By Todd Ceisner
The proliferation of new grass up and down the Potomac River made for a challenging venue for last week’s Elite Series event near the nation’s capital. With all the fresh vegetation, the bass had so many more options and areas to ride out the summer.
It made practice a bit more of a task for the 107 Elite Series anglers, who tried to find areas with concentrations of fish that would bite consistently regardless of the tide cycle. That proved daunting and required most pros to move around and adjust with the rising and falling water. It also meant finding the right mix of grass in the right areas,
While winner Justin Lucas will be remembered for plucking 95 percent of his fish off a single piece of cover, i.e. the pilings and horizontal cross braces under a large parking deck, others had to rely on at least two locations to achieve the best outcomes.
Different areas required different techniques as well. Methodical flipping around hard cover was just as effective as working a vibrating jig around patchy grass or twitching a hollow-body frog across the surface.
As harsh and as hot as the weather was last week, the fishing at the Potomac was better than most expected based on reports that it’s been a fishery in decline, but it appears with the return of the green stuff, the green fish should thrive.
Here’s a rundown of how the rest of the Top 5 finishers caught their fish:
2nd: Jason Christie
> Day 1: 5, 16-01
> Day 2: 5, 15-06
> Day 3: 5, 13-15
> Day 4: 5, 23-01
> Total = 20, 68-07
While some anglers remarked that moving water was key to how they were catching fish, Jason Christie needed clean water for his frog program to be effective.
“I fished according to the tide they wanted,” he said. “That medium to low tide was what I needed. I don’t think it mattered if it was coming or going, but it needed to stay clear. When it came in fast, it got muddied up. That bottom third of the tide and clear water were key for me.”
Coming off practice, Christie thought a weight in the upper 50-pound range might win.
“I had a terrible practice,” he said. “Based on my practice, I thought 30 might win.”
He said it didn’t occur to him to head north toward where Lucas fished because in a couple of his previous events there with the FLW Tour, that stretch of river was off limits.
“To me it didn’t make sense (to go up there), but that’s usually how Elite Series events are won,” he said. “Sometimes, it doesn’t make sense. I knew there were fish in that mid-river section, but how many times will it be won off a single dock? It just didn’t make a lot of sense to me.”
Instead, he hunkered down in Piscataway Creek and poked around a huge grass bed, eventually catching everything he weighed on a hollow-body frog, including a tournament-best 23-01 on the final day.
“The area I was fishing was so big that it was hard to cover that much ground flipping and punching,” he said. “I figured my chances were better to catch one with a frog, plus you can cover move water and it’s more fun.”
After catching 16-01 out of an area no bigger than a basketball court on day 1, he went back to the same spot on day 2, only to find additional competitors sitting where he wanted to fish. He eventually left and found the area he ultimately settled down on.
“I went there and fished and felt like it wouldn’t work,” he said. “Even as mad as I was, it pushed me out of that area, but it was for the best because it was like practice again. I started looking for the right grass and right tide and found a better area than where I’d been.”
He didn’t necessarily run the tide from the sense that he zipped up and down the river as the tide went out and came back in. He stayed in the same creek and let other variables dictate where he fished.
“It was different on every place, but I when I saw a mix of what I wanted – the right depth, grass, type of grass and water color – I knew I’d get bit,” he noted.
> Christie swapped the stock hook for a 4/0 Lazer TroKar frog hook due to some elbow pain that started to develop at the Cayuga Lake event in June. It’s something he’s never done, but it’s hard to argue with the results.
“I hurt my (right) elbow flipping deep grass and I didn’t have a lot of power,” he said. “I knew I wouldn’t have a lot of power to set the hook so I more just leaned on them and it worked awesome. Those hooks are so sharp.”
> He’s hoping some rest before the Mississippi River will help, but he fears he’ll have to have the same surgery that he had on his left elbow a few years ago. “It’s doing the same thing the other one did,” he added. “The last couple days, though, it was a little better.”
> Main factor in his success – “One thing I think I do well in tournaments that I don’t have a good practice is I go to an area and milk it for all it’s worth. The same exact thing happened at Dardanelle. I went to a spot hoping to catch a limit and ended up winning there. This one, it almost worked out that way. Some say it’s being stubborn, but I felt like every fish in the river lived in that creek.”
> Performance edge – “My Power-Poles were down so much this week. Guys talk about moving a lot during the day. On Thursday, I pulled in and put my poles down and sat for two hours. I moved 25 yards, then sat for another 2 hours. I moved another 25 yards and sat another 2 hours. That made a huge difference in how I was able to fish those areas.”
Brent Ehrler preferred to reel moving baits as opposed to flipping and punching at the Potomac.
3rd: Brent Ehrler
> Day 1: 5, 17-13
> Day 2: 5, 16-07
> Day 3: 5, 11-05
> Day 4: 5, 17-03
> Total = 20, 62-12
Brent Ehrler saw a fair bit of the Potomac during his practice, but it was more a necessity rather than preference as he searched for an area that might have a concentration of 3-pounders.
“Practice was pretty tough,” he said. “I don’t think I caught anything over 2 3/4. I had a couple windows where I had some bites, but I didn’t grind through an area to see how many bites I could get. If I had some bites in an area, I figured I’d spend time there during the tournament.
“I was looking for productive water. I fished docks, rock and grass.”
He stuck with moving baits, his preferred offering when fishing tidal waters.
“I’m not a guy like Ish (Monroe), who’s going to look for the thickest stuff and frog and punch,” he added. “I like to find edges or sparse stuff to throw something moving. It’s just something I’ve done in the past. When I’ve caught them in the past here, it’s been mostly on moving baits.”
The strategy worked again as he employed a three-pronged attack consisting of a vibrating jig, a finesse swimbait and a shallow-running crankbait.
“There’s more grass there now and the biggest difference to me was the eelgrass,” he said. “I’d never seen it there. The other big key for me was milfoil. I didn’t feel like they were in the eelgrass. I wanted some good milfoil with some hydrilla around. It needed good plumes to it. There are so many areas where it’s matted that I didn’t feel like they were in there because it was so thick.”
He rotated around three areas, one of which saw a good bit of boat traffic, and the other two he had mostly to himself. He was very aware of the tidal effect on each area and timed his presence in each accordingly.
“There’s nothing I could’ve done differently,” he said. “I made the right decisions. So many times you come off a tournament and in hindsight, you’re thinking that you should’ve done this or that. I made the right calls. I had the right bites. I should’ve been in the 16- to 17-pound range Saturday. I didn’t stay too long or leave too early. I just didn’t get them in the boat.”
> Vibrating gear: 7'4" medium-heavy prototype Daiwa fiberglass casting rod, Daiwa Tatula CT Type R casting reel (6.3:1 ratio), 20-pound Sunline Super FC Sniper fluorocarbon line, 3/8-oz. BOSS vibrating jig (green-pumpkin), Gary Yamamoto Custom Baits Zako trailer (green-pumpkin).
> Ehrler said the rod he used is still being refined in anticipation of a spring 2017 release.
> Swimbait gear: 7’4” heavy-action Daiwa Tatula casting rod, same reel, same line, 3/16-oz. Reins Tungsten worm weight (pegged), 3/0 Gamakatsu EWG Superline worm hook, Gary Yamamoto Custom Baits Swim Senko (watermelon red/black flake).
> The Swim Senko was his top choice when it was flat calm or on low tide because it was more subtle. When the breeze picked up, he opted for the vibrating jig.
> Cranking gear: 7’ medium-action Daiwa Tatula XT fiberglass casting rod, same reel, same line (14-pound), Lucky Craft Classical Leader 55SSR (BE gill).
> The Classical Leader, which ranks among Ehrler’s favorite plugs, is a 1-foot runner.
> Main factor in his success – “I was able to time the tides right a couple times each day and was able to move places when I needed to and be at the right places at the right time. Making a lot of rotations was key. I waited them out and ran back and forth between areas and was able to be successful.”
> Performance edge – “Those (Minn Kota) Talons are mandatory. There were two different times when I had a fish miss a bait. When you’re fishing a bladed jig, you’re snapping it through grass and they’ll push it and miss it. Both times, I put my Talons down and made repeated casts and I caught those fish.”
Bill Lowen has two Top-5s in his last two trips to the Washington, D.C. area.
4th: Bill Lowen
> Day 1: 5, 16-13
> Day 2: 5, 14-06
> Day 3: 5, 16-00
> Day 4: 5, 13-13
> Total = 20, 61-00
Bill Lowen said the Potomac and Chesapeake Bay set up pretty much the same and that’s why he went looking for a similar scenario to what carried him to a runner-up finish behind Aaron Martens last year at the Chesapeake.
“No matter how tough it is, someone always finds a good wad of fish and Justin and Jason did that this year,” he said. “I tried to look for that this week and similar stuff to what I fished at the Chesapeake. It’s August so it’s obviously a summer pattern if you’re fishing shallow.”
He said practice was “largely a struggle,” but he focused his time mostly in two creeks.
“One had a water treatment plant the in back of it,” he said. “I didn’t fish the plant, I fished the creek and caught a 3-pounder. I didn’t get any other bites until I went into Dogue Creek and got six bites in there.”
During the tournament, he milked Dogue Creek for everything it had. It wasn’t a very big creek, but it held plenty of quality fish. He targeted mostly hard cover in the cooler water, which was consistently 80 or 81 degrees until Sunday when it rose to 90.
“The whole key was making sure the bait was on a dead-stick,” he said. “There were times I’d soak the bait for 20 to 30 seconds and sometimes I didn’t even feel the bite.”
Dogue was generally 2 to 4 feet deep with plenty of hard targets to throw at.
“It was mostly flat and the trolling motor was churning mud at low tide,” he said. “On high tide, my Power-Poles would just touch bottom. I’d say you could walk around in there and not get your head wet.”
When he’d leave Dogue, he punched grass in a different location after the tide had come back in.
> Flipping gear: 7’6” heavy-action Castaway Skeleton flipping rod, Team Lew's Pro Magnesium Speed Spool casting reel (7.8:1 ratio), 20-pound Hi Seas fluorocarbon line, 1/4-oz. Reins Tungsten worm weight, 3/0 Mustad offset round-bend worm hook, unnamed creature bait (black/blue).
> Punching gear: Same rod, Team Lew's LITE Speed Spool LFS Series casting reel, 50-pound Hi Seas Grand Slam braided line, 1-oz. Reins Tungsten worm weight, homemade Lure Parts Online punch skirt, 3/0 Mustad Grip Pin 2x flipping hook, 4” Reins Ax Claw (green-pumpkin/blue flake).
> Main factor in his success – “Just taking my time and being very thorough.”
> Performance edge – “Everything I use is like a package. It’s why I use what I use. From the boat that floats shallow to a motor that’s dependable and powerful, everything needs to work well for me to get to this point.”
Andy Montgomery hunkered down in a couple creeks and adapted with the tides.
5th: Andy Montgomery
> Day 1: 5, 13-08
> Day 2: 5, 16-10
> Day 3: 5, 14-05
> Day 4: 5, 15-05
> Total = 20, 59-12
Andy Montgomery spent most of his practice last week trying to duplicate how he’d caught quality fish at the Potomac in the past.
“I’ve have a lot of success there in the past catching them out of main lake grass,” he said. “It’s hard to practice there because you’re fishing through the tides. There were a couple places I fished through at two different times one day and turned around the next day and fished them against the tide. Practice was a challenge.”
He ventured into the backs of some creeks as well and got a few better bites there. Additionally, travel partner Ott DeFoe mentioned the creeks had produced some bites for him.
“When the tournament started, that’s all I had,” Montgomery said.
He focused on the backs of creeks where they narrow down and he targeted matted vegetation, lily pads and hard cover. Punching and flipping where his preferred methods.
“There was a hard edge on the grass because there was definitely a well-defined channel in both creeks,” he said. “There was grass on the edge and some hard cover.”
He also had to be aware of the tide cycles.
“The biggest thing was getting in somewhere and staying,” he said. “You had to change up with the tides. When it’s tidal, you can’t run around. You have to fish through it.
“By Sunday, I had two creeks and I knew when I needed to be in each one. The tide difference was about 90 minutes.”
He caught a limit within the first hour each day with the exception of Saturday, when he didn’t catch his fifth until 10 minutes were left.
“Catching a good limit early each day allowed me to experiment more instead of pressing to make sure I caught five,” he added.
> Punching gear: 8’ heavy-action Daiwa Steez AGS casting rod, Daiwa Zillion HD casting reel (7.3:1 ratio), 70-pound Daiwa Samurai braided line, 1 1/4-oz. Strike King Tour Grade tungsten worm weight, 4/0 Strike King Hack Attack flipping hook, Strike King Rage Bug (blue craw).
> Flipping gear: 7’3” medium-heavy Daiwa Cronos casting rod, Daiwa Tatula CT Type R casting reel (7.3:1 ratio), 16-pound Daiwa fluorocarbon line, same weight (1/8-oz.) 3/0 unnamed straight shank offset worm hook, 5” Strike King KVD Perfect Plastic Ocho (green-pumpkin).
> Finesse gear: 7’ medium-action Daiwa Steez AGS spinning rod, Daiwa Ballistic spinning reel, 15-pound Daiwa J-Braid braided line, 8-pound Daiwa Tournament FC fluorocarbon line (leader), #1 unnamed straight shank hook, 4” Ocho (green-pumpkin).
> Main factor in his success – “Probably having a bad practice. I wasn’t locked into one way to catch ‘em. I learned as the tournament went along.”
> Performance edge – “That Daiwa punching rod was key for getting fish out of that thick grass.”
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