The bites were coming for anglers on the Susquehanna Flats in a Bass Federation tournament in September 2010. But they weren't from fish.
“It was so salty, they were catching crabs up in the flats,” Baltimore angler Donald Haskins said. “A lot of us were downriver fishing for bass, and we would get a bite and we'd have a crab on our line.”
The September tournament came toward the end of a three-month drought, which dried up the Chesapeake watershed late that year, and the Susquehanna River was trading a great deal of water and crustaceans with the Chesapeake Bay.
Dry spells and unexpected pinches are the last thing competitors, including Haskins, will anticipate in this week's EverStart Series Northern Division tournament.
With much of Central Maryland already accumulating more than 6 inches of rainfall in June — almost twice the month's average — the waters will be anything but stagnant during the event that runs Thursday through Saturday on the stretch of the Potomac in Marbury in Charles County.
“I think it's going to force a lot of the guys who were going to do different things to mainly concentrate on the grass,” said Haskins, a lifelong angler.
His competition agrees.
“I 100 percent guarantee that this event will be won by someone fishing the grass,” said David Dudley, a Virginia pro with three top-10 finishes in FLW Outdoors tournaments on the Potomac River.
This year's tournament pros will compete for a $40,000 prize as well as a Ranger Z518 bass-fishing boat. Co-anglers will compete for $5,000 and a Ranger Z117 boat.
Walter Snider, a Mount Airy angler who will be competing, recounted his success in grass fishing on the Potomac in his first EverStart tournament last year.
“I was on a grass bed where I knew there were winning fish. I knew that I had enough for three days,” Snider said.
When winds picked up on the third day of the tournament, Snider had to move to deeper waters, as the best catches likely avoided the tumultuous and muddy shallows. He managed to snatch only four fish for the weigh-in maximum of five.
“I couldn't fish that spot anymore. I had to fish the main creek,” he said. “I lost by 2pounds, 5ounces. And there's not a doubt in my mind that if I would have stayed there one more day, I would have won it.”
Snider was the top angler from Maryland in that tournament, finishing third behind Virginia pro John Hutchins and Canadian fisherman Cory Johnston.
Snider, an angler of only four years, sat in second for the tournament's first two days. After the final weigh-in, Snider called the last day “junk fishing,” and now recalls his second-ever tournament as bittersweet.
As for this year, Snider said: “I don't want to give too many secrets away. But it really depends on the water. As long as the water's not muddy, it doesn't change anything with me at all. We're going to do the same thing we did last year. We're going to fish the grasses on the main river.”
The tournament is expected to draw more than 300 competitors. It is the second of four in this year's EverStart's Northern Division series, which began in late April on Smith Mountain Lake in Huddleston, Va.
The series will run through Lake Champlain in New York in July and conclude in Cecil County on the Chesapeake Bay in September.
And for many of the local competitors, the bay and the Potomac are some of their most trodden practice grounds.
“The great thing about the river is that it hardly ever changes,” said Dudley, who noted that this spring was a little slower for the Potomac than most. “The fishing is starting to pick back up, though, and things should be getting back to normal.”
Other local competitors will include Baltimore's Melvin Smithson, Ellicott City's Patrick Farrall, Glenelg's Bryan Sisk and Finksburg's John Shumate.
“I think it's going to be a good tournament,” Haskins said. “I think if this weather could stabilize, it'll be great. I don't think rain really bothers a lot of the anglers.”
The Northern Division EverStart tournament will start with 6 a.m. takeoffs at Smallwood State Park each morning and conclude at 2 p.m. for daily weigh-ins. The final weigh-in, which is open to the public, will be at 3 p.m. in La Plata on Saturday. Details are available at flwoutdoors.com.
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