Photo by Brenden Kanies/BASS
April 6, 2022
Tidal Impacts Will Be Key For Bassmaster Northern Open On James River
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RICHMOND, Va. — Independent thinking is the cornerstone of competitive fishing. However, anglers may find that going with the flow leads to success at the St. Croix Bassmaster Northern Open at James River presented by Mossy Oak Fishing.
Competition days will be April 14-16 with daily takeoffs from Osborne Park & Boat Landing at 6:30 am ET. Weigh-ins will take place back at the Landing at 2:30 pm The Top 10 boaters after Day 2 will advance to the championship round while the co-angler champion will be crowned at the conclusion of the Day 2 weigh-in. Full coverage can be found on Bassmaster.com.
Emptying into Chesapeake Bay, which meets the Atlantic Ocean, the James River experiences daily ebb and flow, but Bassmaster Elite Series rookie Jonathan Kelley knows well the seasonal tendencies. Moreover, the 2021 Bassmaster Opens Northern Division points champion, who placed eighth at last year’s James River Open, nods to the week’s lunar cycle.
“The main factor is the tide level, high or low, and then if you have a supertide where it floods or it does the opposite where it completely flows out (and drains shallow targets),” said Kelley, who makes his home in Old Forge, Pa. “Both of those can happen in the spring. You can’t predict it that far in advance, so it’s all going to come down to a couple of days before the tournament.
“This tournament is right around a full moon (April 16), so sometimes, that does bring an extreme tide. But it could be a good thing. If the weather stays consistent, it’s setting up to be a really good tournament.”
Notwithstanding this anticipation, Kelley notes the variables of seasonal volatility.
“It’s the perfect time to be there; We’ve gotten into those early warmups, and I know they’ve had decent weather there,” Kelley said. “But anything could change this time of year — you could have heavy rains, you could have a fall-out tide, you could have a cold front. We experienced that last year, we had a major cold front and a major blow-out.”
Tournament week will begin warm and sunny with highs in the upper 70s to low 80s. The forecast calls for increasing clouds, with showers Thursday afternoon and Friday morning ushering cooler temperatures.
Day 1 should remain warm, but Days 2 and 3 will dip into the mid- to upper 60s. Overnight lows will only fall into the upper 40s, so the cooldown shouldn’t impact the bite too much.
Typically, even a mild cooling trend can slow or stall spawning migrations, but as Kelley points out, river fish typically live close to where they’ll spawn. When it’s time to go, they’ll dash into the nearest firm-bottom area — sandy spots, cypress knees, gravel pits, etc. — so a relatively mild shot of cooler weather shouldn’t drastically affect their positioning.
The James River is certainly not devoid of traditional sight fishing opportunities, but the proximity between prespawn and spawning areas creates a lot of overlap. Visibility is often limited on tidal rivers, so angles typically target areas with blind fishing techniques.
“You won’t have to do a whole lot different to catch spawners or prespawners,” Kelley said. “Fish could be bedding, but either you won’t see them, or you’re not going to know when you catch one. There may be pockets of clearer water or low enough water to sight fish, but you’ll (mostly) catch them while you’re fishing for prespawners.”
Delighting angles, the James River abounds with bass-friendly habitat from laydowns, cypress trees, docks and duck blinds, to pads, river grass and barge pits. Throughout the tournament waters, anglers will use a mix of reaction baits — bladed jigs, crankbaits, spinnerbaits and swim jigs — along with flipping and finesse techniques.
While competitive bags could come from anywhere in the James, the Chickahominy River — a major tributary downstream from takeoff — always hosts a good chunk of the tournament field. Brimming with natural cover, along with docks and the Walkers Dam, “The Chick” offers some of the area’s most picturesque bass habitat.
Elite Series veteran Brandon Palaniuk, who earned his first Bassmaster Opens win at last year’s James River event, spent his final day in the Chick. Targeting bass that were preying on jumbo river shad, Palaniuk threw big swimbaits near the Walkers Dam, about 22 miles upstream.
“Even though the Chickahominy gets pressure, it always pumps out Top 10 bags,” Kelley said. “There’s just no other place that has the amount of habitat, but it’s not the only place that has winning habitat.”
A key element of success on tidal fisheries is determining the bite windows — particular periods of the tide when fish feed best. Extending that thought, some will commit to a certain area and seek various bite windows throughout the day’s tides, while others will dial in a particular stage and then “run the tide” — moving up or downstream to replicate the desired scenarios in different locations.
“A lot of people do rely on that low tide bite, but in the spring it doesn’t matter as much as in the summer and the fall where the fish are being pushed out by a falling tide,” Kelley said. “In the springtime, they want to stay up shallow, so you can get bit throughout the entire tide cycle. You just have to note where you are when you get that bite.
“I’m not much of a run-the-tide person. I might do that in certain situations, but not in this event. I think it’s better to find a good area and fish it throughout the tide. A local who knows where they can get a bite here or there might run the tide, but if you don’t know the river, it can be risky.”
Kelley said he’s looking for about 56 pounds to win the event, with 16 a day making the Top 10. Tidal fisheries are notorious for delivering hero/zero reality checks, as an angler sacks up a big limit one day and bombs the next.
“I think it will come down to someone that might catch them one day doing something and the next day doing something a little different,” Kelley said. “Maybe they ran out of fish and got on something else because they had multiple areas. It might be something they didn’t get to the first day, but they got to the second day for another big bag.
“It’s all going to come down to little adjustments and who can change. It’s going to be about diversity and being willing and able to adapt to the conditions that are present.”
Visit Richmond and Henrico County, Va., are hosting the event.