Last-minute switch pays off big in Stren finale on Potomac
MARBURY, Md. – For a guy who almost didn’t fish – for two reasons – Chris Dillow of Waynesboro, Va., made a pretty good showing on the final day of Stren Series Northern Division competition on the Potomac River.
On a day that saw a cold front bringing steady winds of 10-15 mph and holding daytime temperatures to the low 60’s, Dillow caught the day’s biggest limit – 16-9 – and rose five notches to the top spot with an even 62 pounds.
A realtor between fishing trips, Dillow was working on a land deal that had to be finalized before the tournament started if he was to compete. Fortunately, the parties involved came to terms the afternoon prior to the event, so Dillow packed his gear and got ready to drive to the Maryland.
That’s when he encountered the second road block. With more co-anglers than boaters, tournament management was working hard to pair all would-be competitors, but Dillow was five deep on the waiting list.
“I told my wife that I’d just go ahead and take my boat down with me and see what happens,” Dillow said. “If I can’t get in as a co-angler, I’ll just wing it and go as a boater. That’s what I did. I got that (real estate deal) signed by noon, hopped in the car and came over here with no prefishing.”
A steadfast devotion to one lure would see Dillow through a tournament marked by dramatically different weather, compounded by the water fluctuations of a tidal environment. His “Dillow’s Perfect Jig” – a homemade 3/8-ounce bait – sports a 4/0 Gamakatsu hook, a limber rubber skirt, a crawfish pattern paint job and a green or brown trailer.
“Today I was doing a lot of running and I was trying to hit as much wood as possible,” Dillow said. “Once I got to a spot, I would slow down and work it methodically.”
Jigging delivered a limit by about 9 a.m. All told, Dillow caught a dozen keepers on this very challenging day. With the fish turning lethargic in the colder conditions, Dillow said he altered his jig to fit the fish’s mood.
“I had to thin out the weed guard (filaments) because the fish were biting so lightly,” he said. “I couldn’t feel a tick or anything, so I had to thin that out to get a hook set in them.”
Schmitt slips to second
After leading the pro division for two consecutive days, Bryan Schmitt of Deale, Md. slipped a notch to second place. His limit catch weighed 13 pounds, 6 ounces and he finished just 13 ounces off the lead with a 61-3 total.
At the morning takeoff, Schmitt headed north to the Washington, D.C. area where he would spend his entire day. Deeper water and abundant hard structure offered a respite from the cold, windy conditions that had engulfed the Potomac. Flipping a 7/16-ounce jig produced a good number of fish, but missed opportunities cost him dearly.
“I got two good fish right away and I said ‘Here we go, this is going to be good’,” Schmitt recalled. “I got five fish, but I lost two big fish today right at the boat.”
Considering how rough the river had become, Schmitt decided to stay put and stick it out upriver. “I saw the big fish and I didn’t want to leave with the weather conditions. When you get a cold front on the river, the deeper fish don’t feel it as much, so that’s more reliable.
“I went up there in practice and found some big fish, so I knew I could depend on that. The two I needed, I just didn’t get them in the boat.
Stack sticks enough for third
Making his Stren Series debut, Nanjemoy, Md. pro Brian Stack qualified for the top-10 finale with a seventh place effort. His work on day four yielded a limit that weighed 13 pounds, 15 ounces – sufficient for a third place finish at 58-14.
Throwing Spro frogs in black/yellow and white patterns, Stack targeted grass beds, but he said he was not as hampered by the day’s rough conditions as others may have been.
“The weather didn’t affect my grass beds because they were out of the wind,” Stack said. “I was in the river, but I was in a cove that blocked the northeast wind.”
The right armament was important for Stack. “I was using braided line because there’s no stretch and that allowed me to pull those fish out of the matted weeds.”
Hoskings flings frogs for fourth
Mike Hoskings of Alexandria, Va. threw frog baits over grass, caught a limit weighing 11-14 and end up with a fourth place total of 58-12. Hoskings said he caught a limit by 9 a.m., but shortly thereafter, the frog bite shut off and he switched to finesse baits.
Hoskings had been considering a run upriver to D.C., where he would flip jigs to hard structure. However, once he started catching fish locally, he started doubting that option and never made the move.
“I probably should have (made the run), but I caught just enough early to get sucked into staying here,” Hoskings said.
Wooten remains fifth
Thomas Wooten of Huddleston, Va. entered the final round in fifth place and when the dust had settled, his position was unchanged. Fishing grass beds, Wooten caught a limit that weighed 11-13 and finished his tournament total with 57-12.
A black Spro frog was Wooten’s main lure. “I had real big bites on the frogs. The fish just kept missing it and I never could connect with them.”
Best of the rest
Rounding out the top-10 pro leaders at the FLW Stren Series Potomac River event:
6th: Michael Iaconelli of Runnemede, N.J., 57-0
7th: James Dudley of Lynchburg, Va., 56-1
8th: Chad Hicks of Rockville, Va., 55-6
9th: Darrell Stevens of Roseland, Va., 52-10
10th: Mike Balon of Clewiston, Fla., 50-6