My first experience on the Chesapeake Bay was during the 1991 Bassmaster Classic. Realizing a lot had changed since then, I made arrangements to scout the area ahead of the 30-day off limits period.
More than anything, I wanted to familiarize myself with the Susquehanna Flats — a massive shallow area that covers much of the upper bay, well known for stranding boats on lower tides.
I also wanted to find some areas to fish should the weather turn bad. High winds and choppy conditions are common on the Bay during the summer, so having protected water to fall back on can be crucial.
The scouting trip went well and both goals were accomplished. It was now time to apply everything I had learned.
The first day of official practice, I spent most of my time in the Sassafras and Elk Rivers. Both tributaries had plenty of grass, lily pads and wooden structures to probe, so I thought they might pay off. I was wrong, however. By the end of the day, I hadn’t had a single bite.
In talking with several other anglers, I learned they experienced the same.
On day-2, the wind blew hard from the southeast. When I arrived at the boat ramp, the dock and seawall were completely submerged. The Bay was under flood conditions, the likes of which I don’t think any of us were prepared for.
Stiff winds accelerated the incoming tide to the point it washed over seawalls into parking lots and people’s homes. At a nearby waterfront campground, I could see cars, campers and tents standing in two feet of water. Seeing that, I decided to spend the morning in a small creek, fishing to the very back.
Finding little action, I abandoned the creek and headed to the Susquehanna River. There, I could find halfway stable conditions.
The move proved positive, and in no time I was catching bass. The only problem was they were small. And worse, a slew of other competitors had sought refuge there as well. I knew as conditions improved I’d have to have something else in order to survive the event.
On day-3 I headed to Middle River — a place that had produced well for me during the ’91 Classic. Two hours in, however, I saw zero action. From there I headed to the back of Gunpowder Creek, to an area called “The Quarry.”
That’s when I ran into Randy Howell. He said he’d been there for hours and had only one bite. Two locals asked me where I was from, then told me I was the 30th Elite angler to show up that day. Hearing that killed my desire to search further. It was late anyway, so I pulled the trolling motor and headed back to Northeast for registration.
Having really nowhere to go, I decided to stay close and make the most of what was available in Northeast Creek. When they called my number, I idled beyond the off-limits area into the creekbed above the marina.
Surprisingly, few other competitors opted to start there. Northeast Creek is known for release fish and a consistent bite. Knowing how difficult practice had been, I figured a larger number of competitors would have started there.
I worked my way upstream where I found Jacob Pawroznik anchored with Power-Poles down. He was fishing one of the best spots; a large, submerged tree positioned on the down-current end of a small island.
As I approached, he set the hook on a large fish. Soon after, he caught another going three pounds. For a minute I thought it was going to be another Kentucky Lake nightmare, but then I hooked up with my first fish — a solid 4-pounder.
With Jacob occupying the best spot in the creek, I worked slowly upstream, picking apart each piece of cover. Soon, I caught a second fish flipping a brown jig with green-pumpkin Yamamoto trailer — a solid 2-pounder. That brought immediate relief. My morning had already surpassed anything I had experienced in practice.
Sometime later in the day, I boated two more fish weighing about three pounds apiece. Both came on the jig. Then time ran out. At the scales, I learned fishing was tough for most of the field and that my weight had positioned me inside the cut. I just needed day-2 to go well and I’d be fishing on the weekend.
The next morning, I started on the same stretch of water up Northeast Creek. Strangely, Jacob Pawroznik never showed up. In minutes I caught two solid keepers off the submerged tree using a Rapala DT-Fat3 crankbait. Then came a long lull. The tide got high and barely moved. I was faced with a decision: Stay and wait it out, or run and take my chances in the Susquehanna. I opted to stay.
In the last hour, the tide finally got low enough to spark a brief bite. I finished strong, catching two more fish weighing approximately four pounds apiece. As a result, I climbed way up the leader board.
Fishing On The Weekend
Having a guaranteed check waiting, I was loose and ready to enjoy the weekend. Half the field was eliminated and the only other competitor I’d have to worry about was Todd Faircloth. Todd had stayed in the creek for the better part of both days and he was dialed in on the key spots. Somehow, though, we managed to alternate targets without really interfering with each other.
The day started slow and by noon I had only one fish — a 3-pounder. Several times, I thought about leaving but something made me stay. In the last hour I boated two more solid fish and headed to weigh-in, fully expecting to fall short of the final cut by a pound or two.
Weigh-in took hours, but when the dust settled, I held onto twelfth spot. I was fishing on Sunday!
The next morning came quickly. In a rush, I trailered to the official launch site with the rest of the top-12. BASS had scheduled a drive-thru weigh-in, which required our rigs to be onsite. Once in the water, I assumed my position in the take-off sequence. Next, the anthem was played and the boats were eventually released.
Only one other competitor entered my creek — Chad Pipkins — and he was fishing at the mouth. I had the entire backend to myself .
The action was slow, but by day’s end I had amassed a solid 5-fish limit. I knew I had moved up the board. How far, I wasn’t sure.
Before a crowd of thousands, they pulled my rig thru first. I crossed the stage, posting a weight of more than 15 pounds and was awarded the “hot seat.”
Competitor after competitor weighed behind me and gradually I moved up the leader board, eventually securing sixth place. It was great tournament and not only did I make the final, I also moved into the top-10 of the Angler of the Year standings.
Detroit was next and I was ready!