Go with grassers and grinders for Chesapeake
By Pete Robbins
For 20 years, I’ve owned bass boats and lived within two hours of the Upper Chesapeake Bay, but I’ve only fished there three times. There was no reason to make the drive because the Potomac River was much closer to home and generally had better fishing. Most of the people in my area felt the same way, especially because extra mileage on the typically packed I-95 route to the bay was a recipe for road rage.
Now, however, the tables have turned. The Potomac has been in a funk for a year and the Bay, thanks largely to its healthy grassbeds, is producing big weights consistently. Anglers are willing to risk the toll booths, tunnels, bridges and truckers to get a taste of it.
Of course, the Upper Chesapeake is by no means new to B.A.S.S. competition. It hosted the 1991 Bassmaster Classic, won by the now-retired Ken Cook. While that may seem like a lifetime ago (Jordan Lee was only 2 months old at the time), surprisingly quite a few of that Classic’s competitors remain on the Elite Series.
Kevin VanDam, fishing his first Classic, finished 15th, while Zell Rowland (fourth), Mark Davis (sixth), Bernie Schultz (11th), Rick Clunn (20th), Gary Klein (26th) and Tommy Biffle (28th) were also part of the 40-man field.
B.A.S.S. returned for Northern Opens in 2009 and 2010. Dave Mansue, formerly of New Jersey but now living in Texas, won the first one with 47-6 over three days, while Michigan’s Nate Wellman won the second time around with 53-1.
Those 16 to 18 pounds a day are more likely to translate to the winning weight this time around than the 11 pounds a day (33-2) total that won Cook his trophy, although in fairness to the 1991 Classic, that derby was affected by the arrival of a hurricane that forced the cancellation of one day of practice.
While I do believe that the weights should be strong this time around, I don’t know that there’s a single way to get the job done. Most people seem to think that the big bags will come from the grass-laden Susquehanna Flats, and indeed they could, but that area could also be wiped out by the wrong wind or excessive fishing pressure.
There’s tons of water available, including seemingly endless number of both known and unnamed tributaries, any one of which could produce a big bag one day and then replenish — or else dry up. Even smallmouth could come into play in the nearby Susquehanna River, although I don’t believe that brown fish alone could come anywhere close to producing the winning catch.
While this is a tidal fishery, and the tide will matter, it shouldn’t affect everyone quite as much as it did on the Delaware last year.
For your Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing team, pick pros who can flip grass, but mix in a sprinkling of river rats, dudes with the keels of their boats scraped up from getting into out-of-the-way guts they’ll have to themselves.
With that in mind, here are my picks:
My Pick: Powroznik
Jacob Powroznik is incredibly consistent, and while the Upper Bay is not really close to home, it’s of the same ilk as the tidal fisheries he grew up on. I have to believe that this event is going to fish more like the Cal Delta, where Powroznik finished 16th, than the Sabine, where he finished a season’s-worst 64th, the only tournament where he did not cash a check. He’s had one miscue this season, and with that one in the rearview mirror, it won’t be long until he contends for another win.
Wanted to Pick: Rojas
It would be great to see a Rojas vs. Martens or Rojas/Martens/Lucas AOY battle, and if Dean Rojas can get them to eat Kermit, it might make for one of the best TV shows of the The Bassmasters ever, but I have a feeling it’ll be tough to make that last for four days, especially when the big boats start rocking and rolling on the weekend.
Solid Backup: Hackney
It’s shallow and it’s grassy. Greg Hackney should be able to pick apart an area with his flipping stick. After a stumble at Kentucky Lake, he’s back on track via a Sunday appearance at the St. Lawrence.
My Pick: Iaconelli
I hate picking the local favorite (read: high percentage picks) more than Mark Menendez dislikes indefensibly combative dock owners, but in this case I need to pick Mike Iaconelli. He has loads of mid-Atlantic tidal water experience, including tons of days over the years on this particular waterway, and he’s fishing well right now, with consecutive Top 10s. Lots of pros fold like a taco under that kind of pressure, but Ike came through on the Delaware and no one will be surprised if he does it again.
Wanted to Pick: Monroe
He frogs, he flips, he catches big’uns, but Ish Monroe is still a mystery for Fantasy Fishing purposes, and he finished 97th here in 2010. I’d love to see him do well for the same frog-based reasons I’d like Rojas to do well, but ever since a top finish on the Cal Delta, he’s been struggling. In terms of momentum, right now he’s the anti-Ike.
Solid Backup: C. Lane
The Florida boys are going to have a field day on the Upper Bay, and while Chris Lane’s had a tough go of it recently, he’s back in his element — shallow water fishing in the heat of the summer. I expect at least two Floridians to make the cut to Sunday, and if you don’t want to splurge on Ike, Lane might be a good choice.
My Pick: Biffle
Tommy Biffle struggled in the 1991 Classic here, but he’s not the same fisherman he was more than two decades ago. Yes, he’ll have a bunch of flipping sticks ready to go, but I wouldn’t be surprised for him to figure out a way to bounce his bug across the bottom for big bass. The waterway is huge, but you can bet that multiple pros will find the same key stretches, and no one’s better at staking a claim to his water than the pride of Wagoner.
Wanted to Pick: J. VanDam
Jonathon VanDam had a great first day in the 2009 Northern Open here before eventually ending up 13th, so he might be a decent sleeper pick, but his finishes are all over the map this year. Tough to predict how someone will do if he’s finished ninth, 31st, 41st, 51st, 72nd and 102nd. Maybe he’ll finally thaw out and get hot late in the season, but I’m not ready to take that risk.
Solid Backup: Coulter
Despite a Tennessee mailing address, Brandon Coulter was raised in the area, where his dad served as a boat company rep for many years, and he fished the Bay quite a bit when it was a lesser fishery. His rookie season probably hasn’t been what he hoped for, but he’s earned a check in half of the events, so he’s clearly not out of his league anywhere.
My Pick: B. Hite
It’s not the prespawn period when Brett Hite tends to do his most damage with a Chatterbait, but it’s still grass, and it’s tidal like the Cal Delta. Even though he had a tough event on the Delta this year — one of several — the rumor mill says that some of the troubles he encountered earlier this season were from things outside of his control. I have no confirmation that’s true, but he’s too good to stay down much longer.
Wanted to Pick: Tharp or Faircloth
I continue to be absolutely shocked that Randall Tharp and Todd Faircloth haven’t turned their seasons around, but after sticking with Faircloth too long, I can’t get burned anymore. It’s tough not to consider them bargains in this bucket on a grass fishery, but I’m not willing to buy low any more in the hopes of a surge. I’m sure at some point that’ll hurt me. It would hurt me even more if I picked the wrong one.
Solid Backup: Roumbanis
Fred Roumbanis is another pro who’s likely to ride the frog as long as he can. That makes me nervous. So does his rough start to the season, with four miserable finishes, but he seems to be back on track with a fifth and a 16th in the last two events. Lots of tidal experience means he won’t be spun out by the moving water.
My Pick: Short
Last year I didn’t pick Kevin Short at the Delaware and he gave me the stink eye for four days as he stormed his way into Classic contention at the end of the season. For the same reasons he did well there, he should do well here: He’ll find some little gut, saw his way in, and then bounce a jig and a square bill off every bit of available cover while plucking out bass that should be visible, given the fact that it’s only 6 inches deep.
Wanted to Pick: Dove
While Kurt Dove calls Texas home now, he’s a native of the mid-Atlantic, and he’ll certainly have lots of fans in the house. No, he can’t run to his original home waters of the Potomac, but as I explained above, he wouldn’t want to. The tides won’t faze him, the big water won’t mess with his head, and for an angler who needs a break, this would be a good time and place to get one.
Solid Backup: Tucker
He’s quiet and therefore not well-known, but J. Todd Tucker finished 12th here in 2009 and 19th in 2010. Clearly, he understands something about this place, and at least that gives him a starting point.
Evers again, plus Ledoux
By Tyler Wade
Except this time, he has some company. Kevin Ledoux tied with Evers for having the biggest points difference in his bucket.
Here is the perfect team:
Bucket A: Edwin Evers, 315
B: Alton Jones, 295
C: Mark Davis, 276
D: Brandon Card, 285
E: Kevin Ledoux, 268
No Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing player had a score anywhere close to that.
Bucket A: Evers
If you didn’t choose Edwin Evers for the St. Lawrence tournament, you just haven’t been paying attention.
He was the best pick at Havasu, and then he was the best pick again at BASSfest.
And then, he told you to pick him for the St. Lawrence in this column.
But 89.4 percent of players didn’t listen, and those players ended at least 35 points behind in Bucket A.
Evers was the third-most popular pick in the bucket, but by quite a margin. Aaron Martens was the favorite, chosen by 27.2 percent of players. Martens performed well, earning 251 points, but that’s still a far cry from the 315 posted by Evers.
The next-most-popular was Kevin VanDam with 23.6 percent. He ended more than 100 points behind Evers with 193.
The closest you could have gotten to Evers was by picking any of the other three Bucket A anglers who made the final-day cut: Skeet Reese, 280; Jacob Powroznik, 272; or Keith Combs, 264.
Owners of Shaw Grigsby got excited on Day 1 when he took the lead, but he suffered a big defeat on Day 2 when he didn’t even make the cut. However, his 0.5 percent of owners were blessed with his bonus points — 5 points for leading on Day 1 and 40 for catching the biggest bag of the tournament. He ended with 168 points.
Gerald Swindle was the worst pick of the bucket with 87 points. He was owned by 0.8 percent.
Bucket B: Jones
Alton Jones, who finished runner-up in the tournament, earned 295 points for his scant fans. He was owned by only 0.6 percent of players.
Greg Hackney was the next-best pick with 290 for his 8 percent of owners.
The heavy favorite in B was Mike Iaconelli with 37.4 percent. He didn’t disappoint, earning 260 points.
The second favorite was Jonathon VanDam at 26.4 percent, but he delivered only 113 points for his players.
The worst pick of the bucket was Davy Hite, owned by 0.3 percent with 65 points.
Bucket C: Davis
Mark Davis, who dominated in last year’s Fantasy Fishing at the beginning of the season, topped Bucket C with 276 points. He was owned by 5.3 percent of players.
His comrade in the Top 12 was Josh Bertrand, owned by 4.6 percent of players, who earned 257 points for fans.
The heavy favorite in C was Brandon Palaniuk, owned by 45 percent of players. He delivered 237 points.
The next-highest-owned angler was Brett Hite at 17.5 percent. He left his owners hanging with only 91 points.
The worst pick was Kotaro Kiriyama, who earned only 63 points for his 1.5 percent of players.
Bucket D: Card
Brandon Card was the strongest pick in Bucket D, but he was owned by only 1.6 percent of players. For those who had the faith, he earned 285 points.
The next-best pick was Seth Feider with 254 points for his 6.2 percent of believers.
Mark Menendez had only a small group of owners — only 0.7 percent — but his big bass on Day 2 earned them an extra 40 points, giving them 243 overall.
The favorite in the bucket turned out to be a letdown. Todd Faircloth, owned by 25.1 percent of players, ended with only 115 points.
Casey Ashley was the next-highest pick with 18.7 percent. He earned 217 points. Takahiro Omori was the third-most-popular pick with 12.9 percent, and he ended with 221 points.
The worst pick of the bucket was Fletcher Shryock with 77 points for his 5.7 percent of players.
Bucket E: Ledoux
Kevin Ledoux was by far the strongest pick of Bucket E with 268 points, but at only 0.1 percent of owners, almost no one reaped that benefit.
Ledoux’s supporters earned 35 points more than anyone in the bucket. The angler right behind him was the favorite of the bucket, Paul Mueller. He was owned by 31.9 percent of players, and he earned them 233 points.
The next-highest percentage pick was Chad Pipkens with 20.5 percent. He earned 211 points for his owners.
The worst pick of the bucket was Scott Ashmore with 61 points for his 0.5 percent of players.
The buckets for Chesapeake are open, so go set your team!