Annually held at Lake Mead, and in its 33rd installment, the US Open is the western United State’s biggest prize in fishing. The grueling 3-day tournament was held last week, September 14th-16th and drew 168 of the best bass anglers in the western United States.
The county of San Diego historically shows well at the WON Bass US Open, but made a particularly good statement this year thanks to a quartet or local anglers that finished in the top 10.
The San Diego County contingent was led by 24 year old Wade Strelic of El Cajon in 6th place with a 3-day total of 26.88 pounds. The effort earned Strelic a $9,500 check.
At only 24 years old, Wade is arguably already San Diego’s most seasoned US Open veteran. He finished in 8th place in his first US Open in 2010, following it up with a 21st in 2011, 6th in 2012, 117th in 2013, and 13th in 2014.
At the 2010 US Open, a group of us from San Diego were seated in the bar at the marina licking our wounds from a day of fishing in 125 degree heat. Wade sat among us with a cup of ice water when the bartender came by and gave Wade the boot. He had just finished 8th place in the toughest bass tournament in the world, and wasn’t old enough to sit in the bar yet. This kid will win this tournament some day, you can bet on it.
Right behind Wade with 26.65 pounds was Escondido’s Tom Leedom, one of San Diego’s most consistent bass anglers for nearly a decade. This was Leedom’s 4th trip to the desert for the US Open, and his best finish. He also cashed a check in the 2011 event where he finished 15th. 7th place this year was worth $8,500 for Leedom.
Less than 1/10th of a pound behind Leedom was his good friend Marco Fenelli of San Diego. Fenelli finished up with 26.57 pounds over the 3-day event worth $7,500. This was Fenelli’s 2nd US Open appearance, building on last year’s 73rd place result.
And securing the 9th spot was El Cajon’s Klayton Belden, who earned $6,500 with his 3-day limit of 26.42 pounds.
Mike Walsh of El Cajon also cashed a check in the event, finishing in 30th place which earned him $3,000.
In 2nd place was another angler who cut his teeth in San Diego, Clayton Meyer. Meyer moved to Henderson, NV from San Diego almost a decade ago to spend more time on Lake Mead. Meyer earned $20,500 with a 3-day total of 27.43 pounds.
The top prize went to another desert angler, Roy Hawk of Lake Havasu City. It was Hawk’s first US Open win, despite some narrow misses. Hawk was the most accomplished professional angler in the field, having just competed in the richest bass tournament in the world, the Forrest Wood Cup in August. He took home $51,500 in cash, plus a Nitro Bass Boat valued at $40,000.
The winning “formula” for Hawk included a combination of topwater baits, crankbaits, and jigs. And he had stated the afternoon presented him with the best opportunity to catch his keeper fish throughout the tournament.
Both of those keys line up with what the San Diego anglers attributed to their success as well. Although fishing in different areas, topwater baits along with crankbaits put fish in the boat for the local anglers also.
Bait selection at Lake Mead is not rocket science, those mentioned baits are staples for this tournament. Maintaining focus, eliminating unproductive water on the massive Mead, and fishing efficiently are really the keys to success in the US Open. San Diego’s highly pressured, and at times brutally tough lakes set the local anglers up well for the Open.
You can bet this won’t be the last US Open for Strelic, Leedom, Fenelli and Belden. The experience and confidence they yielded from this year’s trip will only help them going forward as they seek to become only the 2nd San Diego County angler to win the US Open (John Kerr, 2003).