With notably less developed grass than usual on the Potomac River, the anglers in the T-H Marine Bass Fishing League (BFL) All-American had a slightly different river to deal with. The tournament, which was presented by General Tire, featured a lot more hard cover action than grass bed fishing, and that trend was reflected in the top 10.
Winner Brennon McCord fished grass and pads and a little bit of hard cover in Mattawoman Creek. Behind him, folks spread out all over the river and did a bunch of different things.
2. Thompson stumbles on the final day
Joseph Thompson cruised on days one and two, bagging over 16 pounds each day en route to a solid lead entering Saturday. On day three, he only mustered 11 pounds, 13 ounces for a total of 44-7. That dropped him to second and denied him the chance to earn a third BFL win on an eastern tidal fishery.
Days one and two, Thompson mostly fished bulkheads on the main river – two in particular – that had fairly deep water right on them. He also fished an underwater beaver lodge in Mattawoman and added in some grass on day two, which really buoyed his weight. Though he managed an easy limit in the grass on day three, his other spots never produced kicker fish.
With a ton of experience already under his belt on the Potomac, Thomson still put in an extensive practice, and it looked like it really paid off through two days.
“I started coming down here in February, fishing, running the river, learning, scanning, doing everything,” says Thompson. “I did a whole lot of practice, and the best two things I found were those seawalls. I liked it because they were in 8 to 12 foot of water, and no one in the country comes to the Potomac thinking they’re going to be fishing 8 to 12 foot of water. So, I really knew I would have these spots to myself. I thought it was a nice, sneaky approach.”
Those two holes failed him on day three.
“I didn’t catch one fish on my two primary spots, and it was very hard to accept that they weren’t going to be there,” admits Thompson. “The fish come there to feed, and I have no answer for why they weren’t there. That really let me down today.”
For baits, Thomson mostly flipped and pitched a green pumpkin Zoom Brush Hog on a 5/16-ounce weight against his bulkheads. He sometimes dyed the tails chartreuse, and other times just flipped it straight up. In the grass, he tossed a topwater and swam a 3/8-ounce Z-Man CrossEyeZ Snakehead Swim Jig that he trailered with a Berkley PowerBait Chigger Craw.
3. New keeps rising
After weighing 13-6 on day one, Bryan New busted 15-2 on day two to make it into the top 10. On day three, he moved from sixth to third with another 13-10 for a 42-2 total.
One of the premier co-anglers on the FLW Tour back in the day, New has taken his talents to the bow in recent years. So far, 2019 has been a really good year for him, with a win in the ABA Ray Scott Championship under his belt even before the All-American. Next year, he’s hoping to fish the FLW Tour, and if his recent success is any indication, he’s going to be one to watch.
Fishing in or around Belmont Bay the entire time, New flipped wood and duck blinds on flats for most of his better fish, with a couple grass fish mixed in on day one. On day two, he struggled until the last minute when he lit ‘em up on a small flat at the mouth of a creek. On day three, he decided to camp on that flat.
“People kept trying to get on it, so I kept having to go back on it to protect it,” says New. “It was little patches of grass, and I think the bottom was sand. There were little places – and most of the time it was the same places – and you’d throw and catch three or four and then it’d be done. Then, I’d move to the next one and eventually if you kept rotating through them you’d hit them. I don’t think they’re there the whole time; I think they just happened to pull up to those little spots.”
New’s flat was pretty shallow, and he spent most of the time on it with his Power-Poles down and electronics off, making long-range casts to the sweet spots he had identified.
“My body hurts so bad right now, because I’ve never done that,” says New of his camping strategy. “Usually, you get an hour break or so by running around, but I fished all day, and I never sat down. I didn’t have anything else. I wish I could have gone to that wood, but I knew what could be there, and I just had to get lucky to throw in front of the right one at the right time.”
New flipped and swam a Greenfish Tackle Chibi Jig, a Chibi Swim Jig and a Dave’s Tournament Tackle Swimming Jig. For the Chibi Jig, he used a 5/16-ounce model and a Zoom Big Salty Chunk in green pumpkin blue for the trailer. For his swim jigs, New went with 1/4-ounce baits and a Strike King Rage Craw as the trailer. Throwing it all on rods from Fitzgerald and 15-pound-test P-Line Ultimate Fluorocarbon, New also mixed in a junebug-colored Zoom Ol’ Monster on a 1/8-ounce Texas rig.
4. Martinkovic uses sneaky spawners
Chris Martinkovic took perhaps the most unique approach of everyone in the top 10. Weighing 13 and change on day one, he followed that up with two 14-pound bags for a 41-7 total.
On days one and two, he ran up toward Washington, D.C., but he fished grass in Chicamuxen on day three.
“I was catching fish off beds up in D.C., and I’d exhausted them all,” Martinkovic explains. “I could actually see them; there’s a little deal that happens on these rivers and it’s a trick I can use on rivers everywhere. It’s a little deal that nobody does.”
Besides some ultra-sneaky bed-fishing, Martinkovic junk-fished up the river, as well, with a topwater and a handful of jigs. On the final day, he successfully adapted to the grass game, mixing in a stick bait and a vibrating jig, but he couldn’t catch a mega-bag to threaten for the win.
“I’ve come close to winning a bunch of times,” says Martinkovic, who now has three top-six finishes in the All-American to his name. “I had an 8-ounce penalty once and lost by 3 ounces. You’ve got to be here to win on the last day, but I’ve been so close before, I’m going to be really due for my next one.”
5. Morrow misses some opportunities
In the hunt for a second All-American win, Troy Morrow caught 15 pounds on the first day, but couldn’t get into the teens on days two or three, mustering a total of 40-13.
Targeting hard cover the whole time, Morrow bounced between shoreline rock and docks from near Mattawoman to National Harbor to Aquia. He used a bevy of baits, and what worked best changed each day, but he never really touched the grass the Potomac is known for.
“Missed opportunities is an understatement for my tournament,” says Morrow. “On day one I had 15-10, and I lost a legitimate 5-pounder, a 4 -pounder and a 3-pounder. Do the math on that. I lost a 3-pounder and I had a dead fish penalty on day two and I lost another keeper. Then, today, I had two more that I didn’t see that got off – I can’t say they were giants, but they were helpers.”
For baits, Morrow used a WEC E1 crankbait in bull bream and a 3/8-ounce Outkast Tackle Juice Jig with a moccasin blue Z-Craw Jr. on rock on day one. On day two, he turned to a 3/8-ounce Z-Man ChatterBait Custom in breaking bream trailed with a root beer-colored Z-Craw Jr. for docks and rock.
Throughout, Morrow also mixed in a special bait in moccasin blue custom-poured from the front section of a Zoom Speed Worm. Sort of a stubby stick worm, he rigged it wacky on an 1/8-ounce Gamakatsu G-Finesse Series Wacky Jig Head and did most of his damage on docks on the final day with it.
6. Ruster’s grass falls flat
In contention on days one and two, Doug Ruster plied grass flats the entire time for 15 pounds each of the first two days. On day three, he could only manage four keepers and finished sixth with a 39-13 total.
“Today was rough. There was no wind hardly, and I basically tried to stay in one area,” Ruster says. “It was Saturday and you could tell. There was no wind and a lot of pressure and I couldn’t get a bite this morning.
“I wish I had a place to go fish hard cover today, like some docks or something, but I did some in practice and couldn’t get it going. I didn’t have any place to go do that and I didn’t want to totally wing it.”
Ruster started his tournament in Aquia and ended it on grass in Mattawoman, with some stops in between, so he didn’t just grind on one flat the entire time. But, leaning in to the classic grass bed pattern was certainly a big key to his success.
For his grass baits, Ruster mostly wound a 3/8-ounce Z-Man ChatterBait Jack Hammer in black and blue or white with a matching Z-Craw Jr. for the trailer and a Dirty Jigs No-Jack Swim Jig with a Reaction Innovations Skinny Dipper.
7. Walser stays versatile
One of the winningest BFL anglers off all-time, Robert Walser had a chance to add to his 12 BFL wins this week, but ended up falling a little short. His big day was day two, when he caught almost 15 pounds, but he hovered around the 12-pound mark the other two days for a total of 39-11.
Walser fished grass, wood and arrowheads, but couldn’t ever commit solely to one pattern.
“The grass bite was awful today; it just didn’t work,” says Walser. “I caught a limit on it, but I probably wasted four or five hours trying to get a good one.”
Fishing from near Quantico to near Occoquan, Walser flipped a Z-Craw Jr. on a 5/16-ounce Texas rig on wood. In grass and around pads and arrowheads, Walser swam a Zoom Ultra Vibe Speed Worm on a 3/16-ounce Texas rig and a 3/8-ounce homemade swim jig with a Z-Craw Jr. for a trailer.
8. Red turns the tide for Davis
Six of the top 10 anglers weighed 15 pounds or better on day two, and Seth Davis was one of them. In total, he managed 39-2 to finish eighth in his first All-American.
For Davis, pulling a bright red crawfish out of his livewell after weigh-in on day one changed the rest of his tournament.
“I got out in the boat the second day and I thought about that crawfish I pulled out of the livewell,” says Davis. “So, I tied on a red swim jig and caught my two biggest fish – that’s what sent me here, making that call.”
Outside of the unique (but not unheard of) bait choice, Davis played it pretty much by the book in his first trip to the Potomac.
“I probably fished grass about 75 percent of the time, and I flipped hard cover about 25 percent of the time, and I stayed in the Belmont Bay and Occoquan area the whole time,” Davis explains. “I liked the way it set up, and there’s so much water there. I ended up having three or four grass areas – not too many I could get spun out on – and I learned the hard cover there really well.”
Davis fished grass throughout the day, but he targeted the end of certain docks when the tide was low and certain duck blinds when the tide was high (and he could actually get to them). For baits, he used a 3/8-ounce Dave’s Tournament Tackle Swimming Jig in Potomac red and trailed it with a Falcon Lake craw-colored Strike King Rage Chunk. He flipped a Googan Baits Bandito Bug with a 5/16-ounce weight.
After his first All-American, Davis says he’s going to do all he can to make it back.
“It’s been awesome,” adds Davis. “I want to make it back so bad. I didn’t fish BFLs this year, but after seeing this, I’m definitely going to fish BFLs again next year.”
9. Baker runs tides and rocks
Hailing from Providence Forge, Va., Ronnie Baker was one of the true tidal experts in the top 10. As such, he put together two really good days and a tough day three for a 35-2 total.
“Today was the only day I really fished pads because the tide was so high first thing this morning,” says Baker. “I went out to the main river when the tide started running, just fishing deeper structure, rocks and wood, anything with current.
“I made the decision today to go north, because I was running out of fish, and my co-anger did real good,” Baker adds. “We were around fish, but it just didn’t work out for me today.”
On the main river, Baker predominantly focused on rock or manmade cover that had deeper water close to it. Be it a bulkhead, rip rap section or offshore rockpile, he bounced around to different places depending on the tide.
“Every spot has got its own tide and there are certain things you can do on high tide and other things you’ve got to do when the tide is going out,” says Baker. “This river isn’t really like the James River where you’ll run the tide – there I’ll run 60 miles of river. This river is more about cycling through an area and being efficient with your time to maximize the right tide.”
For baits, Baker used a few river regulars, but caught most of his fish on a 3/8-ounce Dave’s Tournament Tackle Swimming Jig in Potomac blue with a moccasin blue Zoom Ultra Vibe Speed Craw for a trailer and a wacky-rigged a 5-inch Yamamoto Senko in either green pumpkin or junebug with purple and emerald flake.
10. Day two was special for Bae
Weighing 16-4 on day two was huge for Moo Bae, but he couldn’t make it happen on the final day. Falling from third to tenth, Bae weighed just three keepers to finish with a 34-13 total.
“If it was going to happen, the second day was the best day for it to happen, to make the top 10,” says Bae of his magical day. “Today just got me rattled, seeing all the boats in the spots I wanted to fish, and I scrambled, and that’s how fishing is on the weekend on the Potomac.”
Bae pretty much fished a small creek, a shallow offshore rock section and laydowns up in Pohick Creek.
“The first day I stayed in a little creek and no one bothered me there for the first two days,” says Bae. “When the water would go out, I would go to a rockpile out front and fish that for a while. On day two, I backed it up by going to laydowns.”