By Bernie Schultz
When B.A.S.S. included the Potomac River on this year’s schedule, I was licking my chops. A summer event on such good tidal water sounded almost too good to be true.
Recalling my Top-10 finish on the Chesapeake Bay a year earlier, I felt there was no way I could fail. Boy was I ever wrong!
Even though it had been nearly a decade since the tour visited the D.C. area, all of the scouting reports said the river was in great shape — plenty of grass with good water quality. I couldn’t wait.
Rolling into La Plata a day early, I readied my boat and gear for the long, hot week ahead. Having spent considerable time on the Gulf ahead of time, I was prepared for the extreme heat and humidity.
On day one of practice, I headed straight for a shoreline on the main river — a milfoil bed where I had caught the bulk of my fish back in 2007. Unfortunately, the grass was much different now. It was a thin mix of celery weed and eel grass. Learning how nonproductive those were at the Chesapeake, I pulled the trolling motor and left for Occoquan Bay.
Approaching the entrance, I noticed a healthy field of matted grass to my left. I immediately veered to the side and began probing the edge. Two hundred yards later — with nothing to show for the effort — I moved to another flat adjacent to a creek. After exhausting a number of lures and presentations, I finally scored two keepers on a Rapala Rippin Rap lipless crankbait.
My next stop was to Piscataway Creek — a place that yielded two high finishes for me in the past. It looked the same; shallow grass extending far from shore with clear water at its edge. I started with a Storm SubWart, weaving the lure through alleyways inside the grassbed. After several hundred yards without a bite, I switched to a frog, targeting topped out areas. That failed as well.
I decided to move to the back of the creek and try there. It looked good, too, but I saw no signs of life. Before leaving the creek, I made one last stop at a marina along the northern bank. It, too, seemed void of fish.
Next, I headed to D.C. to work several grassbeds near the Woodrow Wilson Bridge. With no results there, I tried a submerged ferry foundation, cranking it from numerous angles. Nothing.
Before I knew it, the day had slipped by and I had almost nothing to show for it.
On day two, I headed to a large field of shallow grass in Quantico Creek. It was just as I remembered it from years before. Using a Yamamoto Stretch 40 on 15-pound Sufix 832 braid, I made long, lateral casts, swimming the lure steadily across the shallow flat.
I scored several quick bites in one key area, but that was it. From there I tried accessing a small ditch in the back of the creek, but Randall Tharp beat me to it. So I pulled the trolling motor and headed to Aquia Creek.
At the creek’s entrance, I discovered a massive field of lush hydrilla and milfoil. I knew immediately it was what I was looking for. It took some time, but I eventually zeroed in on one key area — a spot of slightly deeper milfoil. My first strike came on a 3/8-ounce Hildebrandt HeadBanger — the same buzzbait that yielded a top-10 finish on the river years before.
As I advanced through the area, I had numerous other strikes, catching only two to determine their size. As the tide rose, the bite waned, so I pulled the MotorGuide and moved to Potomac Creek. That’s where I scored my first ever snakehead — a nasty looking invasive species with a very intimidating appearance.
I finished the day there, catching only one more bass.
On the final day of practice, I started in Chicamuxen Creek. Like several other creeks I visited, the bites came well away from the bank. By punching a Yamamoto Flappin’ Hog, I shook three off and fished away from the area … hoping it would go undetected.
After drawing an early number in the take-off order, I decided I’d start on the milfoil patch at the mouth of Aquia Creek. I felt it was my best chance to score some quick bites before the tide got too high.
I was the first one there.
Working slowly through the best area, I could see occasional strikes on the surface. I felt it was only a matter of time. Unfortunately, the buzzbait bite never developed. I was forced to switch baits, but that didn’t work either.
In no time, Brandon Palaniuk, John Murray and Cliff Prince had moved in. But they, too, were experiencing a tough bite. Together, we worked the area thoroughly, but the only fish caught were a couple of small ones by Brandon and John.
From there I moved inside the creekmouth to another milfoil bed. It, too, looked great but yielded nothing. I told my Marshal it was time to try something else.
I ran to the railroad bridge at the back of the creek, figuring some of the fish might have moved to hard cover. As I idled in, I noticed Luke Clausen sitting on the best part of the structure. Moving to the opposite end, I cranked each set of pilings with a Rapala DT-6, hoping to score my first fish of the day.
It never happened. I wasted more than an hour and eventually moved back to the mouth in hopes of finding the grass fish in a better mood.
By early afternoon, I abandoned Aquia altogether.
Working my way north I hit several smaller grassbeds, hoping to change my luck. But time eventually ran out and I had nothing to take to the scales. I wasn’t alone either. Kevin VanDam, Brandon Card and several others had zeroed. It was the toughest day I’d ever seen on the river. I prayed day two would go much better.
Timing Is Everything
The next morning, I decided to start in Chicamuxen Creek — at the place where I shook three flipping bites in practice. Having a late draw, I wasn’t sure what I’d find when I got there. Amazingly, that area was vacant.
I began punching the matted grass and within 20 minutes I had my first keeper — a fat 3-pounder. I thought it was the beginning of better things to come, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. It was the last bite I would have all day.
Although I moved through a number of good areas, my timing was apparently way off. Others camping on those spots had scored periodically, but the feeding periods were brief at best. Unless you were there when it happened, you were out of luck.
Sometime around 1:30, I noticed the boat was taking on water. In fact, the bilge pumps could barely keep up with it. I tried reseating the plug, but that didn’t help. I told my partner we were heading in. It was time to cut my losses.
Back at the ramp, the tournament director allowed me to weigh my fish early, then head to the service yard. There, Ranger’s tech discovered a faulty valve. And though it was a relatively easy fix, it took some time. My day was done as a result.
To be honest, it was a relief. I was ready to go home.