I feel like I got some payback on the Delaware River, and maybe even a little redemption. Of course, I wanted to win like I do every event, but finishing third at this Bassmaster Elite Series event meant a lot to me because of some past experiences I’ve had on tidal waters.
Prior to last week’s tournament, two of the worst finishes in my pro career were on tidal fisheries, so before the season started I was a little worried when I saw this event on the schedule. But I’m not one to let things like that prevent me from doing my job, so I approached the Delaware River with a positive attitude and an interest in growing as a fisherman.
It was challenging for sure, but I like that kind of event because it’s all about mental toughness. You’re not getting many bites, so you have to remain sharp and take advantage of every opportunity.
At a lot of events, you’re thinking about catching five big ones, but at this one, I was just thinking about catching my next fish. On the Delaware River, just catching a limit is a big deal and I was happy to catch my limit three of the four days.
Doing well in this event definitely helps the confidence. If we go to a tidal fishery in the future, I’ll approach it with a greater sense of understanding. I won’t say that I figured out the Delaware River by any stretch. That’s just not the case. But I was able to figure out enough to put together a consistent pattern.
Rather than run the tide up and down the river, I chose to stay in one general area and work the different tide stages. I found my best action on the middle of the incoming tide when those fish started moving up and putting their noses on the bank. There weren’t a lot of them, but I found enough to keep me there.
Each day, I caught 75-80 percent of my fish on a 1⁄2-ounce chartreuse/white Booyah buzzbait. I used a gold bait in clear water and a black one with black blades in the shade, in cloudy conditions or in muddy water. When the tide got rocking, it would suck some mud off those flats and it turned the water muddy.
The buzzbait was an effective choice because I was covering miles and miles of water. I had a couple hours of tide that I could fish every day and when that tide got right, I’d just fly. I’d put the trolling motor on high and just fish with the tide. I was going 3-4 mph on my GPS.
I was fishing fast and paralleling lily pad edges, mud banks or anything in front of me. If I came across an isolated log, I’d throw a 3/8-ounce Booyah spinnerbait or flip a Yum Christie Critter on a 5/0 Trokar TK135 hook and a 1⁄2-ounce tungsten weight. I’d also use the spinnerbait as a follow-up bait if a bass blew up on the buzzbait, but didn’t get it.
I kept up this routine for four days, but I had a few memorable moments break up the monotony. I tried to steer clear of the tugboats but one day I hit one of their wakes going wide open and things got a little interesting for a few seconds.
On the last day, I watched a deer swim across the creek right in front of me. He was a giant buck and when he ran down from this little island I thought somebody was coming through the woods to get me.
In all seriousness, I actually did have some people walk through the woods to come down and take pictures of me while I was fishing. That really impressed me with how much interest and enthusiasm the fans showed. Yes, this was one of our more challenging venues, but the crowd more than made up for any of the challenges.
Since I had never fished there before, I had no idea what to expect, but this event really opened my eyes to the level of seriousness and loyalty the Philly fans have. Sure, they had their hometown favorite, but if we were fishing Grand Lake (Oklahoma), I’d be the local favorite. What’s important to point out is that the fans embraced all of us anglers and made us feel welcome. The number of people that showed up for the weigh-ins was just incredible and the energy and excitement was the highest I’ve ever experienced other than the Bassmaster Classic. I really enjoyed this event and the way the local fans came out to support us was a big part of that.
I think some folks might say that Mike Iaconelli won because he lives there, but it’s not easy fishing your home waters. Even if you know the place better than anybody else, there’s a lot of pressure on you, so Ike did pretty good.
In the big picture, I think we as a sport also did pretty good. I think we gained a lot of fans through this event. I left Philadelphia and the Delaware River with a good impression and if we return some day, I’m going to look forward to another great experience.