2015 FLW Rayovac James River Recap – Mike Mueller

By Mike Mueller

Sometimes fishing needs a little magic in addition to skill.

As Co-Anglers, we are always exposed to new and unexpected challenges. Pair that with fishing a body of water you’ve never made a cast on, and the challenges multiply greatly! This was exactly what I was faced with during my opening event of the 2015 FLW NE Rayovac season.

I was already starting out behind the 8-ball as my regular season had to be delayed until June as I was dealing with a job transfer to the east coast, the challenges of relocating my family, and finally having to undergo reconstructive surgery after an off-season injury. I reminded myself of a saying, “NO EXCUSES!” as I began to prepare myself for the James River in Virginia.

My pre-tournament preparation included my normal research, map study, and phone calls. What I added to my research this time was reading up on tidal waters and how to fish them. Having never fished an event on the East Coast, I was completely oblivious to tides, tidal water, and its effects on bass. This week proved to be a crash-course on fishing tidal waters!

It’s great to have so many friends and resources across the country. I originally had made plans to pre-fish with someone, but unfortunately at the last minute he had to back out with boat issues. I was quickly able to make a change of plans and go out with Destin Demarion (fellow Fishing The Back contributor) for my 1st day of practice. Destin is a former Co-Angler who was fishing his first Rayovac event as a boater.

We spent the day fishing relatively closer to the ramp and local intel had informed me of the topwater bite that was going on. I was hoping to get them on the new BassCraft balsa popper, the Pop-N-Walk, but the bait was too big for these highly pressured river fish, so I had to dig up a small popper. Throughout the day, we were able to put together a good pattern on top, also with the new Snack Daddy “Bass Jerky”. It is a fluke-type bait that produced my bigger fish of the day. I also fished my assortment of Bionic Custom Baits Buzzbaits, Spinnerbaits and their bladed jig called the Thunderbait.

On day two, Destin was not able to make it out, but in the true form of the great types of people that participate in this sport, he was able to find a partner for me to practice with. On this day, we were able to refine the same patterns as day one and expand on them. The tides were steady and I was beginning to become more comfortable with the moving water and how the fish continued to re-position themselves throughout the day. By the end of the day, I was confident in my pattern, and was eagerly anticipating the steady patterns that had held up during practice… Unfortunately the James had a trick or two up her sleeve!

As we went to bed, the rains came…and came. We awoke to a relentless rain that lasted the entirety of Day 1. What I quickly learned was that the combination of rains, the full moon, and the winds that go against the tide, quickly cause the water to back up and become muddy! The water was about 4′ higher than it had been during the practice and it was a lot dirtier.

My day 1 partner was a local, and the guys that I know told me that he is a great draw. I got my Razr Rods and my Lew’s reels all loaded and ready to go! We made the run to the mouth of the Appomattox River and began fishing the flooded vegetation. My partner quickly boated one and I caught a small 13″ keeper on a main-lake submerged tree.

As the day progressed, my partner was putting on a clinic with his 5 1/2 foot spinning rod, 8# line and tiny worm. He managed 4 fish to my one, but I simply was not prepared for that type of fishing. Late into the morning, as I was flipping the vegetation, I set the hook into a GOOD fish. As soon as I turned her head, I could tell she was in some brush, and as quickly as I set the hook, she broke off. As I was mourning the loss of what I felt was a good fish, she proceeded to jump next to the boat so I could see all 3+ pounds of her.

By midday, we proceeded back to the area where I practiced near the ramp. By now my partner had his limit and was culling, but I was still grinding away, lamenting the loss of the big fish. As we rode up the river, we made an unscheduled stop at a community hole that, to our surprise, didn’t have a boat on it. As we pulled up to the moving water of the discharge area, I picked up my BassCraft SB1.5 squarebill and fired a cast into the heavy current. As I engaged my reel and made the first turn of the handle on my Lews BB2 Speed Spool, a fish nailed my crankbait. As I set the hook, I turned to my partner and tell him to get the net, as it is a good one! I proceeded to fight the 4+ pound fish back to the boat, where my partner is patiently waiting with the net. I get the fish right next to the boat, and as my partner goes to gently slip the net under the big bass, she simply comes undone and quietly slips away into the muddy water.

Knowing how tough the event was, I was a little upset to say the least. On the next cast, my boater turned into a good fish and I quickly landed one close to 4 pounds. Those were the only 2 bites we could muster there.

We spent the rest of the day fishing jetties, and I managed to put some 12# Fluorocarbon on my spinning reel as I tried to downsize to match my partner’s success. I managed two small keepers for the rest of the day, and weighed in 3 fish that weighed 4 pounds 5 ounces. I only had 5 bites all day and managed to get 3 in the boat. My lack of execution cost me a spot in what may have been the top 10.

My Day 1 anguish was quickly replaced with anticipation as I talked to my Day 2 partner, another local stick who is sitting solidly in 5th place with almost 16 pounds.

Eventually the rain subsided through the evening and we awakened to a dry, but dreary Day 2. As we started, my partner is in 5th and I’m in 50th, but only a pound off the check line and only 4 pounds off the cut. I decided that I am going to give it my all and fish for a check. As we took off for what I hoped would be a great day of fishing, we made our way to a tucked-away little backwater area where my boater caught one over 4 and one over 3 in his first few casts on a topwater popper.

As excited as that made me, I knew that he was in great shape for the win now, so I made the decision to let him have the topwater bite, and I got out my Jewel Jig and proceed to try to put together a flipping bite. I caught a small keeper, but we were never able to get any more fish out of that area. After about three hours, we made the run back to the main river, where I proceeded to get a great first-hand lesson on fishing the tide and moving with the tide as it goes in and out throughout the day.

My boater has a milk run of about 20 spots that we cycle through during the remainder of the day. He took us through them about 4 different times, as each spot depended on how the tide was moving at that particular time. It was very interesting to observe and learn this process of “chasing the tide” first-hand. That is one of the great things about being a Co-Angler.

My boater struggled for bites as the day went on, but the few fish he did catch were good ones. Like my Day 1 boater, my Day 2 partner was also finesse fishing with a weightless wacky-rigged Senko. He used this presentation to meticulously pick apart the cover as he let the current of the tide provide the action to his bait.

With less than an hour left, he had only 4 fish and I still had my one, as my jig technique – hoping for a big bite – had not paid off. We pulled up to his “Magic Tree”, that I had seen for the 4th time now in the past few hours. I’m really beginning to doubt his claims of it being “Magic”!

Those doubts quickly subsided as he set the hook into another 4 pound bass. We got her in the boat and he finally has his limit of over 15 pounds. As we got back to fishing, I jokingly say “now that you have your limit, I can start fishing!”. No sooner do I say that, then the “Magic” tree gives up a nice 2-pounder on my Jewel Jig. I got the fish in the livewell, and he jokes about his tree again. As we laugh about it, my next pitch to the tree provided me with a solid THUMP at the end of my line. I turn my Razr Rod Flipping stick into a good fish that made her way into my livewell. This one ended up going 3-12 and was easily my biggest fish of the event. It was quite a 5-minute flurry as the tree proved to be a little “magic” after all!

With 30 minutes to go, my boater turned to me and said “We need to get you a couple of quick fish”.  With that, we picked up and headed up river to a series of jetties that, to our surprise, were empty. In a cool act of sportsmanship, he lets me pick apart the 5 jetties for the next 30 minutes as he desperately wanted to get me the fish or two that he knew would get me a check.

Perhaps it was good sportsmanship, or perhaps it was his way of paying me back for doing my best to stay out of his way for the day. In any event, it was not meant to be, as we ended our day without another fish.

My boater weighed in 15+ and I weighed in 3 fish that went about 7 pounds. Although I did not get a check (missed it by 1 1/2 pounds), I did move into the top 40 which puts me squarely in line for my ultimate goal of making the Rayovac Championship in October. More importantly, I added yet another valuable learning experience to my fishing database, tidal fishing.

Never stop learning…even if it takes a little “Magic” along the way!


Circuits fished: Central Pro Am, LBL BFL, Michigan BFL, Everstart Series

Years co: 25

Favorite technique: Flipping a jig

Hobbies aside from fishing: Watching my kids play sports

Sponsors: 5X3 FishingLew’s ReelsBass Craft CrankbaitsJewel Bait CoRazr RodsRudy Project EyewearSnack Daddy LuresElite Rod SleevesBionic Custom BaitsBlue Water LED, The Pond Pro, G2 Gemini