RICHMOND, Va. – After Day Two of the Northern Open on Virginia’s James River, veteran pro Woo Daves compared himself to a tortoise and the rest of the field to hares.
“It’s hard to compete with these young guys,” he said. “I have to slow down if I want to have a chance. They’ve all gotten so much better.”
With that in mind, the tortoise, who resides on the river’s banks, fished slowly and methodically on Friday and sacked a limit that weighed 19 pounds 3 ounces. Unfortunately, one of the hares brought an even bigger bag to the scales. Josh Wagy, who at 23 is 43 years Woo’s junior, managed to bring in a monstrous 19-11 to claim the lead, while Daves sat in 3rd.
For Daves, it was unfortunately a bad case of déjà vu. He said he’s fished nine major tournaments on his home waters and has only won once, but never in B.A.S.S. competition. Most notably, he failed to win a Classic title on the James when the world championship of bass fishing was held here in 1988, 1989 and 1990. He finished in the top five all three times, including a runner-up finish in 1988 when he fell just six ounces short of Guido Hibdon’s winning weight. In the Northern Open, as in the Classic, a top five is admirable and profitable, but no one remembers anyone but the winner.
As a result of his national touring schedule, Daves rarely fishes in his backyard these days. “I’m always in New York or Detroit or Texas or Florida,” he lamented. Accordingly, while his local knowledge is valuable, it’s also somewhat dated. Fortunately, he was able to combine history with intuition this week to put together three limits of river bass and make a run at the title.
“This year I started up the Chickahominy, where I don’t like to fish,” he said. “I fished it almost like I’d fish a lake I’d never been to.” Once he secured a limit on the first day, he left for the main stem James, where he upped his overall catch. The latter spot was something he’d first fished over 30 years ago, before Wagy was born, and the same combination of factors that drew bass to it then had the same effect this week. “I caught a lot of single bass from little stuff I used to fish,” he added.
On Day Two, he stared in the “Chick,” and when the big ones started biting there was no reason to leave to hunt bigger bass.
This morning, the self-proclaimed tortoise was slowed down even more by something outside of his control and unrelated to his advanced age – a bright yellow rope that wrapped around his propeller and temporarily brought his boat to a halt. By the time he got going again, he’d lost valuable fishing time, including much of the best tidal phase. Still, he used a combination of soft plastics – Zoom Speed Craws and Brush Hogs around lily pads and a Zoom Trick Worm around wood cover – to cull up to his eventual weight of 9-15, giving him 37-15 for the three days. All three baits were fished on spinning tackle and 10-pound monofilament line.
Daves is a consummate outdoorsman who enjoys fishing for flounder almost as much as he enjoys fishing for bass in freshwater. His favorite pastime, though, is rabbit hunting. “You don’t have to work so hard,” he said, grinning. “The dogs do all of the work.” Unfortunately, the rabbits kept just a few steps ahead of him this week, with Wagy finishing first, 1 pound 5 ounces ahead of Daves. Robert Whitehurst was second, 15 ounces ahead of Daves.
Daves didn’t seem overly dejected by his latest failure to earn James River hardware, but noted he may have to speed up the pace in his deliberate race against the clock.
“I give myself two more years,” he said. “Next year I’m going to fish both the Northern and Southern Opens.”