Thursday, June 2, 2011

FLW Tour Potomac River Day 1: Vetern Larry Nixon Takes Command!

Nixon, Vatalaro share overall lead during wind-swept opening round of FLW Tour competition on the Potomac
by Gary Mortenson

Larry "The General" Nixon takes command.
(Photos by Gary Mortenson FLW)
NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. – Heading into Thursday’s opening round of competition on the Potomac River, anglers had an idea that they would have to battle some type of wind. However, when all was said and done, most competitors seemed to be caught off guard by just how fiercely today’s wind actually blew. With regular wind speeds clocking in at 18 to 20 mph, anglers were forced to deal with giant swells as well as a heavy dose of mud which darkened waters and messed with the anglers’ prime fishing locations all day.

In the end though, Larry Nixon of Bee Branch, Ark., and Vic Vatalaro of Kent, Ohio, managed to put enough pieces of the Potomac River puzzle together to muster identical limits weighing 20 pounds, 2 ounces – enough to grab the overall lead in one of the tougher opening tournament rounds in recent memory.

“With the way the wind and tides were today, it made fishing very fickle,” said Nixon. “A lot of anglers had some pretty good areas in practice that really got messed up today. I got a little lucky and had a pretty good backup area where the wind was just right so I could fish it. And that really helped. But a lot of other guys weren’t so fortunate.”

Nixon said another key to his successful outing, in addition to have a stellar backup plan, was lack of fishing pressure.

“I really didn’t have much pressure in my area. I think I saw only one or two other boats there,” said Nixon. “And I was kind of excited about that.”

While Nixon didn’t want to divulge too much regarding bait choices and fishing locations, he did say that he targeted grass “all day long.”

“I fished two or three different baits and caught all of my big fish pretty much fishing one way,” he said. “Overall, I feel really good about what I’m doing and where I’m at. I’m doing what I like to do.”

However, as one of the more savvy veterans to ever cross a weigh-in stage, Nixon knows the tournament is far from over.

“I’m going to try and do the same tomorrow but on the Potomac River, you can never be too certain about anything,” he said. “Things can really change here from day to day. Today was only one day of fishing and there are a lot more days ahead. So I just have to keep it up and keep doing what I do best.”

Valalaro shares top honors

Despite the brutal fishing conditions, Vic Vatalaro said he couldn’t be happier with today’s outcome. Not only is he sharing the spotlight with Larry Nixon, affectionately known as “The General,” but he’s put himself in prime position to make a run at the tournament title and the top prize of $125,000.

“When I came back to weigh-in today I though I had about 17 pounds,” said Vatalaro. “But to have over 20 pounds was a real bonus. So heck yeah I’m happy. I’m psyched up and ready to go. I can’t wait to go fishing tomorrow.”

Vatalaro said that he recorded most of his catch in a relatively small area, targeting schooling fishing hiding out on a series of weedy points.

“I’m basically fishing an area that is a set of points with (abundant) weeds and a lot of boat traffic,” said Vatalaro. “I caught all of my fish in about a 100-foot section of the river using a worm (coupled) with a Weedless Wonder jig. I’m pretty sure the fish are schooling there.”

Vatalaro says that he plans to repeat today’s gameplan if possible during Friday’s competition.

“I have a better boat draw tomorrow so I should be able to get to my spot a little earlier,” he said. “I’m just going to grind it out and sit in that little section and try to put another good limit together. There are a bunch of fish there so I’m pretty excited about tomorrow.”

Iaconelli snares third

Perhaps the least surprising development in today’s competition was the fact that Michael Iaconelli of Pittsgrove, N.J., emerged as a very serious contender for the Potomac River tournament title. Calling the Potomac River “basically my second home,” Iaconelli managed to dodge the wind-swept pitfalls that plagued the majority of the field, turning in a yeoman-like effort of 17 pounds, 7 ounces to grab third place overall.

“I grew up on the tidal Delaware River which fishes very similar in many ways,” said Iaconelli. “I just love tidal fishing. It’s a really fun game. I enjoy the strategy of fishing but especially the strategy behind fishing tidal fisheries. It’s all about timing. You could be in the perfect spot but at the wrong time and not catch anything. And that’s what makes it so interesting to me.

“The guy who is going to win this tournament is going to have to have his timing down perfectly, or nearly perfectly,” continued Iaconelli. “Today I made some really good decision timing-wise, but I made some other decision that weren’t as good.”

Like the rest of the field, Iaconelli said that the wind was also a huge factor in today’s competition.

“I came in here with a gameplan but with the wind, that gameplan got thrown out the window pretty quickly,” he said. “The good news is that I have a lot of good areas I wasn’t able to fish today so as the week goes on, I’ll have some key areas I should be able to rely on.”

Like most anglers, Iaconelli said that he’s targeting grass. However, he said it’s the little nuances in grass-fishing that really make a difference.

“Most guys who are used to fishing reservoirs consider a trough as something that’s maybe 10 feet deeper than the (rest of the bottom contour), but on the Potomac a trough might be only 3 feet deep compared to a bottom that’s only 2 feet deep. You have to also take into consideration how the grass is positioned (relatively speaking) to the type of bottom. Is it a hard bottom, are there shells, etc? That’s important to figure out. It’s the little things that really make a big difference. Also, there are two types of patterns going on. There is the regular (seasonal pattern) and also, because of the really warm weather, fish are starting to move into their summer patterns a lot earlier. So I’m really just mixing it up out there.”

Browne nets fourth place

Glenn Browne of Ocala, Fla., managed to grab hold of the fourth spot on the leaderboard after turning in a 17-pound, 4-ounce limit.

“The wind hurt me a little bit but overall, it was a really good day today,” he said. “I caught a limit in about an hour and wound up catching probably 25 keepers. My first two fish were both 3 ½-pounders so I really started the morning off right.”

Browne said he locked in his largemouth bass bite by targeting milfoil and grass with a variety of flipping techniques.

“I pretty much stayed in one area,” he said. “It was the same area that (top contenders) Bobby Lane and Chad Morgenthaler were in as well. But there are lots of good fish there and I plan on doing the same thing tomorrow.”

Overall, Browne said he was pleased with today’s outcome.

“I had an awesome time,” he said. “I caught lots of fish and had a lot of fun. And you can ask for too much more than that.”

Lane grabs top-five spot

On the strength of a 17-pound, 3-ounce catch, Bobby Lane of Lakeland, Fla., made sure to keep close tabs on the top contenders.

“If you’re going to do well in this tournament you’re going to need to catch 15 or 16 pounds today and that’s what I wanted,” he said. “So with the wind blowing as hard as it was, I was definitely happy to come back in with over 17 pounds. Anytime you can catch 15 pounds or more on the Potomac, you take it.”

Lane said that he targeted grass using a combination of topwater frogs and “standard” flipping techniques to land the majority of his catch.

“It started out kind of slow for me,” said Lane. “But as the day went on, the bite just kept on getting better and better.”

Best of the rest

Takahiro Omori landed the day’s “Big Bass” award after landing a 5-pound, 10-ounce largemouth.

Schneider lands top spot in Co-angler Division

James Schneider of Watervliet, N.Y., parlayed a 16-pound, 7-ounce catch into a first-place performance in the Co-angler Division. Perhaps even more remarkably, Schneider also managed to out-fish 148 pros in the process.

“It feels absolutely awesome,” said Schneider of his first-place finish. “It was a brutal wind out there but overall, it couldn’t have gone much better for me.”

Schneider said that he targeted largemouth bass using a combination of topwater frog-imitation baits and flipping techniques.

“I had my limit by 11:30 a.m. but it was pretty slow after that,” he said. “Hopefully, I can go out there and do the same thing tomorrow. But we’ll just have to see how it goes.”

Kash moves into runner-up position

Kenny Kash of Indian Head, Md., used a total catch of 15 pounds, 12 ounces, to finish the day in second place overall in the Co-angler Division.

“It was a good day for sure,” said Kash. “With the wind blowing the way it was you really had to adapt. As the day went on, I kind of figured things out and it worked out pretty well.”

Kash said it was essential on a day like this to take both the tides and wind direction into consideration. As a result Kash opted to use a ChatterBait and it worked to perfection.

“I just blew the bait down the grass-line and waited for a reaction bite,” he said. “I wound up throwing the ChatterBait on the deeper edges of the grass and had some pretty good success. Hopefully it goes as well tomorrow.”

Best of the rest

Third place belonged to Philip Jarabeck of Lynchburg, Va., who landed a total catch of 15 pounds, 10 ounces.

Cory Leonard of Castalia, N.C., finished the day in fourth place with a total catch of 14 pounds, 8 ounces.

Meanwhile, Melvin Smitson of Baltimore, Md., grabbed fifth place overall with a catch weighing in at 14 pounds, 1 ounce.

Danny Bucher took home the day’s “Big Bass” award in the Co-angler Division after netting a 5-pound, 11-ounce largemouth.

FLW Tour action on the Potomac River continues during Friday takeoff, scheduled to take place at 6:30 a.m. at National Harbor Marine, located at 137 National Plaza in National Harbor, Md

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