With the T-H Marine Bass Fishing League (BFL) All-American officially taking off on Thursday, there’s still plenty of prep to do. On Tuesday, the anglers get their first access to the boatyard to load into brand new Ranger boats, and registration takes place in the evening. Wednesday is official practice when the 49 boaters and co-anglers will spread out across the Potomac River to take a final shot at dialing things in before competition gets underway.
What follows is a rundown of the activities leading up to takeoff.
Putting a bow on it
After a hot day on the Potomac, practice ends at the dock, where the boats are gassed up and then taken back to the boatyard. When the boats are all parked again, anglers are allowed back in them to make any final tackle preparations.
We caught up with a few anglers to see how practice played out.
Ruster likes what he sees
Hailing from New Palestine, Ind., Doug Ruster has never fished a tournament on the Potomac before, but so far he’s feeling at home.
“I think it went pretty well,” says Ruster of practice. “We had several bites. We didn’t stay anywhere too long, but we had several bites and had to move out of the areas we were in. To me, it’s the Ohio River on steroids. It’s got grass, but it fishes shallow like the Ohio. I like it a lot.
“I’d never made the All-American before. This is my first time, and it’s been great; it’s been awesome,” adds Ruster. “The hospitality and everything is top notch. It’s an awesome experience. I can’t wait for the tournament.”
Bae wants more
One of the locals in the event, Moo Bae is a Maryland angler with a lot of history on the Potomac. Unfortunately, it hasn’t paid off with a great practice so far – at least according to him.
“There’s still no grass. It’s grown a little bit more, but not as much as normal,” explains Bae. “It’s fishing the same as before, in pre-practice. Every place I think I’ll catch a fish I catch a fish, but I can’t catch quality fish. I don’t think getting a limit will be an issue, but catching quality is going to be the key to winning.”
Of course, quality is a bit of a relative term. Bae says he’ll be happy with 15 pounds. That might be pretty good over three days, but it’s almost a sure thing that some folks will wrangle bags in the upper teens on day one.
The morning of official practice dawned bright and warm on Wednesday, with barely any wind at takeoff. Heading out for an eight-hour day of practice, the anglers should see sunny weather and highs reaching into the low 90s. The tide, always of interest on the Potomac, started out high and will drop to its lowest point by about 10 a.m. throughout most of the fishable waters, so the anglers will get a chance to see all the relevant water conditions today.
Qualifying from the Okie Division and fishing his first All-American, Jeremy Johnson hadn’t seen the Potomac prior to hitting it for pre-practice before the cutoff.
“I’m just going to check and see what the water looks like,” says Johnson of his plans for the day. “I came up before off-limits, and I kinda have an idea of what I’m going to be doing, so I’m gonna re-check some of that stuff and see how it goes. I always just practice the Friday before for our local BFLs, but they’re lakes that we’ve fished before. I’d never been to the Potomac before, not until a couple weeks ago, but I like it.”
Corn is prepared
Hailing from Calvert City, Ky., Toby Corn is hoping he can translate some Mississippi River knowledge over to the Potomac this week.
“I don’t have experience on tidal fisheries, but my best friend is Mike Brueggen, from La Crosse,” explains Corn. “He’s one of the best grass fishermen on planet Earth. He’s helped me out a lot, and he gave me some baits and made some stuff for me, so we’ll see.
“That was most of my preparation, just talking to him on a regular basis,” adds Corn. “We met in 2013 on Kentucky Lake. I won a Regional, and Mike got second, and we just hit it off.”
As for his plan for the day of practice, Corn’s isn’t that out of the ordinary.
“I’m gonna fish some, and I’m gonna try and catch some, but for the most part I’m gonna run around and look,” says Corn. “I want to see how the grass has changed and if it’s topped out.”
The co-angler perspective
Everyone fishes with their day-one partner during practice, so while the boaters are out looking for fish, the co-anglers have a chance to learn about how they might be fishing in the tournament as well. For some, it might be the first time they’ve been on the Potomac. For others, such as longtime co-angler David Williams, it might be the thousandth.
“I’m just going to go out and see what my boater is going to do and try to get a game plan,” says Williams, who is fishing his third All-American. “I fish tournaments here all the time. I know what I’m gonna do already. I may learn a little something I don’t know, but I only brought four rods.”
Williams has fished 183 total events with FLW, but this is only his third All-American, proving just how hard it is to make it on a year-to-year basis.
“It’s a challenge just to get here. Not many people make it,” adds Williams. “It’s a great feeling to be here fishing with all these anglers, and I hope it’s not my last one.”
Registration and final prep
After a morning spent loading boats and getting into town for most of the anglers, registration took place inland, back in Waldorf, Md., later in the afternoon. Swag and food awaited the qualifiers and their families, and there was ample opportunity to go over the rules. In addition to goodies from T-H Marine, other FLW sponsors such as General Tire, YETI and Costa kicked in to celebrate the anglers and their accomplishments.
After registration, many headed back to the boatyard for an orientation on the boats and more time to load waypoints and tackle before Wednesday’s practice round.
One of the unique treats at the All-American is that boats are provided to the anglers. For some, the shift takes a little adjustment, but for others it’s an appreciated upgrade. In all, there are 52 fully loaded and brand-new Ranger Z520L boats with Mercury and Evinrude outboards available for the 49 pros and co-anglers to use this week. Each boat retails for more than $80,000, making the value of the entire fleet more than $4.1 million.
New is excited
Coming into the All-American, Bryan New is one of the more decorated anglers, though his track record in BFL events isn’t as long or heavy as some. A longtime co-angler on the FLW Tour, New won the FLW Cup on the co-angler side in 2014, and has finished top 10 in the Costa FLW Series Southeastern Division standings two years in a row.
“I was talking to [Bryan] Thrift last night on the way up here, and I don’t know why, but I’m more excited about this tournament than any other tournament I’ve ever fished,” says New. “I’m not saying I’m gonna win, but I feel like I know what to do, and I know where to do it. I just hope I don’t kick myself in the butt by getting in that middle tide funk and leaving the good stuff. Somebody’s gonna win, and you’ve only got to beat 48 other people to do it.”
New says he made it to the river in pre-practice for about two days of fishing spread over three days, and he plans to re-fish some of what he found then during official practice.
“I’ve got a couple areas I’m gonna look at that I hope are the right ones,” says New. “We’ve got an eight-hour tournament day to practice, more or less, and you can look at a lot of stuff, but it’s not like a 16-hour practice day that I’d normally like to have. But I’m gonna look and see if the grass has grown more in certain areas and then within those areas try to find a couple sweet spots.
“I feel like the fishing is gonna be extremely good, at least numbers-wise,” adds New. “And obviously there’s gonna be some big bags caught too.”
Fye’s first time
Fishing the Potomac and the All-American for the first time after a long BFL track record, Rich Fye made the event out of the Hoosier Division with a fifth-place finish in the Regional on Kentucky Lake.
“It felt awesome,” says Fye of qualifying. “I wanted to win, but I at least made it to the All-American here. I’ve been fishing BFLs since it was the Red Man, so I’ve been fishing for 20 or 30 years.”
Hailing from Indiana, Fye says that there’s a fair amount of similarity between the lakes and rivers he’s used to back home and the Potomac.
“It’s a lot alike it seems, other than the tide, and practice was good,” says Fye. “I had some good fish. Hopefully I can find them when I get back out there. I’m gonna do a lot of running and looking around, probably not a lot of fishing; just looking for grass mainly. I didn’t find a lot of grass in practice, which I understand is unusual.”
A retired state trooper and currently a homicide and major crimes detective in Pennsylvania, Joseph Thompson is one of the local favorites heading into the event. According to Thompson, his prior Potomac experience might not be as much help as he’d like it to be.
“It’s different than ever. It’s almost like a new body of water because it’s so different from the last 15 years I’ve fished here,” says Thompson. “It’s the first time I’ve ever experienced the river with little to no grass. But, things might have changed with the off-limits period. There was a lot of young grass, and it might have matured since off-limits.”
Thompson figures it might take about 47 pounds to win, which is a bit more than 15 1/2 pounds per day.
Being that it’s his first All-American, Thompson is naturally pretty excited, even if he’s used to big competition from two years on the FLW Tour in 2011 and 2012.
“It’s an amazing feeling. I haven’t been able to sleep right in a couple months, and it’s gotten worse as I’ve gotten closer to the event,” says Thompson of the anticipation. “The idea of fishing against the caliber of fishermen that I’ll get to fish against is what drives me. It’s definitely the biggest venue I’ve ever fished in.”
Morrow gets to fish
An FLW Tour veteran, Troy Morrow has kept his feet wet in the BFL most years, and he was able to fish the entire Savannah River Division in 2018 to qualify for the Regional and then the All-American.
“The last one I didn’t even get to fish,” says Morrow, referring to the last time he qualified for the All-American, when he elected to fish the concurrent FLW Tour event instead. “This is my fourth one I’ve qualified for, and the third one I’ve fished. I’m happy I’m getting to fish one while I’m still fishing the Tour, and it doesn’t hurt that it’s on a body of water where I have some experience. Although, it’s completely different than it has been in the past.”