It’s a perfect storm at Chesapeake Bay

HARFORD COUNTY, Md. — The term you kept hearing at Wednesday afternoon’s anglers meeting was “the perfect storm.” If you know anything about Sebastian Junger’s book “The Perfect Storm,” or saw the movie adaptation of the same title, you know that’s not a good thing.

It’s an unlikely combination of both weather and astronomical conditions that have a perfect storm hanging over the Huk Bassmaster Elite at Upper Chesapeake Bay presented by Mossy Oak Fishing. The four-day tournament begins Thursday.

The main problem facing the 107 Elite Series anglers is flooding on the Susquehanna River, which has the 16th largest watershed of any U.S. river and provides half the freshwater inflow of Chesapeake Bay. Heavy rain has fallen all week, and more is on the way. The Susquehanna is rolling high and muddy.

That would be enough to hamper bass fishing. But clear water in various creeks is rare as well. Plus southeast winds have created a “flood tide,” which has kept the flood waters penned in the Bay. And, adding to the miserable fishing conditions, a full moon creating even higher tides occurs Friday.

“It’s like a perfect storm of what a nightmare scenario would be for the Upper Bay,” said Elite Series veteran Mike Iaconelli, who grew up fishing tidal waters on the East Coast. “It’s a triple whammy. I’ve seen things underwater the last two days (of practice) that I’ve never seen underwater in the 20 years I’ve fished here.”

Iaconelli couldn’t help but see a humorous side of the situation, adding, “This is the first and only time in my life that the Delaware River would fish better than Chesapeake Bay.”

You have to laugh a little, or else it’s just a crying situation.

“It’s a shame because this is one of the best tidal fisheries on the East Coast,” Iaconelli said. “Twenty to 25 pounds is very doable each day, even in July. And then this happens.”

Iaconelli predicted the winner would need to average about 13 pounds a day, so around 52 pounds total. John Crews of Salem, Va., another veteran Chesapeake Bay angler, agreed.

“I’d say lows 50s – 52, 53 pounds,” said Crews. “I don’t think it will be 15 pounds a day. There will be some 15-pound stringers, but they might have two pounds the next day.

“It’s the perfect storm for this tournament. The southeast winds have been pretty bad, creating that flood tide. And all the rain has muddied up a lot of the creeks. Now the Susquehanna is completely blown out. That blows out at least half of the Susquehanna Flats area (of Chesapeake Bay), where a lot of the fishing is normally done. It’s disgustingly dirty.”

With so much debris bobbing in the Susquehanna’s floodwaters, safety was a point of emphasis at the anglers meeting. No one could recall a “perfect storm” combination like this in Elite Series history.

“We’ve never experienced a flood of the river feeding a tidal estuary like we’ve had this week,” said Stephen Browning. “I don’t know how often this even happens. The big question is how will the fish react. There’s still plenty of baitfish out there. But will the bass feed, or just stick their heads down in the mud.”

Browning is 74th in Toyota Angler of the Year standings going into this eighth of nine regular season Elite Series events. He needs to make a big move this week in order to qualify for the 2019 Bassmaster Classic.

“I’m kind of digging on this deal,” Browning said. “It gives me an opportunity to possibly make a decent move in the standings, if you get 15 or 20 double zeroes out there. And I could be one of them.

“But it gives me hope. I’m kind of fired up about it, to be honest with you. I’m going to put four rods on the deck and go. If I go down, I’m going down my way.”

There you have it: The most positive spin on this tournament from any Elite Series angler polled. On second thought, Gerald Swindle wasn’t all doom-and-gloom either.

“It’ll be alright,” Swindle said. “There’s gonna be a winner."