Pants or Shorts??? 2015 James River Rayovac Event
Pants or shorts??
James River Rayovac June 2015
I recently returned home from my first FLW Rayovac event on the James River which turned out once again to be a huge learning curve for me. Each event I go to mentally strong always knowing it is going to be a challenge to compete against some of the best anglers on that tour many of whom have years more experience than me as an angler. Going into each event I always try to establish a game plan before I arrive in order to pre-fish effectively but I also try to keep an open mind when I arrive and fish the moment. One of the toughest things to do in bass fishing is fish the moment, in other words sometimes you have to throw everything out you thought you knew or learned in the pre-fish period and just go fishing. That style of fishing is what makes good anglers great and its also something I know that I really need to work on when game time comes. This event proved no different.
I arrived at the James and set up camp and had about a week of pre-fishing before the event would start. Which I thought would be plenty of time for me to look at the water and try to settle in an area where I thought I could catch good limits of fish each day. The James River is a tidal fishery which makes chasing fish even more challenging. The water fluctuations each day with the incoming and outgoing tide can often frustrate anglers who fail to recognize the optimal times to be in a productive area to catch fish. Sure fish can be caught at any time on a tidal waterway but there are certain times during that tide cycle when you can load the boat with a good bag of fish in a matter of minutes. The tidal fishery can also result in long periods of time like hours upon hours where you never get a bite. Just because you are not getting bites also does not necessarily mean you are not in an area loaded with fish. The tidal fishery is all about timing.
I started my week knowing I had approximately 70 miles of river system that I needed to look at which consisted of a handful of creeks which flowed into that system along the 70 mile stretch. I quickly found my best opportunity for bites were the outgoing tide approx the last two hours along with an hour or so of completely low tide. With that in mind each day I would be sure to get into a creek and in position where I thought my best chance to catch fish at that time. To my surprise I quickly located fish in each creek I started fishing. The northern section of the James river proved to be a lot different than the southern most section as far as quality of fish went. While fishing the Northern section creeks and main river wood I located fish with a spinner bait and swim jig. Most of the fish that I caught at that time were in the 2.5 to 3 pound class. I was getting a handful of fish each day. As I pushed further south each day I noticed the fish became bigger and more aggressive along with getting more bites each day.
I spent the first three days of pre-fishing rotating through the creeks along the whole 70 mile stretch, checking and re-checking areas to make sure that I have not missed any good spots. Going into my fourth day I quickly realized the southernmost section of river is where the winning fish were going to be caught. The bites were more frequent and bigger. At that point I made the decision the rest of my pre-fishing time would be spent in the Chicahominy River which connects to the James River. The interesting thing about the Chick is first off it would be over an hour boat ride each morning just to get to my fishing location on tournament day. This meant instead of 8 hours of fishing on tournament day I would be cut down to about five and a half hours which would allow me ample time to make it back to weigh in on time. The second thing about the Chick is the bass in there are a Florida strain bass which means they grow big, but they are also really picky when it comes to pressure and changing weather conditions.
The rest of my practice time in the Chick proved to be really good. I was fishing spatterdock and grass targeting areas on a tide that would match tournament day. My practice days consisted of sunny bluebird skies a southern wind and 95 degree temperatures. This had the fish active and easy to find hiding in all of that heavy vegetation as the tide fell. I targeted my fish with a mix of topwater frogs and swimbaits. I was also aware at that time it was post spawn for a lot of the fish which means a Pop-R plug usually works well. I never produced any quality bites on that Pop-R but my frog bite proved really good. On one particular section I landed a fish that was just under 5 pounds. The next cast I hooked one that looked to be in the 6-7 pound class that came off. This was then followed by a 3.5 pound fish. I knew at that point I was dialing in something and frog fishing was something that I am good at so I was more than excited to see this bite. I was also aware the Chick would have plenty of anglers so one thing I was also practicing was to go in behind another angler after they had fished a section of grass to see if I could catch a fish after they had already fished it. On one occasion I met another angler on a weed line and we passed by each other. I decided to keep fishing through the area he had just fished through. A few cast later I landed one of my personal best largemouth at 6.61 pounds.
I finished up practice that week locating sections in the grass and spatterdock where I could catch a few fish or just get bites. My game plan was to rotate through a 2 mile stretch of the river on these spots and hope my weight would be enough to get me a check. At that point I was confident that i could catch 12-14 pounds a day without having to count on one big bite. If that big bite came it could put me in the top ten. Overall I had about 25 spots in that stretch of river system where I had located fish. I ended my pre-fishing on Tuesday before the event to take a evening off and the next day just to rest up for tournament days. During that pre-fishing time I felt I got really good at reading the water and the current and knew the right times to pull up on places to catch fish. It looked like things were shaping up to be great first event for me.
I settled in Tuesday night with a good meal and a movie in the camper hanging out with Jen and the pups. Soon I heard the rain start pounding down on the camper. I started thinking to myself...not again. Last year I had practiced for this same event in April. I had found a decent group of fish only to have the river flood so bad the event was canceled. I never returned to fish that event in 2014. Wednesday morning came and so did the continued weather change. A northeast wind, rain and one other factor I had not considered a full moon. Little did I know at the time these conditions would have a huge change on my fishing pattern.
Thursday morning came and I was up early at 3:45 am and stepped out of the camper to check the weather. For the first time that week it was cool or maybe I should say cold compared to the 95 degree days I had encountered all week. I went back inside and said to Jen I think I will need pants today. She joked with me and told me not to be such a wimp. As I reflect back I realize how important this joke turned out to be deciding if I should wear pants or shorts. For Thursday, I chose pants. I arrived at take off to see rain, wind and fog. We did our thing and before I knew it I was blazing down the river at 70 mph in heavy fog and rain for one hour and ten minutes. I arrived at my first location where I expected to get a few fish right away. I pulled up and put the trolling motor in the water and got ready to go to work. I quickly realized I had a major problem. The water had changed drastically. What should have been a outgoing tide with low water conditions was not there. The water was high and stained and the pads were flooded. I knew in my mind at that point the bite was going to be different as this makes the baits harder to see and the fish are dispersed more with higher water. I fished an hour through that area without one bite or even a sound of a brim hitting the surface much like I had seen earlier in the week. I tried not to panic and keep and open mind in an attempt to fish the moment. In reality I thought to myself I have 20 plus spot to fish through even if the frog bite is slow I can still salvage the day with five bites and get enough to survive until tomorrow. I rotated through my spots over and over and the bites were very limited and far from aggressive as they had been. As noon came and I had no fish in the boat I thought it was time to slow down and go flip some grass just to try something different. On the other hand I told myself I only have two hours and I need to stay moving my bites will come. I talked myself into staying with the frog almost knowing it was not the right thing to do but I still did it anyway. Fishing the moment, exactly what I needed to do and I did not do it. The difference between a great angler and a poor one. I ended the day with five bites and only landed one fish. Disappointing in myself for making poor decisions is what ruined this day.
Day two came and along with it a little bit better weather. Today I was not going to talk myself into a stupid decision, I was not going to fish what I thought I had learned. I was going to be a great angler even if that meant just improving on my catch from the day before. I arrived back at the Chick and picked a location that I had just a few bites on. It actually was considered one of my less desirable spots to fish but as I passed by it in the morning it just looked right for some reason. I pulled up dropped the trolling motor and on my first cast I landed a 3.5 pound fish. It sure felt good but that can also be the sign of a long day with a lucky first cast. I circled that area and quickly caught three more fish and had four fish in the boat by 9:30 am. A great improvement but I wanted more. I rotated though my stuff most of the day with little results and ended up back where I had caught the four fish earlier in the morning to see if I could catch a few more. My co-angler caught one on a frog and then lost a big one shortly after. We spent another hour circling the small area with no further results. At that point I decided to make a run to another creek where I would have about an hour to try to catch one more. This area had limited fish but it also had limited fishing pressure so I hoped I could seal the deal and at least put a limit in the boat. We arrived and fished through and about 15 minutes before it was time to go I got the bite I was looking for, the fish swam past the boat and quickly shook off. It was time to go and weigh in. I arrived at weigh in with four fish coming in with around 7 pounds for that day. A big improvement from day one but still in the back of my mind I knew poor decisions on the first day held me back.
The long rides home from events like this let you reflect on many things and lessons learned. I am thankful I get to travel and do the things I do, I chase a dream which is never easy. Failure is something people can often associate with fear. Why is it that many people have dreams but never chase them??? Fear of failure for some reason human nature has taught us to fear failure. Why is that? The stigma of what people may think of you, how it effects you mentally as a person. I am sure there are plenty of reasons none of which should be a legitimate one. The sport of tournament fishing is probably one of the most challenging sports someone can do, the reason is if your goal is to win every event you fish 99 percent of the time you fail. Those are some pretty hard statistics to overcome and especially hard on your mental well being. So when I look back at all of these type of events and ask myself have I failed? Nope not yet I have just figured out a whole bunch of ways not to win. Each and every event I try to learn something, whether about fishing or just a life lesson and as long as I continue at that pace I will succeed. My lesson learned from this event......when I wake up on tournament day and have to decide pants or shorts??? I am betting the fishing has changed and so will I!
Don't Chase your dreams....catch them!!!!