CHARLES COUNTY, Md. — After the first day of practice, Manuel Cruz knew exactly where he was going to fish during the TNT Fireworks B.A.S.S. Nation Northeast Regional at Potomac River.
When he reached that spot, it was better than he could have expected. The New Jersey boater caught 17 pounds, 9 ounces to take the lead after Day 1 on the tidal fishery. He anchored his bag with a 4-7 largemouth.
Cruz holds a 5-ounce lead over Nathan Quince from Pennsylvania, who landed 17-4. Delaware’s Brian La Clair is in third place with 16-12.
“We all hope to be leading, but for me I wanted to get a decent bag and upgrade throughout the day to put myself in position,” said Cruz, who is fishing his first Nation Regional. “I was able to get a good bag early to where I didn’t need to run around and look for bigger ones. It was a great day and I’m glad it panned out the way it did. I capitalized on everything that bit. I didn’t miss anything.”
Hailing from Clifton, N.J., Cruz calls Lake Hopatcong home, but has been to the Potomac River several times for different events. While Lake Hopatcong has grass and docks, similar to the Potomac, the tide is the X-factor.
“I know a few areas that tend to hold fish,” he said. “There are community holes that everyone fishes and I was trying to stay away from those. That helped out.”
On Day 1, the tide worked in his favor.
With low tide occurring at 4 a.m. ET, anglers fished an incoming tide for the majority of the morning and when Cruz reached his starting spot, he found a much better quality of bass were biting than what he had caught during his practice.
Within the first hour, Cruz said he had over 16 pounds and upgraded to the 17-pound mark about a half an hour later. After a quick move, he made another key cull and was able to let his best areas rest during the later morning and early afternoon.
“I figured out on the first day of practice this is where I wanted to fish,” he said. “They just got a little bit bigger today. I left most of my fish biting all day so I can go back to them tomorrow hopefully. I ran out of there quickly once I got a decent limit.
“At one point, I had four bass that were the same size and I kept thinking I needed a 5-pounder to cull one of those out.”
Cruz is targeting one specific type of cover in his two primary areas and used two different baits. One of those baits caught the majority of his bass while the other coaxed a couple of his better fish into biting.
A couple of things will work in Cruz’s favor the rest of the way. The tide cycle will move back about an hour each day, leaving a better window for when he feels the big bass will bite. He is also getting bites throughout the day and feels he can weed through smaller bass to get to the quality he needs.
“I feel like it will probably improve for me,” he said.
Delaware’s Rodney Oberdick caught a 5-12 largemouth and leads the Big Bass of the Tournament standings after Day 1.
New Jersey’s Zachary Queeney leads the nonboater standings with a three-bass limit weighing 10-5. Connecticut’s Robert Serer is second with a three-bass limit of 10-0 that was anchored with the Big Bass of the Day on the nonboater side, a 4-12 largemouth.
With two anglers on top of their respective divisions, the New Jersey state team leads the state competition with a total of 187-10. Connecticut is a close second with 187-4 and New York is third with 181-14. Maryland is fourth with 179-7; Pennsylvania is fifth with 166-12; Delaware is sixth with 158-15; Maine is seventh with 152-15; Rhode Island is eighth with 141-9; Massachusetts is ninth with 115-9; New Hampshire is 10th with 108-0; Ontario is 11th with 107-12; and Vermont is 12th with 94-12.
The full field of 116 anglers will launch from Smallwood State Park at 5:30 a.m. ET Thursday and will return for weigh-in at 1:30 p.m. The top 24 boaters and nonboaters after the Day 2 weigh-in, along with the top two anglers from each state who aren’t already inside the cut, will advance to the final day.
The top-finishing boater and co-angler from each state represented in this tournament will earn a spot in the 2023 TNT Fireworks B.A.S.S. Nation Championship on legendary Lake Hartwell Oct. 18-20.
The tournament is being hosted by the Charles County Commissioners.