Patience pays for Lambert

Washington resident scores big, wins home opener way out West

KENNEWICK, Wash. If you ever question how precise bass can align themselves to a piece of cover or structure, or how much patience it sometimes takes to find them, talk to Chris Lambert.

Lambert, a resident of Olympia, Wash., spent all three days of the Washington CITGO Bassmaster Western Open presented by Busch Beer on one spot in the Snake River hardly larger than a kitchen table. And he often had to get his lures into a specific area not much larger than a dinner plate.

He did it often enough, however, to catch 15 smallmouth weighing 42 pounds, 9 ounces and win this opening event in the 2003 Western Open circuit, taking the $48,850 winner's purse.

He outdistanced three well-known local anglers in the process: David Kromm (40-6), Ron Mace (39-6) and Clint Johanson (38-12) who finished second, third, and fourth, respectively, and Skeet Reese, who claimed fifth with 37-7.

Lambert found the magic spot, a small clump of golf-ball-size rocks 15 feet deep around a channel marker in the Snake River, during a day of prepractice several weeks before the tournament. He caught about 15 pounds of bass there, then decided to study it with an Aqua-Vu underwater viewing system. When he saw that it was packed with fish, he knew he had his tournament spot.

The rocks and channel marker not only provided a slight high spot the depth gradually fell to 18 feet before dropping into the channel it also offered a slight break from the current. Lambert explained later that the smallmouth were roaming throughout the area, but may have used this particular spot for feeding or resting.

While the entire spot may have been small, the bass used different parts of it each day. On the final morning of competition, for example, the fish were grouped at the very back of the structure where the split current joined again, a strike zone less than 15 inches square.

Because the bass were so particular about their location, Lambert, 29, used the current to help make his lure presentations as natural as possible. He fished a drop shot technique, using 6-pound-test P-Line, a 3-inch Gary Yamamoto Senko rigged with a No. 1 Gamakatsu drop shot hook, and a 3/16-ounce sinker. He matched this with a 6-foot-6 Fenwick Techna AV rod and an Abu Garcia Cardinal spinning reel.

The lightweight sinker proved to be extremely important in his presentation because it allowed the current to wash his lure downstream across the rocks and thus appear more natural. Lambert had experimented with heavier sinkers but, because they stayed in place, the bass would not respond to them.

Even as the current was washing his Senko across the rocks, Lambert was also constantly shaking his rod to try to make the lure more appealing. Strikes, when they came, were extremely light.

He used three different Senko colors (watermelon, pearl and purple) and also two other soft plastic drop shot lures, a 3-inch Sniper Snub (pearl) and a watermelon-colored Uncle Walt tube. Overall, he said, the small Senko produced the most fish.

"You had to be patient and wait until the bass wanted to feed, and make a lot of casts. Sometimes I'd be 20 feet away from the channel marker and pitching to it, and other times I'd be right beside it and fishing vertically, just trying to make sure I presented a lure in every possible spot. Once the fish started biting, it didn't take long to catch them. I caught three nice keepers in less than 20 minutes the second morning. They came before the wind began churning up the river, so I was lucky there."

On the final morning, Lambert fished the spot for 45 minutes without a single bite, so, he started the outboard and ran circles around the marker to try to stir up some activity. When he returned 30 minutes later, the fish were biting.

In previous Columbia River tournaments, Lambert had fished in the Snake River primarily because it receives far less fishing pressure. But he had never fished this particular spot before. The Snake's best-known fishing spot is a grain elevator with docking pilings for barges. Although the river contains a high population of smallmouth, the fish tend to be smaller overall, and the types of visible cover anglers prefer is minimal. The river's banks are rocky, and aquatic vegetation is basically nonexistent.

Another drawback to the Snake is that anglers who do fish the river must lock through the Iceberg Dam almost immediately upon entering the river from the Columbia, a process that may take an hour. Barge traffic is common, and barges are normally locked through ahead of bass boats.

Even with these conditions, the Snake River may now become more popular, especially since Lambert led this tournament from wire to wire. He shared the opening-round lead with Arizona's Jarrett Edwards, who was fishing a similar area in the Snake, but Jarrett fell out of contention the second day when high winds prevented him from effectively fishing in the open water.

Lambert opened with 15-4 and held the lead the second day by adding another limit weighing 14-9. He finished the tournament with 12-12.
With just a 2-ounce lead over Johanson after two days, Lambert felt he'd need about 15 pounds on Saturday to win, and he was more than a little nervous in the weigh-in line. Each of the first two days, he said, he had also lost a quality fish. And once he did, he never had another bite there that day. Fortunately for him, he didn't need them.

Columbia River report

WEATHER: Competitors enjoyed generally good weather for the entire tournament, with clear and partly cloudy skies and temperatures ranging from overnight lows in the 40s to daytime highs in the 70s. Winds were light and variable, except on Friday when they blew 10 to 15 mph and created 6-foot waves in the Columbia River gorge, and 2-foot rollers in the Snake River. By Saturday, however, the winds had diminished.

WATER: The Columbia River was in good condition, with the water clear and surface temperatures ranging from 61 to 64 degrees.

LEVEL: The upper part of the Walulla Pool rose approximately 2 feet Friday night, but conditions were stable in both the lower John Day Pool and also on the Snake River. Levels in the Walulla Pool had been fluctuating for several weeks, a condition some anglers felt contributed to the generally slow fishing action.