By Terry Battisti
January 17, 2010
There’s a reason Brent Ehrler is ranked second in the BassFan world rankings. He’s a threat on any water he ventures onto – even if it’s a body of water he’s rarely fished.
He again showed his authority this past weekend at the season opener for the 2010 FLW National Guard Western Series event held on northern California’s Lake Shasta where he notched win number 4 of his FLW career.
Lake Shasta isn’t a stingy lake when it comes to numbers of fish. In fact, if you desire a lake to learn how to catch spotted bass, Shasta is the place to go. The problem with the lake, from a tournaments standpoint, is all of its fish seem to come from the same cookie-cutter mold – all weighing just south of the two-pound mark. Yes, there are some magnum spots and trophy largemouths in the lake but to go out and target those fish in a tournament would surely spell failure.
The key to winning at Shasta is to find a group of spots that weigh, on average, only ounces more than what the rest of the field is catching. Unfortunately, that feat is more difficult than it may seem. Yet this is exactly what Ehrler did this past weekend – unbeknownst to him prior to day one of the event.
Practice on Shasta is all about finding either a pattern the bigger fish are keyed in on or finding a group of slightly bigger fish than your competition. Ehrler, having only been on Shasta one other time (the 2000 Bassmaster California Invitational where he finished 13th), figured before the start of practice he’d be able to get the bigger Shasta spots to eat using the techniques he’s discovered fishing the spotted bass lakes of the South. His primary tactic was to go out and throw small Lucky Craft crankbaits and wake baits – something that has proven successful on tour.
“I really thought I had a bag of tricks for the bigger spots at Shasta,” he said. “But none of that worked for me and I had to go to the old Shasta standby, the nail-weighted Senko. That rig is the ticket up there.
“At that point, it came down to finding areas where the bigger fish were. Unfortunately, I didn’t find them. I only had one day where I might have had 11 pounds of fish and I covered a lot of water.
“Then right before the end of the last day of practice, I pulled up onto a point I’d been looking at all week,” he said. “I metered the area and it looked really good. I saw fish, dropped my bait down and caught one on the first cast. I metered some more and the point had the right depth and the fish seemed to be there in good numbers. I knew I’d be going back during the tournament.
When day one started, Ehrler didn’t head to what would become his number-one spot. Instead he went to some other areas he’d found.
“I didn’t really know what that last spot I found in practice had on it so I didn’t go there first thing,” he said. “Around 1:00 pm, I only had a bit over 8 pounds in the boat and went to the point.
“Within fifteen minutes I culled over 11 pounds and had a 3-pounder and two 2-pounders. After I boated those fish, I left because I knew I wanted to fish there the rest of the event.”
His first day weight of 11-05 put him in 5th place, one pound off the lead.
“The next day I started out on the point and by 9:00 or 9:30 in the morning I had my weight,” he said. “After that, I just ran the lake looking for more areas that had bigger fish but I wasn’t able to find anything.”
He weighed 9-12 the second day which gave him a two-day total of 21-01 and moved up one spot to the fourth position.
“On the third day I again started out on the point and by 10:00 am I had 11-pounds 7-ounces in the boat,” he said. “I left the point again to look for bigger fish but I never culled up.”
His day three weight lifted his total to 32-08 and put him in 2nd place, a pound-and-a-half out of first.
“The last day of the tournament I was committed to that point,” he said. “I went there first thing and had most of my weight by 9:00 am. By then I’d already caught 60 fish off the point and had taken a lot of those with me. It was a slow day and I stuck around until noon.
“At noon I headed to some other areas and culled up one fish around 2 pounds before going back to the point. I wasn’t able to get another good fish.”
He finished the event with a four-day total of 42-12 – a pound-and-a-half better than second place.
Wacky Winning Ways
Although Ehrler wanted badly to win this event utilizing more power techniques, he was able to readjust and catch his fish on a tried-and-true Shasta technique.
“When I found out the fish weren’t going to eat the small crank and wake baits, I went to a wacky rigged 5- and 6-inch Senko,” he said. “In practice I used both sizes but found during that time the fish wouldn’t eat the 6-inch bait as well as the 5-inch bait so I ended up sticking with that size for the tournament.
“I fished the bait two different ways,” he said. “I rigged it with a 3/32-ounce Lunker City nail weight in the head but I also used a 3/16-ounce Tru-Tungsten Flea Flicker Wacky Head. With the Flea Flicker head the bait falls with more action whereas with the nail weight it’ll fall head first. The fish would get accustomed to one bait and then I’d switch up and continue catching them. Everyone throws the nail weight here and I figured that by using the Flea Flicker I’d be able to get more bites.
For his nail-weighted Senko, he used a 1/0 Owner Weedless Wacky hook.
“I also did a lot of drop-shotting,” he said. “It was really important to switch up the baits and techniques to keep the fish eating. For drop-shotting, I rotated between a Slim Senko (color 297), a Shad Shaped Worm (color 301) and a 4 1/2-inch straight tail Robo Worm (oxblood). It was really important to rotate through the colors and techniques to keep the fish eating.
His tackle for the wacky rigged baits and the drop-shot consisted of a Lucky Craft Shaky-head rod, an ABU Garcia SORON spinning reel, 12-pound Sunline PE braided line and a Sunline FC Sniper leader in 8-pound test.
“I went with the stiffer shaky-head rod because I was fishing the bigger Senkos and needed that little heavier action rod for the hookset,” he said. “It’s a perfect rod for this type of fishing, it has a good soft tip but the butt of the rod still has good power to drive the hook into the fish.
The key to Ehrler’s win was the one spot he found at the end of his last practice day.
“The main structure was points or flats with a ledge that dropped into deep water but the key was the depth,” he said. “That point I found ended having all of it, though. It was a main-lake point that had a secondary point on the inside. Between that secondary point and the main point was a flat that had 40 feet of water on it thirty to forty feet from the bank that dropped off into deeper water.
“I’d sit on the secondary point and cast to the main point or vice versa. The fish would come up out of the deeper water onto the flat or they’d move from the main point to the secondary point. They were moving all over the area and I could see them on my graph.
“That was another thing,” he said. I caught a lot of fish by watching my meter. I’d see a fish on the meter, drop my bait down on them and I’d see the fish come up to the bait and eat it.
“I was just fortunate to find that key spot.”
Shasta and the Future
As for the tournament, he wants to thank everyone for the event.
“We had a great turnout,” Ehrler said. “Shasta is a great place to fish and I want to thank FLW and the National Guard for their support. We need them out here and need to support them. They run their events so well and it’s hard to fish anything else.”
He heads to Shreveport, LA for the first FLW Tour event on the Red River in a couple weeks.
“I’m really looking forward to this season and the Red River event,” he said. “It’s great to start my year off with this win and I hope to carry some of that momentum into the Tour. I’ve never been to the Red River and I’m sure it’s not going to be like this past Shasta event. I bet you can’t find 40 feet of water anywhere on that river. Instead of looking for schooling fish in deep water, it’s going to be about fishing 2-feet deep in timber.
“I’m also looking forward to the next Western National Guard event on Mead too,” he said. “I’ve never won there but I feel good about it. That lake sets up well for me to pattern fish, which is what I like to do.”
The fact that he’s never won on Mead or even set eyes on the Red River obviously has no reflection on what he can do at both places. At the number-two spot in the world, Ehrler needs nothing more than a rod in hand and his mind in good working order to prove that he’s one of the world’s best anglers.
Brent is sponsored by: National Guard, Ranger, Yamaha, Lucky Craft, Gary Yamamoto Custom Baits, Sunline, Angler's Marine, Abu-Garcia, Oakley, Tru-Tungsten, Gerbing's Heated Clothing, Wave Away, Lowrance, Power Pole, Owner Hooks