Recently I competed in the Bassmaster Weekend Series regional championship at the Potomac River. The tournament was held on October 16 and 17, but I decided that with a new triton boat on the line and a bid to the nation championship on the line that I would go practice from Monday the 12th thru Thursday the 15th. I was fortunate enough to room with a great group of guys from Pennsylvania. I would like to thank Steve Hughes, Gus Glasgow, Ted Glasgow, Steve Allard, Mark Hughes, and my dad, Ron Cancilla, for a very enjoyable trip. It was nice to be part of a group of guys that acted like a team to help one another develop winning patterns together. For me it was my first trip down to the Potomac River and the guys gave me important information on dangerous areas and what to look for as far as fish habitat.
Before I left for my trip all I heard was how great a fishery that the Potomac River has become. I believe that if we would have got better weather I would have seen that. Unfortunately, with falling water temps all week, the conditions got more difficult as time went on. Here is my experience.
Monday was my true first day of practice and decided that I should stay close to the launching site of the tournament. The tournament was launching from Smallwood State Park on the Maryland side of the Potomac River. Smallwood State Park is a beautiful facility, but has a $10 launching fee per day. Smallwood State Park is located on Mattawomen Creek and is known for its number of bass. That was apparent right away as I boated a bunch of small keepers on white spinnnerbaits, chatterbaits, buzzbaits, and a series 1XS strike king crankbait. A keep largemouth bass during this season at the Potomac River is 12 inches and most of the fish that I found were in the 13-14″ range. Around mid day I decided that I would try a couple of my lake spots that I wanted to hit with little success. I did manage to catch a snakehead. For those who don’t know these are fish are an invasive species that you are supposed to kill when you catch them. I however did not kill the snakehead that I caught because I didn’t have a picture of the fish with me to determine if that is truly what I caught. Later that night I confirmed that is what I caught. After Some main lake spots, I decided to run to Belmont Bay and the creek in the back of it. The water looked fantastic, but I only managed 3 keepers in there. The water temperature was 65+ degrees depending on where we were fishing. The weather was warm 70′s and mostly sunny.
Tuesday I decided to make my longest run of practice. I decided to fish Aquia Creek, the Arcandale Flats, and Wades Bay. There is not a lot for me to right about Tuesday because I only managed to catch 4 bass. The best was on a series 4 strike king crankbait. It was Tuesday that I finally saw the results of catching the tides wrong. However, it would take me until the last day of the tournament to learn how to fish the tide change properly.
Wednesday I decided that I would spend less time running the big motor and more time trying to catch fish. I decided to fish Chickamoxen Creek, main river areas, and 1 other small creek. Up until 2:30 I was having very little success only catching 2 keepers all morning. I had found some rip rap in about 3 1/2 feet of water at high tide. Feeling a bit defeated I switch to finesse fishing a shakey head worm on a football shakey head jig. Wow, did it work!!! I stuck 4 fish on the 400 yards of water and had many more hits. I figured that I would have had about 13lbs of fish with my best five fish that day and was confident that I would get those fish to myself in the tournament. The weather starting changing Wednesday though. It started sunny, but the wind picked up and overcast move in. The water temperature had started to drop as well.
Thursday I decided to try to find more rip rap for my shakey jigs. The weather had turned nasty though. Cold rainy conditions should have allowed for my pattern to hold up, but it killed the bite. Around 9:30 I decided I would give Belmont Bay and its creek another try. I had no success. Around 11:00 I decided that I was going to start at the Occoquan River mouth and fish the weed line with crankbaits, spinnerbaits, and chattebaits, until I found a spot with some fish or I found a lure that worked. After about 1/2 mile and 15 lures I found a lure and stretch that was loaded with keepers. They weren’t big keepers, but I figured it got tough these fish may get me into the top 50. My lure of choice was a lucky craft flat crankbait that had a less aggressive wobble in about 5-7 feet of water. The water temperature was now around 58 Degrees and falling.
The first day of the tournament was Friday and I managed to draw 1st flight and boat 25. That made me feel good since there were 167 boats in the tournament. The weather was rainy and windy and the air temperature would never get higher than 45 degrees. I had made my mind up the night before that I would start on the best fish that I found with my shakey head pattern. From 7:15 – 10:45 I worked these fish hard and only managed to catch 1 keeper that was 12 1/4″. My rider managed a small limit using a white spinnerbait. At this point I decided to make the run into the Occoquan River and work the fish I had found the day before. Over the next 3+ hours I caught 12-15 more keepers on the same lucky craft crankbait working a short stretch of water. The key to the spot was that at low tide the fish located themselves on the weed edge. Pulling crankbaits through the weeds was frustrating, but it was producing fish. At 1:30 I decided to leave the fish and try a couple of spots on the main river that I though could give me a big bite. Check-in came and I managed no more keepers. I weighted 5 keeper largemouth bass that weighed 8.34 pounds. For the Potomac River those are bad numbers, but I was sitting in 37th place. The game planning started for the next day.
Saturday morning came and I was in 2nd flight and was boat 112. The wait in the morning about killed me, but the weather was even more brutal. The air temperature would once again never break 45 degree and it would rain/sleet all day. Through the course of the night I had decided that I was going to sit on the one school of fish I had located in the Occoquan River all day. What I hadn’t truly realized yet is how the tide effects where the fish were located in the spot I was fishing. I ran to my spot right away and started working my fish with the same lucky craft crankbait. After 2 hours of fishing my stretch I had no keepers on my weed edge. Then I remembered the words that Steve told me before I left that morning. “You will be surprised how shallow that the fish will go when it is high tide.” I pulled out my spinnerbait rod opened my box and picked out a spinnerbait with 2 small nickel willow blades and a pink/white skirt. Normally, I would only throw this spinnerbait for smallmouth, but I was desperate. Three casts after I started beating the bank I caught my first keeper. Then it was back to nothing. Figuring it was a fluke I decide to work my weed edge with some other lures for another hour. Once again no luck. At this point the tide was going out so I decided to work the weeds in between the bank and my weed edge. I decided that I would also drift to not spook the fish. Oh my how it work. In the next 10 minutes I loaded the well with a small limit. But I had my limit. As I finished my drift I realized that 10 boats saw me catching fish and swarmed my area. Knowing that the fish were shallow I knew that many trolling motors and depth finders would kill the bite in a hurry. And it did! I never caught another fish shallow. Slowly the boats disappeared and around 1:00 I was the last boat on my stretch again. At this point I figured that the tide was such that the fish would have relocated at the weed edge. Since the water had dropped all the water to 52 degree I made a lure selection that even I didn’t believe I was using. I went to a lucky craft point 78. You have to understand that if there is one technique that I feel inferior in using is hard body jerkbaits. But you want to talk about instant results, my first cast I caught a keeper on a 5 second pause. It would be the first of about 15 fish that I would catch in the next 1 1/2 hours. Using a 5 -10 second pause proved to be key in getting strikes. Looking back I wish I would have used the lure all morning because I think I would have caught more fish, but it was the adjustment I needed to move up the leader board. Day 2 of the tournament I weighed 5 largemouth bass that weighed 7.81 pounds.
As weigh-in concluded I knew that my 10 bass weighing 16.15lbs would be close to the top 20 anglers who would receive a check. I ended up finishing 21st out of 167 competitors. I felt very good about my finish because I had never been there, I had a bad practice, and I made the adjustments I needed to. Like most tournaments I did make a few minor mistakes that cost me probably 2 or 3 lbs and several places in the standing. Even so, I reached my ultimate goal of going to the national championship at Lake Dardanelle in Arkansas. Starting November 1st I will be competing against 199 other competitors for $100,000 and a bid to the Bassmaster Classic this February. Check back in a couple weeks to see how that trip goes.