I was raised in Maryland, and while I’ve spent infinitely more time on the Potomac River than the Upper Chesapeake Bay, I know one thing about fishing the tidal waters of the Mid-Atlantic – it’s a timing game. Even on fisheries where the tidal influence is not quite as critical, it’s possible to get on a good beat and feel like a world-beater, and then repeat the process the next day and consistently miss your cues.
The good news about the Upper Bay is that there’s an endless supply of grass, tributaries and tidal guts to get away from it all.
The bad news about the Upper Bay is that there’s an endless supply of grass, tributaries and tidal guts that can eat up a lot of time.
If the famous Susquehanna Flats come into play you’ll want to pick froggers and grass flippers, but if they don’t – as happened when Aaron Martens won here in 2015 – the field could get spread out and junk fishing could be the ticket. Wind, tides and fishing pressure can alter a game plan or deplete a honey hole quickly, so it’s going to be critical to get on a good rotation right away and stick with it – until something tells you to change it up.
The Elites have limited history here. Only seven of them – Mark Davis (currently out on injured reserve), Bernie Schultz, Kevin VanDam, Rick Clunn, Shaw Grigsby, Gary Klein and Tommy Biffle – fished the 1991 Bassmaster Classic out of Baltimore.
There may be a slight local advantage to a few anglers from the region, but at this point just about all of them understand how to make the most of the tidal flow. Nevertheless, I’m picking mostly moving water experts, and giving bonus points if they’re experiencing momentum or fighting for a Classic spot or requalification.
Here are my picks:
BUCKET A: LUCAS
Not surprisingly, this bucket is jam packed with anglers having stellar seasons in the midst of stellar careers, including KVD and Skeet, both of whom have won on the Potomac, and Aaron Martens, who won here three years ago. Nevertheless, I’m going with current Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year runner-up Justin Lucas, who is only 10 points out of the lead and has two blue trophies from tidal waters. After an off year in 2017, this could be a statement event.
If you’re more of a right-coast thinker than a fan of the westerners, think seriously about Jacob Powroznik, who was 21st here last time, and is currently eighth in the AOY race. He’s another tidewater expert, with substantial experience on the Potomac and James, among others.
BUCKET B: DANIELS
This is Ike’s old stomping grounds, and no one could blame you for picking him, but his dismal finish in 2015 shows just how easy it is for even the best anglers in the world to get sidetracked in familiar territory. Look for Delta Rat Mark Daniels Jr., fresh off a win 1,500 miles to the northwest in South Dakota, to keep the dream season going here.
If you think MDJ will suffer from post-win letdown, you could pick Ike, but I’d look to Greg Hackney, who finished eighth here the last time around, and despite a solid season is far from assured of a Classic spot at this point. Westerners Brett Hite and Brent Ehrler should also get serious consideration.
BUCKET C: AVENA
After qualifying for three Forrest Wood Cups in four years, Adrian Avena missed the Classic cut in his first Elite Season. Now he’s on the outside looking in, and he did himself a solid by finishing 15th at Oahe. Like Ike, he’s semi-local. I rode with him on the Upper Bay for a magazine story several years before he qualified for the Elites, and on a day when brutal winds prevented him from moving around much, he had a game plan that produced 18 pounds. He took one small section of the massive system and picked it apart like a surgeon and that’s why he’s my pick.
Bill Lowen finished second here in 2015, and after making seven Classics in a row, he’s in danger of missing two straight for the first time in his career. He loves to go shallow, and with his aluminum boat he can get into places he could not access three years ago. A low, low tide will be his friend in a way that it might not be for others.
BUCKET D: CARD
There are plenty of world-class anglers in this group who suffered through terrible performances here in 2015, and a couple of non-tidal experts who did quite well. One of the latter group is Brandon Card, who finished 18th. He’s done worse on some other tidal fisheries like the Potomac and the Delaware, but those were much earlier in his career, and it takes a Tennessee angler a bit of time to figure out the rising and falling water. He’s likely not going to make the Classic, but points and a check will still benefit his career.
Dave Lefebre is a northeastern killer with a track record a mile long on tidal fisheries during his years on tour, but he’s having one of the worst seasons of his career. If you think a crab cake diet will get him back on track, he could be a solid pick, but if you think that momentum will carry the day, a better alternate might be Mark Menendez, who finished ninth here in 2015.
BUCKET E: MORRIS
While Rick Morris currently calls Lake Gaston home, there may be no more senior tidal expert on tour than the 56 year-old Virginia pro. He’s amassed lots of high finishes throughout the Mid-Atlantic over the decades – including the Open win on the James that put him in this year’s Classic – but finds himself mired in triple digits. This is an opportunity to get some form of redemption for an Elite return that hasn’t met his expectations.
This bucket has several other anglers who did well on the Chesapeake the last go-round, including Bernie Schultz (sixth, as well as 11th in the 1991 Classic) and Morizo Shimizu (14th), but if you’re not enamored of Morris, look to Russ Lane (seventh last time) as a backup pick.