I left southern Ohio for the James River the week before the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Open is slated to happen there. From home, the James is an easy day’s drive.
It took me two long days behind the wheel to get there because I made a detour to Phoenix Bass Boats in Winchester, Tennessee. Gary Clouse, president of Phoenix, is loaning me one of his boats for the third year so I can compete in the Northern Opens on the “pro” side.
When I pack my F-150 for what has become an annual trek to the James River, I feel like the intro to the old Beverly Hillbillies sitcom.
The bed of my pickup and my passenger seat is loaded to the gills with rods, tackle, camping gear, food, clothes, a tangled mess of extension cords, gallons of boat oil, a laptop, my cameras, a coffee maker and more.
Come to think of it, that’s about everything I own. I have to keep the windows rolled up so the chickens don’t fly out while I’m speeding down the highway.
I arrived at the Chickahominy Riverfront Park just before dark. I pitched my tent, filled the air mattress, fluffed up the sleeping bag and looked out over Gordon Creek with mixed emotions.
I was elated to have the next 10 days dedicated mainly to fishing. (Hopefully 11 days should I hatch a miracle and make the cut.) I had fished only four days in 2013 prior to that moment, and that was from the back of the boat in two Bassmaster Southern Opens.
The downside was that I had been to the James for Open tournaments the past two years. I had yet to have a good day on this blasted tidal fishery. Not in practice and, certainly, not during the tournament.
On my first morning fishing the James, I worked my way to the back of a small, nondescript creek. When I went as far as I could go, I came across a slender young man standing on the bank.
“Are you fishing the Open?” he said.
I allowed that I was.
“You’re the first tournament fisherman I’ve ever seen in this creek,” he said.
I wasn’t sure how to take that. Did it mean I was smarter and more persistent than other anglers, or simply clueless.
The young man’s name was Zach Bruss. When I told him my name, he knew who I was.
“I just read one of your articles this morning,” he told me.
Well, who was I to leave a fan of mine standing on the bank. We made plans to meet back at the Chickahominy Riverfront Park ramp after he tied up some loose ends.
Since it was well before the official practice period, Bruss could fish with me. Not only is Bruss a bass nut, he works for B.A.S.S. as one of the Toyota Bassmaster Weekend Series crew. He would be leaving the next day to work a tournament at Indian Lake, Ohio. Small world.