With only two events remaining on the Bassmaster Elite Series trail, it has become crunch time for professionals just outside the cut, eager to qualify for the most prestigious tournament in professional bass fishing. The season has been unusual in many ways as B.A.S.S. attempts to increase its viewership. Instead of the classic, four-day events we have grown to love as bass fans, we have seen a split lake event and a top-eight bracket challenge that left viewers to question why an angler would literally not fish in attempts of helping a roommate achieve a Classic birth. Was I watching a Nascar chase for the cup? Nevertheless, B.A.S.S. has gotten the fishing world talking, which in the long run is a good thing for the sport. I want to delve into the Potomac River event this week, but first lets take a quick look back at the first six events of the season:
Edwin Evers wins the Bassmaster Classic in a come from behind victory on his home water of Grand Lake of the Cherokees. Evers fished a stretch of the Elk River he had plenty of history on and left till the final day when conditions finally got right for his presentation. The 29-03lb stringer marked the biggest bag of the event!
1) Legend Rick Clunn wins his 15th B.A.S.S. event of the St. Johns River at the age of 69. Clunn sacked 31 pounds on Day 3 to rocket into first place, and followed with a 19lb bag on the final day to seal the deal.
2) Britt Myers makes the 100+ mile run to claim his first Elite Series victory on Winyah Bay in South Carolina. As this tournament proves, taking the gamble on a long run can pay HUGE dividends!
3) Randall Tharp, former FLW Tour champion wins his first Elite Series event in the split format of Bull Shoals/Norfork Lake. Tharp is known for the jig, and this tournament proved it, catching 40-60 fish a day!
4) Takahiro Omori wins his first event since 2005 on Wheeler Lake. Tak fished a spawning flat overlooked by the rest of the field, and in fact the pattern didn’t develop until the second day of the event! It was a special day for Omori, dedicating his win to Japan and the flooding that had left many without homes.
5) Kevin vanDam back on top at Toledo Bend, using the Strike King 6, 8, and 10XD to crank his way to a seven-pound victory. Not even a Mustad treble hook is enough to take down the king of bass fishing!
6) Kevin vanDam follows his standout performance at Toledo Bend to claim the $100,000 first place prize at Cayuga Lake. In fact, Kevin would go on to win the 8-man bracket round on the Niagara River just weeks later and claim a spot in the Bassmaster Classic!
With the first six events encapsulated into what has been an incredible season thus far, there are a few important circumstances that have shaped the Angler of the Year race leading up to the Potomac River. For one, Greg Hackney was preforming with laser sharpness this season, finishing in the top 10 throughout the season, and claiming, even though not a points based tournament, BassFest on Lake Texoma in Oklahoma. Leading into the sixth event on Toledo Bend, Hackney now stood first place in the most prestigious of all awards as a pro angler. But, as you would guess, great things can sometimes come to a screeching halt. Hackney, unbeknownst to himself and his marshal, fished in an out-of-bounds area. Although Hackney claims to have culled out the fish later in the day, the fact that no action was taken resulted in his day one weight DQ after B.A.S.S. officials confirmed via on the water footage that Greg had in fact fished outside the regulations. Like a true seasoned professional, Hackney fished the following day and although brutally disappointed, finished out the event. Hackney fell to 5th place, a gap of 67 points from first place angler and junk fishing extraordinaire, Gerald Swindle.
Swindle has had an incredible season in his own right, bolstering finishes of 40th, 7th, 30th, 10th, 34th and 10th. When you never finish below 40th in any regular season event including three Top 10 finishes, you best believe Gerald has the Angler of the Year race on his mind. Look for both Hackney and Swindle to have strong showings on the legendary tidal water this week.
For those not familiar with the Potomac River, the tournament will consist of anglers fishing one of two forms of cover; wood and grass. Grass holds fish populations in the river unlike any other structure. In August, I will be anxiously watching Bassmaster Live on Friday morning to see which of these communal grass flats are aggressively targeted. Although communal, they are heavily visited with good reason. I believe we will see a strong topwater frog bite when the tide is low and the mixed grasses become matted, and chatterbaits, swim jigs, and various soft plastics to be thrown during the rising tide. Pad fields may be worked into anglers strategies as well, and although you may not catch numbers, the right ones will show themselves.
Like the expansive grass flats, submerged wood in creeks, docks, and rock can be found throughout the river system. Pitching, skipping, lipless crankbaits, and topwaters will play key roles for the anglers who decide to fish many of the creeks on the Potomac River. Shipwrecks and barges are another form of structure that will allow anglers to jump from one location to another and utilize the hard cover.
Look for river rats like Michael Iaconelli and Bill Lowen to do well this week, along with former FLW river champions in Randall Tharp, Dave Lefebre and the chatterbait wizard Brett Hite. Considering the FLW has regularly visited the fishery in the past, look out for these pros to be near the top.
Thank you for reading, and I hope to see you at the Potomac River weigh-in this Saturday as we see who makes Championship Sunday! It will be my first professional weigh-in, and one I will not soon forget. Fish on!