By Todd Ceisner
When the Bassmaster Elite Series rolls into Philadelphia next August for its first taste of the Delaware River, anglers are going to find a tidal river full of feisty largemouths that don't stay put for long due to the massive tide swings.
That's just a partial overview of the Delaware courtesy of Pete Gluszek, a three-time Bassmaster Classic qualifier and co-founder of Bass University who lives in Mt. Laurel, N.J., and does a handful of guide trips for bass on the Delaware each month. BassFan tapped Gluszek for a rundown of the historic river that forms the border between Pennsylvania and New Jersey after it was announced as one of the venues on the 2014 Elite Series schedule.
It'll mark the first time that B.A.S.S. will venture into a major metropolitan area of Philadelphia's stature for a tournament since the 2000 Bassmaster Classic was held in Chicago (Lake Michigan). The last B.A.S.S. event to take place at the Delaware was the 2011 B.A.S.S. Nation Mid-Atlantic Division that went out of Burlington, N.J., during the first week of September.
"In my mind, I love it," said Gluszek. "The river generates a lot of numbers once you understand a few things about the river. Not everyone will agree with me, but when I'm out on guide trips or just fun fishing, I can catch 15 to 50 keeper-sized fish between 1 and 5 pounds with the 5-pounders being more uncommon. My opinion of the fishery is that it's a really good fishery that's under-fished and underappreciated.
"It has eluded the public's awareness for so long. People in the city of Philadelphia and New Jersey don't even know there are largemouth bass in the river. This tournament will let them know there's a great fishery right under their nose. There have been times where I'll be going down the bank in a bass boat that says Bass University on the side of it and people will ask me what I'm fishing for. When I tell them I'm fishing for bass, they're shocked."
There's plenty of deep water up and down the river, but Gluszek typically finds largemouths in less than 10 feet of water. Catching bass deeper than 10 feet is considered unusual as most of the fish orient to the bank or near-shore structure to stay out of the strong current. Once they're hooked, though, expect a tussle.
"That's another thing that's cool about these fish is they spend their lives fighting hard current," he said. "They pull, they're fighters. They're city fish who are accustomed to living around bridges and buildings. They've adapted to living in the city. When you hook one, they know how to find the gnarliest stuff to get hung up in."
Clarity is typically pretty good, Gluszek added, with 2 to 5 feet of visibility being the standard. However, a major rain event can dirty it up quickly simply because it absorbs runoff from such a vast area.
In terms of vegetation, there is eelgrass throughout and over the last 5 years hydrilla has sprouted up, which has helped the bass fishery. The forage base is diverse and plentiful with shad, herring, perch, stripers, minnows, bream, crawfish and eels serving as prey for bass.
"These are tidal fish that have heavy current on them," he said. "They are not shy. If you find fish on any particular piece of cover, they're biters. You don't have to beg or finesse them."
Tide Swing Substantial
The most important factor when fishing the Delaware, Gluszek says, is the substantial tide swing that occurs as water pushes up from the Delaware Bay and then recedes back toward the Atlantic Ocean. It's not just one factor to consider, it'll be the focal point of the tournament. The tide swing can reach 7 feet depending on the moon phase, Gluszek says, and when it's coming or going, it can generate current in the neighborhood of 5 miles an hour.
"It's as big of a tide swing that I can remember fishing in a tournament," he said. "It's one thing that will make it confusing. It's going to be the main factor. The tide dictates everything on the Delaware. It's more important than the weather, wind, rain, everything. The tide will be the primary force that drives the feed or lack of feed. It'll move the bait around. It's unmatched even by the Potomac or other tidal rivers along the East Coast.
"On the Potomac, if you find fish in a grass bed, those fish are going to be catchable throughout the tide phases. You might have to move around to change your approach, but they'll be there. On the Delaware, the fish move often and fast with the tide swings. That's going to make it a lot different than some of the other places."
B.A.S.S. hasn't announced yet what, if any, boundaries will exist for the tournament. If the anglers are given carte blanche, it's feasible someone could run south to the Chesapeake Canal and then head west into the northern part of Chesapeake Bay. Gluszek also said there is good fishing in several creeks well south of the canal, a 60- to 80-mile run that would take pros through salt water and back into fresh water.
"There's plenty of water for 100 boats," he said. "The river dictates that boats move a lot and cover a lot of water. Guys will have a lot of options. One thing I'm interested in – and we saw it this year – is that no distance is too far for an Elite Series pro. There are creeks to the south about 60 to 80 miles that could come into play if someone wanted to run that far and go through the saltwater and run back into fresh.
"I'll be curious to know which creeks guys explore and who's successful doing that. In most of our local tournaments, we don't run that far, but it'll be interesting to see if they do."
Gluszek's Northern Opens season didn't go as he had hoped. After a 6th-place finish at the James River, he went to Oneida Lake thinking he could get by on largemouths only. He'd never fished there before and thought it would be similar to Cayuga Lake, where he'd won last year. He zeroed both days and took himself out of contention for an Elite Series invitation for 2014.
"I got caught with my pants down, to be honest," he said. "That was my first zero in a long time."
The day before the Lake Erie event, he received word that his wife was being rushed to the hospital. The initial fear was she was having a heart attack. Fortunately, that wasn't the case. He left Ohio immediately and headed back to New Jersey and didn't fish the tournament. His wife is "100 percent better now," and he wanted to thank everyone for their concern.