All of the chatter leading up to the start of the FLW Tour event on the Potomac River presented by Costa Sunglasses was that the river is better than it’s been in a while. Thursday was proof of that as seven bags over 18 pounds were dropped on the scale at Smallwood State Park.
While nobody managed to crack the elusive 20-pound mark, Clark Wendlandt did haul in 19-11 to take the early lead.
There isn’t much distance between Wendlandt – who won here back in 2015 – and the rest of the hungry Tour pros, as just 12 ounces separate the top five. Like Wendlandt, some of the top pros opted to camp in a certain area, while others elected to run around. Here’s a look at how the top 5 are playing their cards on the Potomac River.
2. Tom Monsoor – La Crosse, Wis. – 19-6
After a less-than-ideal tournament on his home water in Wisconsin just a few weeks ago, Tom Monsoor is looking to end the year with a bang. He sacked up 19-6 to slide into second and put some serious pressure on Wendlandt.
The savvy Tour veteran was finally able to dial in the Potomac after years of rollercoaster-ride finishes.
“This was my first time figuring out the tide,” says Monsoor. “I actually figured it out today during the tournament and when I did I caught my three biggest fish this afternoon.
“I kind of got onto it the last day of practice, but I ran the tide in reverse so I wouldn’t hit the areas I knew had fish in them when it was right. I didn’t catch anything then and today it took me a little bit to figure everything out.”
Monsoor notes that he is catching his fish off a pattern that depends on what the tide is doing. He has a half-dozen areas he believes he can catch fish, though he only fished two of them today.
“I was boat 149 today and got both spots I wanted,” he adds. “I figured I wouldn’t even be able to get near any of my spots.”
Oh, and this may come as a surprise, but Monsoor is catching them on his signature swim jig.
3. Kurt Dove – Del Rio, Texas – 18-14
He may call Texas home now, but Kurt Dove got his start in fishing on the very waters he is competing on this week. He showed that he still knows a thing or two about the Potomac with a strong 18-14 to kick off his homecoming.
“This is where it all started for me,” Dove says. “My very first tournament bass came from Chicamuxen Creek.”
Crowds can be a bit of an issue on some of the well-known grass flats littered along the Potomac. While some dread the thought of fishing among them, Dove embraces it.
“You have to go where the populations of fish are right out of the gate to put yourself in contention to do well,” he adds. “I’m trying to catch every fish I can from a few different areas and if I make it to the weekend I’ll look at some of the places I found that are a little more isolated.”
Dove admits it’s been a while since he’s fished on the Potomac, but the baits he is throwing are the same one’s he’s always used. A swim jig, topwater, vibrating jig and soft plastics are all part of his arsenal. Though the baits may be the same, Dove notes that the river has changed over the years.
“The historical places are still awesome, but you still need to figure out where to catch them,” he says. “Mid-cycle tide was the best for me today because it condensed the grass a lot more than it used to. I have four or five different areas that I just stick in when the tide is right.
“Today I just got a key big bite and that takes you from a 14-pound bag to a 17 -or 18-pound bag.”
4. Carl Jocumsen – Frisco, Texas – 18-11
Carl Jocumsen is ending the season on a fishery that he is very familiar with, and his 18-11 day one limit that puts him in fourth backs that up.
“I’ve been coming to the Potomac since I moved over here [from Australia],” Jocumsen says. “I tried to spend as much time as I could here since there are so many big tournaments on it. But last year was a pivotal learning curve for me in terms of finding the key little things to do here.”
During the B.A.S.S. Elite Series event on the Potomac Jocumsen had a solid practice finding several groups of fish. Come tournament time he ran from place to place trying to force a bite instead of taking his time. After realizing second and fifth place came from areas he was fishing, he knew it was time to pump the brakes.
“This year I picked an area and just stayed there until I had five,” he says. “There are so many fish in these areas that if you move you wind up leaving fish to find fish. I had close to 16 pounds by about 8:30 and by about 9:30 I relaxed and just went fishing trying to help my co-angler.
“I pulled up to another area to see if anyone was on it and there wasn’t, so I made a cast and caught a 5-pounder. After that I left, but I feel like that spot is pretty special and I’d like to keep it for later in the week if I have to.”
To go along with his slow and steady approach, Jocumsen is mostly fishing finesse. In fact, he says he couldn’t get bit winding anything during practice. Although he did catch a few fish this afternoon on a vibrating jig Thursday afternoon, he threw it only because the conditions were right. He may investigate that bite a little more on Friday.
5. Robert Behrle – Hoover, Ala. – 18-10
Rounding out the top five is Alabama’s Robert Behrle, who wrangled up 18 pounds, 10 ounces worth of Potomac River bass on day one.
Like the majority of the top pros, Behrle learned that setting up shop in one area can make a world of difference.
“Five years ago was my first time fishing the Potomac and I found an area that had some fish and when the tournament started I fished it for a bit, then left and when I came back there were about 50 other boats in the area,” says Behrle. “It spun me out, so I went back there on the second day and didn’t move the entire day and caught 19 pounds.”
While he didn’t save that particular waypoint, he did recall the area and upon checking it in practice this time around received a few bites. He expanded on a few other areas during practice but when his number was called Thursday morning he ran right to the juice – despite the sizable crowd in the area.
“I locked down in one area and caught all my fish without moving,” he says. “I wanted to weigh-in by 9:30 this morning. I culled out a 17-pound bag so I hope that doesn’t hurt me.
“I’m just fishing slow. There is a sweet spot and I think some of the fish are spawning on it. I just poled down and didn’t move. I have four rods on the deck all rigged with the same bait. I’m not worried about catching fish tomorrow, I just hope people are respectful and don’t crowd me.”