By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
Nick Salvucci pockets some serious cash every time he makes the nearly 400-mile drive from his home in Paso Robles, Calif. to Las Vegas, and he doesn't even set foot in a casino to do it. No cards, dice or slots for him – he garners his loot with rods and reels from nearby Lake Mead.
After narrow misses the previous two years, the 39-year-old chief operating officer of an underground construction company won the WONBass U.S. Open this week with a three-day total of just under 32 pounds from the oft-stingy Colorado River impoundment that sits on the Nevada-Arizona border. He finished nearly 2 1/2 pounds ahead of the runner-up, Las Vegas resident DeeJay Evans.
It was Salvucci's fourth visit to Mead. The three previous forays resulted in finishes of 1st (2017 Wild West Bass Trail Championship), 5th ('17 U.S. Open) and 2nd ('18 U.S. Open).
"I don't know what it is, but the lake just suits me," he said on his way home with a six-figure check and a 2019 Bass Cat Puma FTD inside a U-Haul rig. "I feel like I know what the fish are doing and I know it's going to be a grind, and I just stay positive."
Some of This, Some of That
After a solid opening-round showing that left him in 2nd place, Salvucci took over the lead on day 2 maintained it despite catching only four keepers on the final day. Fortunately, that short bag contained a 4 1/2-pound largemouth and a 3-pounder in addition to a pair of squeaker keepers (one a largemouth and the other a smallmouth).
He junk-fished throughout the derby with as many as 20 rods on his deck at a time. He caught weigh-in fish on topwater offerings, a Z-Man Evergreen ChatterBait Jackhammer with a Yamamoto Zako trailer, a square-bill crankbait and a Rat-L-Trap, and also scored a couple with a flipping stick.
"The biggest thing was positive thinking," he said. "I just put my head down and fished. With 256 boats, there were lots of people everywhere, but I don't mind going and fishing right behind somebody."
He focused on the mid-lake area and also spent some time in the Overton Arm. Grass and wood were the primary cover types and his fish came from depths ranging from a foot to 6 feet.
His housemates included Major League Fishing angler Jared Lintner, his longtime team-tournament partner for events in central and northern California, along with fellow tour pros Mike McClelland and Bradley Hallman. There were six boats altogether, along with a couple of savvy co-anglers, and the arrangement was beneficial for him.
In addition to the exchange of practice information, there was a lot of gear-swapping going on.
"It's hard to bring everything, but between us we probably had more tackle than the Bass Pro Shops," he said. "When I needed some (Spro) RkCrawlers, McClelland had a bunch. It was a great support group."
Happy Where he Is
Salvucci and Lintner have been tight or 25 years – ever since Salvucci was 14 and he and his older brother entered their first local tournament, competing out of a Bayliner Fish & Ski.
"It was an (American Bass Anglers) tourney with about 50 boats," he said. "We didn't even get in the options because we didn't know what they were and we got 3rd place. The 4th-place guys were thanking us because they got that option money.
"Jared won it and that's when I met him. Then I fished against him for a while and now we've been team partners for over 15 years."
Salvucci has little interest in joining Lintner at the sport's top level.
"I have a good job – I'm also a shareholder in the company – and I make really good money," he said. "It'd be hard to give that up for something that isn't guaranteed."
He'd no doubt have a different take on the situation if one of the pro circuits held all of its events at Mead.
> Salvucci bought a vacation home at Clear Lake last year, which is something that he and Lintner had talked about doing for a long time. The sale of a boat he won at that NorCal hawg factory in June pretty much covered the payments for the year.
> He broke an ear off his prop on the second day of the tournament, but had to drive his boat back to the launch in that condition to avoid being late for check-in. He wished to extend thanks to Rick Grover (the owner of Anglers Marine in Anaheim, Calif.) and his on-site crew for installing a new prop and ensuring that no further damage had occurred to his boat.
> For the final tournament standings, click here.