Tournament fishing can be a strange thing. Often, the gut says one thing, while in reality the fish have completely different plans. Thus is the case of last weekend’s VA Elite 70 event on the Potomac River. Multiple weeks of rain had left the fish in limbo, as well as our understanding of working patterns. What would begin as an early morning bonus would turn into a grind neither of us had ever experienced on the mighty Potomac River.
It’s not often we get to prepare for a tournament in the comfort of one’s own backyard. Tournament bass fishing is a game of travel, one of staying in unfamiliar places and hoping to scrap together enough sleep in such uncomfortable circumstances. This year, however, I am living within 20 minutes of Leesylvania State Park, edge I got to take advantage of in our most recent derby.
Prior to the river cutoff, we were unable to get out due to the less than ideal weather. Flood conditions, thunder and lightning are but a few of the extreme conditions the fishery had faced. The tournament was originally scheduled for more than a month ago, but due to irregular monthly conditions and floating debris, the event was postponed. From everyone we have spoken with, we would have hit the lake at a perfect time for big bags; we also saw this. Unfortunately, tournaments in late July will always be a grind.
When the official practice came, we were forced to search out new water. The tide schedule has changed, grass had grown in areas that were once bare, and the bass had transitioned into areas we had not originally practiced. Nonetheless, an angler must adapt.
On the official practice day, we caught fish here in there, but failed to establish a pattern until the later hours of the tournament schedule. Around 1 p.m., we found fish shallow as the tide was falling. We located a single stretch of grass mats where bass were blowing up on topwater frogs, as well as off the bank on isolated wood and pads. After three blowups and multiple big bass, we made the decision to focus on the area on tournament day. The overcast conditions made for the perfect topwater scenario, and the weather forecast was predicting the same for tournament day.
Come tournament day, we focused on a spot that had produced tournament keepers in the past. As takeoff approached, we were confident in our game plan, all that was left to do was execute. We began in a marina close to launch. Idling into the marina, it was evident that the area was loaded, bass blowing up on baitfish throughout the boat docks. We fished, and fished, and fished some more, but the fish failed to cooperate. We threw plastics, we threw topwaters, we fished chatterbaits and lipless baits, but failed to get a bite; frustrating to say the least amongst so much bait and largemouth bass.
Seeing that fish were blowing up outside the marina on the rock banks and grass flats, we made our move. Bringing my Culprit Incredi-Slim through the grass, I finally got a bite in a hole of grass, a 2+ pounder and the bonus fish of the day. We failed to get another bite, but were ahead of schedule. We then ran to another spot we had found in practice, the only clean water area we knew. The fish were spooky, and sight fished visible bass amongst the grass; unfortunately, these bass had no intention of biting. We put the bait in front of the bass, even smacking the fish much like fishing the spawn. Nonetheless, they wanted nothing to do with us. Talk about disappointing!
We relocated to the creek we had found success in practice, and quickly got bit fishing the edge of standing vegetation. The first shocking blowup buried me in the grass, and I was unable to bring her out of the cover before throwing weeds, aka salad back in my face. We then knew the bass were holding tight to the cover. Getting up in the vegetation, Jesse would score our second fish of the day. Not the size we needed, but beggars can’t be choosers when you only have one fish in the boat.
After failing to boat a third bass, we moved to the back of the creek, a journey that took idling through no wake zones, a gamble of a process that eliminates fishing time but can pay dividends when the fish cooperate. Reaching our main area, the tide was slightly behind the previous day, and with sunny skies, the fish failed to blow up in the matted vegetation like they had just 24 hours prior. We also experienced unforeseen circumstances in the form of Sunday kayakers. Aggravation resulted as we watched the small crafts come from behind, cutting us off and running over our key pieces of cover. They were absolutely oblivious to the fact that we were fishing there! This is an unfortunate reality of fishing on public water. We watched as they paddled across standing timber and over deeper, isolated vegetation without any courtesy.
We were stubborn and stayed longer than we should have. A seasoned veteran knows when to give up on a location, and with a few hours to go, were forced to idle back to the front of the creek with nothing to show for our efforts.
Returning to the spot Jesse had boated our second fish, captain Ewing hooked up on the first couple casts, and landed the best fish of the day. Was our luck turning? We hoped so! The fish were spooky in the low tide, and we fished the rest of the stretch from the inside and outside edge, failing to get another sniff. Knowing the bass congregated around an island just across the way, we shifted our focus with less than an hour of fishing to go.
We found a perfect bare ambush area between two grass stretches, and as time passed, reality began to set in; 3 fish in the well, and certainly no kickers. A swing and a miss was followed by a few choice words. Another cast, and Jesse hooked up on what would be our forth fish of the day.
We made the best of the hand we were dealt, but unfortunately fell short of our five-fish limit. I would be naïve to say that the season has turned out as we had hoped. Missed opportunities, lack of practice time and failure to find the winning fish has left us out of contention. If there are any positives to gain from the experience, it’s the understanding that every dog has its day. We will rebound. It could be the next tournament, or it could be next year. The truth is failure drives hard work, and we are not quitters. We will be back for vengeance for the final two-day VA Elite 70 Classic next month of the James River. You can count on that!
Till next time, remember that you are judged on your most recent finish. A bad finish is an opportunity for redemption. Thank you to those who stand by me through the good times and the bad: my family, my friends in the fishing community and my sponsors. Give my partners a look: Culprit Lures, Reelsnot Line Lubricant, Beast Coast Fishing, AFTCO Freshwater, 13 Fishing and for all your legal needs in the Richmond area, CowanGates Law.