Recon for BFL Regional
Wednesday, October 03, 2007
Temperamental Potomac Set to Explode
Photo: ESPN Outdoors
Here's Kurt Dove at the Potomac Elite Series event this year, flipping the river's abundant grass.
Of all the major tournament waters in the U.S., the Potomac River may experience the most pressure. From March to November, scarcely a weekend goes by when there's not at least one major tournament on it, from the Federation level on up through the two major tours.
From the press generated by the big events, you might think all that's necessary to catch a big limit of largemouths is to pull up on the nearest patch of grass, indiscriminately fling your favorite lure in any direction, reel in a fish and then do it four more times. By 8:00 you'd be back at the ramp eating crackers and telling stories.
But it's not always that easy.
Tidal bass are notoriously finicky. You can swear a spot is fishless and 20 minutes later load the boat there. Similarly, they go into a slight funk at certain times of year. Not all of them, mind you, but enough that the free-for-alls of May through July are but a distant memory.
September and early October can be one of those tough periods, said Bassmaster Elite Series pro Kurt Dove, who hails from Virginia. With that in mind, here's how he'd approach the upcoming BFL Regional out of Smallwood State Park.
Grass Still Critical
"In September, summer is winding down and the fishing can get tough," he said. "But in October, the fish are finally starting to bite again. They're becoming more active.
"We're starting to get some cold fronts and the water temperatures are in the mid- to low 60s, which should help the bite."
The Potomac has had an unprecedented amount of submerged aquatic vegetation this year, and he expects that grass will still be the main pattern. But rather than focusing on the back halves of creeks, he'd look to the tributary mouths, or more likely to the main stem of the river itself, if the winds permit.
"I'd focus on the main stem anywhere between Broad Creek and Aquia Creek," Dove said. "You have to get right in the thick of it. The thicker the better.
"The key is finding the concentrations of fish. They're ganged up in little areas, maybe a 25- to 50-yard stretch, so it can be feast or famine. You can fish a lot of grass and not catch anything, and then in one little patch there will be so many fish it'll blow your mind."
Unfortunately, a lot of the grass looks the same, so practice time is critical. "The best areas are fairly random," he said.
While randomness may be a fact of life, the search can be cut down slightly through a few clues. "I don't look for a particular type of grass. Typically it's hydrilla, milfoil or eel grass, especially out where it tapers on the edges. But if you can find multiple types of grass in the same place there will probably be more fish there."
While grass will likely be the dominant pattern, flipping the mats may not be the primary or only way to catch big bags right now, as it was when Dove fished BASS's Capitol Clash in August.
"There probably still are some mats to flip, but it's not as thick as it was a short while back, so you won't need the really big weights," he said. "Definitely 1 ounce or less, probably a 3/4-ounce weight will be enough. But go as small as you can get away with."
His key flip bait would be a compact craw, like a Berkley Chigger Craw, in green-pumpkin.
He also expects high tide and low light conditions may produce a good bite on moving baits. In particular, he stressed the need to throw a frog or buzzbait to corral a key fish or two early in the day.
While it's highly likely that the higher finishers will focus on the grass bite, hard cover may be a wildcard. "I don't believe the majority of the fish will be caught that way (on hard cover) and those fish tend not to replenish for a multiple-day tournament, but there might be enough to hold up for two or three days," he said. He'd look for this pattern on creek channel bends and in the Washington, D.C. section of the river.
The other variable he'd plan for is wind. "It's a big issue this time of year. It can come out of the south one day and out of the north the next, so you have to have multiple areas so you can get away from it when it gets muddied up. It requires you to adjust and refocus on the fly."
> He expects that it'll take 45 pounds total (15 pounds a day) to win, and that there won't be much drop off down to 10th place, which will take 40 pounds.
> The mat-flipping technique is a relatively recent addition to Potomac tactics. "It wasn't until 3 years ago that there was really enough grass to flip on the Potomac. The first time I remember is when Greg Hackney used it at the 2004 FLW Tour event. That was the first year that there was enough grass to where you couldn't address it with another bait."
> This year has produced a higher-than-normal number of big fish. Both Gary Klein and James Niggemeyer caught 8-02s during the Bassmaster Elite Series event, and in a recent Maryland Federation event an angler caught an 8-13. Dove believes this is attributable to multiple factors. "It's partially because the fishermen are getting better, but also the abundance of grass protects the bass. It's a sanctuary with so much food that maybe they're growing a little bit faster."
> His website is www.kurtdove.com.