Vaughan claims early Open lead

RICHMOND, Va. – Pro Wayne Vaughan weighed in 16 pounds and 1 ounce of James River bass today to claim the first day lead in this year’s first Bass Pro Shops Northern Open, held on Virginia’s James River.

If he manages to hold onto the lead for the two remaining competition days, Vaughan will become the third consecutive resident of the Old Dominion to win an Open on the James. Like Vaughan, neither of the other two were Elite Series pros.

Nipping at Vaughan’s heels is Elite Series pro Randy Howell with 15-11. While Howell currently resides in Alabama, he is a native of North Carolina and in his early tournament years fished multiple circuits that made regular stops on the James and its tributaries.

Ohio Elite Series pro Fletcher Shryock sits in third with 15-09 and 2011 winner Kelly Pratt is fourth with 15-07.

Vaughan said that he had to employ a punt pattern to come up with his weight: “The day did not go at all as I expected it would,” he said. “There was all that mud, and the water never went down, so I just went fishing. Then, when the water finally started to go out, I ran four or five spots and caught everything I weighed in.”

He spent most of the day in the crowded Chickahominy, but his late-in-the-day milk run produced one key fish close to the Osborne Landing weigh-in site.

Howell would have had a commanding lead with 17-11, but a penalty forced him to sacrifice two pounds and fall to second. During one big fish flurry, he neglected to cull out his sixth fish before making another cast. When he realized his mistake he called tournament director Chris Bowes to report the infraction.

“My stomach has been sick about it all day,” he said. While the mental error was costly in a tightly-packed top ten, otherwise his game plan worked exceptionally well.

“Timing is so crucial on this river system,” he said. “I really wasn’t doing anything that different. I just had one little flurry where I hit the tide just right on one area mid-morning.”

Shryock finished 52nd here in 2011 and vowed to approach the tidal water differently this time around. Like Howell, he stressed the importance of understanding how the bass react to tidal fluctuations. “If you’re in the right place at the wrong time, you’re going to miss the bite,” he said.

While the forecasted thunderstorms and heavy winds didn’t materialize under after the last flight had checked in at 4 o’clock, the recent rains were the talk of the weigh-in and seemed to be the strongest influence on most anglers’ fortunes or troubles. In fact, the rain had a domino effect. It created a vast amount of hazardous debris in the main stem of the river, leading numerous boaters to call for the Boat US tow boat service. With respect to the fishing, it muddied up what is normally prime fishing grounds, concentrating a disproportionate number of competitors in the limited pockets of clear water.

Mike Iaconelli, currently tied for 6th for 14-07, welcomed the increased pressure, which he believe plays to his strengths and his fishing heritage. Like Vaughan, he caught four of his weigh fish in the crowded Chickahominy, along with one quality keeper closer to the launch site.

“I have more experience (with pressured waters) than a lot of people,” he said. “A lot of guys freak out with it. Coming up through the Federation in New Jersey, I fished tournaments with 200 boats on 1,500 acre lakes.”

Like both Howell and Shryock, the 2003 Bassmaster Classic winner said that a proper understanding of how the tides affect the fish can mean the difference between hero and zero on the James. He’d fished one area in the morning and come up empty, but when he hit it again later in the day he landed his biggest bass. His experience not only on the James, but also on rivers like the Potomac and the Delaware, keyed him into how to utilize the tides to his advantage.

While Vaughan has Howell and Shryock on his tail, and another Elite Series pro in Mike Iaconelli not far behind, Pratt may be his biggest threat. After winning in 2011 and fishing the Classic on the Red River, he finished fourth here last year, missing the victory by less than a pound and a half. With tougher-than-normal conditions confusing many anglers, he likely has a better reserve of tricks and places to rely upon than anyone else in the field, as well as the steely nerves to execute his plan.

Stephen “Bub” Tosh of Turlock, Ca., and Ken Golub of Pittsford, N.Y. tied for the first day big bass with a bookend pair of 6-03 largemouths.

Kelly Robinette of South Chesterfield, Va., leads the co-angler division with a three bass limit that weighed 10-03.