Open, he fished the stand-alone Team Classic at Mead that drew 135 boats.
"I fished that the 8th and 9th of September and I discovered the Overton arm," he said. "So when I came down for (U.S. Open) practice, I gave myself a few days and just pretty much committed myself to the Overton arm."
Lake Mead is near record-low levels right now, so most of the brush and rocks are dry. It wasn't cover that drew him to the Overton. Rather, it was the size of the fish.
And the Overton was a risk. It's a 40-minute run in good weather, but with wind, it can take an hour and a half.
"I felt like the fish were a little better than average up there," he noted. "That always seems to be the key to Mead. Each year, one arm will have a little better quality fish than the others.
"To win the tournament, you have to be in that particular part of the lake that's happening at that time. I think it had better forage up there, and I just noticed at the Team Classic that it was kicking out better and healthier fish."
He worked two baits up there. One was a 1/2-ounce jig, which he flipped to any available cover – things as small as a stick. The other was a crankbait, which almost nobody else was throwing.
"There were lots of competitors up the Overton, but I think I was the only one throwing cranks. It got me bites. I think the fish were seeing something different and reacting to it."
His major concern as practice drew to a close was water clarity. He could handle a wind, as long as it wasn't from the north, but the Virgin River empties into the Overton. If it muddied up, which happens when it rains in Utah, his bite could evaporate.
> Day 1: 5, 11.63 (3rd)
Nielsen said his day-1 start was rough. "I lost some fish, and really should have had the big bag that day."
He had about nine bites – half on the jig and half on the crank. His AAA partner, Jeremy Stack, caught a 3.65-pounder, and since WON Bass uses a shared-weight format, it counted toward Nielsen's total.
"I actually had that fish hooked on a crank on a little twig," Nielsen said. "We went back 4 hours later and my AAA partner caught it on a jig. I know it was the same fish."
About his day, he noted: "I didn't think after losing a couple of fish that I would do well. I was a little disappointed in myself until I got in and saw the weights.
"After that, I felt I really had to commit to the Overton arm. If I fished there, I felt I could do really well, and possibly win, without catching limits. If I only caught three or four fish each of the next 2 days, I'd still have a chance to win the tournament.
"That made me feel real good, and it gave me a lot of confidence."
> Day 2: 5, 15.54
> Total = 10, 27.17 (1st)
It was back to the Overton the morning of day 2.
"We had good weather and the Virgin River quit flowing into the Overton," Nielsen said. "That cleared up the mud a little, so it was an ideal day for fishing up there."
He rotated through his two baits, throwing each "when it felt right."
He only got five bites, but landed each one. The biggest was a 4.65.
"I ended up with 15 1/2 pounds for five fish," he said. "I felt good about it. I was concerned because on day 3, I knew we'd get some north wind, which will tear up the Overton a little bit. It turns the mud over.
"But my biggest concern was the Virgin. They were getting a lot of rain in Utah, and when it runs into such a small area, it really junks it up and you can't get bit."
> Day 3: 5, 9.85
> Total = 15, 37.02
Dawn brought bad news in the Overton. The north wind was blowing, and the Virgin was dumping water.
"I had a 4 1/4-pound lead, but I knew I was in trouble," Nielsen said. "I thought, 'Well, I have to give it a few hours, and if I get one or two fish I'll be real thankful.'
"So I went to one of my key little areas that nobody was bothering and 10 minutes into the day, I hooked what was probably another 4-pounder. It was a real nice fish.
Nielsen said his crankbait was key – it forced a reaction bite from the fish.
"I hooked it on a crankbait and it wasn't really jumping – it was just coming through the waves – and it came undone," he added. "There was no rhyme or reason, it just came unbuttoned. That rattled me a little bit."
He went over to his second primary area and caught two good ones – each about 2 3/4 pounds. But he still felt he needed more weight. He stuck with the dirty water until 11:00, then pulled the plug.
"By that time, we had some real heavy north winds, and I have an area called the little gyp beds, which is very popular. I can always catch little fish there.
"It took me a long time to get there, and I only had about an hour and a half to fish. I just started throwing the crank and picked up three 13-inch keepers.
"That was it. That was the U.S Open."
Winning Gear Notes
> Crankbait gear: 7' heavy-action G. Loomis CBR 843C cranking rod, Shimano Chronarch casting reel, 10- and 15-pound Maxima Ultragreen mono, Norman Deep Little N crankbait (shad with a green back).
> He threw the lighter line when he wanted his crank to dive deeper.
> He swapped out the stock crankbait hooks for No. 4 Gamakatsu EWG trebles.
> Jig gear: 7'6" G. Loomis IMX 904 flipping stick, same reel, 20-pound Maxima Ultragreen, 1/2-ounce Pepper flipping jig (brown/purple), Zoom Super Chunk trailer (junebug).
The Bottom Line
> Main factor in his success – "Being committed to the Overton, definitely. And I think the crankbait was a key factor too. I was the only one doing it."
> Performance edge – "My Ranger Z20 was my most important piece of equipment. I feel like it's a big-water boat. We had some tremendous weather the first and the third day. It handled the weather and got me there and back."
> As noted, he fished the Bassmaster Tour in 2004. On whether he'd consider the tour level again, he said: "With what we have out West now – the FLW Series coming out in '07 – I think there'll be plenty for me to fish out here. I'm happy with that, and I keep myself very busy."
> He works full-time as a real-estate developer.