When the Bassmaster Tour visited the Potomac River 30 years ago, everyone knew that Jay Yelas was likely going to spend some time on an abandoned wharf called Fox’s Ferry. Why wouldn’t he? It contributed to a win in 1993 along with several other top five and top ten finishes. I’m sure that other anglers fished it during practice and competition, but on some level everyone knew it as “Jay’s spot.”
When I leave my house to head out to fish the Potomac River, I make a right turn out of the driveway, a left turn at the first intersection, and about a quarter mile down the road there is a flagpole with a massive American flag. That’s my first sign of how the day will go. If it’s standing perpendicular to the pole, straightened by a brisk wind, I know that I am about to get my 48-year-old back pounded into submission.
I have a friend from Texas coming here Friday night with the goal of catching a Potomac River snakehead. He’s someone who has helped me tremendously since the earliest stages of my outdoor writing career, when he was the pro-staff manager of a major rod company, and I was some guy just struggling to get published.
In 25 years of riding around in bass boats, I’ve seen all sorts of meals brought on board. Of course, there have been thousands of packs of Nabs and hundreds of cans of properly-aged Vienna Sausages. There’s been at least three Herefords worth of beef jerky and a gross of Pop Tarts. I’ve seen a partner eat Chinese food (with a spork) out of one of those little folding takeout containers, and I’ve witnessed another place a half rack of ribs on his butt seat for easy access.
I had just about given up hope on buzzbaits. They’d been my bread and butter in the late 90s and for a few years thereafter. Back then I probably threw them a little bit more than I should have, but the results were encouraging enough that I didn’t mind the occasional dry spell. About seven or eight years ago, though, the dry spells started getting longer and longer and longer.
When Yamamoto introduced the Kreature over a decade ago, I was immediately enthralled. It was the perfect size, came in lots of killer colors, and looked sexier than any other plastic in my boat. Most importantly, it caught lots of fish, whether I sought them in buck brush at Buggs Island, under grass and docks on the Potomac, or around pads and cypress knees on the Chickahominy. Then a strange thing happened – I more or less forgot about it.
Another year, another great tour-level tournament on the Potomac, once again won by an out-of-stater. In fact, this year’s winner Justin Lucas is a two-timing out-of-stater, having migrated from California to Alabama. Despite the fact that he professes to love the Potomac, it’s a near certainty that he never considered moving here. That’s fine – there have been no superstar anglers who honed their trade on the Potomac, so why should he break the streak?
If I had to guess, I’d say that there’s about a 90% chance that this week’s Elite Series event on the Potomac will be won in less than 5 feet of water, and a 95% chance that it’ll be won shallower than 10 feet. The person who prevents me from betting my house on those odds (other than my wife) is David Fritts.
Younger fishing fans might not remember it, but during the 1990s Fritts went on multiple ridiculously hot streaks and his wins included both a Bassmaster Classic trophy (1993) and the FLW Championship (1997). He also finished 2nd on the Potomac in 1990, 3rd in 1992, 3rd in 1993, 2nd in 1996, 10th in 1997 and 2nd in 1999 in B.A.S.S. competition on the Potomac.
There are a handful of anglers who’ve had multiple great finishes on the Potomac over the years, but his excellence stands out because he bucks the norm. While most others searched for shallow grass, boat docks and laydowns, Fritts gets a virtual case of hives if the depthfinder reads in single digits. It’s not that he can’t fish shallow. It’s that he prefers not to.
That hit home for me in 2007, when I was assigned by FLW to ride with him during a day of practice prior to that year’s Tour event. I firmly believed that it would be won shallow – and indeed it was, by North Carolina’s Chris Baumgardner – but in our day on the water Fritts rarely fished in what I considered to be likely places. In fact, he barely fished at all. Instead, he idled around a lot, often 100 or 200 yards from any place where I’d ever seen anyone else look. It was as if he’d woken up, forgotten where he was, and assumed that it was Kentucky Lake instead of the Potomac.
He was looking for one isolated rock or log or an old sunken barge that had likely never been fished before. He knew that he had enough backup areas to catch some fish, but he also knew that he was most likely to win if he spent his available time off the beaten path. Nine years later, I still haven’t spent a day out there idling away from it all, but that day completely opened my eyes to a different approach to tournament fishing – looking to win by identifying what you do better than anyone else and then riding it until you have no choice but to get off the horse.
Whoever wins this week is going to have to earn it, because the river is healthy and full of fish. The winner will have my respect no matter what, but I’ll be a little more excited about the whole deal if he does something outside the ordinary. We always say that the Elites are great at showing the locals a new side to their home waters – I want it to happen here.