MARBURY, Md. – Seven major tournaments in 10 years doesn’t leave a whole lot of mystery about a fishery. At this point, most anglers fishing the Northern Division of the Toyota Series Presented by A.R.E. know what the Potomac River is all about.
Yet, as is usually the case, the first event on the three-tournament Northern Division schedule showed how even on the most well-known fisheries, there are still little subtleties that can add up and make a big difference.
For winner Harry Linsinbigler IV, it was targeting the outer edges of the grass and getting just the right tides when everyone else was focused on the inside, shallower grass. For the rest of the Top 10, it was more of the same, as little tweaks or focuses made all the difference.
All good things come to an end, and it looks like the end of a very productive run on the Potomac for Robert Henderson.
For more than three weeks, the local has had a honey hole down in Potomac Creek. It’s a shallow flat in the idle zone with isolated clumps of grass, and when the tide gets low, it allows him to see and specifically target each clump.
“It’s not easy to catch them there,” Henderson said. “You have to be able to really get your bait right in the clump or else you won’t get bit. That’s why you need to be able to see them. When it gets really low and the clump mats over, that’s when it’s been best.”
Unfortunately, what started out as a 50-yard circle had started to dwindle smaller and smaller as this event got closer. And finally, it looks like that circle might’ve dwindled to nothing by the final day of the event. Still, it held on long enough for him to win, if not for a massive final day from Linsinbigler, so Henderson had no complaints.
As for what he used to target the clumps when he saw them, a Zoom Ultravibe Speed Worm and a Texas-rigged Berkley PowerBait Chigger Craw did the majority of the damage. Henderson also mixed in a Lobina Rico and frog.
Some days the fish just bite funny, and the final day seemed to be one of those days. That fact probably cost Rod Mackinnon III the win.
Everything was lined up perfect for the New York angler making his Toyota Series debut in the front of the boat. He had found a spot far back in Potomac Creek – ironically, less than 100 yards from Henderson despite not being able to see one another – that he had all to himself. It was a 50-yard stretch of lily pads loaded with quality fish with a ditch running right out in front of it. When the water was up, the fish hung in the lily pads, but when the tide fell, the fish all congregated out in the ditch, allowing Mackinnon to pluck them off at will.
The first two days, the tide never got “right,” and he still managed to be leading. But the final day, it dropped as low as it had all week, and the fish did exactly what they were supposed to do. That is, except eat his offerings.
“I must’ve left a dozen of them swimming out there,” Mackinnon said. “I missed my first two because of nerves, but after that, I had settled down. They just weren’t eating it. I’d set the hook and maybe have them skin hooked for a second before they’d come off. There was nothing I could do.”
While he mixed in a Lobina Rico and a Yamamoto Swimming Senko on an ¼-ounce, 5/0 Owner Flashy Swimmer, the bulk of his damage was done with a drop-shot, opting for a 6-inch Robowom Fat Straight Tail Worm (Margherita mutilator) on a 3/0 Owner Cover Shot hook above a 3/8-ounce weight. He’d pitch it along the edges of the pads trying to pluck off fish until the tide fell, then he’d throw it right in the ditch.
Martin Villa may be a pro on the Tackle Warehouse Pro Circuit, but he also has a full-time job. His demanding schedule meant he had no time to practice on the Potomac.
“I just got back from the Pro Circuit event on the James River and then had some big projects at work,” Villa said. “So, I didn’t get to practice. Fortunately, I have some history here. I don’t claim to be a stick here, but I’m familiar.”
He’s familiar enough to know how the tides work and how best to chase them, especially down in Acquia and even as far south as Nanjemoy. The key was rotating between grass and hard cover. On the lower tides, Villa would look for any hard cover that was a current break, such as a rock or piece of wood. And when he found one with the right tide, it was game on.
“I equate it to salmon fishing, where you’re not going to catch those fish that are swimming, but you can get the ones that are staging in a current break,” Villa said. “I found a spot like that where I checked it three times and nothing. The fourth time, I caught 15 fish in 15 casts.”
A Berkley PowerBait Pit Boss was his weapon of choice on the hard-cover current breaks, but once Villa had a solid limit, he’d go to the grass chasing bigger bites. A vibrating jig would sometimes do the trick, but a Lobina Rico popping bait was his main big-fish catcher.
It’s almost a guarantee that during every Potomac event, someone is going to score a Top 10 from Mattawoman Creek. Often multiple pros, actually. Why?
“Mattawoman is just an amazing creek,” Tristan McCormick said. “A lot of fish get released in here and it’s a big, big creek. It has a lot of grass and a lot of places to hide. So, that’s why I figured I needed to focus on it and figure them out in here.”
Figure them out he did, by changing up what he was doing with his vibrating jig. While most were opting for lighter jigs to stay up above the grass, McCormick went with ½- and ¾-ounce models of the Strike King Thunder Cricket to force him to reel it faster and rip it harder out of the grass for a more violent reaction bite. He even switched up his trailers, with a Zoom Ultravibe Speed Craw if he wanted to keep it a little higher and a Strike King Rage Tail Menace Grub to get it down deeper.
“It was pure reaction,” said McCormick, who also made the run down to Aquia on a falling tide. “You’d get up on top of these flats and you could just see them sitting there in these little bitty holes and when you rip it like I was, they couldn’t help but eat it.”
It’s amazing how just a subtle difference in presentation can be such a big deal. Just look at Wil Dieffenbauch.
The pro never left Mattawoman Creek all three days and says he hit the same community holes in there as everyone else. So how did he emerge from the crowd to score a Top 10?
“I think having a few different baits the fish are not seeing every day helped,” Dieffenbauch said.
Those “different” baits were a homemade swim jig and a homemade vibrating jig that both were just different enough from the rest to help him grind out a few more bites than the rest. He did also mix in a Strike King 1.5, Zoom Ultravibe Speed Worm and a topwater, though, to keep them honest.
“I just kept hitting the same grass flats, and I’d get a little window where I’d catch two or three fish,” Dieffenbauch said. “Then I’d rotate to another community hole.”
Spencer Shuffield has quickly become one of the top pros on the Tackle Warehouse Pro Circuit. It looked like he was going to cement that with an Angler of the Year title this season … until last week when the wheels fell off at Stop 5 on the James River.
“It still stings,” Shuffield said. “You get a sick feeling in your gut. I still have it from the James. I don’t know how that happened, but it happened.”
Fortunately, a Top 10 at the Potomac helped ease that pain a little. Though, even that didn’t come without its issues.
Shuffield truly wanted to fish grass with a Z-Man Evergreen Jack Hammer and Ark Elite Z-Swimmer swim jig, which he was able to do in places like Belmont, Chicamuxen and Potomac creeks. But Day 2 threw him off the scent a bit. Shuffield was struggling and decided to hit some docks with a Duel Hardcore 1.5 squarebill, reeling it right next to the pylons on the up-current side. The result was some serious quality, which is why he went on Google Earth to try and find similar docks for the final day. Unfortunately, it ended up being fool’s gold.
“I should’ve stayed with the grass,” Shuffield said. “The grass was the deal this week.”
A Tackle Warehouse Pro Circuit victory and three final-day cuts on the Toyota Series – yeah, Christian Greico is on quite a roll this season.
“I’ve been getting in a groove in some tournaments this year,” Greico said. “It’s been a great year.”
Being from Florida, it wasn’t hard for him to find his groove in the lush vegetation of the Potomac. He simply opted to fish to his strengths, which meant forgoing the grass flats and keeping a flipping stick in his hands.
“I’m not too big a fan of winding in the grass,” Greico said. “I’d rather flip all day, and when I got a few bites doing that in practice I decided to do that the whole time.”
Hanging in Mattawoman all week, he targeted lily pads with extra clear water in them with a Googan Baits Bandito Bug (Bama craw) behind a ½ ounce weight flipped on a 7-foot, 6-inch heavy 13 Fishing prototype rod.
“The clear water was key in those pads,” Greico said. “That and timing the tides right on the different patches I was hitting.”
Marty Robinson may have had the fireworks, but it was his son Marshall Robinson who found the consistency needed to make the Top 10.
On Day 2, the elder Robinson lit up weigh-in with a 7-9 kicker – the biggest fish of the event by far – that catapulted him into the top five. Meanwhile, Marshall never caught a fish over 4 pounds all three days. But he found enough quality 3-plus pounders to score a better finish than his dad thanks to his ability to run around and time the tides.
“I hit a bunch of creeks both north and south of Mattawoman,” Marshall said. “I had one spot I could catch multiple fish, but usually it was just one here and one there.”
“I was just covering water and really looking for that deeper grass,” Robinson said. “Whenever the water got low, it’d suck the fish out to the deeper grass.”
When you fish a lake like Sam Rayburn a lot, you’re going to get pretty good at fishing grass. So that’s exactly what Tommy Dickerson initially did in this event.
On Day 1, the Texas pro made the run down to Aquia and sacked up a decent bag tossing a Santone swim jig with a Reaction Innovations Skinny Dipper on the back. However, his plans took a turn on day 2.
“I was catching them in the grass, but bites were really hard to come,” Dickerson said. “So, I had this little 50-yard stretch of lily pads that had hydrilla blown in on top of it in the back of Mattawoman. I didn’t fish it the first day because it was such a long idle, but I had a longer day on Friday. So, I pulled up there Friday afternoon and culled everything he had in minutes.”
Needless to say, he was on to something flipping his Reaction Innovations Sweet Beaver (black and blue), but a big key was the presentation. He used only a ¼-ounce weight and would intentionally try to land the lure on a pad and slowly pull it off into the water.
“The water was so shallow that if you made a splash, the fish would run off,” Dickerson said. “You just had to slowly pull it off, and then you’d see the pad start shaking to tell you he got it.”
On the final day he never left that stretch of pads, but he feels the tide never got just right, and thus he could never make a fun run at the win.