Anglers support postponement decision

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Andy Crawford

“To every thing there is a season,
and a time to every purpose under heaven.”
— Ecclesiastes 3:1

HARFORD COUNTY, Md. — Since its birth in 2006, a Bassmaster Elite Series tournament had never been completely postponed. Not after the anglers had completed three days of practice at the site. But there’s a season for everything. The reason for this decision was safety. Most of the 107 anglers agreed with this first-ever scrub of an Elite Series event after the postponement Thursday of the Huk Bassmaster Elite at Upper Chesapeake Bay presented by Mossy Oak Fishing.

“I know where I could have gone and caught at least three or four 12- or 13-inch bass,” said Jacob Powroznik, who has years of experience on Chesapeake Bay. If anyone could have benefited from adverse fishing conditions here, Powroznik was a likely candidate.

“But it’s not about me, and it’s not about the fishing,” he said. “It’s about the safety of the anglers and the Marshals. I think B.A.S.S. made the best decision.”

Powroznik noted the unique situation at Chesapeake Bay. The amount of debris coming down the Susquehanna River has made any kind of boat run an obstacle course. And it’s a crapshoot of an obstacle course because much of the debris is either barely visible above the water surface or invisible just under the surface. 

“This is a different animal,” Powroznik said. “If it was subsiding, I’d say, okay, let’s go. But this thing is nothing but getting worse.”

Conowingo Dam on the Susquehanna River is located about 10 miles above the river’s mouth in Chesapeake Bay. The Susquehanna River provides half of the freshwater inflow into this tidal estuary. Wednesday night there were 15 of the 53 floodgates open, creating a flow of 270,000 cubic feet per second. The predictions were for another 15 floodgates to be opened generating over 390,000 cfs today.

Before the tournament was postponed Stephen Browning offered a dire forecast of what was likely to occur.

“I think we’re going to tear up a lot of stuff,” said the 52-year-old, 10-time Bassmaster Classic qualifier from Hot Springs, Ark. “When you put 107 of the best bass fishermen competing against each other, and there’s egos involved and stuff like that, some guy is going to do something stupid. And conditions are setting up pretty good out there for it not to work out very well for somebody.” 

The postponement may not have worked out well for everybody, but it prevented the potential disaster that Browning foresaw.

It’s not an easy call to push back one of these events, where so much time and money has been spent by everyone associated with it, from the host community of Harford County and B.A.S.S. to the anglers themselves, who had already invested three days of practice on Chesapeake Bay. The anglers’ natural inclination is to compete, no matter what the conditions. It’s the same playing field for all 107, no matter how unforgiving it becomes. But this one was quickly spiraling out of control.

“Under normal conditions, I like this fishery,” said Bradley Roy, who is leading the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year race after seven of the nine regular season events. “But what it was turning into, no, I didn’t like it.

“I try not to let my mind get wrapped up into whether we should fish or not. So I was ready to go. But I feel somewhat relieved we don’t have to fight through these conditions.”

Roy, 27, is from Lancaster, Ken. His family and fiancé came to Chesapeake Bay to be spectators this week. He’s getting married in October. They were trying to make a plan Thursday morning for the unexpected time everyone had together. 

In terms of the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year race, this tournament feels more important just because it’s near the end of the season. Roy assumed the AOY lead at the last event – on South Dakota’s Lake Oahe.

“They all count the same,” Roy said. “But it’s just like a basketball game, where what happens in the fourth quarter seems more important than what happened in the first quarter.”

Roy is battling three other anglers at the top of the AOY standings. He has 617 points, followed by Justin Lucas with 607, Brent Chapman with 602 and Josh Bertrand with 597. There’s a wider gap between first and fifth, where Ott DeFoe has 554 points. 

Among those leaders, Lucas was particularly looking forward to Chesapeake Bay. He grew up fishing the tidal waters of the California Delta. His short Elite Series career already includes two victories, and both were on tidal waters – the Sacramento River/California Delta in 2015 and the Potomac River in 2016.

“I didn’t want to fish in these conditions,” said Lucas, 30, who now lives in Guntersville, Ala. “The tide had become irrelevant. In terms of just catching fish, I think it would have been the worst tournament we’ve ever had – weight-wise. It was already tough – maybe a two or three on a scale of 10. But with the flooding, I’ve never seen anything like it. It would not have been safe.” 

There have been several occasions in Elite Series history where a single day of competition has been postponed. Usually those calls are made due to high winds creating unsafe conditions. The tournament is simply pushed back a day. At the Toyota AOY Championship in Sept. 2014, two days in a row were postponed due to high winds at Bay de Noc on Lake Michigan. 

Flood conditions in June 2010 forced an Elite Series tournament scheduled for the Arkansas River at Muskogee, Okla., to be moved at the last minute to nearby Fort Gibson Lake, where the anglers got only one day of practice on the tournament waters.

Earlier this year, the Sabine River tournament scheduled for April 6-9 had to be postponed due to high water. That call was made before everyone had arrived in Orange, Texas. Its original date was jimmied into a week in June. That rescheduling was painful enough. You don’t realize how tight the B.A.S.S. slate is during tournament season until you try to reschedule one. 

So this postponement occurring so late in the season is especially problematic. Let that be a further testament to the overriding concern of B.A.S.S. officials. Safety ruled the day.