Well my first Northern Open on the James River was one I will never forget. I arrived at the James the Saturday before the tournament and had 4 full days to try and figure this place out and punch my ticket to the Bassmasters classic. Day 1 I spent fishing around the launch, mostly in an area they call the Barge Pitts. I caught 2 fish over 4 pounds in there and lots of little dinks but this was a big community hole. I probably saw close to 50 boats that day coming in and out. Day 2 I started my practice on the Chickahominy river which was located about 45 miles down river from the launch. Through the research I did prior to this event I knew the area right below the damn was the most popular area to fish on the Chick and would be the most pressured ( The tournament was eventually won there again this year..ugh!). I decided to try and get away from the crowds and focus on the mid river to down river sections of the Chickahominy . During the first day I spent most of my time fishing lily pads and docks and the numerous cypress trees spread throughout the system. Everything looked like it should have a bass on it but not much did, I fished a 12 hour day and managed about 15 bites which wasn’t to bad, one of them included a 5 pound fish which was considered a real big one for this place. The only small pattern that I had figured out was that the fish were on isolated patches of lily pads and from what I could see there wasn’t very many small patches like this. Day 2 I went down river into a place called Gordon’s creek. I idled in to make sure I didn’t hit anything because this entire river system was just one big obstacle course, I saw a bay on Google earth that looked really good so I spent about 20 minutes getting back in there to check it out. On my way back I passed several boats coming back out of there, when I finally reached the bay there wasn’t a lily pad or cypress tree within sight. I now knew why all the boats I passed were making there way out of here. After spending 20 minutes getting in here though I figured I might as well throw a few casts. There was small point in the reeds that lined the bank about 100 yards in front of me and I made up my mind I would fish to that point and then get out of this mud hole. About my 4th cast a 3 pound fish blew up on my frog. I thought it was just another random fish and then 2 casts later another one. Next cast another one. I quickly cut the hooks off of my frog and continued to fish, I had 17 bites in the next 50 yards. As I looked closer there seemed to be a grass line that was off the bank about 20 feet and was in about 2 feet of water at low tide (which was considered deep at this place) I left the area and figured I would come back the next day to check it out to make sure it wasn’t just some kind of fluke. I spent most of the next day fishing wood of all kinds, with minimal success, you would catch a few fish here and there but you had to cover a ton of water to do it.
I decided to return to my honey hole during the first part of outgoing tide to see if I could catch the fish on something beside a topwater. I fished the grass with a swimjig, chatterbait, flukes baby 1 minus, pretty much everything I could think of and had no bites. I honestly just thought the fish that were there yesterday were gone and they were just passing through or on a school of bait. I waited till the tide got low and broke the frog out again, first cast one inhaled it, I put the fish on my digital scale and it was just over 4 pounds. I switched to my hookless frog and had 7 blowups on the next 9 casts. I then switched to a fluke…..not a bite threw a buzzbait…..not a bite, threw the frog a few more times and it got smacked again. Never in my life have I ever seen fish that were so aggressive but so picky at the same time. There were fish blowing up everywhere and frogs swimming in the water along the shoreline getting ambushed by bass, it was something I have never seen before and probably will ever see again in my lifetime. This was the best spot I had found but the problem was these fish would not touch anything but top water. Not that big of a deal unless we would get some freaky wind but this bay was very protected from every wind direction but a NW wind and I looked at the extended forecast and they were calling for South Southeast for the next 5 days so it didn’t look like that would be a problem. I fished the Chippokes the next day and found some more grass like the stuff I found in Gordon but there were boats all over it.
I planned on trying to idle around in some of the other creeks on the final practice day to try and find more of this grass but my trolling motor was broke so I had to take it to the service crews to get fixed the next morning, they were late getting there so my last day of practice was pretty much blown because we had to be at registration that afternoon. After the meeting I met with my co angler for the following day, he was a local guy Clay Lewis and said he spent quite a bit of time on the James. We arranged to meet at my hotel the following morning. Clay seemed like a real nice guy which was a big relief; there is nothing worse than spending all day in a boat with somebody that you don’t really mesh with. The first day of the tournament we were boat 168 out of 170 so I was a little worried somebody else might of found my spot with all of the pressure the Chickahominy was receiving. At about 6:15 our boat number was called and we went blasting down the James river at full speed, dodging tons of debris that was in the water from the massive thunderstorms the week before, it was a miracle we didn’t hit anything, it took just over an hour to get to my little area in Gordons and I was relieved when I came off of pad and saw nobody else was in there. The tide was completely wrong when we got there and I told Clay we might have to wait an hour or 2 for the tide to get right and the fish to turn on. My 3rd cast a 3.5 pounder toilet flushed my frog and I had him in the boat. When I went to put my hands on him I noticed he was bleeding a little bit and when I opened his mouth I saw my frog was halfway down his throat. I tried to get it out the best I could without hurting him any more but he ended up dying shortly after. Clay had the next action catching a 4lb 14oz fish that would earn him an extra 1000$ for lunker that day on the co angler side. We made 5 or 6 passes over my little stretch over the next hour and I had put close to 14 pounds in the box and Clay also had a good limit and we had each lost a fish in the 5 pound class. Clay told me he had fished the James for over 20 years and had never seen an area like this during this time of year. We left this spot after only fishing it for about 90 minutes and ran back up to fish some creeks closer to the ramp. There were bad storms rolling in that afternoon and we didn’t want to risk getting caught in them or breaking down with the fish we had in the live well. My goal was to catch enough weight on day one to put me in striking distance of the top 12 cut, I ended the first day in 17th place less than a pound out of the 12th place cut line. I knew that if I stayed in my area the next day for all 6 hours of my fishing I could catch an even bigger bag and easily move in to the top 12 and be able to fish Saturday.
That night when I was laying in bed thinking about the next day I could barely sleep I decided to check the weather and saw the wind had switched from SE to NW 18-30mph. I couldent believe it!! I had an earlier launch time the next day and most of the time the winds are calm at first light and gradually increase through out the day. I hoped this would be the case and I could get down there and make short work of those fish like I did the day before. When I got to my area my first instinct was not to even make a cast and just leave…and I should of. There were 2 foot waves rolling into the bank. The reed clumps that were out of the water by a few feet yesterday were submerged, and the tide that was supposed to be falling wasn’t because of the wind. The locals call it a “wind tide” What happens is the tide is still pulling out but the wind is pushing just as much if not more water back into the area so the water level doesn’t actually move. These fish were here though I some how some way had to figure out how to catch them. I did throw a frog out of pure desperation at first but with waves crashing it underwater it was a hopeless effort. I then went through a gradual progression of everything else I knew how to do to catch fish on in the wind, spinner bait, crank bait etc…. with no success, by 10:00 I had every rod in my locker on the front deck trying to get these fish to bite and I had not had a bite all morning, I finally ditched my spot with about 3 hours left to fish. I stopped at a tree on the way out and it produced a small keeper. I then ran up the chic to another small stretch of lily’s that produced another. By this time it was after 11 and I had a 2:00 weigh in and still had well over an hour run back to the launch. I decided to take off and close the day out in Herring creek, I had fished there the day before and figured I could scratch out a limit in there. On my way back my low fuel light came on about halfway to herring, there was a Marina about another 5 miles upriver and figured I could easily make it to there. Just as the Marina came within sight I ran out of gas. I trolled into the marina from about 300 yards away and put fuel in the boat, this mishap cost me about 40 minutes of fishing time. I only managed to catch 3 fish in herring and 2 of them didn’t measure. I returned to the ramp with 3 fish in my bag that didn’t even weigh as much as one of my fish from the day before, what a freaking Nightmare!
I could blame the wind for trashing my spot but the wind blew for everyone, I did not make the right decision to ditch that place early enough. I broke the cardinal rule of trying to catch yesterday’s fish under today’s conditions and I paid for it. I had a very good chance to put a beat down on the best fisherman in the world this past weekend but I couldn’t make It happen. I learned a ton about fishing the James as well as fishing Tidal waters in General. The final day of the tournament which only the top 12 are invited to was calm as could be and I know there probably wont be a day that passes in the near future that I wont be thinking about what could have been.