Victory on the Potomac

I rolled into the boat ramp at Farmington Landing around 4:45am. There were a couple of anglers already there unloading their kayaks and getting geared up. It was Saturday, KBF Potomac River – Trail I and Day 1 of the KBF Pro Series. Excitement was in the air as everyone knew the potential the day could bring.

I backed my truck into a parking space, and proceeded to get myself ready. A few more trucks rolled into the lot and it wasn’t long before I heard someone call out my name. It was Brian from my home club in NY. He managed to get away and make the trip down which was excellent, I knew he really wanted to come fish. He joked he recognized my beard in the dark. As we both prepped our boats we continued with some idle chitchat. It was good to shoot the shit about whatever to keep the mood light.

The clock struck 5:30, and we were off. There were eight or so of us that took off from the launch, and people went in all different directions. A few of us, including Brian and myself, were making a line right out of the creek. Brian shouted over which way I was heading, and I just said to the mouth. He was heading to Swan along with another angler or two. I didn’t like giving a half truth to him, but there were others in earshot. I figured they would all just assume I was fishing the point and the riprap along the edges, or maybe targeting schooling fish in the middle of the mouth (which I found in practice were mostly white bass). When we got out to the mouth, there was plenty of separation as they were turned north so when I cut it south nobody saw where I was heading.

It was about 2.5 miles to my spot. I wasn’t running the motor at full speed so I didn’t get to my area until about 10 minutes after lines in. As I slowed down and approached the flat, I reached back to grab my first rod for the day. For some reason, rather than grabbing my FX Custom Rods Medium cranking rod which had the lipless on it, I grabbed the Medium Heavy cranking instead. I had rigged that rod up with a Strike King KVD 2.5 Squarebill. My mind was thinking one thing, big bait for big fish. Which honestly isn’t my usual style. My confidence bait is usually a ned rig, that’s not exactly big bait power fishing.

That choice was the right one. I eased my way into the flat, probing the bottom with that 2.5. I was moving it slowly, feeling the bottom as I went, looking for the patches of grass. I started dragging it more like a football jig. When I felt the grass, I would give it a pop off it and pause. The slow rise of the bait triggered the bite. It took 20 minutes and I was on the board, and bonus, it was a good fish. She measured 18.25-inches. I was thrilled. I didn’t know how many fish would be here, or what the quality would be. I only knew there was green grass. This was a great start. It was 6:34.

Fish no. 1 is on the board

I eased along on the outside of the flat and put two more in the boat before 7:00. I was feeling like I made the right decision. I motored around the outside a little further, but wasn’t getting bit anymore. I turned it back into the flat and found the grass again. I bombed a long cast out and finally got another bite. This one felt small and as I got it next to the boat I decided not to net it and flip it up in. As I lifted the fish, the treble hook pulled out and off she swam. I wasn’t too concerned since it was still early and the fish were chewing, it was small anyway. But there was a little voice in my head saying That could come back to haunt you. It’s tournament day, you net every fish.

As I drifted back in towards my waypoints on back to back casts I put a 14.25 and a 16.25 in the boat. It wasn’t event 7:30 and I was sitting on a 80.25-inch limit. I took a quick peak at the leaderboard and I was sitting in first and the only angler with a limit. I knew I had a 15.5 and a 14.25 that I needed to cull. The bite was definitely happening in that spot at that time. I figured out it was less than 4-acres that the fish were holding in. Stray outside that area, and the grass was no longer green and there were zero fish.

I decided it was time to mix it up a little. The tide was about to bottom out and that 2.5 was digging in pretty good. I grabbed the lighter rod and swapped the lipless for BX Brat which would dive much shallower. I started tossing that out there and worked it a little faster. I was thinking with the sun getting higher, the warming water, and lower tide I might get some more active fish.

I was right about the bait and retrieve change. Just after 8:00 I got into another flurry of fish. I had just netted up a 14 when my phone started ringing. It was Chad calling to tell me my fish were all being DQ’d…… for my identifier being in the wrong box. I laughed and told him where to stick it. I then mentioned I was sitting there with a fish full of trebles in my lap, so he just told me that John had gotten his limit and passed me, but to keep grinding and let me get to it.

The Brat was producing bites, but they weren’t the right ones. I made two small culls right at low tide, but I knew culling up in 0.5-inch intervals was not going to be the way to do it. I put that rod back, put the 2.5 back in my hand, and locked it there for the next 3 hours. It was 8:30.

When people talk about tidal fisheries, one word that is used more frequently than any other is Timing. Fish one spot on an incoming tide, another on an outgoing, or you need to take advantage of the narrow bite windows. Thats all well and good, but one thing that trumps all that is the spawn. I’m fully convinced the spot I was in was a spawning flat and these bass were staging up in full prespawn. The fish I was landing were bigger around than they were long, and I never experienced a lull. They needed to feed regardless of what the water was doing.

From 8:30 to 11:30 my bite never changed. I would let my main grass patch rest and work the edges, catching mostly smaller bass in the 14-15 inch range. I would cycle back onto my main spot about every 30 minutes, each time making a cull. About 11:45 I had a decision to make.My last cull was at 11:10, an 18-inch replacing a 16 moving me up to 88-inches. I was sitting in the top 3, and was in striking range but my recent flurry was more 16-inch fish. I had one spot to fish, and I was hitting it hard, but I started thinking ahead to Sunday. If I burned everything here, what would I do Sunday? Would it reload enough for me to put together a limit? If I move up a couple places in the trail, will it eventually hurt me in the Pro Series?

I made the tough call, I was leaving the spot. I hadn’t seen a single kayak nearby all day, and every bass boat (there were three different boater tourneys going on) had gotten to the nearby point, then just turned away. None had come in to fish my area. I was the only one who found these fish that day, and I doubted it would get hit if I left. I cranked up the motor and made my way back into the creek, hoping nobody saw me coming in from the south.

The rest of the day was quiet. One small fish in the creek, but that was it. 2:00 hit so I headed back to the ramp, loaded up, chatted with a few others at the launch, and took off to the awards. My bag was good enough for 4th for Saturday and surprisingly none of the anglers ahead of me were entered into the Pro series. I was going into Sunday with a 2.25-inch lead!

Saturday night was a new experience. I had a great day of fishing, cashed a good check, and was in the lead on the 2-day event. However, the news was not all good. The weather forcast for Sunday was going to be problematic. I had one spot, and it was on the main river channel on the east side. The wind forecast was for 15-20 mph sustained winds, with gusts over 30 mph coming from the WNW. I had one glimmer of hope, the wind would not pick up till about 9:00. I was all in on that spot. I left it early, and I was going back to it. The goal was simple, get out there and catch 85-inches before 9 and bug out before it got wild. I knew it could be done, but the pieces would need to come together perfect.

Sunday morning came quicky and we packed up the house, loaded up the trucks, and headed out to give em hell. Things were much different this time at the launch. I pulled in and it was pitch black. I was all alone. As I got my stuff ready I kept expecting to see some headlights coming down the road, but they never came. There was a steady wind blowing in, it was cold, it was quiet, and dark. I sat there and waited for 5:30 to come and I could take off.

The run out to my spot was rough. The waves were crashing in, and I was running directly into that cold wind. I had the remote to my motor in one hand, and my coffee mug in the other. I kept the motor on high and made a B-line to my spot. When I pulled into my area I didn’t even bother dropping the transducer into the water. I had the flat mapped, and my track from the previous day to follow. I grabbed the 2.5 and started firing. It was 6:10 am.

The day felt different as I threw the 2.5. I fished some of the better spots and felt it catch the grass just like the previous day, but I didn’t get bit. My window was quickly narrowing. The early morning wind had died down as predicted, so holding position was easy. I knew the fish had to be there still. The area was just too perfect. I closely watched as I retrieved the squarebill. As I got it close to the boat I noticed I couldn’t see it yet. The visibility in the cove was a lot less than the previous day. I hadn’t noticed in the dark, but now I could see with the sun out. That 2.5 had a small knocker in it, but it isn’t a loud bait. especially the way I was retrieving it. A change was needed and fast, it was almost 7:00.

I put that rod down, grabbed the medium action cranking rod, took off the Brat and put the Red Eye Shad lipless back on. It took two casts and I was on the board. She was 16.75, it was 6:56, and it was on. At 7:14 a 15.50 hit the board, then at 7:24 a 14.25.

Even without my transducer in the water, I could see that the shoreline was much lower than the previous day. A blowout tide was forming and it was going to be low. The breeze was holding steady and I felt they were getting more aggressive. I decided to make another bait change. I put the lipless down and pulled out a spring favorite, a firecraw jackhammer.

I whipped that thing at every part of the grass I knew. At 7:57 I landed fish number 4 and she went 16.75 then at 8:10 I landed my limit fish, a 14.50. I had 77.75 inches and I knew at any minute, that wind would kick up. The goal was 85, and I had two 14s in the bag. I needed that kicker.

The next bite came quickly, but it was just a 14.75. A whopping 0.50 inch cull and I still had two 14s to get rid of. To make things worse, the wind was beginning to build and I needed to let that spot refresh. I moved off a ways to another little patch and it wasn’t happening there. I cycled to another and at 9:00 I landed 16.75. This was huge. It was a 2.25 inch cull and put me up over the 80-inch mark with 80.5 inches. I fired around and landed a couple more 13s and a 14 but they obviously weren’t helping.

The wind was picking up and the spotlock was crucial. Even with that 24v motor kicking, a gust of wind would knock me off and it would have to yank me back up to my spot. I eased off the spotlock, drifted down just a shade, and turned up speed to creep along over to the best spot I had. As I approached my waypoint I took aim at the mark I picked out on the shoreline and let er rip. I reeled, gave it pause, two cranks of the handle, and she was on. I bowed up the rod, dipped the tip, and just slowly cranked her in. I knew it was a good fish and would probably be a cull. She came up to the boat and I scooped her into the net. I submitted that 16.75 fish which was another 2-inch cull. I had 82.50 inches, but it was 9:34 and my window was shut.

I kicked the motor back up and thought about going back out to make another pass in my area, but the wind was really blowing and the waves were looking nasty already. It would take me a while to get back into the creek and I knew by the time I got there things would be really rough. It was time to call it and run for cover.

I booked it back to the creek, and the wind was blowing into it perfectly. I looked to either side, but there was nothing protected. I tried to ease back into some water that looked a little safer, but my motor just churned up mud. The blowout tide had drained the pockets and there was nothing there. I zigzagged my way further back but found no place to fish. I beached my boat at the launch and sat there for a moment. I looked around at the water and the waves. I packed up my gear, got the kayak loaded in the truck, finished my coffee, and realized my tournament was over. It was 11:57am.

The next two and half hours were some of the longest of my life. I could try another launch, but the time it would take to identify one, drive to it, launch, and find a place to fish would take up most of the rest of the day. So I went out and grabbed some lunch, but for the most part I just sat around helpless watching the field catch up and pass me. I was falling back further and further in Trail event, but I was focusing on the Pro Series. The two anglers hot on my heels were Matthew Connant and Ryan Matylewicz and I was worried. Those are not some names you want to see trying to run you down.

The afternoon progressed and at 2:00 it was over. I was still waiting for the last minute submissions to come in; and while they knocked me back a few more spots in the Trail, the Pro standing held true and I won! I was so emotionally drained. I sat through the awards and I don’t even remember what I said when they announced my name as the Pro Series Champion. I went up and received the trophy, and it was all a blur.

The drive home was long, but this was a good long. With he Pro Series trophy beside me, and my phone blowing up with calls and messages from all sorts of people congratulating me, I had a grin on my face the whole way back. It was a grin I knew would last a while, and it felt amazing. 

This is my fifth year tournament fishing. I have learned so many things over the past few years. I have met so many amazing people. I have had small wins, some near misses, and some heartbreaking losses. But this was by far my biggest win. I found the right fish, made the right decisions, took some risks, and gave it everything I had. When it’s your time, things just go right. That weekend on the Potomac I guess it was just my time. The 2022 season is off to a hell of a start and I am truly grateful for all those that helped me get here and the support I’ve had.

Check out the video below where I discuss each set-up I used to catch em!

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