MARBURY, Md. – Bryan Schmitt knew he couldn’t rewrite history, but he was determined not to repeat it. His strategy: win the FLW American Fishing Series Northern Division tournament on the Potomac River.
Two years ago, the Deale, Md. pro found himself in the same position he did at 5:45 a.m. this morning – leaving the Smallwood State Park marina in the lead position of the tournament’s top-10 boats. At the final weigh-ins of the 2008 event (then called the Stren Series), Schmitt lost his lead by less than a pound and settled for second.
In 2009, Schmitt placed fifth but this year he took his slim day two lead and turned it into a victorious margin of nearly three pounds.
The drama could not have been better scripted, as Schmitt topped the day two field with 39 pounds, 5 ounces and a lead of just 6 ounces over Salt Rock, W.V. pro Bill Chapman. Moving up from 11th place on day one, Chapman weighed the heaviest bag of day two – a 23-7 effort – and appeared poised for a big final round move.
Both anglers sacked up day three limits – Schmitt 15-0, Chapman 12-11 – but when the smoke cleared, the Maryland pro held the first place trophy, thereby writing a chapter of his tournament history he’ll not soon forget.
“Today, I was so looking forward to getting out there,” Schmitt said. “I got to my first spot and there were a few boats in there and some people were following me. I was worrying about that and I wasn’t paying attention to fishing. I thought I might have messed up this morning when I lost some fish, but things just worked out for me. I feel blessed – I really do.”
All week, Schmitt has devoted his practice and tournament attention to deep, main river grass beds in about five feet of water. This, he said, is the seasonal scenario that big post-spawn Potomac bass favor.
“I think that when the fish get done spawning they move to the (most distant) grass they can find,” he said. “I think they get less pressure and they get a little more tide hitting them. That makes them a little more active.
“That’s what I try to do every time I come here in June and July. I think that being around the right fish and capitalizing on every bite was the key.”
Schmitt caught all of his tournament fish on a 3/8-ounce black and blue jig that he makes himself. Fitted with a Zoom Super Chunk trailer, the jig performs to Schmitt’s preference.
“You just get a feel for what you like coming through the grass,” he said. “My jig has kind of an arrow head, so it comes through the grass easily.”
Schmitt placed fourth on day one with 18 pounds, 2 ounces. He added 21-3 on day two. His winning total of 54-5 earned him $25,000.
Chapman settles for second
Chapman is no stranger to tournament fishing, but he was clearly amazed at how well day two went for him. Not only did he sack up the event’s best bag, but he caught everything he hooked – and he hooked a bunch of big fish. His final day on the water appeared to be Act II, but the plot took a sudden turn and hope quickly fizzled.
“Yesterday, I had the perfect fishing day and today started out the same way,” Chapman said. “In the first 15 minutes, I had four keepers in the boat. My fifth fish was a big fish and I lost it. My next fish was another big one that I lost and it went downhill from there.”
Chapman caught all of his tournament fish flipping and pitching the grass. His top bait was a Texas-rigged Packer Craw and his ideal target was a grass bed with a mix of milfoil and hydrilla. Chapman finished the event with a total weight of 51-10.
Wooten improves to third
With this year’s tournament scheduled earlier than in recent years, Huddleston, Va. pro Thomas Wooten was concerned about being about to pattern the fish in the ever-changing tidal environment. With his third place total of 51-9 including the final round’s second-heaviest bag (16-1 with only four fish), Wooten’s concerns were resolutely abated.
“Usually, when I come here early, I can’t get the big ones, but this time, it worked out,” he said. “This morning started off really well. My three biggest fish came within probably an hour. I had been catching fish off this spot throughout the tournament, and they’ve all been good ones. So I knew it was going to be a good day.
“The wind picked up a little bit and shut my fish down. But I hit them pretty hard, so there might not have been any left. I gave it my best.”
Wooten caught all of his tournament fish by swimming a jig and flipping a Sweet Beaver.
Heat helps Hicks earn fourth
With daytime highs in the upper 80’s and only light breezes, tournament anglers competed in sweltering conditions. Bass feel it too and the river’s abundant grass beds make cozy shelters with shadowy hidey holes and cooler water. This played well into Chad Hicks’ fishing style and the Rockville, Va. pro turned in the day’s biggest bag – a 16-10 limit that boosted him to a fourth place finish with 50-15.
“I’ve been telling everybody that I can’t catch them here until June, but once it gets hot, I can catch ‘em,” Hicks said. “I had a spot that got muddied up from (last weekend’s Memorial Day traffic). I practiced there and it was muddy so I didn’t go in there the first day of the tournament. I went in there yesterday and it had cleared up so that’s where I caught all of my fish the rest of the tournament.”
Hicks caught his fish by working a frog across the tops of weed beds and flipping a jig into holes in the vegetation.
Yanni holds on to fifth
Gaithersburg, Md. pro Peter Yanni lead day one with 22-10 – the tournament’s second-largest bag. He missed his day two limit by one fish and slipped to fifth with a bag weighing 11-15. In the final round, he came up one fish short and added 11-2 for a fifth place total of 45-11.
Yanni fished a Texas-rigged Berkley Chigger Craw and a 10-inch Berkley Power Worm.
Best of the rest
Rounding out the top-10 pro leaders at the FLW American Fishing Series Potomac River event:
6th: Terry Olinger of Hume, Va., 44-15
7th: Mike Hicks of Goochland, Va., 44-10
8th: David Barker of Emmitsburg, Md., 44-0
9th: Josh Querrey of Summersville, W.V., 42-5
10th: Allan Engelmeyer of Severn, Md., 34-13