By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
So much for the idea that the Chesapeake Bay would be a much friendlier fishery for Bassmaster Elite Series anglers this week than it was on their previous visit in 2015.
The tournament 3 years ago took place in mid-August, when the Chesapeake was in the midst of its summer doldrums and the bite was tough, as it always is at that time of year. Placing this season's stop (the second-to-last of the regular season) several weeks earlier on the calendar should've allowed competitors to interact with more cooperative fish, but due to nature's whims, conditions might be even more difficult this time.
A spate of freakish storms has hammered the Mid-Atlantic region in recent days and has created a scenario normally only seen in the springtime. The water in the bay is already considerably higher than usual and there's much more on the way.
The Susquehanna River, which supplies the vast majority of the Bay's freshwater, is absolutely raging a couple of dams upstream from the mouth. All that muddy water will eventually make its way through the Conawingo Dam and into the Chesapeake and will likely have a major impact on the bite. More significantly, it could make navigation treacherous.
"In March or April or May, this happens all the time," said veteran pro and Chesapeake guide Pete Gluszek. "We'll be crushing pre-spawn fish, or they'll be spawning and we'll get these monster rain events that blow everything out and it takes a week to stabilize.
"For the summer, this is highly unusual. We'll have to wait and see how the body of water handles it. The good thing is that where they're launching this time (Flying Point Park near Edgewood, Md.) is so far down the Bay, away from the discharge, that it'll be somewhat sheltered."
Here's a brief synopsis of the fishery, with some of the information based on normal conditions:
BassFan Lake Profile
> Lake name: Chesapeake Bay
> Type of water: Tidal estuary that provides drainage for six Eastern states
> Surface acres: N/A
> Primary structure/cover: Grass, wood, rocks, docks
> Primary forage: Shad (multiple species), herring, crayfish
> Species: Mostly largemouths, some smallmouths
> Length limit: 12 inches
> Reputation: A once-prolific largemouth fishery that experienced a downturn in the latter part of the 20th century, but has bounced back following the introduction of milfoil
> Weather: A mix of sun, clouds and thunderstorms. Daily high temperatures are expected to stay in the 80s
> Water temp: High 70s to low 80s, depending on location
> Water visibility/color: Everything from muddy to clear, depending on location
> Water level: High
> Fish in: 1 to 25 feet
> Fish phase: Summer
> Primary patterns: Flipping, frogs, spinnerbaits, bladed jigs, crankbaits, jerkbaits, jigs, swimbaits, topwaters, plastics, finesse tactics
> Winning weight estimate: 64 pounds
> Cut weight (top 12 after 3 days): 39 pounds
> Check weight (Top 50 after 2 days): 24 pounds
> Fishing quality (1=poor, 5=great): 3 for the Chesapeake
> Biggest factor: What will be the impact of the continued influx of water?
> Biggest decision: Stick with patterns developed in practice or scrap everything and start junk-fishing
> Wildcard: Random big bites will play a huge role
Here's a look at how the Chesapeake Bay lays out, thanks to Navionics:
Had the storms not interfered, anglers would've had a myriad of locations to choose from at the Chesapeake. The famed Susquehanna Flats, a sea of grass covering 25 square miles near the mouth of the river, would've been back in play after being almost a complete non-factor in 2015.
"It was crystal-clear and it had been for the last 2 months," Gluszek said. "Can it sustain all the muddy water? Is it dense enough to filter it, or will there be pockets of clarity out there? That's an unknown right now.
"The big thing about mud here is there are certain creeks and rivers that hold clarity better – they deflect the mud and it goes past the mouth or they're hidden in some way. But we're getting rain both locally and regionally and it's muddying up all the small creeks and that's going to muddy up the main driving force (the river). We'll have to see how it affects the bay.
"If the rain stops, there'd be decent conditions in some areas," he continued. "For other areas, it could take a week or more. A lot of the smaller creeks crest quickly and when they do, they almost immediately start to clear up."
Coupled with strong winds out of the south, the water influx is partially negating the low-tide periods. Anglers reported that at those times, the level is nearly where it would normally be at high tide. At present high tide, it's climbing into the parking lot of the launch facility.
Gluszek said competitors must exercise extreme caution when in moving from one place to another.
Jared Lintner says the high-water conditions might make the Chesapeake a tougher nut to crack this ween than it was 3 years ago.
"When you have these big floods, it's common to see what look like islands of big trees out in the middle of the bay that have come down with the current. At times it can be so dramatic that you can't run – you have to idle."
A variety of techniques (frogs, spinnerbaits/bladed jigs, cranking, etc.) would've been in play had conditions remained stable. As it is, flipping and junk-fishing could rule out, with most anglers hoping to run into a few random bites each day.
Following are practice notes from a few of the anglers who'll compete this week.
"(Monday) was horrible – I didn't catch anything – then I caught them better (on Tuesday). I've caught a couple nice ones, but it seems to be a little bit random. If you can find concentrations, that's what you're going to need.
"The good thing is that if you do get a random bite it could very well be a good one – there's a lot of big fish in here and in the spring they catch 30-pound bags. You could just kind of stumble across a good one even if you're not on 'the juice' and that's kind of a cool deal. Your very next cast could be a 4- or 5-pounder.
"They're definitely not everywhere, though; I proved that on the first day of practice."
"I've had a few bites here and there, but I haven't found any groups of fish. The good thing here is you don't have to catch 50 fish to have a good bag – you could do it with six or eight. You just have to go somewhere and fish and catch one on this and one on that. If you're lucky, you'll catch five on five different things.
"A lot of the water is already dirty and it's getting dirtier. Places that are clear where there might be groups of fish, I'm not sure it's going to stay that way."
"I thought it was tough last time we were here, but it seems like it's even tougher this time because of the conditions. There's really not much of a tide – it's not going out due to the wind out of the southeast.
"This time of year it can be tough, anyway – they're scattered out and it makes it like finding a needle in a haystack. I've gotten a few bites here and there but I don't feel like I can go back to any one area and catch a limit. I might have to get lucky to get a bite.
"I spent half a day in the northeast arm where a lot of guys made checks last time and it doesn't seem like they're on the docks. I don't know if they're not in there or if they're screwed up by the conditions. If nothing else works, I might just have to go out and put my trolling motor down and try to survive. I don't have anything to hang my hat on."
"Fishing is super-tough right now. A number of areas are off-colored and a few are blown-out muddy and these fish don't like that. We're not going to have much low water and that's going to hurt. If we had some low water, that would open up some more areas.
Mike Iaconelli traditionally fares extremely well when competing in his home region.
"There's definitely a lot of good fish that live here, but getting five of those bites is really the trick right now. I know where they live, but last time I ran around like a chicken with my head cut off. This time I've tried to pick one or two areas and settle down, but I'm not really feeling it in those areas quite yet.
"It's tough when you fish hard for 2 or 3 hours and don't even get a bite. It makes it confusing."
"It hasn't been great for me, but it hasn't been completely horrible. I've gotten a few bites, but the best bites have been when the tide was low and we're not going to have that in the tournament.
"I'm just going to have to get in an area and fish all day and try to grind it out."
Top 10 to Watch
Here, in no particular order, are BassFan's picks for the top 10 to watch in this event.
1. Jacob Powroznik – He has a wealth of experience on Eastern tidal fisheries and is having an excellent season. A single-digit finish could keep his AOY hopes alive.
2. Mike Iaconelli – This is his part of the country and the New Jerseyite almost always shows out when fishing anywhere near home. He's getting closer and closer to locking up his 18th consecutive Classic berth.
3. Aaron Martens – Conditions are different that when he won at the Chesapeake 3 years ago, but he has few peers when it comes to adaptation. Playing the tides is one of his many strengths.
4. Bradley Roy – The AOY leader has two top-6 finishes and a 26th in the last three outings, all on vastly different fisheries. He was 16th at the Chesapeake last time, so he already has a good feeling about the place
5. Justin Lucas – Currently No. 2 in the points, he had a good showing at the Chesapeake last time (23rd) and is always a threat in a tidal event.
6. Dean Rojas – He didn't fare well at the Chesapeake in 2015 (63rd), but it wasn't his kind of setup back then. Conditions now might be more suitable for his frog-slinging program.
7. Fred Roumbanis – He has three finishes of 85th or worse in the last four events and needs a good one this week to keep his Classic hopes alive. Another frog guru, this could be an opportunity for a strong move up the points list.
8. Mark Daniels Jr. – The winner of the previous event at Lake Oahe grew up on the California Delta, where the tides rule the day. The combination of momentum and tidal experience should serve him well.
9. Bill Lowen – The moving-water maven and 2015 Chesapeake runner-up is in the midst of a so-so season with no finishes higher than a pair of 22nds. This event is a prime chance for him to better that mark.
10. Bernie Schulz – The veteran from Florida has had a miserable time of if this year, but his record on the Chesapeake is excellent (6th in 2015, 11th in the 1991 Classic). Another high finish would allow him to salvage something from the season.
Take-offs will occur at Flying Point Park near Edgewood, Md., at 6 a.m. ET daily, and weigh-ins Thursday and Friday will be held at the same location at 3 p.m. For the final 2 days, weigh-ins will be moved to Ripken Stadium in Aberdeen, Md., getting under way at 3:30 p.m.
> Thurs., July 26 – Partly Cloudy - 87°/70°
- Wind: From the W at 6 mph
> Fri., July 27 – A.M. T-Storms - 86°/70°
- Wind: From the SW at 7 mph
> Sat., July 28 – Mostly Sunny - 82°/67°
- Wind: From the NW at 6 mph
> Sun., July 29 – P.M. T-Storms - 83°/70°
- Wind: From the E at 7 mph