ELITE SERIES PREVIEW: DELAWARE RIVER
Story by Matt Pangrac – Photos by Dave Rush
Philadelphia, PA - The Bassmaster Elite Series returns to regular season competition this week for the sixth stop of the season on the Delaware River in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. After the BASSFest slugfest in mid June on Chickamauga, the Elite Series competitors will have to switch gears this week and appreciate each and every keeper that is landed.
The Delaware River is a bit of an unknown for the majority of the field, as it is the first time that a major professional tournament has been held on the fishery. New Jersey’s Mike Iaconelli enters Thursday’s opening round of competition with arguably the biggest home field advantage in the history of the Elite Series. With his home in Runnemede, New Jersey less than a half-hour from the Delaware, he has experience fishing in what he calls an “urban environment.”
At the pre-tournament meeting on Wednesday afternoon, Iaconelli stated that a 16+ pound limit will hit the scales at some point during the week, and that at least one angler will catch a bass hitting the 5-pound mark. That being said, he knows that boxing a limit will still be a challenge.
With six-foot tide swings on the river, the work gets even tougher. “It looks like we will be weighing-in when the tide is just getting right to catch them,” opined Rick Clunn, who has an affinity for tough tournaments. “…when everything spreads out on high tide, the population of fish here becomes very hard to catch by randomly casting,” he continued.
In the TAOY race, Mark Davis still clings to a one point lead over Greg Hackney. In the Rookie Of the Year race, Chad Morgenthaler leads Jacob Powroznik by 31 points. With the potential for drastic shuffling this week on the Delaware, executing on each and every keeper bite will be critical in either maintaining or gaining TAOY positions.
Tournament: Bassmaster Elite Series (Stop #6)
Fishery: Delaware River – Philadelphia, PA
Fishery Facts: George Washington’s army crossed the Delaware River in 1776.
Previous Elite Series Winner: N/A
Field Size: 111 Anglers
What question have you been asked the most by fellow competitors this week?
“A lot of guys have asked me if there are really bass in the river. Believe it or not, that’s the questions that I’ve been asked the most.”
From an aesthetics standpoint, talk a little bit about the Delaware River:
“It’s really just different from what a lot of the guys are used to fishing and seeing. Anytime that you get in an urban environment, some people tend to get a little bit worried. The truth is that you can be a mile from Philadelphia in a backwater off the river and you would think that you’re on the California Delta or the Louisiana Bayou. It can actually be a really pristine river depending on whether you are fishing the industry or the other pieces of it.”
What time tomorrow will you start to get a little nervous if you haven’t put a keeper in the boat?
“I’ll get a little nervous if I don’t have a keeper in the livewell an hour into the day.”
Knowing that you’re the favorite this week, did you practice differently so that other competitors wouldn’t see what you are planning on doing this week?
“I did. I practiced more to figure out what things the fish were using and I actually stayed away from my very best stuff and never touched it during practice.”
Do you think that last week’s 3rd place finish in the Northern Open on Lake Champlain helped you build a little momentum coming into this week’s Elite Series tournament on the Delaware River?
“I think that it helped get my physical state more ready. At Champlain, I was covering a lot of water and that’s going to be a really big thing for me this week. I don’t have any one spot where I can sit and catch them, so I’m going to be relying on a lot of movement.”
What is Big Bass going to be this week?
“Somebody will catch a 5-pounder, which is a giant for this river.”
How much will the heaviest limit weigh this week?
“I think that the biggest bag will be 16-pounds.
Will at least one competitor zero on the first day and catch enough weight on the second day to make the Top 50 cut?
“I could happen here. I don’t really think that it will happen, but it’s a definite possibility.”
Clunn on preparing to fish a tournament that is expected to be extremely tough with low weights:
“I enjoy the tournaments where you’re not competing against GPS coordinates. There are a lot of elements about this type of tournament that appeals to me, and historically, I do better when it’s not a slugfest.
“These tournaments are intense, regardless of how good your feel going into the first day. I know how easy it is to do the wrong thing and then not do well in the tournament. The window of actual fishing here is so small that your timing has to be perfect based on the tide. Depending on the area that you’re in, that window is between zero and two hours long.”
Clunn on the tide this week on the Delaware River:
“The tide isn’t setting up well for us this week at all. I’m going to say that the crucial window every day this week will be a two hour period, and it won’t even be that long in some areas. The window will probably be early in the morning right when we are taking out, or it will be late in the afternoon. It’s supposed to be full during the middle of the day. The tides are approximately in six hour intervals, so it looks like we will already be weighing-in when the tide is just getting right to catch them.”
Clunn on the difficulty of identifying a pattern:
“If you have the right tide, you can see where every fish is going to be holding, and one bite in practice can tell you what bait you need to be throwing. The problem with a high tide is that you go from having every cast being a ‘high potential’ cast, to every cast that you’re making being a purely random cast. When that’s the case, the luck factor comes into play and you just have to hope that you put your bait in front of a fish that wants to hit.
“You can somewhat target the fish on high tide when you’re fishing places like the Potomac where there is a high population of fish, but I’m not convinced that there is a high population of fish here. I think that this river has a good population of fish, so I’m not going to sit here and badmouth it, but when everything spreads out on high tide, the population of fish here becomes very hard to catch by randomly casting.”
Morris on his familiarity with the Delaware River:
“I’m comfortable on tidal water, but I’ve never fished here before. I basically had to go out and do my homework like everyone else and cover water. It’s no secret that most of us aren’t getting a lot of bites, and there are a lot of areas where there just aren’t any fish. I live 5 ½ hours from here, but there just aren’t that many tournaments outside of a few local ones.
Morris on how experience on tidal fisheries could help this week:
“I think that it could help a little this week, but this is different here. It’s all about water quality here, and it seems to change every time that I move. Some areas have really good water quality, some areas have so-so quality, some areas are bad, and some areas there is discharge. It’s different everywhere you go.”
Morris on the possibility that smallmouth could play a factor this week:
“I think that at least 1/3 of the field will be way up the river targeting the smallmouth. I’ve never been up there, but I heard that there are not a lot of big ones. Since I didn’t practice up there, I’m fishing for largemouth.”
Morris on what he considers to be a big fish on the Delaware:
“I now know why Iaconelli, who live around here, starts screaming “It’s a giant!’ when he catches a 2 ½ pounder. If you catch a 3- or 4-pounder, you’re going to be in really good shape. I saw one follow my bait today that was pushing 4-pounds, but a 3-pounder here is like gold and will really help your overall weight.”
Martens on the possibility of finding a random sweet spot this week on the Delaware:
“Even though the fish seem to be pretty aggressive when you find them, it’s just not like that here. It’s really going to be more about putting a bait in front of a fish than it is about figuring them out. Whoever knows this river is going to have a huge advantage, and that’s not something that I would normally say.
“It’s just a matter of finding the fish because there is a ton of dead water out there. It’s not that easy to tell, because a lot of it looks really healthy. There’s a lot of good looking stuff where you can’t get a bite.”
Martens on how important it will be to catch a limit each of the first two days:
“If you can catch five keepers on the first day and back it up with another five keepers on the second day, it would be phenomenal. After that, from what I’ve seen, it’ll be tough to catch a fish. The problem is that a lot of guys are going to be in the same areas and this river doesn’t seem to take pressure that well. A four-day tournament here is going to be brutal.
“I need to save my AOY points and try to do well, but it’s going to be hard to beat local knowledge or guys who have put in a lot of time up here in pre-practice or got a lot of help.”