August 23, 2014 by David A. Brown
RICHMOND, Va. – Bryan Schmitt’s not complaining, but he’d really like to win a tournament someday where the sea bears no impact. Frame this notion against his Rayovac FLW Series Northern Division victory on the James River – his ninth career win on tidal waters – and it’s easy to see that he’s pretty good at the ebb and flow thing.
“I do like fishing when the water’s moving,” the Deale, Md. pro said. “But I’d like to win on a non-tidal lake just to prove to myself that I can do it.”
Well, unless and until such opportunity arises, we're content with this fact: Schmitt’s an absolute machine on tidal bass fisheries. In addition to the James River, his combined Rayovac and BFL records include five Chesapeake Bay wins and three on the Potomac River.
This week, Schmitt and fellow competitors had a rather challenging tide schedule with which to work. Day one began with the end of an outgoing tide, followed by a hard incoming tide throughout most of the day and the first couple of hours of the outgoing at day’s end. With daily tide schedules advancing about an hour each day, that highly productive morning low water period grew each day and that’s when Schmitt did his damage.
Running far south of the take-off site, Schmitt set up shop on a 100-yard stretch of bank positioned along a bend in the river. Habitat, he said, was a key element in attracting big numbers of big bass.
“What I was looking for was a habitat that had pads and grass,” Schmitt said. “When I came here to the James River, I saw that the northern end is industrial and rocky and it can’t hold the numbers of big ones. I thought ‘If I were a bass, I’d live in these pads and grass with 6 feet of water off the end of it.”
On day one, Schmitt’s spot yielded 18 pounds, 13 ounces and put him in third place. He returned a day later, sacked up 18-10 and claimed the top spot going into the final round. Today, Schmitt stuck with the plan and added 15-5 to close the deal with a tournament total of 52-12 and a winning margin of 2-9.
Schmitt’s day-two catch included a 7-5 that earned Big Bass honors.
As Schmitt noted, the brief period of morning low water was a critical time, as the rising tide allows fish to push far back into cover. The latter end of the falling tide, however, had the fish positioned on the outer edges of cover and feeding on tide-born meals.
During the morning bite, Schmitt caught his fish on a 5-inch 6th Sense Swimbait (shad crush) on a 6/0 Owner Beast hook. His morning bite yielded three big fish each on the first and third days and two the second. During the rest of each day, he scratched around for bites wherever he could and finished his daily limits with smaller keepers on a Strike King KVD 1.5 squarebill crankbait in sexy shad.
Notably, he found this honey hole incidentally during practice. While scouting with Rayovac Series co-angler Kurt Fraser, Schmitt was burning the bank just looking
“We were catching a couple of big ones a day, but nothing locked a loaded,” Schmitt said. “I had my trolling motor on 60 percent just burning down this grass bed and he’s dragging a Senko out the back of the boat and catches a 7-pounder. At that speed, I said ‘There’s something there.’
“I turned around, threw might bait in there, shook one off and left. I said that’s as good a place as any to start. That’s here I caught (the majority) of my fish this week. It was the gold mine.”
Vaughan moves up to second
Day-one leader Wayne Vaughan saw his performance rise and fall and then rise again, much like the tides he fished. Vaughan shot up to the early lead with a first-day weight of 23-7 – the heaviest sack of the event. His key deal was the late afternoon outgoing tide, but an earlier flight on day two kept that out of his reach and he managed only 9-13 during the day and slipped to third.
In the final round, he shifted gears to a morning tide focus and added 16-15 – again, the day’s biggest sack – and finished in second place with 50-3.
“The first day was really amazing, but yesterday I stumbled a little bit and just couldn’t ever get it going,” Vaughan said. “Today, it was really good in the morning. I lost a really big fish around 6-7 pounds and I thought ‘Oh no, don’t let this happen to me,’ but I was able to put it back together and keep my head down and keep fishing.”
Vaughan caught his day-three fish on a buzzbait and a swim jig. During low tide stages, he fished the buzzbait around the edges of grass and then as the tide rose, he threw the swim jig up in the vegetation.
Pratt drops to third
Kelly Pratt, of Williamsburg, Va. was the only other angler to break 20 pounds and his 22-2 put him in second place on day one. The following day, Pratt added 13-10 and held onto the Number 2 spot. In the final round, he caught 12-15 and dropped to third with a total of 48-1.
“I’d been catching them cranking, but it messed me up when it got cloudy today,” Pratt said. “I had a really good first day and then the tide started playing with me yesterday. I lost two big fish; I had a 7- and a 6-pounder pull off. But that’s bass fishing.”
Pratt fished a Lucky Craft 1.5 crankbait in 5 feet of water and flipped a Missile Baits Fuse worm and a D-Bomb between cranking spots.
Pratt gave a shout out to the sportsmanship shown to him by fellow tournament anglers after an equipment issue on day two.
“I had some motor trouble yesterday and I had five guys last night call me up and offer me their boat,” Pratt said. “It’s incredible to have that many friends who will let you use a $50,000 boat.”
Big kicker lifts Shelton to fourth
He may have fallen short of the tournament win, but William Shelton III, of Lacrosse, Va. got the biggest crowd pop when he hauled out a whopper approaching 8 pounds. Paired with four decent keepers, he posted a limit catch of 16-6 that moved him up to a fourth-place finish with 42-7.
Shelton started his day by throwing a shad colored Xcalibur Zell Pop. He caught his big fish on this bait. During the midday period, he threw a 3/8-ounce white Mr. Super Bass spinnerbait with double willow leaf blades. Later in the day, he fished a blue fleck Berkley Power Worm, Texas rigged with a 3/16-ounce weight and a 3/0 hook.
“Everything pretty much happened in the first 45 minutes this morning,” Shelton said. “We took advantage of some low tide; what we did have where we were going.”
Of his big fish, Shelton said: “It was a kicker and it kicked me when it bit. When you catch something that big early, it sets the tone for the rest of the day.”
Baumgardner finishes fifth
Baumgardner threw some Texas-rigged plastics, but most of his fish this week were caught on a chatterbait or a jig. Black and blue was his best color pattern.
“Most of my fish were coming right before or right after low tide,” Baumgardner said. “I stayed close, up by Appomattox and once that tide got to a certain point coming in, it got really tough.”
Best of the rest
Rounding out the top-10 pro leaders at the Rayovac FLW Series James River event:
6th: Bo Boltz, of New Kent, Va., 33-6
7th: Shayne Berlo, of Fairfax, Va., 32-0
8th: Frank Poirier, of North Prince George, Va., 31-11
9th: Robert Whitehurst, of Henrico, Va., 30-5
10th: JT Kenney, of Palm Bay, Fla., 28-7