After a long cold winter I was more than ready to hit the road to begin the 2014 Season. My winter months consisted of building my support structure in order to assist with tournament costs and travel. After seeing what the Bassmasters Elite Series Event did for our area, businesses realized the opportunity to build our economy through the promotion of the outdoors in our area and I have since gained a huge sponsor support locally.
TJ Toyota of Potsdam is continuing as huge supporter and we are putting their vehicles to the test in 2014. This year we are running two trucks, one which will pull my boat and the other which will pull our camper which we recently purchased. Other local area supporters that are once again continuing are Hosmer's Marina of Ogdensburg, The Ole SmokeHouse of Madrid and theComputer Guys of Canton and Potsdam, a big thank you for sticking with us for another season!
I have gained plenty of new support including some new businesses that have recently began so be sure to shop local and support some of the new businesses in our area including Maple River Syrup Company and The Lone Wolf Saloon. In addition to the new businesses I also want to thank new support from existing businesses in the area, Northern Family Motel, North Country Savings Bank, The Hoot Owl, Commercial Press, Stone Valley Gift Shop, and Agway of Potsdam.
The first event of the year was to be the FLW Rayovac Series, Northern Division, held on the James River in Richmond, Va. on May 1-3. I felt more prepared than ever. I studied hard, trained physically, losing 30 pounds before the start of the season along with mentally preparing for the stress that comes along with the ups and downs of competitive fishing. I am especially glad now that I did all of those things because this first event would test my preparation to its limits.
The James River is tidal water and with the cold spring conditions I expected to see the fish in all phases of the spawn from pre- to spawn to post spawn fish. I arrived about a week before tournament start with camper and boat in tow, my wife Jen, towing the boat and me our camper. We set up camp at the beautiful Pocahontas State Park. One of the most beautiful campgrounds I have seen with miles and miles of trails to hike. My days would consist of practice time on the water as my wife Jen would hike the park with our three dogs.
The James River is a hard fishery and adding tidal water to that I needed hours and hours of practice time. Most events can be won if an angler can average 15 pounds of fish per day. It’s often hard to beat the ‘locals’ who enter the event as they have the fish so dialed in from years on the water. On the other hand tidal water also gives the opportunity for any angler to have a great event and make the top ten cut. It is just a matter of being in the right place at the right time when the fish bite and you could load the boat.
My main concern for this particular event was if any storms came through it could make the water dirty, fish won’t eat what they can’t see. This seems to be the number one problem on tidal water, so it is important to have some sort of backup plan if this happens. My days consisted of getting up at 3:45 am to be on the water by daylight and fish until 7 pm. My first practice day proved to be a patience tester. I drove around mostly looking over spots and getting familiar with the water and around noon, my oil alarm went off and I could see that the oil tank on the motor was not getting oil from the reserve. I was 30 miles downriver and basically broke down. Fortunately Jen had a spare set of keys to my truck and was able to go and pick up my truck and trailer and pick me up at a different boat launch. After a few hours of google searches and tinkering around, I was able to figure out the problem. There was a kink in the oil line behind my reserve tank. I fixed the problem but darkness was closing in so I guess I would have to wait to test it out in the morning.
My 2nd practice day began and the mechanical issue was fixed, beautiful sunshine in the skies and it was time to cover some water. This time of year on tidal water there are a number of things that catch and locate fish. The spinnerbait, crankbait, lipless crankbait and jerkbait are all great springtime search tools. Once fish are located it can be just a matter of slowing down and dialing in the size of fish you are looking to catch. Often times on this body of water a wacky rigged senko, shakyhead jig and topwater under the right conditions will do the trick. Target areas are grassy bays or creeks with wood banks. This practice day proved to be uneventful with not even one bite. As a matter of fact I did not even see one baitfish the whole day. Lesson of this day was I learned where not to fish, which can be just as important.
After coming off such a slow practice day, I was sure I would find fish on my next day out. I moved to another section of river and began to check creeks and along with main river channel pockets looking for warmer water and baitfish. I was confident if I could find early season crappies I would catch bass much like I do at home. The day came and went with no signs of life or bites. On my way in I decided to try an old stand by and throw a shakyhead around bridges and to my surprise I hooked a 2 pound largemouth. I called it a day and decided to target locations similar to where I caught that fish in the morning.
Morning came and I began just off the main river in one of the old gravel ‘Pits’. A boat pulled in ahead of me and the two anglers were obviously crappie fisherman throwing small jigs with bobbers and they tossed their rigs up against an old steel wall. I hear a splash and look to see one of them landing a huge crappie. This was a good sign; I take my jerkbait out and throw it parallel to the shore. A few twitches and my rod loads up, I thought to myself, there, I am onto something (thanks in part to the crappie fisherman). As the line began to peel off the reel, I quickly realized I had a powerful fish hooked. I hooked myself a fish that goes by many names, Striped Bass, Hybrid or Rockfish. I turned on the Go-Pro and battled with the fish for about five minutes until I landed the 8 pound beast. The rest of the day in the Pit proved to be productive, catching a handful of bass on spinnerbaits, jerkbaits and drop shot. A confidence builder but I also knew this was a community hole and someplace I would use as a backup plan. By the end of the day the rain and winds started moving in and the weather prediction looked nasty over the next several practice days.
The weather man was correct and on my next morning practice, I had wind and rain. I headed down to a small creek with the tide just starting to come out of it. The issue with some of the really small creeks is that normally there will be a flat out in front of them. This means there are only certain times to get into the creek and low tide is not one of them. My decision that day was to get into the creek before the tide went out and fish through the tide cycle until the creek filled back up and I could leave across the flat.
My decision ended up being a great one, once in the creek I had finally found what I was looking for. I began locating fish on creek channel turns which were near deep water. During the time in the creek, which was several miles long, I could actually move along quickly and pick out the right locations and get fish to bite. The fish were biting so good I began to fine tune my pattern adjusting with different baits and techniques to find out how to get my biggest bite. I did hook and catch a handful of fish which were in the 2.5-3 pound class. At that point I had all of my hooks covered or removed and was just getting bites and checking what the size of the fish was by feel or sight. My biggest bites came on a buzz bait or a small popper. I estimate that I had a few fish that were in the 4 pound class. I left the creek at days end happy with what I found and going back counting the waypoints where I had bites or caught fish I had over 30 bites in that six hour period. I was excited and with a few days left in practice I knew this creek would be one of my key locations.
The storms continued to roll in with the last few days of practice and I only managed to find a few fish here and there as I checked other locations. One thing was for sure, the rains continued to be heavy and the river was swelling. On my final evening out, the clouds were heavy and severe storms were on the way. At about 6 pm I received a text from my wife saying that there was a tornado watch. I scrambled as the rain continued to pound harder, I headed for the launch. At one point the rain was coming down in such force I could barely see to drive. I arrived at the dock to see I was one of the few left on the water. The current was rolling heavy in the river. I was shocked as I pulled up to tie off to the dock and see the water had come up about two feet and was now starting to flow over the top of the dock.
I arrived back at camp that evening and told my wife there must have been some sort of flood tide coming in as the dock was underwater when I left the ramp. The following day I arrived at Osborne Landing for our pre-tournament meeting. Boat numbers were called and I was pleased to be boat number 24 and in the second flight. I was sure to get to my creek and on my fish without much pressure of other boaters. This event, even though my practice started slow, really came around for me. I felt as if I had the potential to catch 12-15 pounds out of my creek each day for three days. With a catch like that I had the potential to make the cut and cash a good check. I was excited and all I had to do was fish clean and pay attention to my time in the creek.
A sleepless night came and went and I arrived at the launch at 5 am to meet my co-angler. The first event of the year was about to start in less than an hour and my heart raced with nervous anticipation but I felt calm and focused at the same time. Just what I had prepared for all year, I was ready to do this. As I pulled the rods from my storage locker I was already starting to run my personal movie through my head, running the 25 miles down to my creek, making my first cast with a buzz bait and seeing the boil of a huge bass as I rear back and set the hook on the first tournament fish of the year. Just then, the annoying ring of a text message breaks the silence of the morning. I check to make sure my co-angler has not run into any issues only to find a message from the tournament director stating not to launch as the water had risen to unsafe conditions and a decision if the tournament launch would be made at daylight.
Daylight came and to my astonishment the parking lot which we once stood in the night before was underwater. We looked out across the river to see the current had increased twofold. Whatever had been on the riverbanks was now mixed in the current including trees over twenty feet long, coolers and any other debris the river could find to take along its path. I had never seen water change so quickly in such a short period of time. As we looked to the other bank there was not a spot in the water that something was not floating in it. There was no way a boat could safely launch much less have boats traveling speeds of 70 mph to get to your fishing hole. The director made the decision to cancel the event for the first day. By the end of the first day I received my second text message saying the entire event was postponed and would be rescheduled for later in the season.
My first event ended quicker than it started, disappointing for sure. I am sure it was a tough decision for FLW to make, knowing some anglers traveled over 20 hours to fish the event. Regardless of anyone's opinion it was the right call. The river was dangerous to run and people’s lives could have been at risk. This just proves who the real tournament director is, Mother Nature ultimately makes the final call and hers was we were not fishing this week.
My week was not a total loss. I learned a ton more on tidal fishing and early spring patterns. We also stayed in the Pocahontas State Park which was beautiful. The park is located 20 miles from Richmond, Va. and offers great privacy and plenty of opportunities to enjoy the outdoors. Miles of hiking trails, pet friendly, an Aquatic center with a water slide and cabins, all located within the State Park. We stayed for the planned days even after the event was cancelled and enjoyed some hiking with our three GSP's that travel with us. The park was top notch and if you are ever thinking of camping in the Virginia area I recommend stopping and checking out the park.
You can find more information on the park at Pocahontas State Park.
Most of my events this year we will be bringing our camper and experiencing some of the campgrounds throughout the United States. We plan on documenting as much of our travels as we can. So if you are interested in some of the areas we travel to be sure to check out my website for slideshows or videos of the areas we travel at chrisflintfishing.com