CHARLES COUNTY, Md. — Brian La Clair has spent plenty of time over the years fishing the Potomac River but hasn’t found much in the way of tournament success on the massive river system before this week’s TNT Fireworks B.A.S.S. Nation Northeast Regional.
But by thinking outside of the box, the 2011 Bassmaster Classic qualifier has taken the lead over the 116-boat field with a two-day total of 34 pounds, 4 ounces.
After catching 16-12 on Day 1 to land in third, the Denton, Md., angler landed 17-8 on the second day, a bag anchored by the Big Bass of the Day, a 4-11 largemouth. He holds a 14-ounce advantage over Rhode Island state team member Matty Szczoczarz, who is second with 33-6. Maine’s Jonathan Carter is third with 33-3.
Fishing for the Delaware state team, La Clair is in position to qualify for his fourth B.A.S.S. Nation Championship, where he would have the opportunity to earn a spot for the second time in the Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Toyota.
Coming into the event, La Clair knew he would have to mostly stay away from the community grass flats in order to have a chance at winning.
“If you can find grass beds out of the way with no one fishing them, it is not hard to catch them,” he said. “I’ve put a lot of thought into how to fish this place the last couple of years and tried to invent something for myself I will have the edge on people with. I knew if I came out here and chucked and winded on these grass beds I wouldn’t have an advantage. I had to do something completely different.
On Day 1, La Clair generated the majority of his bites by tossing a glidebait around docks and hard cover in 3 to 4 feet of water. If they didn’t eat the bait, a lot of times they would show themselves so he could target them again later.
The second day brought hazy conditions and wind, but the bass would not eat the glide. Once he realized it wouldn’t be the day for the big bait to shine, he switched to a swim jig and a Senko and was able to land his entire bag by 9:30 a.m.
“I went to an area where I got several bites in practice and the tide was too low. I had to rush through it so I could get to somewhere that had some tide,” La Clair said. “I went to my Day 1 spot and it reloaded really quickly. We finished our limits, culled a bunch and got out of there. They were coming back in there and I didn’t want to sit there and wear them out. I knew I had a pretty good sack.”
For the most part, La Clair has deciphered where the bass are setting up on the bank in his primary area and has been surprised others haven’t had the same success. He has seen multiple boats on both days of the event so far, including some of his Delaware teammates, but they have fished over what he feels is the juice.
“There are 20 boats in this place and I haven’t really had anyone come over and figure it out yet,” he said. “They aren’t throwing the glide and for some reason they aren’t throwing where I am catching them. It is something people are overlooking.”
During the tournament, La Clair has noticed bream spawning. Anglers have fished an incoming tide each morning and he believes the bass will push up into those bream beds and start feeding.
“These fish are eating bluegill and sunnies,” he said. “(The bream) are bedding, so that is what these largemouth are pulling in to do. Once the tide is up, they go to the bulkheads and the shoreline and are roaming early in the morning between docks and stuff like that. I would parallel the docks with the glidebait and if I didn’t get them there, I would go to the bulkheads. Then I would go straight to the middle of them.”
La Clair has also caught several key bass on a point where the bass stack up when the tide comes rushing back in.
“They set up on the inside of that 60-yard stretch and that has been good,” he said.
In total, he fished through about five spots on Day 2. He hopes his best area reloads again tomorrow, but La Clair knows he can catch a limit just about anywhere he stops. The tide will largely be an incoming one tomorrow as well and when it gets right, La Clair knows it could be game on.
“Hopefully they move back in there and if they don’t, I’ll use plan B and C,” La Clair said. “I’m hoping we get a little bit of foul weather and maybe that will change the glidebait bass.”
Delaware’s Rodney Oberdick leads the Big Bass of the Tournament standings for the boaters with a 5-12 largemouth he caught on Day 1.
James D’Ambra from Hanover, Mass., leads the nonboater division with a two-day total of 18-4. New York’s Jon Metot is second with 18-3 and Zachary Queeney is third with 17-11.
Connecticut’s Robert Serer continues to hold Big Bass of the Tournament honors for nonboaters with a 4-11 largemouth from Day 1.
With a two-day total of 378-5, New Jersey secured an impressive victory in the team competition. Pennsylvania finished second with 345-14 followed by New York in third with 338-6 and Connecticut in fourth with 325-10. Delaware finished fifth with 323-11; Maryland was sixth with 319-6; Rhode Island was seventh with 315-4; Maine was eighth with 312-4; Ontario was ninth with 257-0; Massachusetts was 10th with 248-0; New Hampshire was 11th with 216-8; and Vermont finished 12th with 165-13.
The Top 24 boaters and nonboaters after the Day 2 weigh-in, along with the top two anglers from each state that aren’t already inside the cut, will launch from Smallwood State Park starting at 5:30 a.m. ET on Friday and will return for weigh-in at 1:30 p.m.
The top finishing angler from each state will earn a spot in the 2023 TNT Fireworks B.A.S.S. Nation Championship at Lake Hartwell scheduled for Oct. 18-20. There, three berths to the 2024 Bassmaster Classic will be awarded and the winner will receive an invite to the 2024 Bassmaster Elite Series roster.