Options abound as Bass Pro Tour takes on James River - Major League Fishing

Options abound as Bass Pro Tour takes on James River

Image for Options abound as Bass Pro Tour takes on James River
Bass Pro Tour anglers will have their pick of how they want to fish on the vast James River. Photo by Rob Matsuura.
June 22, 2024 • Mitchell Forde • Bass Pro Tour

RICHMOND, Va. — Between the battles to claim the Fishing Clash Angler of the Year title, secure berths in REDCREST 2025 and requalify for the Bass Pro Tour roster, the stakes are high for just about every angler in the field with two events left in the 2024 season. So, it’s fitting that General Tire Stage Six Presented by O’Reilly Auto Parts is taking the tour to a fishery that offers something for everyone. 

June 25-30, the Bass Pro Tour will compete for the first time on the James River. Virginia native Martin Villa believes the bite should be strong on the tidal fishery, with anglers able to catch bass just about however they want. 

“It’s kind of one of those pick-your-poison fisheries,” Villa said. “The guys who like to flip, they’re going to catch them, and the guys who like to frog are going to catch them. You can run the tides, or you can bunker down, and whoever makes the right decision on that is probably going to sail the distance.” 

While that might sound simple, the ever-shifting tide, warm weather and fishing pressure should keep anglers on their toes, making for an event where a certain style of fishing or area seems to dominate one day and then something different produces better the next. 

Keep up with coverage throughout the week on MajorLeagueFishing.com and tune in to the MLFNOW! live stream Thursday through Sunday from 7:45 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. ET each day.

About the fishery

With several tributaries containing all types of cover, the James River offers no shortage of bass habitat. Photo by Rob Matsuura

While this will mark its Bass Pro Tour debut, the James is no stranger to tour-level tournaments. It hosted three Bassmaster Classics from 1988-90 plus a smattering of national events more recently, including a 2022 Tackle Warehouse Pro Circuit stop. Several BPT pros competed in that event, including winner Nick LeBrun

LeBrun won fishing trees and docks in the Chickahominy River, which figures to be a popular area again this time around. Villa said the Chickahominy and the area around Osborne Landing, where the field will launch each morning, typically attract the most fishing pressure. 

However, with more than 60 miles of the James itself in play this week plus its tributaries, both LeBrun and Villa said anglers will be able to spread out. 

“I think that there will be some areas that are very crowded, but it is a massive fishery,” Villa said. “You can catch them anywhere in this fishery you want to, and there’s big fish everywhere.” 

With so much water comes a wide range of habitat for anglers to target. Vegetation is plentiful – both submerged and emergent. There’s also wood in the form of cypress trees, laydowns and boat docks. LeBrun thinks the conditions will dictate which cover produces best. 

“I think you’re going to have to be versatile; you’re going to have a lot of rods on the deck,” he said. “If you get a day that’s cloudy, windy, maybe a little rain, they might want something winding through there more than begging them to bite sort of a thing. So, you just have to fish the conditions, but I do think every type of cover is going to play.” 

The river is best known for its shallow power fishing opportunities, but Villa said there will be some fish offshore this time of year, too. While LeBrun admitted he’s hoping forward-facing sonar doesn’t play a major role in this event, Villa said those anglers who want to beam for bass will be able to do so, although he doesn’t believe it will be mandatory. 

“If you want to crank, you can crank and catch those fish,” Villa said. “Bladed jigs and spinnerbaits will catch the bulk of fish there, too. … If you want to flip arrowheads and pads, it’s got it. If you want to flip docks, it’s got it. They’re tidal bass — some of them do go out kind of deep, but a lot of them are notoriously known to stay shallow. 

“I have ‘Scoped many a fish in that fishery, as do many of the locals, but it’s not going to dominate,” he said. “You’re not going to have to use it to be successful here.” 

Tide, weather could be X-factors

Virginia native Martin Villa knows how to play the tide on the James River. Photo by Cobi Pellerito

Adding to the number of choices competitors will have to make this week, both LeBrun and Villa said they could see dueling tactics producing – running from spot to spot or parking in a productive area. LeBrun employed the latter approach in 2022, milking a stretch with two docks and one cypress tree, but he thinks the tide and the fact that this event spans six days are going to force anglers to have multiple spots at their disposal this time. 

“I think somebody is going to unlock a few spots and know what tide to be there on, and that’s going to be the difference-maker,” LeBrun said. “I think you could make the Knockout Round just fishing and ignoring the tide and just finding a few key areas, but whoever holds the trophy up on Sunday, they’ll put it all together. They know the type of cover, they know the areas and they know the tide, and it’s going to be a formula that all comes together.” 

Expect to hear a lot of chatter about the tide, which is much stronger on the James than the Chowan River, host of Stage Five. While timing will vary depending on location, in the vicinity of the Chickahominy, anglers will be on the water for low tide each competition day — initially around mid-morning and getting later every day. By the Knockout and Championship Rounds, they’ll be dealing with a falling tide most of the day. 

“The tide is definitely going to play a part,” Villa said. “Usually, the key to success in a tidal fishery is going to be whoever can catch them at both tides.” 

Villa is also keeping a close eye on the weather, another variable that could force anglers to adapt as the tournament progresses. While it’s generally been a mild spring and early summer in the area, the field was greeted by blazing temperatures when they began practice Saturday, with highs in the upper 90s. As of this writing, similar temperatures are forecast through Wednesday, with more highs in the 90s during the Knockout and Championship Rounds. 

Villa thinks the heat wave could speed up the bass’ postspawn transition. It’ll likely make finding shade critical, and it might also make for a better topwater bite. 

“Typically, in the tidal waters around Virginia, the hotter it gets, the better the topwater bite gets,” Villa said. “We’re getting ready to get a major heat spell, so these fish might change during our tournament as well. We have not had that heat spell yet that we typically do in Virginia, and we’re getting ready to get it.” 

What will it take?

Nick LeBrun will look to replicate his June success on the James from when he won a 2022 Tackle Warehouse Pro Circuit event on the river. Photo by Jody White

Both LeBrun and Villa expect SCORETRACKER® to be busy. LeBrun thinks if an angler can stack up 30 pounds per day, he should be safe to make the Knockout Round. Villa had a similar outlook, predicting the cut weight in each group will be in the high 40-pound range or low 50s across both days.  

With weights like that, this is shaping up to be an event in which anglers will need to catch both numbers of fish and quality to contend for the win. 

The James has been known to kick out 7- and 8-pounders on a fairly regular basis, and boating one of those big females could help an angler make up ground in a hurry. As Villa noted, with the minimum scorable weight once again set at 1-8 for this event, a 5-pounder is basically worth three keepers. 

That said, LeBrun doesn’t think he’ll be able to approach this event with the same mindset he had in 2022, when he was fishing for just five bites each day. This week, he thinks finding groups of fish will be the path to victory. 

“I think the key to winning that event is going to be to find the piles of fish, the little wolfpacks,” LeBrun said. “It might only be eight or 10 fish; but it might be cast after cast, and if you can find a few of those little places like that, I think that’ll get you to Championship Sunday.”