Fishing on Empty
By Steve Chaconas
“Gas prices are so high, a guy tried to siphon gas out of a Tesla, NASCAR cut laps to semi-circles, and hitchhikers are giving lessons.”
High gas prices are no joke to bass fishermen. The sudden gas price jump might sink their tournament season.
Bass fishing tournaments draw regional anglers competing for bragging rights to a few thousand dollars. The top local tournament trail, Potomac River Battle Series, hosts 10 events annually. There’s been chatter about some not fishing due to expensive gas. Tournament Director Ed Dustin says his trail, is mostly a working man’s league comprised of self-employed or small business owners. He says they have the flexibility to schedule fishing, but also can raise rates to account for rising gas prices. Anglers working for someone else, like government employees, are taking a hit. He thinks participants are cutting practice days. Overall, if gas keeps going up, he expects a lot of boats up for sale.
Traveling pro angler, Frank Arthur is on the road a lot. Sponsored by Comprehensive Nursing Services Inc., he began his season shortly before the big spike in fuel prices. His first stop, the TBF Nationals on Lake Conroe Texas, cost $500 to drive from Maryland. Leaving his truck in Texas, he caught a flight home for a few days. Returning to Texas he fished his event and drove home at an increased cost of $650. Fuel sticker shock has Frank contemplating fuel savings, like driving his boat slower during practice days and the truck slower on the highway. He looks for the cheapest gas and fills the truck and boat. He’s aware many are putting off tournament fishing for a while as added costs broke already thin budgets. Some boaters are ready to take a seat as a back of the boat angler due to costs. Arthur is prepared to bite this fuel bullet but doesn’t like it.
Professional Crappie anglers are equally impacted. Fishing the National ACT Crappie Trail and Crappie Masters, 2-time angler of the Year Dan Dannenmueller says diesel prices are brutal but notes everything will be increasing. This year will be challenging as the Crappie pro is fishing two tours, driving thousands of miles and forcing him to pass on other events. Ford trip planning and Google mapping will assist to navigate efficiently while towing to events. Participating in multiple events without returning home will keep him on the road, saving fuel costs. Additionally, travelling anglers check mobile apps to find better prices a few miles off the interstate. Dannenmueller recommends Walmart and food chain gas stations to save on fuel.
Remembering the spike over 10 years ago, Skeeter Yamaha pro Ish Monroe says things were bad, but prices rose gradually rather than the recent jump. He accepts driving across the country, with commitments to Major League Fishing, B.A.S. S. Opens and several tournaments out west, and fuel costs are out of his control. He can control how hard he works for sponsors. When prices went up before, sponsors had fewer commitments and assisted anglers with increased costs. Today, budgets are already stretched and commitments from sponsors aren’t as lucrative. In addition, tournament entry fees have risen, while payouts have dropped. Monroe understands the bottom line, working twice as hard to demonstrate value to help pay bills. Translated, Monroe sells more to get more. He converts “free” time into scheduled appearances at tackle store giant Fisherman’s Warehouse to move product for sponsors like Diawa, River2Sea, Simms and others. Fans see him regularly and purchase his recommendations. In addition, he’s at his Skeeter dealer,
C& C Marine’s 2 locations, so often he needs a desk.
Generally neglected, propellers are one of the best ways to save on fuel. RobbiePatterson, owner of Propeller Dynamics, says being properly propped allows engines to reach recommended ranges. Incorrect pitches rob performance and suck gas. Nicks or bends also hurt fuel efficiency by blowing water away, reducing the prop’s ability to bite and move forward. Gouged and scratched boat bottoms and lower units could be dragging, not allowing water to reach props cleanly. Patterson also recommends using engine manufacturer fuel treatments to avoid ethanol issues but mainly to remove carbon build-up on pistons and valves, a big problem due to idling while mapping. Keeping high performance outboards finely maintained and removing excess weight will cut costs.
When fuel prices were under $2/gal, boaters ran wild. Now as costs have nearly tripled in a couple of years, finding ways to use less and be more efficient with what you use will keep bass anglers afloat.
Potomac River Bassing in May
Water is into the 50s and fish are in shallow areas ready to spawn. This is the best month to fish on the Potomac. The best search bait is a lipless crankbait. Red is the best color in stained water. Tie to 12 pound test Gamma Edge fluorocarbon line. When contacting grass, give the line a snap to free the bait and prepare for a hit. Other colors are chrome or chartreuse patterns when water is clearer.
Carolina rigs are also a good way to cover water. Leaders of about 2 feet with a ¾ ounce egg sinker using 30 pound Gamma Torque braid for main line and 12 pound test Edge as leader, tied to a soft plastic, lizards or creature baits work will in green pumpkin patterns.
Time for jigs, casting and swimming through emerging grass. When pitching, aim for clumps of grass and when swimming, snap the bait from grass and allow it to fall.
In water that is clearer, try clown colored suspending jerkbaits. Vary the amount of snaps and length of pauses. Use 10 pound test Edge and target cast to grass clumps or cover water. The smaller baits work when the water is clearest and shallow. Use the larger versions when the water is stained or higher.
Author Capt. Steve Chaconas is Potomac River bass fishing guide. Potomac fishing reports: nationalbass.com. Book trips/purchase gift certificates: info@NationalBass.com.