By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
A lot of significant occurrences have taken place in and around Philadelphia over the past several centuries and the Delaware River has its own position in the chronicles of American history. In high-level competitive bass fishing annals, however, the place has almost no history at all.
The vast majority of the 100-plus Bassmaster Elite Series pros are at a venue this week that they'd never seen prior to this summer. Some made pre-practice trips and thus are visiting for the second time, but most are getting their initial look at a fishery that doesn't appear in any coffee table books as a top bass-angling destination. Its primary claim to fame was staked on Christmas night 238 years ago, when Gen. George Washington led his Continental Army troops across its frigid water to rout some British forces in Trenton, N.J. during the Revolutionary War.
If this event makes history of its own, it'll likely be of a dubious nature – there's a chance it could be the lowest-weight, full-field derby in the 9 years that the Elite Series has existed. That distinction currently belongs to the Mississippi River event in Iowa in 2009, which Kevin Short won with a 4-day total of 43-03.
There just aren't a lot of bass to go around, and the ones that live there aren't real big. Two-pound fish, which are normally disdained on this circuit, will be ultra-valuable this week and any limit of keepers will constitute a good day.
Complicating matters will be the Delaware's huge tidal flux, which features a 5- to 7-foot variance on each cycle. Anglers must be concerned not only with being in the right place at the right time to generate bites, but also avoiding being left high and dry when most of the water departs.
It's the second-to-last regular-season event of the campaign, and competitors currently outside the Top 50 in the Toyota Tundra B.A.S.S. Angler of the Year (AOY) race are running out of chances to make the AOY championship – and thus have a shot at qualifying for next year's Classic. For the "river rats" among them, the event represents a good opportunity to move up as much of the field will undoubtedly fail to boat five keepers each day.
Before getting deeper into the bite, here's some of the lowdown on the fishery itself.
BassFan Fishery Profile
> Name: Delaware River
> Type of Water: Major Atlantic Coast waterway that provides drainage for five states
> Surface Acres: N/A
> Primary structure/cover: Grass (several types), laydowns, lily pads, rocks, industrial facilities (refineries, docks, bulkheads, pump houses, pilings, barges, etc.)
> Primary forage: Shad, herring, yellow perch, white perch, baby stripers, freshwater eels, various minnows, bluegill
> Average depth: 10 feet
> Species: Largemouths and smallmouths
> Minimum length: 12 inches
> Reputation: An urban tidal fishery with a lot of good-looking cover, but not a lot of fish
> Weather: Relatively mild conditions are forecast for the competition days, with daily highs hovering around the mid 80s
> Water temperature: High 70s to mid 80s, depending on location
> Water visibility/color: 1 to 3 feet in most places/tinted
> Water level: Normal
> Fish in: 1 to 40 feet
> Fish phase: Summer
> Primary patterns: Crankbaits, jigs (traditional and vibrating), shaky-heads, spinnerbaits, plastics, flipping
> Winning weight: 44 pounds
> Cut weight (Top 12 after 3 days): 30 pounds
> Check weight (50th place after 2 days): 14 pounds
> Fishing quality (1=poor, 5=great): 3 for Delaware River
> Biggest factors: Tidal fluctuations – they pretty much dictate the quality of the bite at a given time
> Biggest decision: Run a pattern in multiple locales or focus on a place or two that's proven to be productive
> Wildcard: Monster bites – at the Delaware, those weigh 4 pounds
A Perplexing Puzzle
The stretch of the Delaware that's in play this week is about 50 miles long and there are at least a couple dozen creeks that branch off of it. Keeper bass could be anywhere along any of them, but a concentration of them in any single place is an unlikely scenario.
"Most of these guys don't know this river at all," said Bass University co-founder and former tour pro Pete Gluszek, who lives in nearby Laurel, N.J. and sometimes guides on the Delaware. "The main river is going to be the most challenging for them to figure out in such a short time. A lot of them will gravitate toward the creeks because those will be a little easier for them to get their arms around.
Justin Lucas says there seems to be no rhyme or reason as to when or where you get a bite on the Delaware.
"It's summertime and the fish are spread out, and there's patterns to be found on the river and up in the creeks. What interests me most is seeing if somebody's going to figure something out in deep water. I typically catch them in 10 feet or less and I've caught them deeper in certain scenarios, but never in any kind of dominant fashion. There's a ton of deeper water available."
As for the tide schedule, he says the Elites have been dealt a bad hand, but it'll improve as the tournament progresses.
"The last 2 hours of the outgoing, that's the deal. Right before it bottoms out is when it concentrates the fish and they're most easily caught, and it's still pretty good on the first hour of the incoming.
"Low tide will be right when they're launching on the first day and those guys aren't going to want to be running at that time – they'll want to be fishing. Every day that goes by will get them another hour of premium tide, so I expect to see the weights keep going up and up. By the last day they'll see a couple hours of the outgoing. Before that, if they guess wrong or get crowded out and don't get their fish in the boat early, they'll be in for a long day."
Notes from the Field
Following are practice notes from a few anglers who'll be competing this week.
"I found one area that seems to have some promise, but it's just crumbs after that. It'll be a total grind, for sure. I'm sure other people found what I did, but hopefully they didn't hit the tide right or didn't throw the right bait or whatever. I'm trying not to put all of my eggs in that basket.
"I've got a couple areas in the creeks that I want to hit and some main-river stuff, too. Any limit is going to be strong and if you can wrangle up 10 pounds, I truly believe you'll be doing really good.
"I can't think of a tougher (Elite Series) tournament that we've had. I've heard people compare it to (the 2005 Classic in Pittsburgh), but that was way different. You were still catching 20 or more fish a day there, but there were a lot of little dinks. Here you don't have that.
"I feel like somebody in the right area or on the right deal could potentially jump way out in front, but it could be that everything averages out and on the fourth day everybody in the Top 8 or 10 will have a chance to win."
"This is my kind of place – I've got mud from one end of my Triton to the other – but I just don't feel like there's a lot of fish to be caught here. It's one of those places that just doesn't have a high fish population and it's tough trying to find an area where you feel comfortable.
"As far as a mental challenge, it'll be one of the toughest tournaments ever. I'm rooming with (Dennis) Tietje and we just keep telling each other to stay focused. All of a sudden it could happen for you and if you're not focused you could miss it real easy.
"A few bites here will go a long way and I'm hoping to put myself in a place where I can reach into my river-rat bag and trick a few of them."
"I think I've had 11 bites in 3 days. I didn't fish when I came up here before (for pre-practice), but now I wish I had. I've caught a couple nice ones, but the rest were just little rats.
"The fish are spread out – you can catch one in the back of a creek, one at the mouth of a creek and then one on the main river, but there's not a concentration of them anywhere. You can fish as hard as you can and you don't know if you're ever going to get a bite and you could go back to everything you fished in practice and never get bite.
"It's one of those deals where you're going to have to keep practicing during the tournament and it's going to shake up the points, for sure."
"I'm just going to echo everything you've heard from everybody else – it's been brutal. I've talked to some guys who always catch them and they've been struggling. Yesterday I got onto something and I'm pinning a lot of my hopes on and I hope it pays off. I had like three bites or so, then I had a couple more just chase (the bait).
"For the most part, I can't sit around in one place too long. Even if you get a couple bites in an area, you know it's changing with the tide. I'll hit some of the pockets, but the majority of my stuff is on the main river."
"I don't think this place has a lot of fish – you can literally go hours without a bite even though it's beautiful-looking water. Then there's the tide consideration. I've got one tide that I'm going to try to stay on and that's going to mean doing a lot of running, and even then it's never really going to be right.
"I'll probably focus more on the creeks, still following that one tide, and the tide changes from the creek to the river pretty dramatically. It's a weird place.
"If I could catch 11 pounds, I'd be very happy, but I think that's going to be hard to come by. I'd actually feel relieved just to box three or four fish."
Brett Hite has heated up again when summer arrived and may have the skill set to excel this week.
Top 10 to Watch
With the above in mind and more, here (in no particular order) is BassFan's list of the Top 10 to watch in this event.
1. Mike Iaconelli – He has far more experience on this fishery than anybody in the field and he's riding some momentum coming off a 3rd-place showing at the Champlain Northern Open. Local knowledge should be a positive factor at an oddball venue such as this.
2. Aaron Martens – He's well within striking distance of his second straight Angler of the Year title and he's been known to excel in low-weight events. Few expect him to sit out the weekend.
3. Greg Hackney – Sitting just 1 point out of the AOY lead, he's having an outstanding year and he proved his tough-bite river chops by edging out Iaconelli for the 2009 Forrest Wood Cup in Pittsburgh. Possesses the mental game to fare well in this derby.
4. Bill Lowen – This place will remind him a lot of his home waters (the Ohio River), at least from a fish-catching perspective. A high finish here should get him inside the Classic cutoff.
5. Kevin Short – He likes moving water and events that aren't big-fish slugfests, so he'll be right in his element this week. At 74th in the points (he missed the Toledo Bend event after his house was struck by a tornado), his Classic hopes aren't dead, but he probably stands a better chance of making it via a third career Elite win than through the AOY race.
6. Kevin VanDam – He's in an unfamiliar position on the points list (23rd) for this late in the season thanks to a couple of 70-something finishes, but he's almost certain to move up from here on out. The winner of the '05 Pittsburgh Classic – the toughest top-level tournament on record – will come up with a way to catch double-digit bags in this one.
7. Jason Christie – It'd be natural if the No. 1 angler in the BassFan World Rankings looked a little bit ahead to next week's Forrest Wood Cup, where he'll fish for half a million dollars, but he does an excellent job of keeping his head in the here and now. He's very good at finding and exploiting fish that are off other people's radar.
8. Ott DeFoe – He has a long track record of catching shallow-water fish in the summertime. A bomb at Toledo Bend has him closer to the Classic cut line that he'd prefer to be, but he could create some breathing room with a strong showing this week.
9. Brett Hite – He started the season on fire and then cooled off, but he's heated up again in his most recent outings. He's another guy who'll compete for the Cup next week, but he has a better shot at winning this one if he can work his ChatterBait magic.
10. Rick Clunn – He badly wants a shot at his fifth Classic title, but he has to get back into the event first and a couple of good outings this month would make that happen. He's fished well after a rough start to the campaign in Florida and all the savvy he's accumulated over the past four decades could play big this week.
> Anglers will launch at 6:15 a.m. ET each day from Frankford Arsenal Boat Launch (5701 Tacony St., Philadelphia, Pa.). Weigh-ins will get under way at 3:15 p.m. at Great Plaza-Penn's Landing (211 South Columbus Blvd., Philadelphia, Pa.).
> At No. 52 in the points, Brent Chapman needs a decent finish to get closer to where the Bassmaster Classic cutoff will eventually fall (mid 30s). Meanwhile, Aaron Martens is in contention for his second straight AOY (and third of his career) and will try to keep from surrendering any ground. To read their practice wrapups, click here to go to Pro View Reports.
> Thurs., Aug. 7 – Sunny - 85°/66°
- Wind: From the NNW at 9 mph
> Fri., Aug. 8 – Sunny - 84°/64°
- Wind: From the NNW at 6 mph
> Sat., Aug. 9 – Mostly Sunny - 85°/65°
- Wind: From the ENE at 5 mph
> Sun., Aug. 10 – Partly Cloudy - 83°/66°
- Wind: From the E at 7 mph