By Todd Ceisner
The Potomac River has gone through cycles over the years, both good and bad. Some years, the vegetation is lush and prolific. Other years, it’s not as widespread and the fishing tends to lag with it.
It’s currently in the midst of an upward trend and the fishing at last week’s FLW Tour season finale showcased just how incredible the Potomac can be. Limits were easy to come by, but not just any limit. Over the course of the tournament, 160 limits of 14 pounds of more were brought to the scales.
Anglers raved about the number of 2 3/4 to 3 1/2-pound fish that were readily available and easy to pinpoint at certain times in the tide cycle. Some expected to catch a few quality bass, but certainly not upwards of 30 to 40 a day.
The common ingredient to many successful strategies was grass, either milfoil or eelgrass, and deciding whether to move to other areas with vegetation at different stages of the tide or ride it out in one spot and figure out other ways to catch resident fish.
Many of the traditional community holes and creeks attracted plenty of attention and they didn't disappoint, forcing some competitors to choose to fish amongst a crowd or go it alone somewhere else where there may not have been as many fish.
Moving baits likes swimjigs and vibrating jigs along with methodical, weightless presentations like a Texas-rigged Senko were among the top producers, with some topwater options mixed in.
Below is a rundown of how those who finished in Tom Monsoor’s wake did their damage.
2nd: Chad Warren
> Day 1: 5, 17-00
> Day 2: 5, 15-05
> Day 3: 5, 18-08
> Day 4: 5, 15-09
> Total = 20, 66-06
Chad Warren pulled into the greater Washington, D.C., area last week not feeling all that hot about the final event of his rookie season. He did all he could to prepare at home in Oklahoma, researching online resources and looking at maps of the Potomac.
“I didn’t have a whole lot of confidence going into practice or the tournament,” he said. “I didn’t expect to do bad but after six in a row, I was feeling a little out of place. I approached it like I was always do. I couldn’t have done any more at home.”
In practice, the places he’d marked on Google Earth turned out to be popular amongst his competitors, too. He was surprised by how vast the river system was, but day 1 was productive as he got clued in on a few baits, including a frog over submerged or topped-out milfoil. He also located an area in Pohick Bay where he ultimately caught the bulk of his weight on days 3 and 4 of the tournament.
“I pulled in there and there were 15 to 20 boats back where I caught ‘em,” he said. “I started way out where the grass came out to 5 to 6 feet. I started with a swimbait and headed toward the back and my first fish was a 4-pounder. I shook two more off and left.”
He went south to Aquia Creek and the Arkandale Flats the following day and caught two with a frog. He went into Chickamuxen Creek, but got turned off by how many other boats were in there.
“I don’t like fishing around other people,” he said. “I tried to find something off the beaten path.”
On the third day, he located a clump of grass in Broad Creek with the help of Garmin Panoptix that produced a good bite with a popper-style topwater.
He commenced the tournament throwing a swimbait on a hook with an underspin blade around grass in Broad Creek. He was joined there by two other boats and after he lost a good fish, he started to waver on sticking around. He switched to a weightless Senko and lost one on his first cast. Over the next hour, though, the area came alive.
“We just jacked ‘em,” he said. “They were all 3- to 3 1/2-pound fish.”
He came away from there with four keepers and finished his day with a 4-pounder out of Pohick – a fish that he’ll remember for a long time.
“I set the hook and it’s digging in the grass and my line breaks at my reel,” he said. “I get on the trolling motor and start trying to find my line. After I find it, I start pulling it in by hand. The fish was still there so I pulled him in and ran back to the ramp. That was a blessing.”
He went back to Broad Creek with a Senko to start day 2, but it turned into a struggle. He had two small fish at 1 p.m. He moved to the back of Broad where he’d caught some fish in practice on high tide with a frog. He caught three, including two 3-pounders, but still wanted to cull his two smallest fish.
“I went to Pohick and culled once and was about to turn around and head out deeper,” he said. “Jeremy Lawyer was the only other boat in there and he had his Power-Poles down and was catching them every cast. We talked about how long it would take to run back and as I turned to head out, he asked where I was going. He had to head back to check-in and told me to get in there and catch me some. He wasn’t going to make the cut, but knew I was close.”
Warren moved back to where Lawyer had been and caught a 4 1/2-pounder to finish his day and make the top-20 cut in 13th place.
He used the cloud cover on day 3 to his advantage to pile up 10 pounds in five minutes pretty early, all on a popper in Pohick.
“I knew I needed a big bag to make the last day,” he said. “The further back I went in Pohick, the bigger the fish got. The water was gin clear and I stroked them until about 9:45 a.m. I stayed in there all day. There were a lot of locals and I didn’t want to leave it and have someone get to whacking them.”
His 18-08 shot him up to 3rd after day 3, just 12 ounces off the lead. His confidence was building.
Then the sun came out on day 4. His topwater bite in Pohick was still vibrant, but his shot at closing out the event with another big bag was hampered by the high skies.
“I think that hurt me,” he said. “The water was so clear, the fish could see that bait really well, or least good enough to know it wasn’t real. Once the clouds broke up, I think those fish bury in the grass and aren’t looking up anymore. They get to feeding on crawfish. I had five good bites and landed everything.”
> Topwater gear: 7’ medium-heavy Falcon Rods BuCoo SR casting rod, Abu Garcia Revo STX casting reel, 15-pound Sunline Supernatural monofilament line, unnamed popper bait (chrome/yellow gold).
> Warren wasn’t sure the brand of the popper – his best guess was an older Bass Pro Shops model. He did install a feathered treble on the back and put a Gamakatsu 2X Strong treble on the front.
> “The key was to throw it as far as I could, which was hard to do with a small bait,” he said.
> Senko gear: 7’2” medium-heavy Falcon Rods Cara T7 casting rod, same reel, 16-pound Sunline Super FC Sniper fluorocarbon line, 5/0 Laser TroKar EWG worm hook, 6” Gary Yamamoto Custom Baits Senko (watermelon red/black flake).
> Using the current created by the tidal flow helped Warren pinpoint where he needed to be when throwing the weightless stickbait. “It’s a boring, slow way to fish,” he said. “I’d put my poles down and sit there for a long time. Some of the grass was up to 6 feet and I’d throw in there and let it fall through, then pop it out. The grass would create a canopy when the current rolled through there. The key was bringing it out with the current.”
> Swimbait gear: 6’11” heavy-action Falcon T7 Cara Jason Christie frog rod, same reel, same line (20-pound), 3/16-oz. Owner Flashy Swimmer, 3.8” Keitech Swing Impact FAT swimbait (crystal shad).
> He said the crystal shad pattern matched the baitfish in his areas perfectly and the Flashy Swimmer allowed him to fish the entire depth of the water column by changing his rod tip angle. Regardless, the blade continued to spin and emit flash under the bait.
> Main factor in his success – “Having a positive attitude. I busted 17 on day 1 and on day 2 it’s 1 p.m. and I have 4 pounds in the boat. It would’ve been pretty easy to give up, but I didn’t give up all season. I was not going to do it then. I fished hard and kept my mind right. I figured I was already at the bottom. There was only one way to go – up.”
> Performance edge – “The Garmin Pantopix helped me locate that clump of grass in Broad Creek. After I waypointed and graphed it some more, I found it was the only good clump of grass around there. It was maybe a 20-yard circle in the middle of a giant flat where it was mostly moss. I wouldn’t have found it without Pantopix.”
A black jig has been Chris Johnston's standby at the Potomac for years and it worked again this time around.
3rd: Chris Johnston
> Day 1: 5, 17-07
> Day 2: 5, 16-11
> Day 3: 5, 15-11
> Day 4: 5, 15-11
> Total = 20, 65-08
Chris Johnston was ready to start competing at the Potomac last Tuesday. He’d been there plenty of times before during this early summer timeframe and it took him no time to figure out where he could get bites.
“I was ready to get it going,” he said. “I knew going in that someone could get lucky and find and off-the-wall spot. I checked my favorite areas and got bit in every one. As practice went on, other guys found those.”
He’s always had confidence in a compact black jig on the Potomac and that was his go-to option last week.
“It’s one of those confidence baits,” he said. “Its similar to a green-pumpkin for some guys. If there’s milfoil with nice pockets, I’m always going to go to it.”
Rather than follow the tide around to certain sweet spots, he rode out the days in known community holes.
“There are points where you want to be in the best spot when the tide switches,” he said. “After the first 2 days I grinded it out. I wasn’t getting a lot of bites after day 1. I’d go through spots and flip every pocket trying to get good bites.”
His best time to flip was on low tide, which wasn’t a prevalent scenario during the competition days.
“It makes it easier to see on low tide,” he said. “The weeds lay over and creates a canopy over those pockets. It makes it more predictable. That jig can fall through those canopies and it’s more of a reaction bite.”
> Flipping gear: 7’5” medium-heavy G. Loomis NRX jig/worm casting rod, Shimano Metanium MGL casting reel (8.5:1 ratio), 65-pound PowerPro braided line, 9/16-oz. custom-made mini flipping jig (black), Zoom Small Salty Chunk Jr. trailer (black).
> He opted against using a flipping rod because he’s found when combined with the braid, the hookset can create too big of a hole in the fish’s mouth so it makes it easier for them to get off, especially if they get tied up in grass.
> Main factor in his success – “Knowing the river and a lot of the good areas that have always produced fish. It got tough after day 1. It came down to me trying to cover areas and hitting as many pockets as I could. It was a way for me to fish fast and be efficient.”
> Performance edge – “On Sunday, my Power-Poles were a key due to the wind. When I was running the tides, I was also checking my Garmin electronics because it shows the tide cycles and where I’m at in the river. I used that in practice and on one spot, I knew there had to be fish there. I went back 2 hours later after the tide had switched and got four bites. I caught my biggest one there a couple days during the tournament.”
Cody Meyer wasn't afraid to go into crowded community areas and figure out what was working.
4th: Cody Meyer
> Day 1: 5, 15-10
> Day 2: 5, 16-01
> Day 3: 5, 16-07
> Day 4: 5, 16-09
> Total = 20, 64-11
Cody Meyer kept things simple and saw his stringers grow in size each day during the tournament. Everything he fished was grass-related and mostly in heavily-fished community holes like Belmont Bay, Chickamuxen and Mattawoman Creek.
“This was one of the most fun tournaments I’ve fished in a long time,” he said. “There was no pressure after I started catching them.”
Having to go into areas with an armada of his competitors didn’t seem to bother him.
“On day 1, guys were catching them all over the place,” he said. “You can look around and tell a pattern when you’re around a lot of guys. You can see if they’re on grass edges and you could use it to your advantage.”
On low tide, he’d flip the edge of milfoil patches with a crawfish or a soft stickbait.
“I don’t get too carried away with the tides,” he said. “I don’t run around when it switches. I like to get in an area and figure out how to catch them on low and high tides.”
When the water started to come up, he transitioned to a swimjig and when it topped out, he threw a vibrating jig and fished it over the grass.
“When the water was low, you couldn’t fish (vibrating jigs) effectively,” he said. “I had to cover more water. When I’d catch one, I’d put my poles down and flip around and catch some bonus fish. There’d be schools of them in the grass. It wasn’t complicated at all. It was simple fishing and it was fun. There were key deals with bait selection.”
> Flipping gear: 7’6” heavy-action Daiwa Tatula Elite AGS Ish Monroe flipping rod, Daiwa Steez A TW casting reel (7.1:1 ratio), 15-pound Seaguar Tatsu fluorocarbon line, 3/8-oz. Strike King Tour Grade tungsten worm weight (pegged), 4/0 Owner Jungle flipping hook, Strike King Rage Tail Rage Craw (California craw).
> Swimjig gear: Same rod as flipping, Daiwa Tatula SV TW casting reel (6.3:1 ratio), same line, 3/8-oz. Strike King Tour Grade swimjig (bluegill and black/blue), Strike King Rage Tail Rage Craw trailer.
> Vibrating jig gear: 7’3” medium-heavy Daiwa Tatula Elite AGS Brent Ehrler multipurpose casting rod, same reel as swimjig, same line as swimjig, 3/8-oz. Strike King Pure Poison vibrating jig (bluegill or black/blue), same trailer as swimjig.
> Stickbait gear: Same rod as vibrating jig, same reel as flipping, same line (10-pound), 4/0 Owner J hook, Strike King Ocho (green-pumpkin).
> Main factor in his success – “Settling down in areas that had fish and figuring out where the fish were and knowing they weren’t leaving. Also figuring out how to catch them on low and high tide. I think other guys may have run around too much. I heard from 25 guys how bad the tides were while we were here. I decided to fish where the fish live.”
> Performance edge – “I used lighter line than I’d usually fish with the 10- to 15-pound Seaguar Tatsu. I’d be fishing next to a guy fishing the same bait and he’s using braid. These fish live in those grass patches and 30 boats go over them every day. These things are either the smartest or dumbest fish ever. You’d think they’d leave. They get accustomed to the same baits. Downsizing my line helped my chances to catch those fish and I never lost one.”
Michael Neal did most of his damage with a swim jig or vibrating jig.
5th: Michael Neal
> Day 1: 5, 16-11
> Day 2: 5, 16-03
> Day 3: 5, 15-03
> Day 4: 5, 16-02
> Total = 20, 64-03
Michael Neal was the definition of consistency throughout the event, never dropping below 15-03 or exceeding 16-11. His 16-pound average netted him another top-10 finish and an 11th-place finish in AOY points.
He tried to diversify himself and not get bogged down in an area with a diminishing population of fish and a big group of competitors like he did in 2015.
“History played a little role,” he said. “Last time, I had two places and both were community holes. One I never went to this year because there were too many boats last time. I went by there this time and saw 20 boats and said, ‘Nope.’”
Four of his weigh-in fish came off an area he fished two years ago.
“This was probably the best practice I had all year,” he said. “I expected to catch quality fish, but not the quantity. I figured eight fish for 14 to 16 pounds. I caught 30 every day. You just had to find grass somwhere and put your trolling motor down and chunk and wind until they got to biting.”
A swimjig was his dominant and most productive bait, accounting for 13 of his 20 weigh-in fish. On higher-tide scenarios, he threw a vibrating jig and also caught some on a shallow-diving crankbait worked over eelgrass.
He recycled water throughout the tournament, but started on different spots each day.
“Every day but Sunday, I ran everything multiple times,” he said. “I had spots from the Woodrow Wilson Bridge in D.C. to below takeoff. I ran everything on low tide and high tide. Everything I caught was either in eelgrass or milfoil.
“Inside, outside or in the middle (of grass). A lot depended on the tide where they were. If you found a hole and threw to it, you’d catch one.”
> Swimjig/Vibrating jig gear: 7’1” medium-heavy Cashion Rods Michael Neal Signature Series casting rod, Daiwa Tatula CT casting reel (6.3:1 ratio), 20-pound Sunline Shooter fluorocarbon line, 3/8-oz. homemade swimjig (green-pumpkin), Big Bite Baits Swimming Craw trailer (tilapia), 3/8-oz. homemade vibrating jig (green-pumpkin), same trailer.
> Cranking gear: 7’ medium-heavy Cashion Rods cranking rod, same reel, same line, SPRO Fat John 60 (root beer chartreuse).
> Neal opted to use bigger line with the crankbait to keep it higher in the water column and prevent it from fouling up in the grass. “I had to make shorter casts with it, too, to keep from running too deep.”
> Main factor in his success – “Finding multiple areas that weren’t absolutely loaded with boats and rotating through them. I ran around a bit instead of having to camp somewhere. Last time I was here, I had to camp and it’s hard to camp somewhere that’s got enough fish to do it and not a lot of boats. I was able to fish new fish and not get spun out by a crowd.”
> Performance edge – “The HydroWave. When you get in a crowd, at worst it helps muffle your noise. You’d go down a stretch and look in front and see no activity and all of sudden stuff started hopping around. I see only one explanation for that.”
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