PATTERN INSIDE THE PATTERN: Small details made big difference for Gill at the Chowan - Major League Fishing

PATTERN INSIDE THE PATTERN: Small details made big difference for Gill at the Chowan

Image for PATTERN INSIDE THE PATTERN: Small details made big difference for Gill at the Chowan
Drew Gill pulled out all the stops en route to his Chowan River win. Photo by Phoenix Moore. Angler: Drew Gill.
June 14, 2024 • Dave Landahl • Bass Pro Tour

Bass Pro Tour rookie Drew Gill took home his first BPT win last week at U.S. Air Force Stage Five presented by WIX Filters in only his fifth event on the circuit. Gill pulled off the win thanks to some unique properties of the Chowan River in North Carolina, his proficiency at power-finesse fishing, and an innate ability to locate the proper cover to find the winning bass on an essentially unknown body of water.

“This tournament was totally different for me,” said the Mercury pro of his win. “Normally we go into a tournament knowing what we’re going into, knowing who the tournament favorites likely are. But the Chowan wasn’t that way. It was a clean landscape, blank canvas. Everyone was on an equal playing field.”

The Chowan River is connected to the Atlantic Ocean; it doesn’t act like most rivers that eventually flow into the big water.

“I ran a lot on the first day of practice,” Gill said. “I ended up committing to fish just the Chowan, but since there was no tide or much current like most rivers connected to the ocean, I started thinking about it in lake terms.

“I looked for what part of the river had the majority of bass populations. I really focused on bottom composition and cover – not really focused on topographic structure, but more on the types of cover.”

Like many of the competitors, Gill first looked at the myriad cypress tree cover along the banks, but that soon faded for him as the tournament unfolded.

“I quickly discovered it wasn’t a bank-fishing deal for me,” Gill said. “I knew I’d be searching further offshore.

“I located a 3- to 4-mile stretch around Holiday Island, and about one out of every two fish caught were scorables. When I headed north of there, the fish were little, and south of there I just couldn’t catch enough. This area had a good sand bottom and lots of submerged cover.”

That area of the Chowan had what Gill thought of as manageable stretches of shoreline – not the vast jungle of cypress trees common elsewhere, but areas he could effectively fish.

“I felt good about the area,” Gill said. “It wasn’t dynamite in practice, but I knew the area was what I like.”

Throughout the tournament, Gill fished bank areas early on, then switched to the offshore cover to take home the victory since his one good stretch of bank was starting to fail him.

By Day 5, Gill was needing a new location. Photo by Phoenix Moore

“I spent a lot of time on the bank early, but I started burning through it,” he said. “The options in my mind were to run north, where the fish quality was pretty low, or south, and not catch much. I made it into the Championship Round and had to decide how to approach it.”

Heading into the last day, Gill wasn’t confident he could win on what he had. His options were limited, but he went out and worked with the hand dealt to him.

“By the time Championship Day came, I had one good stretch of cypress bank to fish,” Gill said. “In the first period, I caught mid-to-high-teens in weight. Then I came to the end of the rope. Nothing looked promising.

“I said ‘screw it, I’ll try something different.’ I was heading to the offshore cover but hung up about 400 yards short of the stretch where I was headed. The water dropped and I could see a deadfall tree. I cast and caught a scorable. I decided to look for more and fish in that area.” 

The key to this pattern was that the tree had to be on a slant, casting a long shadow where the bass would reside. Gill essentially went on a milk run fishing any similar tree in the area.

“The old tree-on-a-slant was key,” he said. “Bass would use the shade of the tree to relate. The slope was like a floating dock. They weren’t in thick cover, but just in the shade under the deadfalls. There are thousands of stumps and deadfalls in that river. (In the) second period, almost every other one produced a scorable bass. I felt good. I had the lead heading into the final period. I thought if I catch 6 or 7 pounds, I’ll be safe.”

Of course, nothing ever seems to turn out perfectly. A bad break for Gill almost took him out of the game mentally.

“I started the third period and had one clump of trees I hadn’t hit,” he said. “A 5- to 6-pounder eats it, goes nuts, goes over a rope and under the stump. I got her free and went to pull her in to grab and she came off. I mentally came unglued for a while.

“I knew I didn’t have much in the tank. I also knew I had to let that area sit after I made all that disturbance. Michael Neal closed to within 8 pounds. I was getting nervous.”

After fishing a few nearby stretches, Gill knew he had to give that area one last shot, even though he didn’t let it rest as long as would’ve liked.

“I pulled the trigger and went back and closed,” he said. “Execution was at a premium, since I only had only one shot per target. I got amped up going 100 mph tree to tree to tree. It was an amazing event.”

Power-finesse fishing is what Gill focused on for the entire event. A drop-shot rig and a 7-inch Big Bite Baits worm were the primary tools utilized for the win.

Drew Gill used a new finesse worm from Big Bite Baits on his way to the Stage Five win. Photo by Joel Shangle

“I used a 7-inch Big Bite Baits Nekorama on a stout straight-shank 1/0 worm hook, which is pretty big for traditional drop-shots,” he said. “I like having a bigger-profile bait. I think it draws more attention from the bass in those situations, especially from bigger fish. I fished the green pumpkin, and occasionally pink. Definitely the green pumpkin when I was fishing water I’d already fished.”

In addition to his 7-inch worm, Gill opted for a power approach to goad the bass up off the bottom to avoid entanglement in the debris near the deadfalls.

“I used a stouter rod, reel and line than traditional drop-shot fishing,” he said. “I chose a 7-foot medium-heavy rod, 20-pound-test main line braid and 12-pound fluorocarbon leader. In that situation, it’s all about getting the fish hooked and heading up away from the bottom. Then, of course, securing the fish and making money.”