James River Bassmaster Northern Open Recap 2017
The few weeks leading up to the Bassmaster Northern Open on the James River were crazy. My boat was hit at the first Northern Open at Oneida during practice and was not in usable condition. My motor cowling (cover) was cracked and needed replaced and my starboard Power-Pole had some damage. Things could have been so much worse and I was thankful that all involved were alright. After I got home from Oneida my time was consumed with endless calls to insurance and boat dealers. My boat is the tool that allows me to do what I do, both with Big Fat Bass Guide Service and tournament fishing and it sure was stressful without it.
I got the best birthday present - Meghan and I put the dog in the truck and drove to Ohio to pick my boat up. The motor cowling was replaced and I got a new Power-Pole bracket and a few other minor fixes. We prepacked the truck and boat so I could head out the next morning for Richmond
On the way down I made sure to stop at Surfside Bait and Tackle owned by my friends, Robert and Debbie Bruguiere, in Mechanicsville, VA. They have a great selection and are super helpful. I arrived in Williamsburg in the early evening at Dan and Sharon’s house where I would stay for the duration of practice and the tournament. I first stayed with Dan about four or five years ago for an FLW event with my buddy Jeff and we have become great friends ever since. I spend so much time down there that I joke with them that it has become a home away from home.
PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE
Dan and I hit the water the next morning and fished the lower James. Things were slow overall. I dropped Dan off in the early afternoon and was eventually chased off the water in the late afternoon by an incoming storm.
I headed out to the Chickahominy River and immediately set out to places I have had luck with in the past. This tactic made it easy to gauge what the fish were doing on the Chick this year. These areas weren’t working - it just wasn’t a factor. Toward the end of the day I made my way up by the dam, the tide was getting right. The tide was on the last part of going out which is generally my favorite because it concentrates the fish. I started getting some bites throwing all kinds of different stuff; I ended up hooking up with a five pounder on a crankbait which gave me some confidence in the area.
I got off the water in the early evening to go have dinner with my good friends, Justin and Amanda, and Amanda’s parents. This is also the first time I was able to meet their new baby girl. I first met Justin back in 2012 when I was still a co-angler. I drew him in a Bassmaster Open and we have kept in touch and been good friends since.
Justin and I hit the water at the crack of dawn. We burned a ton of gas running from the middle James the whole way past the Chick. Unfortunately for us, we had an abnormally high flood tide which made for extremely difficult fishing conditions. A short time into the day, my trolling motor had burned up and stopped running. We spent the rest of the day using the big motor, looking around different areas and scanning. It was kind a bummer, but it’s always a good day when you get to spend it on the water with a good buddy.
I knew the service crews would not be in town because of the Bassmaster Elite event on Champlain. With some quick last minute thinking, I secured a trolling motor for the tournament. I knew my friend, Jeff Hippert, was headed down to Dan’s Monday and he was gracious enough to pack up his extra on his way from Buffalo, NY.
I hit the water with Austin Felix. He is a good friend, we have fished buddy tournaments together so I knew I would get in a quality day of practice even if I couldn’t use my own boat. We mostly fished on the main James River, hitting a lot of spots Austin had done well on in the past. Following a tough weekend of cooler temperatures and unusually high tide, things really began to turn around and we were able to get a lot of bites from the temperamental largemouth bass of the James.
I got up early and spent a couple of hours drilling new holes and installing the trolling motor Jeff was so kind to bring. After making sure everything was secured I hit the road for Richmond to hit the water with Robert Bruguiere from Surfside Bait and Tackle. Before we put the boat on the water, I stopped at the service trailers. I got things tuned up and made sure things were good to go for the tournament.
Robert and I launched and hit the water during an unideal tide. We ran around the upper portion of the James River for a few hours before we put the boat on the trailer and I made my way back down to Williamsburg to catch some good tide down at the Chickahominy. I was pleased to see the water at a preferable level when I launched at the Chick.
Overall it had a been a tough practice to that point but I quickly began getting bites soon after I hit the water. At a place like the James in August, where bites are at a premium, it is really important not to hook the fish in practice close to tournament time. I take the time to take the hooks of my baits because they often will not replenish in such a short amount of time. I made my way up toward the dam to duplicate the same tide we would have the days of the tournament. I was encouraged by the amount of bites I got at various locations but i was extremely encouraged by a couple of docks I found that had a good number of fish that looked to be tournament quality. I got home late that evening finally feeling like I was figuring something out that would benefit me come tournament time.
After Tuesday’s practice, I was pretty much committed to fishing the Chick. I dedicated my last practice day to figuring out the last few things I could there before tournament time. I spent the final practice day running new stuff. I got a few bites but nothing as quality as the previous day.
I got off the water mid-day, grabbed some lunch, and headed up to the meeting with Jeff. I was happy with my boat draw and ironically I pulled Jared, one of my co-anglers from the beginning of the season. I knew it would be a fun day on the water.
The morning of the tournament things went smoothly. We had a nice fifty mile run to the Chick to begin the day. I pulled into my starting area and was pleased to see no other boats. I had found a few fish relating to the grass line that I had seen when the water was low and shook off on practice on Tuesday. We had low water with the tides slowly starting to come in out of the gates. I quickly got a bite as I was heading toward the best part of my stretch. The pressure caused my reel to kick out of anti-reverse and back reeled and I ultimately lost the first fish. Not a great start, but I wasn’t too worried. The fish wasn’t too big and I knew I would need better in my bag.
I settled into the best part of my grass line after spending twenty or thirty minutes there I realized it wasn’t going to happen. Either the tide had gotten too high or they just weren’t there. It is all about timing in tidal situations. I had a tentative game plan, after leaving that area I decided to go off the cuff and fish the docks I had found Tuesday. I didn’t plan to need that spot until later but felt it was where I needed to be. I feel like when I have done my best is when I just go with the flow and whatever pops into my head, just trusting it and doing it. I have been trying to trust myself more but it gets difficult at times. It didn’t take long to realize that was the right situation.
Shortly after getting to the docks I hooked up and put my first fish in the boat: a solid five pounder. It definitely gets the juices flowing to start the day. At this point it was about 8AM and the tide was flowing in.
I was pretty set on spending a considerable amount of time there. Not long after I put my second keeper in the boat - a decent two pounder. I ended up plucking one more small keeper off the docks before running to another stretch of docks a little further down.
The first dock I pulled up to I soaked my bait for a while and ended up with a small bite but did not hook up. I kept working down that stretch but wasn’t able to get another bite so I headed back to the docks I had started on. The tide was getting a little high by this point so I knew my window was closing. I slowly picked apart every nook and cranny on those docks hoping to get one more good bite. At this point I only had three keepers in the boat.
I saw one small section I knew I had not hit yet and made a pitch over there. Shortly after I felt a fish swim away with it and I knew I had a keeper. I fought it around the boat for a minute or two as it took hard surges and was finally able to pin it to my side and get it into the boat. It was in the 31/2 - 4 pound range. It was about 9:30 at this point and I had four keepers in the boat. I knew I had a decent bag already.
I hopped around for the next few hours around the dam hitting hard targets as the tide was coming up but I wasn’t able to coax that important fifth keeper. The tide started going back so I headed down river to try to catch a better part of the outgoing tide. I ran to areas I had bites during this practice, as well as places I had done well at previous tournaments… not so much as a nibble. With about 30 minutes left, I ran back in a creek where I had seen a couple of quality fish and had
As I worked my way through to the far reaches without a bite, I was already thinking about where else I could go to catch my last keeper. I was about to head out but made one last cast, I hooked up and put a 12inch keeper in my box - it felt like I struck gold at the time.
I started the run back to Richmond, but about halfway up the James running full speed my motor kicked out. Lucky for us there was a boat a couple hundred yards behind. My co-angler Jared and I waved them down. I called the tournament director and Jared headed in with the other boat, our fish in tow.
I called Boat US and they had a tow boat out to me within about an hour. It is an invaluable service out on the water, the unlimited towing is important when you fish as much as I do.
I spent the next hour floating around and I must say as many of the other boats headed back to Richmond really nice to hear from the other competitors sportsmanship
We made our four hour trip back to Richmond going about 6 mph the whole way back. We got back around dark. Huge shout out to Jared for keeping the service crews around to help out to ensure I could get back on the water the next day.
I had a similar game plan and headed back to the Chick. I started my morning in another creek that I got a few bites in practice and I managed to get a few small keepers before heading to my starting spot from day one.
This time I was able to manage a two pound keeper before heading up to fish the ‘magic docks’. After arriving at the ‘magic docks’ I was able to fill my limit and make a small cull. I basically committed the next few hours to fishing up there in hopes I could generate the one big bite I needed to make a good bag.
I caught the numbers, but nothing that helped. I ran some new water in hopes of finding less pressured fish but still never caught anything that helped. I made a couple of last stitch efforts at places where I had caught big fish before on the lower Chick before ultimately heading back to Richmond. I had a few places I thought I could catch some on the way back. I skipped over my first spot because the tide wasn’t right. I made a little cull at the second spot before making it back to Richmond.
I was disappointed that I couldn't get the second big bite I needed the second day. I fell just outside of the check cut in 47th place. All in all, I was pleased with my decisions and honestly feel like I am back to fishing well and making good decisions. But, as it often does in fishing it hasn’t quite gone my way.
We’ve got a few trips booked up with Big Fat Bass in the coming weeks before heading to the final Bassmaster Northern Open on Douglas Lake. I’ve been to Douglas a few times but this is a different time of year than we’ve ever been there. Overall I think it’s going to be pretty tough as we are heading into a transition period in the fall shortly after.
There is a good amount of time to run through my tackle, get organized and make sure things are all set. I’m looking forward to getting back on track and I hope to get some good positive momentum going for the end of the season.