May 19, 2012 by David A. Brown
NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. - During his final day on the Potomac River, Brian Maloney heard Coast Guard vessels cutting through the waves; he heard government helicopters buzzing overhead; he heard the thunder of a 21-gun salute. Nothing, however, compared to the memorable sound of a standing room only crowd cheering his victory in the Wal-Mart BFL All-American.
After leading the event on days one and two with 15 pounds, 4 ounces and 14-10, the Osage Beach, Mo. boater nabbed a final-round limit that weighed 13-6. His three-day total of 43-4 allowed him to slip past second-place Dick Shaffer by 6 ounces and claim a $120,000 prize.
"I still can't believe this," an emotional Maloney said. "I didn't think I had (enough)."
All three days, Maloney has leveraged the daily tide schedule by staking out a 75-yard stretch of shallow flats where ditches carved by storm water drains provide natural drop-back areas for fish on outgoing tides. All three tournament days saw outgoing tides from takeoff until early afternoon. Tides advance a little less than an hour each day, so the falling water scenario lasted progressively longer with afternoon incoming cycles starting later each day.
While rising water grants fish expanding access to shoreline cover, falling tides pull them away from the shallows and into deeper sanctuaries until the water returns. Comparing tidal fisheries to the seasonal floodwaters of his Midwest home, Maloney noted that the fish get nervous when they don't have sufficient water over their backs. Knowing he'd face outgoing tides through most of the tournament time, he made finding low-water retreats his practice priority.
"Those ditches may only be a foot or two deeper than the surrounding flats, but it was enough for them to be comfortable," Maloney said. "When the water started falling off the flats, the fish were coming to me."
Although a chartreuse silent crankbait produced some of his fish, the top boater did most of his damage with a black Garneau Baits Slap Stick hand-poured paddle tail worm on a 5/16-ounce football head jig. Maloney said he made long casts on 10-pound fluorocarbon line and used an aggressive presentation to startle and irritate bass into biting.
"I was ripping the bait - I wasn't playing with them," he said. "I wanted them to react to it. I was pulling it up off the bottom and hopping it 6-8 inches. I guess you could call it stroking a paddle tail.
"I looked around me in practice and everybody was finessing the fish and using green baits. I decided to go with a darker bait and a more aggressive retrieve. What I was doing, I thought was the right thing and it seemed like it turned out pretty good today."
With an FLW Tour Major event running concurrently out of National Harbor, the BFL All-American field was restricted to fishing north of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge, while Tour anglers fished south. Every day, the All-Americans had to idle past the bridge en route to the check-in point, so the massive pilings presented an option for late-day limit fillers. Maloney said he took advantage of this giant fish-attractor each day of the event.
"I made a last-minute decision to run down to the bridge," he said. "Every day I've been getting one that culled out. There's one pillar out there that likes me for some reason. The first two days of the event, every pillar had 10-12 boats around it. The first one I pulled up to I caught three there. It was on the Virginia side, just a couple of pillars off the main channel."
Shaffer improves to second
After posting weights of 14-7 on days one and two, Dick Shaffer, of Rockford, Ohio added another 14 even in the final round to finish second with 42-14.
Shaffer caught fish by flipping Junebug colored tube around wood in six to 10 feet and skipping docks in 15-25 feet of water with a Kinami Flash stick bait on a 3/16-ounce jig head. He dyed the stick bait's tail chartreuse for added fish-attraction. Docks yielded most of his productivity and this scenario, Shaffer said, was not tide-dependent.
"When I was fishing boat docks, it did not matter what the tide was doing," he said. "Those boats floated up and down with the tide and so did the fish."
Shaffer said he started out flipping the wood, but quickly transitioned to the docks when the hard cover failed to produce the kind of fish he needed.
Williams improves to third
David Williams, of Maiden, N.C., tied for 15th on day one, moved up to sixth on day two and added three more notches in the final round to finish third with 42-3. Williams' limit catch of 15-5 was the heaviest of day three and the tournament's second heaviest. Moreover, Williams was the only competitor to break 15 pounds twice. (He weighed 15-3 on day two.)
Williams caught his fish on a 1/2-ounce white spinnerbait with double willow blades, a 3/8-ounce black/blue jig with a Zoom Speed Craw trailer and a custom chatterbait made by his father. Williams said he located the spot he'd fish during the tournament during his pre-practice visit a couple of weeks ago.
"Me and dad came up here and I really struggle the first two days but right before I came in (one day), I pulled up on a place and they were stacked up," Williams said. "When I came back for the tournament, there were there. I was able to put it together and add a couple of things to it with my practice time and it worked out."
Marina bite moves Newberry up to fourth
Dicky Newberry, of Houston, Texas found a good bite in a marina toward the end of day one and he stuck with that for the next two days. Pitching weightless Senkos around the docks and patiently waiting for them to sink down to the suspended bass was his game plan.
Newberry said the weekend traffic and the noise of boaters cleaning their vessels and stomping along the docks may have spooked the fish. He was convinced that big bass inhabited the area he was fishing, but his limit catch of 13-9 fell short of his expectations. Newberry ended his tournament with a fourth-place total of 40-13.
Bolt finishes fifth
Conrad Bolt, of Seneca, S.C. got off to a slow start, but he eventually dialed in what he needed to do and sacked up a 12-pound limit. His final-round effort lifted him from seventh to fifth with a total weight of 38-1.
"I was scratching my head about 11 o'clock today," he said. "My co-angler (second-place Bobby Drinnon) put an old-fashioned butt whooping on me. He kinda made me think a little today so I adjusted and caught fish.
Bolt caught his day-three fish on a dropshot baited with a Robo Worm. He had been using the Margarita Mutilator color, but switching to a Junebug color today proved effective.
Best of the rest
Rounding out the top-10 pro leaders at the BFL All-American:
6th: Roger Fitzpatrick, of Eldon, Mo., 37-3
7th: Christopher Jones, of Bokoshee, Ok., 36-1
8th: Corey Saint, of Lexington, Ala., 35-2
9th: Scott Hamrick, of Denver, N.C., 32-11
10th: Marc Snyder, of St. Johns. Mich., 28-14