2015 Bassmaster Elite Series
North East, Maryland
43rd Place /15 fish, 23-06
While I was excited heading into this event, that excitement was tempered by a tough practice. I thought it would play out a lot like the Potomac, where I’ve had some success, but in the end those tactics didn’t work. I feel fortunate to have escaped not only with a check, but also to have moved up in the Angler of the Year standings.
I spent the first half of the first practice day trying to find groups of fish in the backs of creeks. We had a flood tide – I could tell because the water was over the dock at the ramp – but I had no idea if it was 6 inches high or 2 feet high. That made it hard to get a feel for what was going on, and my results showed as all I managed to catch was one tiny bass.
Close to noon, when the tide was at the lowest point it would get, I was in a beautiful area in the back of a creek where cooler water was flowing in and I flipped up a 2 pounder, then caught a 10-incher on a topwater. I was surprised that I didn’t catch more, but that was it. I spent the rest of the day bouncing back and forth between the creeks and the grass on the main river, trying to figure something out.
Sometime after 4pm, I was fishing out in the main river when I saw I big hole a couple hundred years away through the matted eelgrass. I went over there and it made a beautiful hard edge where the water dropped from 3 feet to 5 feet. After about 50 yards, I had a good strike on a popper. Shortly thereafter a bass over 3 pounds blew up on it again and I pulled the lure away. Then a third fish rolled on it. A few more followed my swimbait, then I finally had one around 3 ½ pounds grab it and come off at the boat. In just 100 yards I’d had quite a few bites. More importantly, they were good quality fish. If I’d landed five of them I probably would’ve had 15 pounds. That was the first really good thing I’d found all day.
On the second practice day I went far up the Susquehanna River, a known smallmouth hotspot. Running up into the rocks I got bit right away and probably caught 15 thin keepers up there. Finally I caught one around 1 ½ pounds and another about 2 ¼. They weren’t the winning fish, but I felt that it was a decent backup area to catch a limit.
When I left the Susquehanna sometime between 9 and 10 o’clock I headed out to the grass on the famed Susquehanna Flats and spent five hours there, basically the rest of the day before a storm came through. I never had a bite, never even saw a fish. I knew that the area had the reputation of producing the best bags in the system, but either I was on the wrong stretches or they just weren’t biting.
On the last day of practice I did something that I normally don’t do – I went back to check the hole in the grass that I’d found the first evening. I knew that we’d have a similar tide on the first morning to the one when I’d found those fish, and I wanted to see if they were still biting. Within 10 minutes I had two good bites on a popper. That made me pretty excited because not only had I not seen another boat in the vicinity, but I knew that they were the right type of fish for a really good finish.
Once I left the grass, I probably had one bass bite the rest of the day, and I saw a second fish sitting underneath a dock when the tide got low. That left me with my grass spot in the Elk River and my rocky stretches far up the Susquehanna, 15 minutes in the other direction.
Because the optimal time to run up the Susquehanna was when the tide was getting near high, I elected to start on my grass spot on the first morning of the tournament. In two hours of fishing I didn’t get any solid bites. One fish waked my swimbait and halfheartedly rolled on it, but that was it and I left there scratching my head, completely behind the Eight Ball.
I ran up to the Susquehanna and even there it took me a while to get the first bite. With the super-high tide in practice, I’d found the fish right on the bank, but now those areas only had 6 to 8 inches of water. There were still a few up there, but most had pulled out into little holes between the rocks. Once I figured that out, I caught six or eight small keepers pretty quickly, all between ¾ of a pound and 1 ¼ pounds. With five in the livewell, I came out fairly early and ran toward some docks that Andy Montgomery had told me to check out closer to the ramp. It was lucky I did that because at 3:15 my motor started acting up. I stopped, idled a bit, and it died. With a 4pm check-in, I wasn’t worried about not getting back, but I needed to be cautious. When I started the boat back up it barely got up on plane so I ran back close to the ramp, inside the no wake zone, and fished right outside of the check-in for the last 30 to 40 minutes. With just a few minutes to go I was fishing a riprap point with a shakey head when I caught my best fish of the day, a 2 pound largemouth, which helped me cull up by over a pound. I knew that it helped me, but at that point I didn’t know how much. I ended up with a limit (four smallmouths, one largemouth) that totaled 6 pounds 2 ounces and had me in 58th place.
I was surprised by how the first day’s weigh-in shook out. There were many more quality (12 to 17 pound) bags than I expected, but on the other hand I figured there’d be a couple of 20 plus pound limits and they didn’t materialize. I was a little bit outside of the cut, but for some reason I felt confident about my chances to do well.
When I blasted off on Day Two I said the heck with the grass and headed straight for the Susquehanna. Unfortunately I’d sucked up some sludge and grass and a hose blew off of my engine’s compressor. I headed back to the ramp and in 20 minutes the service crew had me back in business. I can count on just a couple of fingers the number of times I’ve needed my Mercury serviced in my career, but every time they’ve gotten me running quickly. They’re the best in the business, they’re critical to our careers, and we don’t thank them enough.
I left the ramp at 6:50, made the run up the Susquehanna, and had a limit by 8:30 but they were small. In fact, according to my Rapala scale my first five keepers were under 4 pounds total. My seventh or eighth keeper was the first one to break the one pound mark. Then I caught one around 2 ¾ pounds. Both of those fish came on a shakey head. On the first day I’d dialed things in pretty well, realizing that when the sun got up the fish were relating to the shade. If you could get to those places, you’d almost always get a bite. I played that to my advantage and had probably 15 keepers that second day.
When I left the Susquehanna I had a little bit over 9 pounds, and I headed back to the point where I’d culled at the last minute the day before. Once again I caught a largemouth that helped me. This one brought me up to 9 pounds 15 ounces and inside the cut at 47th. I was surprised that the cut weight went up and exceptionally thankful that I caught enough to squeak in.
Heading into the final day of competition in 47th, there wasn’t much room to fall, and I assumed a few guys would help me move up by catching nothing or only one fish. With that in mind I took a gamble on my grass in the Elk River. In a couple of hours of fishing, I had a few bluegill pecks, but no bass bites. Even a few days after the tournament I’m still baffled by how that place went from so good to so unproductive in a matter of days.
Once I left and went to the Susquehanna, getting a limit wasn’t much of a challenge. The first fish was 1 ½ pounds and that gave me the confidence to throw a slightly bigger swimbait all day. Lots of the fish were in the 1 pound range, but around 1 o’clock I caught my best one of the day, around 2 ½ pounds, to push me up over 7 pounds. I rushed back to fish my riprap point again, but lightning didn’t strike a third time and I ended up with 7 pounds five ounces. That moved me up a few places in to 43rd, and into 26th overall in the AOY race.
My two key baits this week were a 5-inch paddle tail swimbait and a Berkley Bottom Hopper Jr. fished on a shakey head. The swimbait was on a Fenwick HMG 7’6” medium-heavy rod paired with a Pflueger Supreme XT (7:1 gear ratio) spooled with 17 lb. test Berkley Trilene fluorocarbon. The Bottom Hopper Jr. was watermelon candy and I fished it on a 1/8 ounce VMC shakey head. I used a 6’9” Fenwick Elite Tech medium action spinning rod and a matching Pflueger Supreme XT reel spooled with 10 lb. Trilene braid and an 8 lb. Trilene XL fluorocarbon leader.
As I indicated previously, the service crew was extremely valuable to me this event, and I’m proud to run the best equipment on tour. I was going higher up the Susquehanna than anyone else and it was treacherous at times dodging the big boulders. Unlike the rivers closer to home, it was hard to pick a path through the rocks so idling and then using the trolling motor was the only way to avoid those random land mines. I made a point of heading up there in the last hour before high tide to help me get as far as I wanted to go while the water was still up.
I’m in 26th place in the AOY race, inside the Classic cut and inside the cut to fish the 50 man field at Sturgeon Bay if I can hold my position. Next up is St. Clair, and I hope it’s back to its normal self after a down period. For a variety of reasons, I expect that I’ll stay close rather than running to Lake Erie. It may not sound particularly ambitious, but I know that a finish in the top 40 will keep me in the top 25 or so in the AOY standings, which almost guarantees me a spot in the Classic going into Sturgeon Bay. That’s the pinnacle of our sport and I’ll do everything I can to make sure I get there.