By all accounts, the California Delta is a special place. An intricate web of rivers, sloughs, canals and islands forms the largest estuary on the West Coast.
It's a fish and wildlife paradise, and it's home to some of the biggest largemouth bass the Elite Series pros will ever see.
Elite angler Mark Tyler pulled a 14 pound, 9-ounce leviathan out of the Delta in 1999 that still stands as the biggest bass ever weighed in a BASS event. And the Delta has given up even bigger ones, including an 18.62-pound behemoth to Galen Jensen in 2002.
And while you might think it takes a perfect alignment of the stars for something like that to happen, you'd need to look to a different celestial body to really understand how it goes down with the Delta's bass.
"Everything is about the moon, and that's because the moon affects the tides," said Robert Lee, the undisputed heavyweight champion of California Delta tournament bass fishing.
Lee won four BASS events on the Delta from October 1998 to April 2003, including an 86 ½-pound, four-day weight to win the last tour-level stop at the Delta four years ago. The 38-year-old angler isn't fishing the Elite Series this year and, this week at least, there are probably 106 professional fishermen who are happy he isn't.
Lee suggests this week's tournament will turn out to be every bit as exciting as advertised, with giant bass coming to the scales and a winning weight near the magical 100-pound mark.
With a new moon last Sunday, meaning it is now waxing toward an April 2 full moon, Lee predicts a general upswing in fishing for the next two weeks. Elite Series pros could cash in this week on the leading edge of that trend.
"Fish like the growing moon because of stronger tides. There's more water movement on the growing moon," Lee said. "It just sets up the fish better, closer to the banks. It's just going to keep getting better until April 1."
Very warm weather leading up to the tournament doesn't hurt the chances for blockbuster fishing, either. Lee estimates a quarter of the Delta's bass are "sniffing around" spawning beds right now, but he says recent temperatures in the 80s and the moon phase have the rest of them thinking about it.
That doesn't mean this will turn into a sightfishing bonanza. While a strong spawning movement and resulting sightfishing tactics remain more than a strong possibility, Lee says it's more likely that anglers will have to mix up their approach to be successful.
"The Delta changes every day. That's what makes it so great," Lee said.
Tides, which will fluctuate between 4 to 5 feet, will require anglers to work harder.
"You'll need to figure out two patterns, one for the high tide and one for low tide," Lee said. "You have to move around a lot. You can't sit on one patch of grass or one tree all day long. You have to hit 35 trees or 35 patches of grass."
Lee figures the best strategy will be to work the inside edges of vegetation on high tide and move out to develop an outside-edge pattern during low tides. It's a strategy that worked for him in winning the 2003 Bassmaster Tour event on the Delta.
"My No. 1 deal this week would be to try to locate spawning fish and rotate around to those on high tide," Lee said. "You can't always see them, but they're in there and they have big strike zones. But you can't do that the whole tournament.
"The second pattern would be soft plastics and crankbaits in the deepest water you can find that's immediately adjacent to those spawning beds. Deep tule points, rocks, just anywhere with depth. You can catch the big females that move off the beds to that first deep water and you can catch the prespawn fish that are coming in to check things out."
That won't be the only way to catch fish this week. Lee predicts a variety of approaches will bear fruit for the Elite anglers.
With a vast array of different types of habitat and an eclectic group of anglers, anything's possible. Still, expect an emphasis on flipping vegetation (along with trees and docks and rocks), a fitting approach since this is the place where the flipping technique was created by Dee Thomas.
"I think you'll see a lot of limits come off 1-ounce sinkers dropped into matted vegetation," Lee said. "If we get calm winds and 80-degree days, I think you'll see more soft jerkbaits and Senkos, along with a lot of guys flipping Texas-rigged soft plastics and jigs. But if we get hazy or breezy conditions or rain, the fish might be more susceptible to a reaction bite. You'll see the red Rat-L-Traps and swimbaits come out."
Lee predicts a winning weight somewhere between 90 and 100 pounds for the four-day tournament.
"I think it's going to be lower than most people think," he said. "I'm guessing it'll be around 90 pounds. But it could take 100 plus. I guarantee you there will be limits over 30 pounds weighed in. But can you do that again the next day and the next?"
Editors Note: ESPNOutdoors.com's new and exclusive pre-game show, Hooked Up, will start at 6:00 p.m. (EST) on Sunday, March 25. It will be hosted by ESPN2 Bassmaster television hosts Tommy Sanders and Mark Zona, and can be seen in the same location on ESPNOutdoors.com where the live video weigh-in is streamed. Click here for more information