I’d never fished the Upper Chesapeake Bay before this year, but I was excited to go there because of the famed Susquehanna Flats. Any time I hear that a fishery has big productive grass beds, I feel like I’m going to be in my element and it’s just a matter of picking them apart. Unfortunately, for reasons that still aren’t clear to me, the grass was not a player at all in this event.
During practice we experienced unusually high tides and I had very few bites. I know that the tide would be critical – and that it was important to be on the best places at the best tides – but I didn’t know when that might be. It was going to be a matter of survival.
On Day One, I caught four fish, but three of them weren’t legal. The one keeper I did catch was just over a pound. Nevertheless, weights were low and I knew that if I had a decent day on Friday I could make the top 50. Almost immediately on Day Two I landed the fish I needed to get back on track, a beautiful 3 pound largemouth, but I just couldn’t add any others to it. Eventually, that led me to go up the Susquehanna River where I quickly caught a limit of paper-thin smallmouths. With five in the livewell, I went back to look for more largemouths, but it just never happened.
It turned out that many of the top finishers fished around the take-off area, playing musical chairs on the few docks in the North East River. It worked out for some of them, but many others struggled doing the same thing. That’s not my gig. I just can’t force myself to fish in a crowd if I don’t have to do it, so while my performance wasn’t good, I don’t regret the decision to venture outside of that little fishpond.
Almost all of my fish at the Chesapeake came on a Lunker Lure Limit Series jig fished on a 7’2” Denali Kovert heavy-action rod and 16 pound test Gamma fluorocarbon. It’s a small bait and produces numbers, but I’ve certainly caught plenty of big ones on it, too. Apparently I just didn’t put it in front of enough of them.
After a week of relaxing with Deb at the beach, I moved on to St. Clair, another body of water where I had very little prior experience. I’d previously spent a total of three very unproductive days on St. Clair, and when we’d fished tournaments up there in the past I’d always stayed on Erie.
St. Clair is essentially just a big bowl with relatively few contour lines. You have to search and search and search and hope that you run into a school. Unfortunately, the wind was brutal during practice, often in the range of 25 to 30 miles per hour, and that made the search process difficult. I managed to put together a couple of decent days in practice and also tried to find some largemouths as a backup plan. That decision saved me on the first day.
I knew that it would take a 3 ½ to 4 ½ pound average to do well, and that likely meant targeting smallmouths. I fished for them until 1:30 on the first day and only had one fish in the box. I scrambled to fill out my limit with largemouths and ended the day with 12-02. That wasn’t very good, but at least with a strong second day it gave me a fighting chance. Therefore I headed out on Day Two intending to fish for smallmouth all day. That’s what I did and it only produced three fish. I’m still not sure where I went wrong. I passed plenty of groups of boats, but I certainly wasn’t going to crash their party. The smallmouth I caught were quality fish, but I never found the right school. All of the smallmouths came on a green pumpkin Missile Baits Baby D Bomb dropshotted on a 7’ Denali Lithium Shakey Head Rod and 6 pound Gamma fluorocarbon. The largemouths were all on the same jig I used at the Chesapeake, mostly because I still had it tied on when I got there.
The whole northern swing turned out to be a big disappointment. I thought I’d be able to stay in contention for the Angler of the Year championship but instead I ended up falling in the standings. If we head back north again I will definitely do more homework. It has been an odd season for me, with a lot of ups and downs. I’m not going to make excuses, but I will say that I’m disappointed that I spent so much time, effort and money and didn’t live up to the standards that I set for myself.
With our house construction just about done, I can start to focus on the Grand Lake Classic next March. I certainly have obligations between now and then, but I will put in my time in Oklahoma to make sure that I’m as prepared as possible for the biggest event the sport offers.
Bassmaster Elite Series Chesapeake Bay North East, Maryland, 83rd Place: 6 fish, 8-09
Bassmaster Elite Series Lake St. Clair, Detroit, Michigan, 102nd Place: 8 fish, 19-02