MARBURY, Md. – Weather presented two very different obstacles to Bryan Schmitt's quest for his third Potomac River title, but the pro from Deale, Md. brushed them aside with savvy solutions that delivered a decisive victory in the FLW EverStart Series Northern Division tournament on the Potomac River.
First, let's get numbers. Schmitt, who also won the 2010 and 2011 events, took a slim day-one lead by catching a limit that weighed 18 pounds. He'd expand his margin to 5 pounds, 12 ounces on day two after sacking up 18-6. Today, Schmitt added 16-2 and blew the doors off this bus with a 52-8 total and a winning margin of 7-4.
So now a little back story: An approaching cold snap brought thunderstorms and heavy rain on Tuesday and a nippy little temperature drop on Wednesday. It's still June and while the weather never really turned "cold" per se, the water temperature dipped from the low 80's to the upper 70's a day before the event and that's all it takes to give those temperamental largemouth bass the pouty face.
No worries, Schmitt simply shifted his focus to a new grass bed that he had located in practice. This deeper habitat, he said, offered refuge for fish displaced by the cold front.
"I found this spot about two weeks ago and I just had a feeling about it," Schmitt said. "I hadn't gone to it for any other tournaments. I think the colder weather put them in this grass bed because it was outside a shallower grass bed. The weather pulled them out to mine."
The second weather-related hindrance facing Schmitt actually reflected the weekend's stabilizing conditions. Lighter winds, mostly sunny skies and true summertime temperatures brought out the fleet of recreational pleasure boaters, which blanketed the river and kept the water churned with non-stop wakes.
Sometimes, anglers call this "the nightmare."
"There were a million jet skiers out today and with all the boat wakes, I was bouncing up and down on my spot," Schmitt chuckled.
The top pro had been fishing his homemade ½-ounce black/blue jig with a Zoom Super Chunk all week. Schmitt said he used traditional flipping and pitching tactics for days one and two, but he had to step up the show for day three's rough water.
"Early in the morning, it seemed like they were biting first thing before the boats got up," he explained. "I had probably 13 pounds in the first hour but then it just died. My best tide has been in the later part of the day, but all the boats were up by then so that was the worst part of the day.
"I just felt like I needed some reaction so I'd pop it, hop it just to get a bite. They didn't want the normal flipping presentation."
Ultimately, Schmitt attributed his success to the 200-yard stretch of grass that he miraculously had all to himself: "I feel very blessed – I was just around the right fish."
Hooker hops into second
Hooker noted that his big day-two performance resulted from the right combination of low tide and light wind. Day one's east wind stalled the outgoing tide and Hooker had to contend with lingering high water on his key spots. With lighter winds shifting more to the north, he enjoyed normal tides that offered a traditional low-water scenario of matted grass – the kind that's ripe and ready for the popping frog he was throwing.
Today's conditions offered little of Hooker's ideal scenario, but he stuck it out and ended up with a solid bag.
"I made it work today," he said. "I got very few bites, but the ones I got, I got them to the boat and that's all you can ask for."
Deep shakin' keeps Tibbetts in third
Jason Tibbetts of Centreville, Va., targeted fish over deep structure all week. He positioned over rocks in about 8 feet of water and dropped a 3/8-ounce shaky head with a finesse worm. The technique yielded bags of 14-2, 16-5 and 13-8 for a third-place total of 43-15.
Tibbetts said that he was so dialed in on the deep game that he never considered a different pattern. The proof was in the productivity.
"My thumb is super sore and it was bleeding," Tibbetts said of his high fish counts. "My co-angler today (Josh Demaury) won the event. My first-day co-angler had 15 pounds and my second-day co-angler had about 12 pounds. I ended up pulling probably (more than) 70 pounds of fish off one spot."
Grike finishes fourth
Robert Grike of Dumfries, Va., entered day three in fourth place and ended up in that position with a total weight of 43-0. After struggling in practice, Grike said his finish was a pleasant surprise.
"For me to be up here in the top-10 is really a miracle," he said. "Every day, I had to find a new place to fish because nothing panned out two days in a row."
Grike said he caught his day-one fish on a dropshot with a finesse worm. On day two, he couldn't get the dropshot bite going so he randomly tied on a Texas-rigged Strike King Ocho worm and caught 17-14 in about 20 minutes. Day three saw Grike catch one fish on the Ocho, two on a shaky head and two more on the dropshot.
"Anyone who knows me knows I fish very neurotically," Grike said. "I'm proud of myself this week because I stayed calm. I was going crazy inside, but I kept it together."
Olinger improves to fifth
"This river is fishing a whole lot differently than normal for June," he said. "If you had told me that I was going to be doing what I did this week to catch my fish, I would have said 'no way,' because that's not my style. I like fishing the grass."
Olinger said he fished hard cover early each day and then hit the grass later in the day to try and catch fish on a frog during low tide. The grass bite never materialized for him, so he made his weight by flipping the hard cover.
Best of the rest
Rounding out the top-10 pro leaders at the EverStart Series Potomac event:
6th: Mike McDonald, of Randleman, N.C., 42-3
7th: Shayne Berlo, of Fairfax, Va., 42-0
8th: Rodney "Tank" Mosley, of Woodbridge, Va., 40-1
9th: Gilbert Gagner, of Highgate Springs, Vt., 38-7
10th: James Steiner, of Levittown, Pa., 37-6