Top 10 baits from the Chowan River - Major League Fishing

Top 10 baits from the Chowan River

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Drew Gill added his first Bass Pro Tour win to his rapidly growing list of accomplishments at the Chowan River. Photo by Phoenix Moore. Angler: Drew Gill.
June 13, 2024 • Tyler Brinks • Bass Pro Tour

EDENTON, N.C. — The mystery of the Chowan River was finally solved at U.S. Air Force Stage Five Presented by WIX Filters. The new venue for the Bass Pro Tour anglers produced great action, plenty of big largemouth and many different ways to catch them. Here’s a rundown of the top baits and how the Top 10 anglers approached the unique eastern North Carolina fishery.

1. Drew Gill — 58-14 (22)         

A new finesse worm from Big Bite Baits keyed Drew Gill’s first BPT win. Photo by Joel Shangle

It was only a matter of time before Drew Gill scored his first Bass Pro Tour win, and the Chowan River was where it finally happened. Fishing the Chowan River itself and targeting isolated cypress trees was the key to his victory.

“At the beginning of the event, I was fishing tight groups of trees where they made a hard edge,” he said. “During the Knockout Round, when I had more time to practice and look around, I found that if you found isolated trees that broke the surface or came close to it off the bank, there would be a scoreable fish on them almost every time. Those isolated trees came through for me later in the event.”

Throughout the week, Gill primarily relied on a 7-inch finesse worm on drop-shot fished with a 1/8-ounce weight and 1/0 hook.

“I was using a new bait called the Big Bite Baits Nekorama that will be out at ICAST,” he said. “The color is matte green pumpkin, and I used that worm until I burned through all of the prototypes and then started using other, bigger finesse worms. I like a larger worm on a drop-shot for big largemouth, especially in dirty water.”

2. Michael Neal — 44-14 (18)   

Michael Neal might be known for his forward-facing sonar prowess, but he kept it simple in the shallows during Stage Five. Photo by Joel Shangle

Michael Neal was the last man standing from the Roanoke River crowd and had a chance to win. Because of the strong current, he chose the narrow Roanoke over the Chowan.

“It positioned the fish much better than more open water, and you could pinpoint where you should get a bite,” he said. “I was targeting current breaks; the more vertical, the better. It was straightforward, and I just tried to cover as much water as possible in a day’s time.”

His bait selection was also simple – a green pumpkin shad vibrating jig with a Big Bite Baits Kamikaze Swimon in chick magnet swirl as his trailer. 

3. Dustin Connell — 41-14 (20)     

Dustin Connell was one of several high finishers who relied on a jerkbait. Photo by Joel Shangle

After the first day, Dustin Connell stormed to the lead and then won his group heading into the Knockout Round by fishing offshore structure with a trio of baits. Included in his arsenal were a jerkbait, crankbait and drop-shot rig.

“I was fishing offshore structure, stumps\ and brushpiles,” he said. “The biggest thing was finding the groups of fish, because you could fish for a mile without catching one and then get 2 or 3 bites in one little area. It seemed like the small bays were better because they were flatter, and the fish related to that better.”

His jerkbait was a Rapala PXR Mavrik 110 in bold shad and his crankbait of choice was a Rapala DT-6 in the old school color. On his drop-shot was a soon-to-be-released worm from Rapala’s CrushCity called The Janitor in plum.

4. Jacob Wheeler — 36-1 (12)           

Jacob Wheeler maintained his lead in the Fishing Clash Angler of the Year race. Photo by Phoenix Moore

Jacob Wheeler scored another Top 10 and increased his Fishing Clash Angler of the Year lead to 14 points over second place with two events remaining. At the Chowan, he fished many areas and targeted them primarily with a jerkbait and the new Rapala CrushCity The Janitor finesse worm.

“My official had been counting how many times we moved the final day and said I pulled my trolling motor up and moved 56 times, which gives you an idea how many spots I was hitting,” he said. “For me, it came down to isolated stumps, brush, old docks and other random stuff. My game plan was to hit those isolated things in 5 to 8 feet of water since I knew everyone would be fishing the cypress trees.”

He used several different jerkbaits and fished The Janitor, which will be released at ICAST, on a drop-shot and Neko Rig.

“I used a few jerkbaits — some small ones, some big ones — but the mainstay that caught the most fish was the Rapala PXR Mavrik 110 in matte shad,” he said. “I fished The Janitor in plum, either on a drop-shot or with a nail weight. I designed that bait for versatility so that you can fish it in several ways. It does a great job on different rigs because it has nice gliding action.”

5. Justin Lucas — 31-4 (12)

Justin Lucas used a drop-shot to boat several Chowan River chunks. Photo by Phoenix Moore

Alabama’s Justin Lucas has won on tidal fisheries multiple times over the years, and while the tide didn’t significantly impact the Chowan River, he felt right at home. He landed several big bass for the week, including an 8-1 on the final day, and he believes the key to that was seeking isolated cover in the Chowan River.

“The bigger fish seemed to like the shade and big trees, and it seemed like the groups of smaller fish were out offshore more,” he said. “I targeted the biggest and most isolated cypress trees that ranged from 3 to 8 feet deep.”

Lucas started the week with success on top, with both a Berkley Bullet Pop and Cane Walker producing fish. Then, he switched to a finesse worm on a drop-shot, continued catching fish and rode that pattern for the rest of the week.

“I got on the drop-shot a little bit in practice and then started dialing it on the first day,” he said. “I also narrowed down the location and started getting into better areas.”

6. Alton Jones Jr. — 31-0 (13)

Alton Jones Jr. made his fifth Championship Round in seven events this season. Photo by Joel Shangle

Alton Jones Jr. scored yet another Top-10 finish and remains in second place in the AOY race. He stuck to the Chowan River all week and rotated through many spots.

“I had around 25 or 30 spots with groups of fish, and if you made the perfect cast, you could catch one every time,” he said. “Most of it was brushpiles, both natural and manmade, that I found with side scan and LiveScope. I marked over 100 places, and the key depth seemed to be 5 to 10 feet of water.”

He used two main baits depending on where the fish were positioned: a drop-shot for fish along the bottom and a jerkbait for suspended bass.

“The jerkbait was an O.S.P. Rudra in the 130 size, which was a lot bigger than other guys were using and worked because the bass were eating bigger baitfish. I swapped out the trebles to #5 Ryugi Pierce TC trebles,” he said. “I fished a drop-shot with a morning dawn 6-inch Roboworm. One key with the drop-shot was upsizing to 12-pound Cortland XTR leader material because of all the trees and barnacles down there.”

He fished a 3/16-ounce weight and a 1/0 Hayabusa WRM956 to round out his drop-shot setup.

7. Zack Birge — 26-5 (12)        

Zack Birge carried the momentum from his first BPT win to the Chowan River, finishing seventh. Photo by Joel Shangle

Although Zack Birge ran around and fished quite a bit of the tournament waters, most of his damage came a short idle from the takeoff at Pembroke Creek Park.

“The first day, I fished up in the Roanoke and then came back down and caught 20 pounds of fish in the last 40 minutes,” he said. “I stayed there the second day, the Knockout Round, and the final day. There was no real key to where they were, but they would relate to the shade a lot when the sun came out. Other than that, make as many casts as you can to the cypress trees.”

Birge used a 3/8-ounce Omega Revelation Swim Jig head with a custom skirt.

“It’s a new skirt that will be available soon. The color is black and purple,” he said. “I used two different trailers; a green pumpkin purple Missile Baits D Bomb and a junebug craw my buddy makes from his company Swamp Swag Baits. I was chunking and winding that swimjig all week on an Alpha Angler Power Skip rod, 8.1:1 ARK G8 reel and 30-pound Yo-Zuri SuperBraid.”

8. Matt Becker — 25-10 (7)

Matt Becker used a rotation of baits to target bass around offshore cover. Photo by Joel Shangle

Matt Becker was another angler who found success in the upper reaches of the tournament boundaries on the Chowan River while targeting isolated cover. Included in his catch on the final day was the Berkley Big Bass of the tournament, an 8-4 brute.

“I spent most of my time from Holiday Island up to where our off-limits started, and the main pattern was old cypress trees, stumps, brushpiles, and any other piece of wood I could find off the bank,” he said. “I had 20 or so spots I would rotate through every day and then a few stretches of bank that I’d fish through. I found new stuff each day and would add one or two new ones every day.”

Becker relied on three baits: a 5-inch Yamamoto Senko in gooseberry laminate, a Megabass Vision 110 in Wagin Hasu and a shad-colored RAID Fish Roller on a Core Tackle Hover Rig with a 3/0 hook and 1/8-ounce weight.

“The jerkbait was a main player, and I would cast the Hover Rig to fish that I saw following that wouldn’t commit,” he said. “I also upsized my line on the jerkbait to 15-pound Seaguar InvizX because there was so much heavy cover around to help keep the bait higher in the water column.”

9. Ott DeFoe — 11-8 (6)          

A mixture of soft plastics keyed Ott DeFoe’s first Top-10 finish of the season. Photo by Tyler Brinks

Ott DeFoe primarily fished the Albemarle Sound the first three days of the event before venturing into Roanoke on the final day. Cypress trees were his prime targets, and there were plenty to choose from.

“I had to cover a lot of water to get bit and then could slow down,” he said. “I had four or five good stretches, and the shallow trees, less than 3 feet deep, seemed to be the best. I knew that wasn’t a winning deal and thought the max I could catch was 30, maybe 35 pounds doing that, so I ran up the Roanoke during the Knockout Round once I knew I was safe and then spent the whole final day up there.”

His bait selection varied daily, but soft plastics were vital every day.

“It changed as the week went on, and on the first day, I caught most on a topwater toad bait and would follow up missed bites with a wacky-rigged Bass Pro Shops Wacky Stik-O in sooner run on a #1 VMC Redline Weedless Neko hook,” he said. “After the first day, the wacky rig became the main player, and my secondary bait was a Texas rig with a Bass Pro Shops Magnum Fin-Eke Worm in the same color. I fished it on a 3/16-ounce weight and a 3/0 VMC Heavy Duty Worm Hook.”

10. Fred Roumbanis — 9-15 (3)       

Despite missing a day of practice and fishing out of a new boat, Fred Roumbanis notched his first Championship Round appearance of the year. Photo by Tyler Brinks

Just making it to fish the Chowan River was a victory for Fred Roumbanis, who was hit by a drunk driver and totaled his boat on the way to the event. With a new boat from Phoenix and limited practice time, Roumbanis was still able to secure his first BPT Top 10 since 2021. 

“I lost almost a full day of practice trying to get the new boat rigged and spent a lot of practice breaking in the new motor,” Roumbanis said. “So, I stayed pretty close to the takeoff and targeted man-made structure like bridge pilings and docks, but did catch some on cypress trees.”

He changed his approach, baits and areas slightly based on wind conditions each day.

“The first day, I caught the majority on a green pumpkin blue flake Yamamoto Senko, and the second day, I caught some on a phantom-colored The Frog Factory Boom Boom Frog,” he said. “The last two days, I was fishing a ‘power-shot’ with a Yamamoto Sensei Worm in the plum candy color, fishing around bridge pilings and docks. I used 14-pound test, a 4/0 hook and 1/4-ounce weight.”