Reflections on the 2008 US Open

WOW. All I can really say is "WOW WOW WOW!".

First and foremost, CONGRATULATIONS to Justin Kerr for his great victory - it was very well-deserved and I was so very happy to see him win. To see the smile on his face at the end was priceless. All the more incredible is that this tournament was absolutely brutal... hats off to all who even survived, let alone those who found ways to conquer the mighty Lake Mead conditions. CONGRATULATIONS TO THE LATEST US OPEN CHAMPION!!!

I was so sorry when I heard that Shaun Bailey's fish didn't cooperate, though, and my heart just sunk! To be honest, I was pulling for him all the way (sorry to the rest of you, and please no offense because I have a lot of favorites out there!) and really thought it was in the bag this year finally. He's another guy who works his tail off, is a great stick, is extremely personable, and is very deserving of the US Open title. He's had two second-place finishes, and I finally thought it was his time to break through.

As far as the field goes - HOLY COW!!! This was such a rich field... from all the previous US Open winners who fished, to the other accomplished heavyweights, to the numerous veteran team and seasoned tournament veterans, to the new aspiring 'young guns' working their way up the ranks, it was far more saturated with talent than the numbers indicated. I was in awe as I looked around the pairings and saw stick after stick, both Pro's and Am's, and was just honored to be present among such bass fishing royalty. And to be able to rub shoulders with the likes of John Kerr, Gary Dobyns, Aaron Martens, Gary Klein, Rich Tauber, Mike Folkstad, Byron Velvick, Fred Roumbanis, Cliff Pirch, etc... was priceless. Everyone was so nice and accommodating and extremely approachable.

One of the unique experiences happened at the beginning of the rules/pairings meeting, where George Kramer and Bill Mays had interviewed all the past winners who were present and put together a video segment - it really hit home the magnitude of the competition that came out this year. Champ after champ appeared on the screen and gave their insights into the tournament ahead... it truly set the tone of the event.

On a more personal note, I had the pleasure once again of pre-fishing with my Team's partner Roger Pluff on Thursday, and we scratched out a couple of pretty decent fish (he caught one that would have taken a big fish check any one of the days), and I caught one that looked to be a 3 pound fish that would have probably weighed maybe 2 1/2... some of those fish are so skinny there! We had a decent day, but it was hot as heck and really reminded me of what challenges would lie ahead.

On Friday, I had agreed to pre-fish with Tony Caparelli. Tony had contacted me about a month prior and wanted to arrange for a photo shoot for his sponsors (Monaco Motorhomes and Damiki lures), and originally I was going to meet him at Castaic for his last tournament and shoot on-the-water. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to make it at the last minute, so we agreed that I'd fish with him on Friday and then shoot in the afternoon. Tony had a real solid gameplan, and we had a great day... we would have probably weighed in 10+ pounds, and went through 2 1/2 limits during the course of the day jumping from spot to spot. We were then supposed to meet up with Dick Watson in the cove at Callville Bay so I could hop on his boat for the photos, but unbeknownst to us he had some minor engine issues earlier in the day and was already off the water.

After waiting for quite some time, and watching a Med-Evac chopper land at the ramp to cart off someone who broke his back cliff-jumping, we decided to get close enough to the mineral island so that I could hop on and shoot from there. As Tony started to cast and I started to shoot, 7 bighorn sheep appeared and came down by the waterline. Tony saw them, so he moved closer as I shot and just started casting back and forth in front of these magnificent animals. They paid some attention to him, but the two big rams appeared more interested in some apparent scent emanating from the rear end of the mature ewe that was with them, so they stuck around for us to get plenty of incredible photos.

After hauling out, we headed his motorhome out to Redstone to complete the photo shoot. For those who have seen it, you know how absolutely breathtaking it is. For those who haven't, it is a must-see if you are ever in the area. We shot several photos of the motorhome and boat in the Redstone picnic area, then headed back to the hotel. He talked me into going back out with him on Saturday for a half-day, and we had another great day on the water and had decent results. Back at the hotel parking lot, I had the chance to meet Bill Jordon, co-owner of Monaco Las Vegas, who is an awesome guy with a whole lot of stories and life experiences to share. We tipped a few, then a few more, and all ended up having a nice dinner at the Mexican restaurant.

Sunday came, and I was a bit laid up with some internal issues (plumbing had been backed up since I got there), and I was seriously worried that I was going to have to withdraw and maybe get to a hospital. I ended up deciding to try to gut it out, literally, and got ready for the pairings.

I eagerly awaited the announcement, and watched after many of my preferred Pro's were paired with others. Finally, in the fourth flight, I found that I was to be paired with Mike Folkstad for Day One!!! WHOO WHOOOOO!!!!! I had wanted to fish with him since the first Open, so I was elated!!! As an Am, I'm really mostly there to experience the event and learn from the Pro's, and this I felt was a great opportunity to learn from a legend! We met up, agreed on the game plan and logistics, and off to bed I went. We had a good day on the water, and it was an honor and privilege to fish with him. He was extremely nice and took lots of time to explain many of the finer points to me.

I had really hoped to get paired up with Shaun in this event (actually in every one he's been in), as he's just one of my absolute favorite Pro's, but realized afterward that it wasn't meant to be as he was in a different flight. I did, however, see that Mike Rooke and John Perkins were in my flight, so I was really hoping to draw either one of them as I really like and respect them also - they're absolutely great sticks in their own rights and downright cool guys. I ended up getting paired with Neil Campbell on Day Two, and Don Smith on Day Three instead, and both of those guys were awesome!!! I had three great days on the water, learned a ton from each, and caught fish each day. Unfortunately, I ended up costing myself and Don both checks I believe. More on that, but I have to share Don's misery first.

Don Smith is a very accomplished angler from Colorado, a very cool guy, and he had a very solid gameplan. On Day Two, he went to his primary area where his Am caught a fish he claimed to be between 4 - 41/2 pounds. Having fished with him and seeing him eyeball the fish, I believe he was probably pretty close. His Am was ecstatic, and kept checking the fish in the livewell. He tried to get him to leave it alone, but to no avail. They had made a long run, and in the afternoon it got fairly snotty. As they were running back across the basin, he looked back at one point and saw water spashing out of the livewell!!! He stopped and checked the well, and found that it was empty - their big fish was gone! He was only able to weigh in three smaller fish for 2.88 pounds, and was pretty distraught.

He called while I was at dinner and as we discussed the arrangements, he relayed the incident and I was just dumbfounded... really valuable lesson to learn and file away. He was still hurting the next morning, but realized that it was another day and he sucked it up and tried to get it out of his mind. We went back to his spot, and he caught a couple of keepers while I caught a couple of shorts. I then hung a real nice one, and tried to play it slowly and carefully as I had 6# and it had been caught deep. I played it for several minutes, and it was still pretty hot and got its head a bit. I wasn't worried, as we were in pretty deep water, but when I started applying more pressure to get it turned my line snapped... it came back with about 3" of fray. I didn't realize it, but there were some huge boulders below us and it apparently had rocked me. We fished hard the rest of the day, but came up one fish short.

I have to stop down and say "THANKS" to all of the WON BASS staff - they did a wonderful job in the face of many challenges, and I feel that it was very much a success. I look forward to continuing my education next year. Thanks also to all of the sponsors who make it all possible. Congratulations to all the winners on both sides, and also to those who just survived. It was a grind, and it was unbearably hot. Fishing was brutal, and I believe all of the conditions are as it should be to wear the moniker of US OPEN. It is tough - it is supposed to be tough, and any of the folks who can claim to be US Open titlists so very much deserve the title and respect.

Somewhat appropriately, Tony and I both ended up in 22nd place.

Mona was kind enough to take the camera to the weigh-in each day and shoot the proceedings, and I got to take some at the awards ceremony, so I have a lot of post-processing to do but should get them up on the website in the next couple of days, along with those that I took with Tony for anyone who is interested.

Glad I survived - can't wait for the next one!!!

Best regards,