The reality of the challenge of fishing the Delaware River didn’t hit me until just a few months before the tournament was slated to start. I talked to Mike Iaconelli, the hometown favorite and a veteran of this fishery, and he told me that 12 pounds a day would be the golden ticket.
I knew it was going to be tough, but I also felt that the river was set up to fish the way I like to fish – there would be eelgrass and hydrilla and milfoil, so I kept up a good attitude and thought that I’d figure something out. The one hitch would be the violent tide swing, up to 9 feet. I’ve never experienced something that drastic, and until practice was underway, I didn’t realize how short the optimal window would be. Typically, you want to be on your best stuff at a low, outgoing tide, and that doesn’t last all that long on the Delaware. Making it tougher, that optimal zone got a bit later each day, and with a short day on the third day of practice, it was impossible to run around and check lots of places out at their best. It makes you pick an area and commit to it, which is hard to do on a system you don’t know all that well.
Even though the fish population was small, I was confident that if I got around the right group of fish I could wait out a decent bag. I wasn’t going to run the tide because that probably meant trips of 60 or 70 miles into the unknown. Practice was a grind – I got five bites the first day, none the second day and two the last day. With the exception of one fish close to two pounds that jumped all over a frog, I didn’t see any of them because I was afraid to set the hook and burn up a fish I might need during competition.
On the first day of competition, I made the easy choice to go up where I’d had the five bites and arrived to find it covered up with boats. That was reassuring that I’d found something good, but it didn’t give me much freedom to move around. It forced me to stay in my best areas and really bear down. I had to be sure that I’d catch fish and get some points. When I’d talked to Kevin VanDam that morning, I heard concern in his voice and saw it in his face. He had a very difficult time this week, blanking on Day One, and that’s not a frequent occurrence. I managed two bites that first day and caught them both. They weighed 3-09.
On the first day I left my key area when the tide turned and most of what I hit after that proved to be unproductive, so on Day Two I committed to my first area, kept my head down and fished hard. That day I had three bites. One was short and two kept. They weighed slightly less than my two fish the first day, a total of 3-02. I was glad to have them.
I threw a wide variety of lures at the Delaware, but the two best presentations turned out to be a Lunker Lure Limit Series jig and pitching a Trick Worm on a 3/16 ounce Lunker Lure Shakey Head. The jigs were black and blue, both 3/8 and ½ ounce depending on the desired fall rate. I fished them on a Denali Noirwood 7’ heavy action rod with a Shimano Ci4 baitcasting reel spooled with 16 lb. test Gamma fluorocarbon. I tipped the jig with a Missile Baits Baby D-Bomb in “Bruise.” The worm was green pumpkin, and I fished it on a 7’ medium-heavy Denali Noirwood rod and a Shimano Ci4 baitcasting reel spooled with 14 pound Gamma fluorocarbon. The water was quite dirty and, when the tide got up, the jig was better than the worm. I caught one weigh fish each day on each bait.
Overall, while I’m not thrilled with a 75th place finish, I feel that I practiced well and fished clean this week. If I had it to do over again, I’d probably spend some time farther south, but it was so hard to just get a bite that you couldn’t run all over the place. Only one guy caught a limit every day. You simply can’t master that system in 2 ½ days.
My performance locked me into the AOY event on Escanaba, but I haven’t yet locked myself into next year’s Classic. Before we go to Michigan, there’s Cayuga, and I’m jacked up about that one. It has deep grass and shallow grass, and I know they catch big bags dropping a jig. I’m going to practice daylight to dark and do my best to make up some of the lost ground from Philadelphia.
75th Place; 4 fish, 6-11
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