Dean Rojas rang up SCORETRACKER® during the shad spawn. Photo by Josh Gassmann
By John Johnson BassFan Senior Editor - Dean Rojas' program at the Smith Lake MLF Bass Pro Tour didn't differ a lot from that of most of the other anglers who reached the Championship Round – or, for that matter, a lot of the competitors who didn't. He capitalized on the shad spawn with moving baits in shallow water for the first couple hours each day, then moved out to deeper points, shoals and bars and employed finesse tactics pick off post-spawn spotted bass that were transitioning to their warm-weather mode.
The primary reason he won (and broke an 8-year victory drought) was he was in the right place at the right time to start the final day. He caught more than 75 percent of his weight in the Championship Round in the first of the three 2 1/2-hour periods, establishing what proved to be an insurmountable lead.
He'd checked the place where he loaded up that morning during the 30-minute ride-around that precedes each day's competition. Never before had it been so rife with activity.
"As soon as I pulled up, (the bass) were busting shad," he said. "I knew at that point I needed to start there.
"I was just sitting there (waiting for the lines-in call) and licking my chops. I knew if they started biting, it could get real good, real fast."
He caught 23 fish for 36-05 in the opening period, most of them on a square-bill crankbait and some on a swim jig, then added seven more over the final two stanzas to finish with 47-00. If he'd stopped fishing at the day's first lines-out signal at 9 a.m., he'd have still beaten everyone except runner-up Brent Chapman, who flipped up several quality largemouths from bushes in the final period to at least partially close the considerable weight gap.
"It went on for the whole first period and it was almost every cast – I'd get a bite, hook it, land it, cast again and get another bite. A couple times I had a lull for five or 10 minutes, but then there they'd go again.
"We had unique conditions: overcast, dreary, balmy and a little windy, and we hadn't see that all week. That kept it going on for the whole period. On the days before that, once the sun came up, that bite would die."
He started out throwing a swimbait, but it became detached from the hook on the first fish he caught even though he'd applied an adhesive. Because of that, he switched to the square-bill.
"I needed something I could catch them on really fast without having to worry about re-tying or fixing the bait. That's where the square-bill and the swim jig came in – I could catch one, weigh it, pick the rod back up and throw right back out there."
Dean Rojas takes home the trophy and $100,000 check after winning the Bass Pro Tour Phoenix Boats Stage Five Presented by Mercury in Cullman, Alabama. Photo by Garrick Dixon
By Joel Shangle - May 5, 2019 CULLMAN, Ala. –It’s an age-old question in competitive bass fishing: pattern or location? If you ask MLF pro Dean Rojas this week, he’ll come down firmly on the side of “location”.
Fishing an area on the upper end of Smith Lake that he had found during practice for the Bass Pro Tour Phoenix Boats Stage Five Presented by Mercury, the Arizona pro went to work on the Sunday-morning shad spawn with a mix of baits (primarily a crankbait, swim jig, frog and swimbait). By the end of the first period, Rojas had put 23 fish on SCORETRACKER® for 36 pounds, 5 ounces – enough spotted and largemouth bass that Rojas could’ve put his rods down for most of the rest of the day and still won.
“It’s not too often that you get into a Championship Round where the fish are biting like that and you can use multiple baits to rack up a big lead,” Rojas said. “The conditions were right: we had overcast skies, a breeze, warm temperatures, and the fish were just feeding in the area I was in. It was just about capitalizing on this format. I knew I had to catch as many fish as I could early to put some distance between me and the field.”
Rojas added an additional 9-1 in the second and third periods for good measure, finishing with 47-0 and a 6-plus-pound win over Brent Chapman (40-14), Michael Neal (34-15), Jason Christie (32-6) and Todd Faircloth (32-2). Mark Rose (29-14), Brent Ehrler (26-0), Dustin Connell (24-14), Mike Iaconelli (17-14) and Fred Roumbanis (10-1) rounded out the Top 10.
“At the end of the first period, that was the end of (the bite),” Rojas admitted. “It was a big deal that I caught as many fish as I could to build a big lead. Period 2 and Period 3 were a matter of catching a few here and there, but I was struggling because they just wouldn’t bite.”
PHOTO: MAJOR LEAGUE FISHING/JOSH GASSMANN
By John Johnson BassFan Senior Editor - Dean Rojas had to beat nine anglers in the Championship Round to claim the title at the Smith Lake MLF Bass Pro Tour in Alabama. He defeated eight of them in the first hour of competition.
Propelled by a huge first period, Rojas garnered his first tour-level victory since 2011 with a 30-fish, 47-00 performance on the final day. He logged 23 of those fish for 36-05 in the opening stanza and was never threatened for the remainder of the day.
"It was an awesome day and it's been a long time coming," said Rojas, referring to his last Bassmaster Elite Series win at Toledo Bend Reservoir in 2011. "I've had a lot of near misses since and it feels so good to close the door."
Runner-up Brent Chapman was the only angler to eclipse Rojas' first-round weight as he caught three hefty largemouths in the final period to finish with 40-14. Michael Neal ended up 3rd with 34-15 (21 fish), Jason Christie was 4th with 32-06 (20) and Todd Faircloth 5th with 32-02 (21).
The bottom half of the top 10 consisted of Mark Rose (20 fish, 29-14), Brent Ehrler (17, 26-00), Dustin Connell (15, 24-14), Mike Iaconelli (12, 17-14) and Fred Roumbanis (8, 10-01).
The offshore spotted bass action, which had been improving throughout the event, tapered off dramatically during the Championship Round. Rojas' big morning flurry came via fish busting shad in the shallows and Chapman compiled a lot of his weight by flipping bushes.
The waning shad spawn was a critical component in many anglers' programs throughout the week, but Rojas said the baitfish in morning area may not have been partaking in the reproduction ritual.
"(The bass) had them pinned down, but it didn't look like they were spawning," he said. "They weren't in the bushes or the grass like you usually see when they're spawning – they were just in an area and the bass were going nuts on them.
"It was a spot I found in practice and I went there during (the Shotgun and Elimination rounds). I just wanted to check it today and I went over there during the morning ride-around and they started busting."
He used an array of offerings that included a crankbait, a swim jig, a frog, and a swimbait. His biggest fish of the day was a 2 1/2-pounder.
"I just sat there for the whole (first) period and caught as many as I could. I lost my three biggest bites and I thought that would come back to haunt me, but it turned out that it didn't."