Top 10 baits: Shallow power techniques rule on James River - Major League Fishing

Top 10 baits: Shallow power techniques rule on James River

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Shallow-water stalwarts carried the week on the James River.
July 5, 2024 • Tyler Brinks • Bass Pro Tour

RICHMOND, Va. — If you like shallow-water power fishing, then General Tire Stage Six Presented by O’Reilly Auto Parts on the James River was for you. The famed Virginia tidal fishery did not disappoint with plenty of fish-catching action, a dramatic finish and bass willing to bite an array of lures.

Here’s a closer look at the top baits and patterns from the penultimate event of the 2024 Bass Pro Tour season.

1. Skeet Reese — 54-3 (23)

California’s Skeet Reese has won plenty over his Hall of Fame career, but this marked his first Bass Pro Tour win. He relied on his extensive tidal water experience and refined his pattern to one bait throughout practice and the tournament.

“It started in practice flipping a 4-inch Berkley PowerBait Power Hawg and a vibrating jig,” he said. “Then, it was a bladed jig, buzzbait and a crankbait. By the second day of the tournament, it was all on the Lucky Craft BDS 1.0 in chartreuse shad.”

He liked the downsized crankbait due to the hot water and heavy fishing pressure and noted he was getting more of his bites into the boat.

“They were swiping at the other baits, and I thought nine hook points would be better than one,” he said.

While most of the field ended up in the Chickahominy, Reese also utilized the Appomattox River, then followed the tide and sought out less pressure fish.

“I started in the Chick, then went to the Appomattox; then later in the tournament, I started in the Appomattox and would work my way towards the Chick,” he said. “I was following the tide, because the outgoing tide was great most of the week around laydowns, cypress trees and docks. The fish were pulling out from the flats and funneling to those pieces of hard cover.”

Reese also had some success targeting leafy vegetation, which he referred to as arrowheads.

“They are big and leafy with big stems, and the fish would be around them at high tide,” he said. “I was also running to some of these areas during the high tide, which helped me get some key fish during the week.”

2. Jeff Sprague — 50-8 (25)

Texas pro Jeff Sprague made a furious rally at the end of the Championship Round and nearly caught up to Reese in the closing moments. While he came up short, he secured his 12th Top-10 finish in six seasons on the Bass Pro Tour.

“I fished from the mouth of the Chickahominy up to the dam and bounced around the entire river,” he said. “I found several key stretches and current breaks during practice. I targeted grass and pads for the most part, but on the final day, I started mixing in some deeper docks, and that carried me there at the end.”

His primary bait was a 3/8-ounce green pumpkin swim jig with a sun perch-colored Lake Fork Boot Tail Live Magic Shad

“I threw a swim jig a lot, especially when the tide was lower and you didn’t need a bunch of vibration,” he said. “My secondary bait was a black-and-blue vibrating jig with the regular Lake Fork Live Magic Shad in the same color.”

3. Nick LeBrun — 37-3 (16)

The last time Nick LeBrun fished the James River, he won a Tackle Warehouse Pro Circuit event in 2022. He nearly pulled off another win this time around. He fished slightly differently during this visit, but some of his weight came from the same stretch of docks in the Chickahominy River.

“I fished the same zone as I did when I won in 2022, but instead of targeting bigger fish, I was just trying to locate as many schools as I could this time,” he said. “I was chunking and winding current seams where the water was going out or coming in. If you caught one, you had to get right back out there to get another fired up. That was pretty easy early in the tournament but got tougher as it went on.”

LeBrun mixed it up with a 1/4-ounce chrome-and-blue Bill Lewis Rat-L-Trap and a 1/2-ounce white-and-chartreuse Z-Man Evergreen Jack Hammer ChatterBait with a white Yamamoto Zako on the back. He also used a wacky rig as a clean-up bait when the action subsided. Another key was a bone Whopper Plopper 110 that he fished around hard cover.

“I was fishing 16-pound Sunline Sniper fluorocarbon for the Rat-L-Trap, which kept that small bait up higher in the water column,” he said. “It still casts great but I had the power to rip it free from grass. I swapped out the treble hooks for No. 5 Hayabusa TBL 930s on the Rat-L-Trap and added a Hayabusa trailer hook on the Jack Hammer as a stinger.”

4. Bryan Thrift — 35-9 (16)

Bryan Thrift rotated through three different baits throughout the week depending on the cover and tide in his areas.

“I fished the Chickahominy mostly and had three main baits,” he said. “I was flipping a Texas-rigged worm around and casting a Z-Man Evergreen Jack Hammer ChatterBait in black and blue when the tide was low. When the tide was higher, I could get bit on a white Damiki Armor Shad Paddle Tail on a 3/0 Owner Flashy Swimmer weighted hook. I was mainly targeting grass lines at both high and low tide.”

Thrift was able to adjust and catch fish under different tide scenarios, but there were still crucial windows.

“It seemed like the three or four hours before low tide seemed the best every day,” he added.

5. Michael Neal — 34-10 (16)

Fishing the area in and around the Chickahominy River, Michael Neal scanned and searched for flatter banks and isolated cover during practice. Then, he ran high-percentage areas during the low tide.

“I was looking for those flat banks, so when the tide dropped, the fish had nowhere to go,” he said. “They would pull out from those banks to brush and stumps off the bank.”

Neal kept things simple, cranking with a SPRO Little John MD in clear chartreuse and mixing in a Big Bite Baits Scentsation Skinny Stick on a 3/16-ounce Big Bite Baits Limit Maker.

“I fished inside the Chick and down on that end because I knew that the tide was going to make things harder to catch fish further up the James,” he added. “The shorter tide window would have made that stuff harder to get bites as the tournament went on.”

6. Gerald Spohrer — 32-11 (14)

One of the top anglers who solely fished the James River proper, Louisiana’s Gerald Spohrer posted his best finish of the season. He kept it simple with a vibrating jig around cypress trees in practice, and then switched to boat docks as the week went on.

“It was pretty simple and pretty much 100% on a 1/2-ounce chartreuse-and-white Z-Man Evergreen Jack Hammer ChatterBait with a white Missile Baits Spunk Shad on the back,” he said. “One adjustment I made was switching from 17-pound Seaguar Tatsu, like I always use, to 20-pound test. I had some fish break me off around the pilings and sharp barnacles, so beefing up my line and locking my drag all the way down let me control those fish away from them and land those fish.”

Fishing from the mouth of the Chickahominy to Hopewell, Spohrer had a 30-mile stretch where he would run the tide and hit key targets.

“I started with cypress trees in practice, but the docks were more consistent, and I had them marked on that stretch,” he said. “I was running the tide and trying to stay in the lowest tide possible. It was mainly on the walkways on the docks, unless the ends of the docks were really shallow, like a foot and a half. During the low tide, those fish wanted to be shallow, where the current wasn’t ripping as much as in the deeper water.”

7. Dylan Hays — 34-4 (14)

Dylan Hays scored his second Top-10 finish of the season after winning the Knockout Round on the James River. His main approach was to chase moving water in and near the Chickahominy River.

“The key was chasing the lower tide — mostly in the Chickahominy and the creeks inside of it and some outside on the James, but not too far away,” he said. “I caught them on everything from docks and cypress trees to laydowns and lily pads. I also caught some on submerged grass; it just had to have some moving water.”

A 1/2-ounce white Brazalo Custom Lures Strutter bladed jig with a matching Zoom Z-Craw was one of his top producers, and a buzzbait also played a key role. The buzzbait was a Brazalo Custom Lures Bushwacker Pro Elite with a black Zoom Horny Toad on the back.

“The buzzbait and bladed jig catch quality fish,” he said. “I stuck with those and tried to cover a lot of water while also chasing that low tide bite.”

8. Spencer Shuffield — 24-9 (12)

A noted forward-facing sonar guru, Spencer Shuffield utilized the technology but also mixed in a shallow-water power fishing approach during high tide. During low tide, he leaned on a jerkbait with his Garmin LiveScope.

“My main two baits were a ghost pearl shad and black and gold Yo-Zuri 3DB Jerkbait 110, and I was throwing that on 14 and 16-pound Yo-Zuri T7 fluorocarbon,” he said. “I did best around isolated pieces of cover and grass clumps where the fish would get sucked out with the low tide. I could still see those fish roaming around in the high tide, but they would suspend and go dormant and wouldn’t eat; it was really weird. Then the tide would drop, and they would turn on like their timer turned on and told them to go eat.”

When the tide was higher, Shuffield was able to catch fish around hard cover with a 3/8-ounce white Z-Man Evergreen Jack Hammer ChatterBait and a 3/8-ounce BOOYAH Covert Finesse spinnerbait in white and chartreuse with a pearl Zoom Split Tail trailer on the back.

9. Andy Montgomery — 18-2 (10)

Andy Montgomery secured his first Knockout and Championship Round appearances of the season with the help of a vibrating jig and a creature bait that he pitched to shallow cover.

“The 3/8-ounce Strike King Tungsten Thunder Cricket did 90% of the work, both in white and black and blue,” Montgomery said. “I used a white Strike King Swim-N-Shiner on the white one and a blue craw Strike King Baby Rage Bug on the black and blue one. I was mainly fishing them around wood cover like laydowns, cypress trees and duck blinds — some in the creeks and some out of them on the Chickahominy.”

Montgomery also pitched a blue craw Strike King Baby Rage Bug with a 5/16-ounce Strike King Tour Grade tungsten weight and 2/0 straight shank hook.

“That little bait looked just like the crabs swimming around down there,” he said.

10. Jonathon VanDam — 14-6 (7)

Relying on his James River experience from more than a decade ago, Jonathon VanDam had an idea of how the fish would position themselves based on the tide.

“I remembered how those fish would set up and feed on shell bars and isolated cover off the bank, but still shallow,” he said. “That’s what I was doing this week, and it seemed the best when the current was rolling. The tide would affect it and help pull those fish from the cover along the bank and put them on those shell bars.”

VanDam threw a Rapala DT-6 in citrus shad and a flashy chrome Megabass Vision 110 jerkbait when the fish were active and slowed down with a drop-shot when the fish were less aggressive. His drop-shot bait was a 6-inch Roboworm Straight Tail Worm in margarita mutilator fished with a 1/4-ounce weight and 2/O Mustad Grip-Pin finesse hook.

“As the tournament progressed, the drop-shot became the main deal,” he said. “The last two days of the tournament, the current was a lot slower, and the tide didn’t fall out as quickly, so it didn’t set the fish up as well. The main thing all week was fishing somewhere where the water was moving.”