Big bites: Rare, random or reliable?

RICHMOND, Va. — The James River may be tidal, but it’s not the California Delta. It may be below the Mason-Dixon Line, but it’s not Guntersville. It may be historic, but it’s not Falcon.

In short, while the competitors fishing Day Two of the Bass Pro Shops Northern Open may have the opportunity to catch quality fish today, it’s all but a steel trap lock that no 10-pounders will be weighed in. Eights are rarer than hen’s teeth here, too, and sixes are worth their weight in gold. Yesterday’s big fish weighed 5-07.

With the standings tightly packed — only 3 pounds separate third from 13th, and another 3 pounds drop you down to 37th — a big bite can be key, and a quality limit will allow anglers mired back in the pack to vault up the leaderboard.

“Some of those guys who caught big bags yesterday are only going to catch 8 or 9 pounds today,” said Ohio pro Charlie Hartley, currently in 28th with 9-12. “Very few will repeat it.”

Hartley caught most of his bass off of wood cover but lost his best bite of the day in a canopy of lily pads. It was the only strike he had in that type of cover, but today he’ll spend more time in the pads trying to make a big leap forward.

While the tides should position the fish predictably, several pros said that the only rhyme or reason to their better bites is that there are no rules. Big fish may be loners who set up away from heavily congested areas, and that makes them hard to target specifically.

“The first fish I caught here in practice was a 5-pounder,” said Peter Thliveros (32nd, 9-03). “It was not where you’d think a 5-pounder would be. I fished a lot more of that and didn’t catch any more.” Rather than relying on the seemingly random big bites, Thliveros said that the anglers who do well over two or three days are those who find numbers of mid-range footballs. “There are different methods of getting to 15 pounds. I think it’s probably better to catch three or four quality bass versus a bunch of dinks and one really big one.”

Connecticut pro Terry Baksay (3rd, 14-14) agreed with Peter T’s assessment. He had two fish in the 4-pound class yesterday, but he said he culled through a number of fish to get to his final weight.

“It’s a luck deal,” Baksay said of the quality bites. “I’m taking a page from (Kevin) VanDam. Why do you think he does so well? It’s because he covers water. If you hit a hundred places you should be able to catch five big ones.” He’s on a very specific pattern, targeting fish gorging themselves on white perch, several of which he found in his livewell yesterday. In a tight battle, those lost ounces could prove fateful.

In order to get the bigger bites, anglers are relying on proven tidal water big fish tools. Finesse presentations haven’t found much favor among the leaders. Florida pro Bernie Schultz (4th, 14-03) is throwing two different buzzbaits early in the day and then flipping a soft plastic creature later. With today’s cloud cover, he hopes that the buzzbait bite will last longer. Unfortunately, his pattern is “only good on high water,” so the falling tide later in the day is his enemy.

Yesterday Schultz had one fish over 4 pounds in his limit, but he admitted that it was the only fish of that caliber he’s caught all week.

Dave Wolak (26th, 9-15) said he too is looking to maximize his chances at eliciting what is otherwise a “random” big bite. “I pitched a little worm around some yesterday and only caught one 13-incher,” he reported. “That gives me the confidence to throw big stuff all day.” He hasn’t caught a fish bigger than 3 3/4 pounds the entire time he’s been here, but one bite like that, joined by four decent cookie-cutter fish, could allow him to jump into the coveted 12-man cut for tomorrow.

Yesterday tournament leader Kelly Pratt said that cloud cover would hurt his primary pattern. As the field blasted off under gray skies this morning, those chasing him had to feel uplifted by that statement. Still, even if Pratt stumbles today, anglers wishing to usurp his spot or even just move into the top 12 will have to catch a kicker or two — whether by blind luck or perfect planning — in order to leapfrog the leaders.