2014 Bassmaster Elite Series
23rd Place / 11 fish, 20-13
When the Delaware River first showed up on our schedule, I had a pretty good idea that it was going to be a tough event, and that perception proved to be right on target. The thing about the tough ones it that they make you appreciate the better fisheries, but no matter what everyone competes on a level playing field. I’ve fished several tidal fisheries in the past, including the Potomac, which can be very good, and the Hudson, which has a 4 or 5 foot tidal swing, but the Delaware is stingy and the tide moves an incredible 7 or 8 feet. In addition to making timing critical, the heavy tidal flow meant that it was very easy to get stuck or trapped in one spot, so navigation would be an additional challenge.
I’ve found that pre-practice doesn’t usually benefit me, so in recent years I’ve limited myself to the official two and a half days of practice. Coming straight from the Open at Champlain, I elected not to get on the water until 9:00 or 9:30 on Monday. The tides shift back an hour or so every day, so we’d never actually get that same early morning tide to repeat itself and I figured there was no use in rushing.
Once I got on the water, I did a lot of riding around, fishing from the city of Philadelphia on up as far as I could go. My initial plan was to run up further than anyone else, into the swift water, but there were impassable rocks that prevented me from doing so. I fished my way back down and actually did pretty well, with at least 10 keeper bites, maybe as many as a dozen. A couple of them were about 2 ½ pounds, and I had a few spots where I got two or three bites close together. That made me feel pretty good overall about that part of the river.
On the second day I took a bit of a risk and decided to go to a place far off the beaten path that looked good on Google Earth. I’d had a good first day and I was already in the Classic, so I felt I could try something different. I’d figure out the logistics, like where to get gas, only if it panned out. It was a great looking place but I probably timed it wrong, hitting it when the water was up, so after only catching one fish I wrote it off. At 10 am I loaded up the boat and relaunched near Philadelphia, spending the rest of the day fishing 5 to 10 miles downstream. That area didn’t produce much either, so I wrote it off as well.
With one decent section established, I spent the final half day of practice in the vicinity of where I’d caught my fish the first day. I explored a little bit more, had four or five bites, and that reaffirmed my decision to fish up there.
On the first day of the tournament, I had a good boat number, somewhere in the thirties, so I stopped on the first of the two creeks I planned to hit early. There was no boat there so it made my decision easy and in five minutes I had a bass blow up on my buzzbait and miss. I tried a number of other lures to entice him to hit again, but he wouldn’t come back. Then I picked up my buzzbait and he engulfed it the second time around. I’m pretty sure it was the same fish, nearly a 3-pounder, which was a huge start for me. It reduced the pressure in a big way. That fish was right at the creek mouth and I wanted to work my way back to where I’d had more bites, but with the tide bottomed out I was afraid I’d get stuck so I left and ran up to a little bay where I’d located some fish.
When I arrived, Gerald Swindle was already there, so I fell in a good ways behind him and let him do his thing. Once he eased back, I got to the little bridge and put my Talons down and started dropshotting. I quickly caught a short fish, then a bare keeper, then a 2 ¼ pounder. At that point the tide was coming in good and the water started to get dirty, so I picked up a Chatterbait and pretty quickly caught another solid 2 ¼ pounder off the corner of the bridge. That made four in the livewell and I started pitching a Terminator jig around the bridge pilings, but all I could get was tentative bites. I’d swing and nothing was there, so after 10 or 15 minutes I fished my way out. In hindsight, I wish I would’ve stayed and caught one more.
After leaving the little bay, I hit several good looking places but didn’t get any more bites, so I headed back to the creek where I’d started and fished my way in fast with a buzzbait. On a laydown I had a good bass roll on it, but despite trying a number of lures I could never get him to come back. The creek was really shallow and clear, with cooler water as I went back further. As it got shallower then deeper, I realized that there were plenty of places for the fish to stay, even on low tide, so that gave me confidence that they lived there. I started skipping a soft jerkbait on braid under trees and twitching it. Finally a good fish came and ate it, but my drag was too loose. It was about a 2 ½ pounder and as it came past the log it jumped and came off. That would’ve been my fifth fish and losing it really hurt. I got one more bite on the jerkbait but it didn’t eat it. After 10:30, despite hitting some fishy-looking water, I never had another opportunity. I weighed in four for 8-15, which had me in 24th place. Not a bad start, but losing that fifth fish really hurt. It would’ve put me in the top ten easily.
On Day Two there was another boat on my starting spot, so I went right to the bay and Swindle was there again. I managed a small keeper on a buzzbait on the way in, then after several minutes on the bridge I added another small keeper on a Terminator jig. I sat on that bridge for over an hour, expecting a little flurry, but it never happened, which hurt because I was banking on it.
After that, I just went fishing. There was a small creek upriver where I’d caught a few during practice, and when I arrived the tide was flowing in pretty hard. I went in with it, focusing on little points and cuts and ditches. Pretty quickly I caught a pound and a half smallmouth for my third fish. It was pretty nice to catch something on that tide. After that, I went back to the creek where I’d gone the previous day and eased in slowly. Nothing bit quickly, but as I got further back I started throwing a small swimbait near where I saw a fish chasing bait. I caught a 14” largemouth, not huge, but welcome nonetheless. After that I saw a 3 or 4-pounder swimming around but could never get it to bite.
The tide was doing funny things in that creek. I’m not sure what caused it – maybe barge traffic on the main river – but the water started to go out earlier than it was supposed to, then it came back in a little. I freaked out a little that I might get stuck so I started making my way out. On the way, I pitched my jig in a bush and hooked a 2 or 2 ½ pounder, but it came off. Once again, I’d lost what would have been my fifth fish. Fortunately, at the next creek over I hooked a 3 pounder on a swimbait and swung it in the boat. It was probably about 1:30 at that point and it was just an awesome feeling to have five in the boat. My limit for 9-03 moved me into 14th place. I knew that I probably didn’t have a shot at the win, but if I just caught the same amount again it would likely put me in the top twelve.
I started Saturday where I’d started the first day. The tide was up a bit and nothing bit at first, but as I worked my way out to the eelgrass at the mouth I caught a 13” smallmouth on a buzzbait. Then I headed up to the bay with the bridge in it, but it seemed like it had dried up, so I left quickly for the little creek where I’d caught the smallmouth on Day Two. I felt that there were a number of fish still there and hoped I could catch a couple. Pretty quickly I had one blow up on my buzzbait and totally miss. I threw back with a wacky worm and it stole my worm. That was it for that fish. Shortly thereafter I threw my soft jerkbait by a log and it disappeared. My rod bowed up and then the bait came right back at me. Three bites, one fish. Not good.
A little while later I caught my second keeper on the buzzbait, but then the tide started to come in. I ran the creeks, including one I hadn’t been in yet. There was a bridge in it and I wasn’t sure that I could get under it. I mean, I probably could have, but with the tide coming in I wasn’t sure that I’d be able to get out and get back to weigh-in on time, so I elected to skip it. My only additional chance that day was one fish that I saw sitting by some trees. After four or five casts with a wacky rig it loaded up good and then inexplicably jumped off. I’m not sure why, but it was another 2 ½ pounder and that stung. Overall it was a tougher day, but I still had five bites. The problem was that I only hooked four and landed two. I had the bites to make the top twelve but didn’t execute. Normally my execution is really good. This time, with the exception of the incorrectly set drag on my spinning reel on Day One, I’m still not sure why they got off. That one bothers me more than all the rest. Other than that, I’m not sure I would’ve done anything differently.
I weighed in 11 fish on seven or eight different baits, but my key lures were a white 3/8 ounce buzzbait and a ½ ounce green pumpkin orange Terminator jig with a small chunk on the back. The real heroes among my equipment were my Talons and my 112 pound thrust Minn Kota trolling motor. The current is so incredibly swift there that if you can’t propel yourself against it or stop when you need to, there’s no way you can fish effectively.
I head into the last full-field Elite Series event of the year in 18th in the AOY race. Unlike the Delaware, there will be lots of fish caught at Cayuga and it should be a blast. I hope to keep the momentum rolling into Escanaba – once we get up there we should have a ball as long as the wind doesn’t blow too hard from the wrong direction. Obviously I want to make the Classic, but if I can sneak up into 15th place or better it’ll also qualify me for the TTBC, so the pressure is still on to keep fishing well as we make our way north.
Summertime Tip: When fishing tidal rivers in the summer, current is king. You want to focus your efforts on areas that have strong current during both the incoming and outgoing tides. The ideal scenario is to locate places that funnel or neck down, because they will have increased flow. Within those areas look for any type of breaks for the fish to hide behind. Also, the fish will almost always be less than 5′ deep because that’s where the food and cover are most abundant.