2013 Bass Pro Shops Northern Open #1 James River - Richmond, VA, Jun 13 - 15, 2013

Getting the jump on the James

Bruss knows the Chickahominy River well. That afternoon he showed me places I would never have fished on my own. We only caught a few small keepers and some shorts, but he constantly rattled off tips about how to deal with this maddening tidal fishery. If his advice helps me get the James River monkey off my back, I owe Bruss big time.

That night raindrops pelted my tent nonstop. It continued raining the next day. Scratch that, the next day was a constant deluge, thanks to tropical storm Andrea.

It was one of those days that, no matter how good your rain gear, you were going to be drenched to the bone. I was drenched to the bone all day. I’m still waterlogged as I write this, three days later.

I enjoy camping, unless it’s raining. That’s when everything, and I mean everything, is wet or damp and you can’t dry out. Adrea dumped 9 inches of the wet stuff in a 24-hour period. There were flash flood warnings. I worried that my tent would be washed over the bank into the river, with me in it.

Better weather followed, and I was able to shuck my rain gear cocoon and cast in comfort. And, man, did I ever need it. I came early to the James more to get in tune with my tackle than to get a jump on finding bass.

The James River is a shallow-water fishery. That puts a premium on pinpoint target casting. I’ve been on the water five days. My casting is coming around.

You know you’re in the groove when you see a challenging target and the lure drops in the pocket almost by itself. If you have to think about making the cast, you’re going to miss. It has to be automatic.

Even on a good day, my casting doesn’t compare to that of Elite Series pros like Ott DeFoe and Andy Montgomery. But I do feel more confident about putting a lure where it needs to be this time around than on my previous James River mishaps.

The ramp at the Chickahominy Riverfront Park gets heavy use from bass fishermen, including those who are practicing for the James River Open. One of those anglers, a young man named John, came to my campsite and introduced himself.

“You’re Mark Hicks aren’t you, the writer?” he said.

I was indeed.

“I’m a big fan of your blog. I just wanted to meet you.”

Very nice, and humbling.

That happens frequently since I began writing the blog for the Opens page of the Bassmaster web site. It’s that little picture that accompanies my blog. Now people actually recognize me.

It happened again yesterday, when a young Maryland fisherman named Matt Elliott moved into the camping spot next to mine. He’s also one of my fans. I’m beginning to get a big head.

Elliott is fishing the Open. He’s upbeat, on a low budget and happy to be fishing. We have a lot in common.

A good-sized local tournament happened at the Chickahominy Riverfront Park yesterday. The two biggest sacks weighed 16 pounds. The rest of the field didn’t fare nearly as well. Looks like it’s shaping up to be another challenging James River Open.

Yesterday evening I chatted with local James River ace Kelly Pratt. He won this event and qualified for the Classic two years ago. Last year he finished fourth here.

Pratt lives 10 minutes from Chickahominy Riverfront Park and knows these waters better than anyone. He’s laid back and friendly. I enjoyed hanging with him, but I didn’t care for his predictions regarding the river conditions.

Right now, the river and the creeks are stained from all the rain, but nothing outrageous. I believe conditions will improve before the tournament begins. Pratt tells me the muddy water upriver will wash down by the time the tournament begins and hinder the fishing.

Debris that has washed into the river, thanks to Andrea, could also make running the main river treacherous. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that no one needs to call BoatUS for a tow.

Pratt believes 12 to 13 pounds a day will be good enough to make the top 12 cut. I suspect he’s right. If I can do that, I’ll give that James River monkey a swift kick in the pants.