UMATILLA -- The FLW Series returns to the Columbia River this week, though competitors probably will wonder if they are in familiar waters.
The National Guard Western Division event, launched from Richland's Columbia Point Marina the last two years, will be based at the Umatilla Marina and RV Park starting Wednesday and running through Sunday.
And while the professional bass fishermen and their co-angler counterparts will be running generally in the same waters as the past two years, local competitors say the fishery will be completely different.
"Absolutely," said Dave Kromm, the Kennewick pro who took home the $100,000 winner's check last year. "It will be tougher."
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Tougher conditions, the anglers say, have less to do with moving the launch than moving up the date of the tournament. The previous two events were held in September, when bass tend to be fat and sassy.
In June, they're still recovering from the recent spawn. Worse yet, this particular week could be the toughest fishing of all.
"Two weeks ago it was pretty good," Kromm said. "Two weeks from now, it will be pretty good. But after they spawn, for about three weeks they don't bite good. They just sit around and pout."
Pasco's Jim Sall, who finished fourth in the co-angler Western series last year, added that windy conditions could make for a rough week.
"We've had some really big winds the last four days in a row," he said of the practice runs.
FLW spokesman Chad Gay said moving the tournament base to Umatilla is part of the series' push to grow the sport in the West.
"The past two years, we've had an excellent, excellent turnout (in the Tri-Cities)," he said. "This year, we wanted to move the event somewhere else, but still keep it close to the Tri-Cities."
With all the changes in the fishery, Sall said river knowledge will be at a premium since honey holes that produced five or six fish at a time in previous years might cough up one big catch this time around.
He said it could be tough on co-anglers riding in a boat with a visiting pro relying on previous years' experience.
Still, life for the co-anglers should be somewhat easier than the past two years, since two-time event winner and series champion Justin Lucas of Folsom, Calif., is running his own boat as a pro this season.
Lucas' winnings of $112,000 the last two seasons lapped the rest of the field in the co-angler series and tops all but a handful of the pros as well.
"That," Sall said with a laugh, "is a little bit of relief."
Boats will depart the Umatilla Marina at 6:30 a.m. each day, with weigh-ins set at 2:30 p.m. back at the marina Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.
The top 10 pros will compete Saturday, with the final weigh-in at 4 p.m. at the Umatilla Walmart.