CHARLES COUNTY, Md. – If Day 3 of the Bassmaster Elite at Potomac River Presented by Econo Lodge feels like déjà vu all over again for Bill Lowen, that’s because history seems to be repeating itself.
He’s in Maryland.
It’s stifling hot.
And he currently sits in second place behind a seemingly uncatchable tournament leader. Last year at this time he ended up behind only lead dog Aaron Martens at the Upper Chesapeake Bay. This time it’s another Californian-turned-Alabamian, Justin Lucas, and he’s a couple of hours down the road on one of the Chesapeake’s largest tributaries, the Potomac.
If these standings hold true tomorrow, it will mark Lowen’s fourth runner-up finish in nearly 11 full seasons of Elite Series competition – with prior bridesmaid’s efforts at Old Hickory in 2008 and Clear Lake in 2010, in addition to last year’s near miss in crab country. This one may be the most surprising, though, because despite being a shallow water guru, he claimed to have had one of the worst practices of his career. He had 11 bites total in three days, including none one day.
Part of the reason that he’s been able to turn that tough prefish into something exceptional during competition is because of the way he approaches his scouting. “I like to cover lots of water and fish really fast,” he said. “I figure that if I can get a couple of bites that way then if I slow down during the tournament I can get a lot more.”
Failure to follow that strategy might’ve cost him the win at last year’s event in Maryland. He only had two bites in practice in Swan Creek, where he ended up doing most of his damage during the tournament, but they were a 5 pounder and a 4 pounder. On the first day of the tournament he never went there, choosing instead to scrap around the launch area for 12 pounds. On the second day, the first three trees he hit in Swan each produced a 3 pounder en route to a nearly 16 pound limit. He caught the same there the third day and then whacked 18-05 on the last day, but still fell almost 8 pounds short of AMart. A different start on Day One, and a break or two throughout the rest of the event, and he might’ve claimed his first win.
This year he resolved to make the most of his best practice area and it paid off. He’s primarily fishing the back of a tiny creek where he had five 2-pound bites in practice, but when he returned they’d grown. He’s caught plenty of 3- and 4-pound fish there over the first three days to amass a total of 47-06, an average of nearly 16 pounds a day, yet it still doesn’t seem to be enough to catch the mercurial Justin Lucas, who has mined a discrete area for almost 6 pounds more. Lucas may have cracked the door a bit by weighing only 12-15 today, approximately 7 pounds less than he’d caught either of the prior two days.
Has Lowen allowed himself to think about whether Lucas will catch less tomorrow and open the door even further for a chance at his first big win?
“I don’t worry about it,” he said. “I just keep fishing. I don’t know what I could change. I feel like I fish big fish places, but I can honestly look back at every second place finish and something went wrong.” This tournament, however, has “been one of those perfect weeks. Every call I make seems to work and I’ve taken a lot of chances.” One of those risks was a 25 mile mid-day run through choppy water that produced a 3 ½ pounder on the first flip and allowed him to cull.
As the unrelenting heat beats the field, Lowen believes that part of the reason that his main area is so good – besides the right bottom composition, the presence of vegetation and an abundance of baitfish – is that the water is 5 degrees cooler than any other place he’s fished. It’s so narrow in there that he can sit in the middle and pitch to either bank, yet somehow it seems to be replenishing. Even more surprising to Lowen, it’s nothing like the area that produced so well on the Upper Chesapeake.
“I’ve only been here for a couple of Elite Series tournaments,” he said. “The first time I tried the grass thing and I finished like 80th. The second time I made the top 12, but it was all on one bridge.” This time, he tried to look for something that emulated the Upper Bay’s Swan Creek as much as possible. “I found a lot of that type of stuff, but I didn’t get bit out of it.” Once again he’s reinvented himself, and this time he hopes that slow and steady wins the race.