RICHMOND, Va. – Chris Dillow couldn’t match the 20-pound bag that Boyd Duckett brought to the scales on the first day of this year’s Bass Pro Shops Northern Open, but he never faltered, and caught 19 pounds 2 ounces of James River bass Day 3 to bring his three-day total to 50-12. That enabled him to defeat his closest challenger by a margin of over 9 pounds. The victory earned him more than $8,500 and a Nitro Z9 bass boat and tandem Nitro trailer rigged with a Mercury 225 Pro XS, Minn Kota Maxxum trolling motor, and Lowrance HDS-7C electronics.
While the majority of the field made long runs and burned dozens of gallons of gas each day, Dillow stayed close, never venturing past the mouth of the Appomattox River tributary, thereby maximizing his fishing time and generally avoiding the crowds. Similarly, while others rued the increasingly undesirable and unpredictable tidal flows, Dillow was glad that the water was higher than normal for longer than normal.
“I like high tide,” he said. “I like that security over my fish. When it gets too low, they tend to get spooky.”
The realtor from nearby Waynesboro, Va., relied on a jig of his own making – the Dillow’s Perfect Jig – as well as a Strike King DB Structure jig to pluck his fish from a variety of hard cover, including rocks, wood and several sets of old pilings.
“It’s a milk run that I fish all the time,” he added. Included in that series of stops were “one or two community holes” that enabled him to fill out a limit and then push forward in search of kickers.
He fished the jigs on a 7’11 G.Loomis GLX flipping stick paired with an 8:1 Lew’s Speed Spool baitcasting reel spooled with 20 lb. test Seaguar Invis-X fluorocarbon.
Duckett’s unheard-of 20-04 limit on Day 1 had Dillow in 2nd place, but even a subpar-for-him 12-13 on Day 2 allowed Dillow to claim a lead that he wouldn’t relinquish. Duckett was not able to amass a double digit catch either the second or third day. After falling to 2nd on Day 2, he ended the tournament in 12th place. Like many others, he was a victim of a tide that didn’t go out according to the tide charts on Day 2, and then a decreased amount of “good low tide” on the short final day of competition.
As Duckett and others like Dave Lefebre struggled to match their heavy first day catches, Ohio pro Michael Simonton remained exceptionally consistent over the course of the three days. The former Elite Series angler turned in catches of 14-14, 13-10 and 12-11 to finish 2nd with 41-03. He relied primarily on a black SPRO frog, but only had a limited period of time to produce his fish.
“The first hour when we started fishing was game time,” he said. “It was fast and furious and awesome. Today I stayed in my primary area and never left. I’m not sure why it was so good. There was a boat ramp nearby and I was skipping the frog to laydowns and under overhanging trees.”
Adrian Avena of Vineland, N.J., finished 3rd with 36-03. Like Simonton, he was consistent, producing limits that weighted 12-10, 12-09 and 11-0, but was unable to consistently catch the larger fish that Dillow corralled. He credited his New Jersey upbringing with teaching him how the fish relate to tidal movement, but noted that he couldn’t capitalize on unfavorable tides.
“The tide was coming in most of the day,” he said. “That didn’t matter on my starting place, but after that it was pretty much a grind.” He used a “power dropshot,” a finesse worm and a ½ ounce Zorro buzzbait to put together his limits.
In past Northern Opens on the James River, most of the leaders amassed their catches in the Chickahominy River, a 45 minute run from the Osborne Landing launch site. This week the “Chick” once again saw plenty of boat traffic, but it didn’t produce the best catches. As noted above, Dillow stayed relatively close to the launch site. Simonton was adamant that he “was not in the Chick.” Avena did spend a little bit of time in Gordon’s Creek, a tributary at the lower end of the Chickahominy, but said that he did most of his damage in a series of “middle creeks” off the James.
Nick Anguilo of Hainesport, N.J., won the co-angler division with three three-fish limits that totaled 21-03 while Greg Mauldin of Archdale, N.C., was second with 20-15. A fish care penalty on Day Three cost Mauldin the win – the four ounces that he lost would’ve tied Anguilo and Mauldin would’ve won the tiebreaker. Instead, Anguilo claimed the crown and won a Triton 179 TrX paired with a Mercury 115 Pro XS.
Dillow’s second-day leadership earned him the $250 Livingston Lures Leader Award. Louis Britos captured the same title among co-anglers, pocketing a $250 Livingston Lure Pack.
Chris Flint of Potsdam, N.Y. won the Allstate Good Hands, Great Day ($250) for moving from 136th place to 52nd after Day 2. Among co-anglers, Matt Madlener of Illinois moved from 125th to 10th to garner $150 from Allstate.
Adrian Avena of Vineland, N.J. won the A.R.E. Top Angler prize of $500.
Texas pro Trait Crist landed the Bass Pro Shops Big Bass of the tournament, an 8-0 largemouth that ate her finesse worm on Day 2, earning her $750. Britos won the same award on the co-angler side by virtue of a 7-02 bass that he caught on Day 1, and earned an additional $250.