On the Potomac with Dortch - Major League Fishing

On the Potomac with Dortch

Getting the lay of the land on day one of practice with the prospective Rookie of the Year
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June 11, 2017 • Jody White • Archives

Coming out of the Mississippi River, Bradley Dortch is looking to put the finishing touches on a stellar rookie season. This week, at the FLW Tour presented by Costa Sunglasses, the Alabama pro is sitting eighth overall in the standings and is just a few keepers away from qualifying for the Forrest Wood Cup. With a decent finish, he’ll guarantee that Justin Atkins can’t pass him up for the Rookie of the Year title. The Alabama pro has never been to the Potomac before, but he’s got extensive tidal water experience – I tagged along to see how he started day one of practice.

Tournament details


Due to traffic from another tournament and a horde of FLW Tour anglers descending on Smallwood State Park to start practice, it takes a little for Dortch and his father, Mark, to get into position and into the water. Even so, we get off to a reasonable start at about 6:30 a.m. ET. Idling out into Mattawoman Creek, the sun is already blazing through clear skies and the water is as slick as can be – it’s going to be a hot one on the river.

Dortch pulls out a paper map he’s marked some likely areas on for a quick reference and then hammers down across the river.


We stop on the outside of a busy flat in a big bay. The Potomac is known for fishing pretty tight at times, and between local anglers and Tour pros practicing there are probably 20 boats within sight of us as Dortch begins digging out rods for himself and his dad.

“It must be like in Florida,” he says as he makes his first few casts. “If you aren’t around boats you aren’t around fish. Very rarely do you get a place alone.”

The tide is high and rising as Dortch starts fishing. Unlike a lot of pros, he’s got a pile of experience fishing tidal water in and around the Mobile Delta. Dortch says he anticipates the biggest difference this week to be the amount of water moving – he figures the tides down in Alabama are quite a bit smaller. Back home, Dortch says he doesn’t “run” the tides – he just knows which places produce better on high tides than low tides and vice versa. Ideally he’d find a few high tide and low tide places this week so he can run a similar strategy.


After winding around the flat for a while with no bites, Dortch digs into his compartments to make a bait change and shows me his lucky duck. He says he found it in someone’s flooded lawn at Beaver Lake, and it looks to be a remnant of one of the big bass tournaments that Greg Bohannan has a hand in every year.

Even after rubbing up his lucky duck and making a bait change, the fish still don’t seem to be in the mood. Dortch has shaken one bite off so far and we haven’t seen anyone else on the flat even set the hook, but he is beginning to get a feel for the vegetation.

“That looks like a big round clump over there, by that boat,” says Dortch. “And, I think that’s another beyond it. I think on low tide you’ll really be able to tell.”

After another 10 minutes or so of casting and winding and working back to the outside of the flat, Dortch pulls his trolling motor and makes a move.


It’s a short one. Keeping an eye on his Lowrance as he idles along, Dortch moves across the creek to the other banks, which is a lot closer to deep water. There, he starts tossing again in some grass along some shoreline rip rap, working his way with the slowly rising tide back into the creek. Working along the bank, we see a few fish caught, but Dortch doesn’t manage to tempt a bass himself – he only gets a few bites from pickerel that steal his tails. The second spot he’s in has some nice cover, from rocks to grass to a duck blind or two, but it doesn’t seem to have quite as much grass growing as his first stop.


Finally, Dortch catches his first bass of the day. It’s not big, but at about 9 o’clock in the morning it’s welcome. As expected, it came from a section where the grass got good again. After a few more casts, Dortch decides to change creeks and return to this one at a different tide – we’re off.


Dortch runs across the river and begins working toward the back of Mattawoman. Along the way, he passes Bryan Thrift idling out – he appears to have put co-angler Bryan New to sleep – and Curtis Richardson, who is flipping along one of the many fields of spatterdock.


Heading farther back, Dortch stops on a channel swing and pulls out a crankbait.

“This is what a lot of our stuff looks like back home,” says Dortch, who promptly hooks up. “Oh, right where he was supposed to be.”

Pulled off the end of a laydown, it’s a decent keeper, but not a derby winner. Even so, it’s got to be gratifying for Dortch to be able to pull up on something obviously good-looking and get a bite. After releasing the fish, Dortch continues on down the swing, pecking away with a vibrating jig and his crankbait.


On deck, Dortch has a small assortment of Enigma rods with a mix of all the usual Potomac baits. Though he has some flipping and pitching stuff tied on, he seems determined not to slow down very much this morning.


Dortch always seems to have an aura of confidence about him, but as the season comes to an end, he’s evidently pretty content as well.

“I said I’d like to win Rookie of the Year and make the Cup,” says Dortch as he fishes along. “But, I didn’t really worry about it. As long as you’re cashing checks all that and the points will take care of themselves.”

With six of seven events down, Dortch has earned four checks along the way, including the big one at the Harris Chain.


Coming to the end of the swing, Dortch runs into some patchy submerged grass and plucks another small bass on the vibrating jig. He notes the cover, but doesn’t really slow down much to pick the area apart. Perhaps if it’d been bigger he would have.

After finishing out his stretch with a few casts to some old pilings that seem to go almost all the way across the creek, Dortch picks up and heads out.


It’s past 10 a.m. now and very warm – sweat is easily visible on the back of Dortch’s t-shirt, and the wind hasn’t blown in hours. Idling out, he takes the time to drink some water and apply sunscreen, with a heavy focus on his lips, nose and ears. Looking at the somewhat weathered pro, you can tell he doesn’t always remember sunscreen, but he’s off to a good start this week.


We set down at one of the best-looking areas yet – a long line of slightly topped-out milfoil that’s teaming with fry. Frankly, it looks amazing to me. About a hundred yards later, Dortch’s dad has coaxed a lonely bite on a frog. I begin to revise my estimate of how amazing it looks.

Coming to the end, Dortch decides to make a bit of a move – he wants to head southward and check out some fresh water.


By the time Dortch decides to head south, it’s about 11 a.m., so I bid him goodbye at the ramp. The morning certainly hasn’t been successful, but the tide is beginning to run out, and it just might figuratively turn for him in the afternoon.