It is a Tuesday afternoon, and no one else has the confidence to blast across Roosevelt Lake at more than 65 miles an hour on a $58,000 nitro boat. Maybe that is because there is no one else on the water, actually, except for some idiot with a radio, one of my two companions points out.
“All we want is some peace and quiet,” he gripes.
That’s Leroy Price. I don’t blame him for griping. The water below us is a chilly 58 degrees, according to the boat’s graph. Now that we’ve come to a halt, however, we are warm, just short of sweating, as afternoon sunlight pours over us. Luck is on our side. There is zero wind, and the water is calm enough that it mirrors our reflections perfectly. We just want to soak it in peacefully.
My other companion, Anthony Avalos, chuckles in agreement. He and Price brought me out to the lake to show me the ropes of bass fishing, so I could write this story. This is their splashing grounds. When they aren’t working their day jobs, they are fishing out here on the water.
Fortunately for them, bass fishing is a year-round affair. Between Roosevelt, Alamo, Pleasant, Bartlett, Saguaro Canyon and Apache Lakes, there is more than enough water to fish, and tournaments run just about every weekend throughout the majority of the year. Tournament entry fees might be $400 or $500, but if you place in the top, and there are a lot of boats, the earnings can be big. Big as in $100,000 for first place.
Last February, mountain snowpack and rising water drew as many as 300 pro-anglers from as far as China and Japan to Roosevelt Lake for the the EverStart Series, the western division circuit of the FLW (Forest L. Wood) tournament. The FLW is perhaps the most lucrative and prestigious bass tournament circuit in the world. Last year’s winner won $27,912.
“What’s nice about Roosevelt is that you can fish deep or shallow,” commented Brett Hite, a Phoenix pro-angler, before that tournament. “It is a very versatile lake and you can really pick your poison. You can fish jigs and drop-shot rigs out deep, or you can throw spinnerbaits and crankbaits up shallow. There’s lots of good rock, and even though the water is down, there is still a little bit of brush in the water.”
By the time this issue comes out, the next tournament will be the All Star circuit, Arizona’s oldest bass fishing tournament, set for Jan. 18 at Apache Lake. Sometimes the All Star tournaments draws more than 60 boats, Avalos says, which is considered a big turnout. You can bet that Price and Avalos will be there.
Price and Avalos each have their claim to fame in the bass fishing world. Avalos is on the Arizona Nitro Pro Bass Fishing State Team. Price started his own local business, Bass N’ Crappie Guide Service, in 2003, guiding visitors from as far as England and Alaska out on our waters. In 2010, Price caught a 10.5 pound largemouth bass at San Carlos Lake. He weighed in 32 pounds of fish in that tournament, five total, all of which he caught with crankbaits.
“People will call you a liar when you tell ‘em that,” he says.
Together, Price and Avalos caught a 9.79 pound bass, the biggest bass of the year, as a team in the All Star circuit last summer. They won more than $2,000. In November, they finished in the top ten in the All Star circuit at Roosevelt Lake.
These guys are that good. They know the lakes, and for years, they have learned how to find schools of fish, and track their patterns and the depths they dwell at. By tracking shad, or bait fish, they can find where the bigger fish come around to feed. They test what types of bait the fish will “hit,” or clamp on to. The temperature and pressure of the water constantly change, so they are experts at knowing how the conditions affect the fish. Oh, and to fish in a bass tournament, you can only use artificial lures.
“If you see a shad that’s wounded, you see the way it flutters on top of the water, sometimes,” Avalos explains. “I see it flutter, and after awhile I look and see a big old bass that hits it, so I’m going to get one of these lures that float on top and do the same thing.”
Price and Avalos constantly test different baits in the water to see which ones will catch something. Each one serves a purpose. Some represent crawdads, some represent bait fish. The shallow running crankbaits run one to five feet. If they don’t catch anything with a shallow crankbait, then they’ll throw in a medium diving crankbait at 10 to 12 feet. If they still catch nothing, then they throw a deep diving crankbait at 15 to 20 feet.
“In my boat, when I fish a tournament, I probably have 12 to 15 tackle boxes filled with different lures,” Avalos says.
You could see how this adds up.
And every fisherman fishes differently, Avalos says. Each one uses different lures and different techniques.
Much of what Avalos learned is from Price.
“Me and Anthony have been fishing together, shoot, since he was 12 or 13,” Price says.
Price himself started fishing about as early as he could walk. In 1958 he moved out to Globe-Miami, and started fishing with the Gila Bass Club. That is how he met Avalos. Avalos was the youngest member, and knew no one.
“I’d get off the truck with my tackle box and my one or two rods, and I’d wait for someone to say, ‘Okay you can come with me,’” Avalos remembers.
That’s how Price became his mentor.
“He always took me with him,” Avalos says. Early on, they fished tournaments together at Roosevelt and San Carlos Lakes.
Avalos has been fishing for the last 35 years now. For the last ten, he has even hosted his own radio show on bass fishing Friday mornings on KIKO.
Still, these guys profess they are nervous whether or not they will make a catch while we’re on the water. They don’t want to disappoint. It is mid-December, and most of the tournament circuits don’t restart until January.
“The barometer is dropping right now, so it’s gonna be rough,” Price forewarns.
Nine and a half pounds won the Jack Arizona Bass tournament just weeks before, he tells me. That was for a five-fish weigh-in.
But it’s not long before they’re onto something. Price breaks the silence first.
“The screen just blew up with a bunch of stuff,” he says.
The screen he is referring to is on the left side of the boat, in front of the seats. It has GPS that maps out the boat’s route, and tells the temperature and depth of the water we’re hovering over. It also has sensors that detect whenever the boat comes up on movement in the water.
It’s probably shad, Price tells me. They have very little protein. He pinches his finger together to show me how much. Crawdads, on the other hand, are all protein. So it only makes sense that both guys are using crawdad lures.
Soon enough, Avalos catches a smallmouth bass. He holds it long enough for me to snap a photo, and then dips it back into the water, where it wriggles off of his palms and disappears deep into the lake almost instantly.
“The majority of the fish I let go,” Avalos says. “As a tournament angler, we’re taught to catch and release, because that’s there for the future for the kids.”
Not long after, he catches a largemouth bass. We reach 21 feet, at about 57 degrees, and Price reels in a yellow bass.
Even if neither of them had made a catch, I am certain we would have enjoyed ourselves just as much.
Price throws another line, his spinning reel lets out a long buzz. Then it is quiet again. We stand on the deck in silence.
How could you not love it out here, Price asks.
Truly, how could you not?