FantasyFishing.com Insider: Everything you need to know about the James River - Major League Fishing
FantasyFishing.com Insider: Everything you need to know about the James River
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FantasyFishing.com Insider: Everything you need to know about the James River

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June 20, 2024 • Mitchell Forde • Fantasy Fishing

The penultimate event of the Bass Pro Tour season is upon us, which means the pressure is ratcheting up for those anglers battling to win the Fishing Clash Angler of the Year title, qualify for REDCREST 2025 or keep their spots on the tour roster. We’re also running out of time for Phoenix Boats Fantasy Fishing players to make up ground in the season-long chase for the Tackle Warehouse prize packages that are up for grabs for the top five finishers. 

General Tire Stage Six Presented by O’Reilly Auto Parts could be a pivotal point in all the above battles. The tournament will take the BPT field to the James River, which, while not nearly as much of a wild card as the Chowan River, hasn’t hosted many national events in recent years. Thus, many competitors will lay eyes on the vast tidal fishery for the first time ever or the first time in a long while this week. 

As always, here’s all the information you need to pick a winning Fantasy Fishing lineup. 

How it could go down

Winning with a squarebill and a wacky worm the last time he competed on the James, Nick LeBrun expects similar tactics to shine during Stage Six. Photo by Jody White

The James River is similar to the Chowan in that it offers no shortage of shallow-water habitat for anglers to target. Be it vegetation (both emergent and submerged), natural wood or manmade cover like boat docks, anglers will be able to find it in the James or its tributaries.  

The difference is that the James features more current and stronger tides. Nick LeBrun, who won the 2022 Tackle Warehouse Pro Circuit event on the river, said anglers will need to understand both. With bass in their postspawn and summer patterns, LeBrun thinks they should be fairly spread out, with most competitors not lacking for bites. The difference-maker will be finding groups or “wolf packs” of fish, which might allow an angler to stack 15 to 20 pounds on SCORETRACKER® in a hurry. He expects many pros to cover a lot of water in search for the sweet spots holding those groups, with timing being critical due to the tide. 

LeBrun believes power tactics — vibrating jigs, squarebill crankbaits, frogs, buzzbaits, flipping — will dominate, with a smattering of wacky worms and drop-shots mixed in. He thinks the shallow nature of the fishery will mean we won’t see much forward-facing sonar, but as Drew Gill proved at Oklahoma’s Lake Eufaula and the Chowan, the technology can always play a role, even around shallow cover.

Keep riding the AOY contenders

Alton Jones Jr. has excelled everywhere this season. Don’t expect that to change at the James River. Photo by Phoenix Moore

At this point in the season, we know who is fishing better than everybody else. Picking those anglers to continue their success seems like a safe bet. You don’t need me to tell you to put AOY leader Jacob Wheeler on your roster. Same goes for his two closest pursuers, Alton Jones Jr. and Dustin Connell. Both have been excellent all season, with Connell winning twice and Jones never finishing worse than 12th

I would also include Gill and Zack Birge in that group. Gill is in the midst of a ridiculous rookie season with four top-five finishes on the Bass Pro Tour, including his win at the Chowan — not to mention four Top 10s in five Tackle Warehouse Invitationals events. Birge, too, has momentum after winning at Oklahoma’s Eufaula and making another Championship Round at the Chowan. While he can do it all, the shallow power fishing opportunities that the James offers should suit his style. 

A look at past performances

A force to be reckoned with everywhere he competes, Michael Neal finished fourth the last time he competed on the James River. Photo by Tyler Brinks

The field doesn’t have nearly as much history on the James as, say, the St. Lawrence River, home of Stage Seven. But there’s enough to highlight a few anglers who have shown a fondness for the fishery. 

The most recent national event on the river was the aforementioned 2022 Pro Circuit event, won by LeBrun. In that event, Michael Neal finished fourth and Cole Floyd sixth. Both have performed well this season (Neal is coming off a runner-up showing at the Chowan) and should be popular picks.  

Then there’s Martin Villa, who was ninth. If anyone is going to have a local advantage this week, it would be the Charlottesville, Virginia, native. Same goes for fellow Virginian David Dudley. While Dudley might have disappointed some fantasy players at the Chowan, missing the Knockout Round; he has a win on the James in a 2003 FLW Tour event and a third-place finish at a 2016 Bassmaster Open. 

Other anglers with high finishes on the James include Jacopo Gallelli. While Gallelli has had a tough rookie campaign, he won a Phoenix Bass Fishing League event on the venue around this time last year. The Italian has taken a liking to East Coast tidal fisheries; he also won a Pro Circuit event on the Potomac River in 2022. Additionally, Keith Poche finished second in a Bassmaster Open on the James in 2022 (albeit in April), while Dave Lefebre finished second in a 2015 Toyota Series event. 

Other anglers to target

Grae Buck should be comfortable on the tidal waters on the James River. Photo by Rob Matsuura

Group A:

Adrian Avena — A veteran of the Chesapeake Bay and other East Coast tidal fisheries, Avena should be at home on the James. His past results back that up; he finished third in a 2015 Bassmaster Open on the fishery and 11th in a 2014 Toyota Series event.  

Grae Buck — Speaking of tidal river rats, Buck cut his teeth fishing the Potomac and has already shown that his knowledge can translate to the James, as he finished 11th at the 2022 Pro Circuit event. He needs a strong finish to the season to return to the BPT in 2025, and this could be the start. 

Group B:

Justin Lucas — Lucas might be best known for his prowess on and around the Great Lakes, but he grew up fishing the California Delta and has a feel for tidal largemouth as a result. He finished 13th at the Pro Circuit event on the James two years ago and has a second-place finish at the Potomac on his résumé. Plus, he’s coming off a Top 10 at the Chowan. Seemingly always in the mix, maybe this is the week Lucas lifts his second BPT trophy. 

Stephen Browning — Browning might have found some momentum with his 11th-place finish at the Chowan – his first Knockout Round appearance in more than a year. With ChatterBaits and flipping both likely to be prominent players, the James figures to suit him, so maybe he can keep it rolling.