MARBURY, Md. – The competitors in the final Northern Division Presented by Rabid Baits event of the year took off under lovely conditions on Day 1. With most of the Toyota Series Presented by Phoenix Boats season in the books, the Northern Division anglers are hitting the water at the Potomac River to finish things off. With 151 pros and Strike King co-anglers, the final event should be hard-fought, and though the fishing isn’t expected to be gangbusters, there are some positive rumblings from practice.
One of the main tidal fisheries on the East Coast, there aren’t too many big secrets when it comes to the Potomac. Usually, the tournament is won with slight tweaks to standards and savvy decision-making – not some totally out-of-the-box technique or area. So, in this event, you can expect to see the standards in play a lot – creeks, grass, topwaters, flipping, vibrating jigs and the like.
Still, despite an expectation of the same old, same old being good, there are a few hiccups. For one, the river is saltier than usual, which has resulted in a few oddball species showing up with increased frequency. Though no redfish will hit the scale this week, a few could be caught on derby day.
The main river is also muddier than normal, combined with the salinity situation, it sure sounds like the creeks are going to be more crowded than normal. That doesn’t mean it won’t play at all, there could be a sneaky local that figures something out, but the odds seem good that this goes down in one of the historic creeks that feed the river and harbor big bass populations.
As for the weather, things should be really nice on Day 1 and Day 2, with sunny skies and temperatures reaching into the 70s. Things get sketchy in the forecast when the Top 25 take to the water on Saturday – Friday night should see big wind and rain, with a decently wet and breezy day on tap for Saturday. High tide on Thursday will be at about 12:30 p.m., with high tide around 1:30 p.m. on Friday and 2:40 p.m. on Saturday, though that doesn’t take potential winds into account. Still, anglers will be mostly fishing an incoming tide, which isn’t usually the preferred situation.
Though not exactly a local, Grae Buck has a lot of time in on the Potomac and has seen a lot of success there over the years. For this event, he figures the fishing will be fairly tough.
“It’s September fishing on the Potomac, not a ton of bites, but they’re there to be had,” he said. “There’s not a lot of size, but it seems like when you find an area that has fish there are a group of them there.
“The grass hasn’t started to die off yet, it’s still warm enough,” he said. “There is a decent amount of dirty water right now, which is kind of surprising for the amount of grass we have. But, I heard the tide on Sunday morning was way up.”
As for where it goes down, Buck expects the usual.
“I think it’s going to play throughout, the same normal community holes will have boats in them,” he said. “I think two or three will kick out more of the Top 10 than usual, but I haven’t found which one it will be yet.
“I’ve got a couple spots I can catch little ones, but I don’t want to catch little ones. So, maybe I’ll do what I did in the first two and swing a little. Maybe the third time will be the charm.”
Heading into the finale, Brett Carnright is in the lead for Angler of the Year with 516 points, with Alec Morrison close behind at 509 points. In fifth, but the only other top five pro fishing the event, Kyle Hall has 491 points and is waiting for a stumble. Still, it looks like one of the young New Yorkers is primed to take down the title.
“This is my first time ever here, I know that it’s going to be a tough tournament, and I’ve been here for five days of practice,” Carnright said. “I would say the first two days were pretty tough, just a few bites a day, and then I kind of figured out a little more of the nuances on how to get more consistent bites. So, I’ve been running that same pattern, catching them with braided line, which is fun considering it’s been all spinning rods for basically every Toyota Series event I have ever fished.”
Morrison won the Toyota Series event at Sam Rayburn this summer with the biggest winning margin in Toyota Series history and has similarly never been to the Potomac.
“This is a really cool place, it’s my first time here, so I was uncertain for a little while. But, I have fished other tidal water before, so it wasn’t a totally new thing,” he said. “Still, it took me a little time to figure out what I needed to be doing. But, there is a pattern to this place, and a few bites and a couple decisions could make your whole week.
“I’ve wasted an incredible amount of time on the main river, and I’m not the only one either,” Morrison said. “If there’s something going on the main river, it’s a really small, sneaky deal that a local knows. It seems like the water is really on the dirty main river, it’s hard to find good grass and clean water. I think with the salinity up it has them pushed back in the major creeks a little more. It’s really putting even more people in the main areas, I think it’s making the place fish really small.”
Carnright has had about the same experience as far as the fishing goes.
“I definitely think it is going to fish kind of small,” he said. “Even the sections of the creeks that seem productive seem small. This place is littered with coontail and hydrilla, it is by far the most predominant vegetation on the river. I haven’t had a productive practice day outside of a creek, I’m not sure if it is the salt, or just I don’t know the sweet spots this time of year. I have sampled a few places on the main river, but it seems like the creeks are the deal for me. And honestly, I’ve barely seen anybody fishing on the main river, so I may not be missing out on anything there.”
Growing up frequenting the same ramps and chasing the same Champlain smallmouth, Carnright and Morrison are both focused on finishing the season strong.
“I’m going for it, that’s for sure,” Morrison said. “I love Brett, we’ve been fishing together for a long time, but we’re definitely going to be duking it out this week for sure. It’s cool, neither one of us has been here, with the tough conditions, it definitely makes for an interesting event. I’ve definitely got AOY on my mind, I’ve worked hard for this, and I think it will really come down to decisions on the water, there’s no guarantees out there.”
Carnright has the lead, but he’s not taking it easy.
“I’m not really focused on trying to lay up, I feel like I have to catch them good to do it,” said the Plattsburgh angler. “I feel like I need to make the final day to have a shot at winning it. My main goal is to be in the top five, if I put my work in and things go right, I think I’ll have a shot at contending for AOY. If I got it, it would be pretty special, the Northern Division AOY is one of the hardest ones to win, most of the winners never finish outside of the top 15 or 20, so it’s highly competitive. It would be a cool thing to add to my résumé, that’s for sure.”
For this event, weight predictions are a bit low, but that should make for an exciting and close finish.
“I would say 15 a day will win it, and I would say 11 pounds a day will get you in the Top 25,” Buck said. “It’s crazy, compared to when we were here in June, the Toyota next June will probably be a smashfest.”
Carnright isn’t too far off.
“For me, I think if you get 10 bites a day you’ll probably be in good shape, and 10 to 12 pounds a day will be pretty good. Seems like from my practice and the BFL, 12 pounds will be a really good bag. I think if you have close to 15 a day, you’ll have a shot at winning, 44 pounds, 15 ounces, I would say – you’ll be right there.”
For his part, Morrison thinks 40 ½ to 42 pounds will win.
“I’m sure in the tournament, the ones that get on key little stretches and get on them first in the morning will do well,” he said. “I don’t think you’ll be able to roll up on your fish in the afternoon and just get on them. But, you make a couple of those right decisions in the morning, maybe get a bite on an unfavorable tide, and next thing you know you’re sitting ahead. It’s been really slow, but when things happen it happens quick, and you can definitely get right really quick.”