The T-H Marine Bass Fishing League (BFL) Regional on the Chesapeake Bay was defined by flip-flopping weights and a big cold front whose strong winds forced the cancelation of day two of the event. Instead of fishing two days and cutting the field for the final day, the competitors from the Buckeye, North Carolina, Northeast and Shenandoah divisions all fished for just two days. Coming from 25th on day one with 10 pounds, 7 ounces, Joseph Thompson of Coatesville, Pa., captured the win and earned his first BFL All-American qualification with 19-2 on day two for a total of 29-9. For the win, Thompson earned $66,000 for his efforts, including a new Ranger Z518C boat with a 200-horsepower Evinrude outboard.
Despite extensive experience on the upper Chesapeake Bay, Thompson didn’t get on much in practice. Though he found some cranking fish on the final day, that quickly fell apart on him when the tournament started. Because much of the upper Bay and the Susquehanna River was blown out and muddy, the North East River was crowded with most of the field and he couldn’t squeeze in anywhere to fish.
“Around 12 o’clock I made a gamble to go up the North East Creek,” says Thompson. “There was a big laydown tree, and there were a couple people fishing it already, but there was just enough room for another boat. I stayed there for the remainder of the day and I caught five fish on a drop-shot. I had never once in my life thrown a drop-shot on the upper Bay.”
After weigh-in, Thompson was emboldened despite only weighing 10 pounds and change. The fishing had been so tough that a good bag on day two might still put him in the top six and send him to the All-American.
“On the final day I started to get a little excited before I even got to the river,” says Thompson. “The guys that got them on day one, I thought they were going to struggle. When I put the trolling motor in the water I saw the temperature had dropped like 8 or 9 degrees. And immediately I rigged two rods completely different just because of that.
“I had 100 spots on the North East River, but I’ve got a few spots where I know big fish live and live in groups,” says Thompson. “I said to myself then that I was going to fish places where I knew big fish lived. I figure if I could get five bites I could make the All-American.”
Thompson says he started Saturday with a small grub and a ¼-ounce ball head near a pier. Instead of targeting the actual pilings, he fished secondary pieces of cover nearby and scrounged two keepers to start his limit.
Later, as the tide started to go out, Thompson moved to a current-focused area at the outside of a marina. Using Spot-Lock to hold himself, he drifted a 5-inch green pumpkin-colored Yamamoto Senko with a 1/16-ounce weight through a current-swept area that was about 13 feet deep. That area produced another three fish to finish his limit.
“My last one came with 10 minutes to go,” says Thompson. “Driving back, I thought I really had a shot at the top six, but I didn’t think I had a shot to win.”
As it turned out, he did win. After falling off his roof and separating his shoulder, Thompson had to fish the Northeast Division Super Tournament at the 1000 Islands in a sling just to make the Regional. All of a sudden, after a massive comeback day, he was headed to a win and the All-American.
“I finished seventh place in a Regional before and it was the longest ride home from a fishing tournament I’ve ever had in my life,” says Thompson. “I’ve heard about the All-American from everyone that’s been there, and now it’s my time. I certainly don’t want to sound cocky, but there are two places where I feel I have a chance of beating anybody, and that’s the upper Bay and the Potomac. It don’t mean much when you’re fishing against 48 of the other best anglers in the country, but it certainly won’t hurt.”
Ronnie Baker of Providence Forge, Va., lead the whole shooting match with the biggest bag of the event on day one. Unfortunately for Baker, lost fish and the luck of the draw dropped him to second when it was all said and done.
“I was basically fishing a marina in the North East River, but there was one small specific spot inside the marina,” says Baker. “On day one I was boat 10, so I got the exact spot I wanted in the marina. I think seven other boats came in there, and it was really tight, but they watched me catch them. On day two I was boat 148, so I knew somebody was going to end up going there.”
Baker swapped between a shad-colored Rapala DT 4 and a green pumpkin Zoom UltraVibe Speed Craw on a ¼-ounce Texas rig to rustle up 19-10 on day one. Other than a 4-pounder caught flipping a stretch of docks elsewhere in the river, he was dependent on that marina spot.
Going out in a late flight on the final day, he didn’t get it.
“I kinda beat around the edges of the marina and at 11 o’clock I didn’t have any fish,” says Baker. “So, I went to a section of docks where I caught the 4-pounder and didn’t catching anything there. Then I went to a rocky bank where I caught some in practice and I caught one. Then I left, didn’t catch any and then I came back again and caught one.”
After leaving the rocky bank one more time, he returned for good with a couple hours left. Cranking the DT 4, he landed two more keepers and hooked and lost two others. One fish that he didn’t see, and one 4-pounder that jumped off. With just four fish on the second day for 7-7, Baker totaled up 27-1 for second place.
“I knew when I lost that 4-pounder that was big,” says Baker, who had transitioned from thinking about winning to thinking about making the top six at that point. “I looked at my co-angler and said ‘That’s gonna hurt.’ It stung a little bit, but $10,000 eases it a little bit. This will be my second All-American, the first time was at Wilson Lake, this time is going to suit me a little bit better being that it’s two hours from home.”
Unable to fish the final Shenandoah Division event of the year because his boat was literally stuck in the mud in his backyard, Moo Bae of West Friendship, Md., wrapped up the season 62nd in points and only got the call to come fish when another angler dropped out. That was the Tuesday before the tournament, so he had about a day to prepare. After a frantic practice, Bae weighed a limit of 14-3 on day one and four bass for 11-15 on day two for a 26-2 total and second place.
Bae started strong on day one, and says he caught 10 keepers in total.
“I pulled up to my first spot and I ended up catching a nice 4-pounder and a 3-pounder off one laydown,” says Bae. “Then I went into another creek and found like 13 or 14 boats inside there. I couldn’t figure out if I could go past them or just turn around and go somewhere else. But I didn’t have many other places, so I stayed in that creek until I caught my limit.”
After leaving the crowded creek, Bae caught another 3-pounder off wood in the main section of the North East River to top his day off. Flipping a Junebug-colored Zoom Brush Hog with a ¼-ounce weight for all his fish, Bae was in prime position after day one.
After waiting out the front on Friday, Bae’s flipping bite fizzled on the final day.
“The water temperature dropped about 7 degrees in my area,” says Bae. “I pulled up to my first spot, and I ended up catching a 3-pound smallmouth, actually on that same laydown, but nothing else was there. Then I went back into that creek to try to catch a limit, and I didn’t see any boats in there and the water got completely mudded up. So, I turned around and went back out.”
After running more shallow wood with no results in the North East River, Bae pulled up to a rock bank around 1 o’clock. After his co-angler caught a few fish, he hunkered down with a 5/16-ounce jig and a Strike King Rage Craw (both green pumpkin) and dragged it in about 10 feet of water on the drop. His co-angler filled out his limit, and Bae caught a 5-pounder and a pair of keepers – plenty to keep him in the cut for the All-American.
“I’ve had several chances to make the All-American, and my goal was to make the All-American at least once,” says Bae. “I’m super psyched to make the All-American. I’m very fortunate that FLW called me at the last minute to fish this tournament.”
(The top six boaters qualify to fish the 2019 BFL All-American.)
1. Joseph Thompson – Coatesville, Pa. – 29-9 (10) $66,000
2. Ronnie Baker – Providence Forge, Va. – 27-1 (9) $10,200
3. Moo Bae – West Friendship, Md. – 26-2 (9) $5,100
4. Ryan Bauman – Fleetwood, Pa. – 25-13 (10) – $3,000
5. Chris Martinkovic – Hamilton, Ohio – 25-12 (10) – $2,000
6. Steven Wiseman – Bryans Road, Md. – 25-6 (10) – $1,800
7. Dave Lauer – McConnelsville, Ohio – 25-3 (9) – $1,600
8. Jon Werner – Nazareth, Pa. – 24-10 (10) – $1,400
9. Otis Darnell – Linden, Va. – 24-9 (10) – $1,200
10. Ryan Powroznik – Hopewell, Va. – 24-8 (10) – $1,000
Michael Bahnweg of Union Dale, Pa., caught four fish on day one for 9-5 and a limit for 13-1 on day two for a total of 22-6. That was enough to earn him his third BFL win and a new Ranger Z518C boat with a 200-horsepower Evinrude outboard.
Day two was the big day for Bahnweg, and he did it fishing behind Christopher Helfer. Running down into the Elk River, Helfer and Bahnweg fished a shallow grass flat with current all day and Bahnweg did work with a white Z-Man Original ChatterBait.
Bahnweg has fished 115 tournaments with FLW, most of them at the BFL level, but this is the first time he’s ever qualified for the All-American.
“I’ve been fishing BFLs since they started, I’ve been thinking about it for a long time,” says Bahnweg. “The Potomac is my favorite body of water, I’m definitely looking forward to it.”
(The top six co-angler qualify to fish the 2019 BFL All-American.)
1. Michael Bahnweg – Union Dale, Pa. – 22-6 (9) – $45,000
2. William Allie – Wynantskill, N.Y. – 21-9 (8) – $5,200
3. Henry McKee – Haddon Heights, N.J. – 18-8 (10) – $2,550
4. Michael Nelms – Hartwood, Va. – 17-15 (8) – $1,500
5. Howard Smith – Hamilton, Ohio – 17-11 (6) – $1,000
6. David Williams – Fredericksburg, Va. – 17-6 (5) – $900
7. Matthew Cozad – Okeana, Ohio – 17-4 (7) – $800
8. Mike Geisler – Oxford, Ohio – 16-12 (8) – $700
9. Cort Gardner – Jessup, Md. – 16-10 (8) – $600
10. Michael Duarte – Baltimore, Md. – 16-1 (7) – $500