James River in good condition for Northern Open

james_river.jpg

B.A.S.S.

Richmond, Va., will host the Basspro.com Bassmaster Northern Open at James River May 13-15, 2021.

RICHMOND, Va. — Bassmaster Elite pro Bryan Schmitt has fished the James River for over two decades and said he’s impressed with the scenario awaiting anglers at the Basspro.com Bassmaster Northern Open. 

Competition days will be May 13-15 with daily takeoffs from Osborne Park & Boat Landing at 6 a.m. ET. Weigh-ins for Days 1 and 2 will take place at the Landing at 2 p.m., while the Day 3 weigh-in is set to be held at the Bass Pro Shops in Ashland, Va., at 3 p.m.

Schmitt, who makes his home in Deale, Md., said recent mild weather trends have promoted favorable conditions on this tidal fishery. The bass and the areas where they live, he said, are both in great shape.

“The (river) system is definitely on an uptick as far as quality of habitat, water quality and the overall fish population,” Schmitt said. “You get a couple of springs that don’t get really nasty muddy and that allows (the bass) to have a really good spawn and allows the habitat to grow a little earlier.”

Shallow pads — mostly spatterdock — along with river grass comprise the common habitat features that have benefited from mild weather and good water clarity. Both of these, along with shallow wood, cypress trees, docks and old piers will offer abundant targets for what will likely be a diverse tournament.

“There will definitely be some fish spawning, some will have done it; it’s going to be a spawn-related event,” Schmitt said. “The fish could be anywhere, but I would say the upper region of the river will have a little better chance of having fish still spawning. It’s more of a deeper river, and those upper (fish) seem to go later.”

By contrast, anglers running downriver to the popular Chickahominy Creek (aka “Chick”) will likely be targeting postspawn fish. In any region of the James River, daily ebb and flow will position forage and bass, but Schmitt said the tidal influence is most profound with bedding bass.

“If I’m targeting spawning fish on the James River, I want higher water,” he said. “It seems like the fish need a little more water to feel comfortable. Then, if I’m fishing postspawn, I always want that low tide because it concentrates them in the deeper holes.”

Despite the relatively good water clarity, Schmitt said it is usually hard to sight fish James spawners because of the darker, tannic water color. That being said, looking for beds during low tide and then fishing the more relaxed bass during higher stages tends to deliver the best opportunities. 

“If you have an area with fish on beds and the tide comes in, they’re more apt to bite,” Schmitt said. “It’s hard to beat a wacky-rigged or Neko-rigged Missile Baits 48 fished really slow. It’s painful, but that’s how you have to do it.” 

Other likely baits for this event include swim jigs, popping topwaters, frogs, buzzbaits and shallow-running crankbaits. Schmitt said shaky heads and drop shots could also deliver, especially when probing deeper man-made structures.

“This has been my formula for the James River: You have to find a way to get a limit — no matter what size it is — and then you have to have a big-fish spot,” Schmitt said. “You have to be able to get one of those big bites a day.” 

As Schmitt notes, the James River system holds a good population of Florida-strain largemouth bass. Genetically wired for massive growth potential, these big fish will impact the tournament’s overall results.

“If there’s not a big storm system and the water color stays good, I would say that 15 to 16 pounds a day will make the Top 10,” Schmitt said. “It would not surprise me if the winner had right around 60. There are some absolute giants in there now — 7, 8, 9-pounders — and if you can trick one or two of those a day, all of a sudden, it’s a really good day.

“I would say a 23- to 24-pound bag would be very good, just because the fish are going to be doing so many different things — pre-, post- and spawning. Also, just the sheer number of boats will dilute the opportunities.”

The full field will compete the first two days before the boater side is cut to the Top 10 anglers for Championship Saturday. The co-angler champion will be crowned after the Day 2 weigh-in. Coverage of the event will be available at Bassmaster.com.

Visit Richmond and Henrico County, Va., are hosting the event.