RICHMOND, Va. — Few tournament fisheries improve in fishing productivity by one hour each day. Such was the case on the James River at the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Northern Open.
The reason was how the tide chart lined up with the tournament hours. Overwhelmingly, and to the book, the hands-down best fishing occurred on the low tide.
On the low tide the tidal river's largemouth bass population followed the dropping water. Textbook payoff areas were any hard cover, from wood to pilings and piers—that was located near the deepest water in the area.
Here's a snapshot of the overall patterns of some of the top finishers.
Charlie Hartley: 41-13
The veteran Ohio pro and tournament winner singled out a lure, not a specific area, where he found best success.
That old school lure was a classic ribbon-tailed plastic worm. Hartley used a 3/16-ounce slip sinker pegged to 20-pound fluorocarbon line. The heavier line was a must in the barnacle covered casting targets where Hartley caught his fish. Pegging the 7-inch worm was a must.
"Nobody likes to use a ribbon-tailed worm anymore because it's not the "it" bait," said Hartley.
"One of the tricks that I've learned is that tidal bass are used to seeing baitfish sweep by them in the current," he continued. "So a bait with a vertical drop like a heavy jig or plastic lure will drop right through the strike zone. It also doesn't look natural to them."
Hartley said the worm's longer tail adds buoyancy and catches in the current. In doing so the lure stays longer in the strike zone.
"You have to cast ahead of the target and hold the rod at 45 degrees to allow the lure to drift past the object, like a piling," he said. "Soon as the worm makes it around the target the current catches the lure and speeds it up. That's when you get a strike."
Hartley chose the Chickahominy River for its abundance of wood cover where he caught most of his fish. He estimated casting to over 500 pieces of cover each day of the competition.
"There are so many other lures that are easier to fish," he said. "That ribbon tail worm gets wrapped around stuff and it twists really bad. It's hard to cast."
"Nobody uses it anymore so between all those nuances I believe the fish don't see lures with the action of a ribbon-tailed worm."
Cody Pike: 39-6
Pike fished his way to the runner-up spot by focusing on a textbook area featuring shoreline laydowns and with nearby deeper water. His area dropped from 5 feet into 10 feet or deeper water.
"It was only productive on low and flowing water," he said. "Today (Day 3) it didn't get right until 11 a.m. so I didn't have much time to spend in there."
When the tide was right the spot produced.
"I could go in there and in about 15 minutes catch a 10-pound limit and then go looking for bigger bass,"
That is what Pike did on the first two days, catching a least one bass weighing 5 pounds or heavier.
His primary bait was a Texas rigged ringworm fished on a 1/4-ounce weight.
David Dudley: 39-5
Third-place finisher and Virginian David Dudley practiced what he called "tidal junk fishing."
"All I did was just grind it out all week," he said. "Hard cover on a low tide by far was the best."
Along the way he discovered lily pads and grass on the low tide produced best. Timing for catching bass from the wood cover was not critical.
A Livingston Lures Primetyme SQ 2.0, chatterbait and a creature bait produced all of his fish.
Brandon Palaniuk: 39-1
The fifth place finisher used an obscure but wise pattern to catch his bass from the Chickahominy River.
"I approached this like a Florida river system," he said. "All the fish that I was catching were staged just outside where I figured they would spawn."
Palaniuk focused just outside the biggest flats he could find, reasoning the bass moved into the deeper water on the low tide. Hard cover casting targets created current breaks favored by the bass for ambushing baitfish.
"I purposely avoided visible cover and instead keyed on places overlooked by other anglers," he added.
Humminbird 360 imaging on his electronics made the work easier. Once located he used three lures to catch his fish. A key lure was a Berkley Havoc Bottom Hopper with 3/16 ounce Eco Pro Full Contact Drop Shot Weight. Alternatively, he used Storm Arashi Rattling Deep 10 and Rapala DT 6 crankbaits.
The Florida overtures to his strategy had factual backup. Years ago the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries stocked thousands of F1 hybrid bass, commonly called tiger bass, into the Chickahominy. Those are a cross between the hardy northern strain and the Florida strain largemouth.
George Yund: 37-9
The New York B.A.S.S. Nation angler and firefighter relied on tactics he uses for successful bass fishing on the Hudson River, another tidal fishery.
"I spent a lot of time riding around looking to find key areas like I fish back home," said Yund, 43, of Albany. "In practice I spent more time looking for the best areas on low tide than anything else."
The payoff was a limit weighing 30 pounds on Day 2.
Yund likes to find the deepest water available near high-tide cover during the heat of the summer.
"The deeper the better because the bass favor the cooler water," he said.
Yund described his area as an expansive flat with a field of cypress trees. A hard bottom with a sheer drop from 15 to 30 feet made for the perfect spot. An abundance of bait gave the bass all they needed to remain in the area.
A Carolina rig, crankbait and spinnerbait were his key lures.