CHARLES COUNTY, Md. — There has been a lot of talk the past few years about the declining quality of bass fishing on the Potomac River.
But on Thursday, the best bass fishermen in the world proved there is still plenty of hope for the famed fishery.
Things were especially good for Alabama pro Justin Lucas.
Lucas caught five bass that weighed 20 pounds, 4 ounces, off “one special place” to take the lead in the Bassmaster Elite at Potomac River presented by Econo Lodge. California angler Brent Ehrler is second with 17-13, and Washington pro Luke Clausen is third with 17- 9.
The Top 62 anglers in the 107-angler field caught at least 10 pounds of bass.
“I think the river has taken a little hit the last couple of years, but there’s more grass growing this year than there has been the past two or three years,” Lucas said. “That really helps the weights in a tournament.
“The bass get up in there and eat bluegill and whatever baitfish they can — and it fattens them up.”
Lucas worked his Day 1 magic in one spot that he was surprised to have to himself.
“At certain times of the year, I think the place I’m fishing is a pretty popular place,” Lucas said. “But this time of year, I don’t think it is. I only saw one other boat all day, and that was surprising.
“I stayed there almost until the end of the day — just guarding it more than anything.”
With three days left to fish, Lucas wouldn’t say which lures he was using. He only said he was fishing “West Coast style.”
He also wouldn’t say which stage of the tide was best for him during the opening round. But he did say his experience fishing tidal fisheries in his native California played a role in his success.
“This is so different from a place like the California Delta,” said Lucas, who won the 2015 Elite on the California Delta with 82-14. “Honestly, other than the fact that the water goes in and out every day a couple of feet, they’re just two totally different places.
“But the understanding of how to fish tidal waters is definitely helpful.”
Lucas is hoping that other anglers will stay away from his magic spot as Day 2 begins Friday — and he can’t afford to let up with six anglers within 4 pounds of him.
One of those anglers is Alabama pro Gerald Swindle, the current leader in the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings.
Swindle said he believed his day was one of those that was “just meant to happen.”
“Anybody who looks at my weight and thinks I really caught them, needs to talk to my marshal,” said Swindle, who brought in 16-5 to land in seventh place. “It was a grind. At one point, I told (my marshal) ‘I ain’t getting no bites; I’m lost; I’ve burned 30 gallons of gas.’ It was just tough.”
But then, things eventually worked out.
“It was truly a blessing,” said Swindle, who caught most of his fish late after a day-long struggle. “I don’t really get all sappy about crazy stuff like that. But I believe sometimes, when you’re meant to catch them, you’re just meant to catch them.”
Swindle’s catch increased his lead in the AOY battle to 44 points over Keith Combs. Jacob Powroznik is in third place 51 points back, and Randall Tharp is 69 points back in fourth.
The anglers’ catches were especially impressive, considering the tournament was very much in doubt back in March because of biologists’ concerns that the bass fishery is declining.
New state regulations in Maryland would have only allowed anglers to weigh in five bass per day, 12 inches or longer, with only one that measured 15 inches or longer. The regulations caused B.A.S.S. officials to consider canceling the event.
But an alternative plan was reached that allowed anglers to weigh five bass that measure at least 12 inches with no maximum size limit.
Special fish care measures were observed during the first round, including an expedited weigh-in that lasted less than 90 minutes.
The tournament will resume Friday with takeoff from Smallwood State Park at 6:15 a.m. ET. The weigh-in will be held back at the park at 3 p.m.