I'm not sure that I've ever fished as close to as many people as I did during the first Northern Open on the Upper Chesapeake Bay. For such a huge place, it fished miniscule. Smallsville. Microscopic. The area I fished was within several miles of the launch in North East, Maryland and it was common the first two days to be within eyesight of 30 to 40 boats at any given time during the day. Way too crowded for my taste.
I was told by a person that grew up fishing in the Northeast that many anglers in the Northeast were pretty good about finding the bent-rod pattern on any body of water. He also told me to never let another angler see me catch a fish during practice and to try to be sneaky about it during the tournament. The bent-rod pattern finders aren't exclusive to the Northeast, they're everywhere. We have them in the South too, but we usually take care of them in our own special way. Kind of a redneck "Deliverance" thing. Bent-rod fishermen in the South seem to grow out of it pretty quick. But a dude was just telling me that it appeared to be a mild epidemic amongst some anglers in the Northeast.
Keeping fish catches on the down-low is easy in practice; cut-off hooks, vinyl tubing over hook points, and several other little tricks keep you from "sticking" fish. It's a little harder to be sneaky about catching them on tournament day, though. Especially when you're within casting distance of numerous other boats. A guy can't even do Number One without someone else staring.
On the Upper Chesapeake that week it must have been hard for the bent rodders to find out where they needed to be during practice because of the tough conditions, so I'm not sure that played well on the first day of the tournament. Day Two of the tournament was a different story, however. The area that I fished had two guys in the Top 20 after the first day when 82 of 190 boaters came in without a fish so it was obvious that the area had fish in it. Day One saw five to six of us roaming the flat the entire day. Several others would come, fish for a short amount of time without a bite, and then move on to other areas. Day Two there were 22 boats in the same small area, all day. Coincidence or bent-rod pattern? I'm not calling anyone out here; maybe it was a little of both.
I thought it was interesting when I had a fellow Elite angler, who was fishing about a half mile outside the flat, tell me that he had three boats around him at one point in time on Day One and all four of them saw me catch a fish and box it. The Elite angler said that the other three boats around him immediately pointed their boats toward the flat and had the trolling motors smoking on high. I thought he was joking at first, but his co-angler said otherwise. Bent-rod pattern? I'd say so.
I was trying to figure out why people would want to fish within a cast of each other all day. Evidently it's a fact of fishing in the Northeast, for whatever reason. Maybe it's bent rod, maybe it's the fact that many of the fish bunch up in small areas in some of the fisheries, or maybe it's the fact that the Northeastern part of the U.S. has such a heavy population density that people are just used to being close to each other. I'm pretty sure that what I saw on Day Two at the Chesapeake would not work well for an extended period of time in the South.
In the South, if we had to fish within a cast of 21 other boats for any length of time, there would be some name calling, weapons drawn, and lead flying through the air. No way would we ever stand for that many people fishing that close to "our" spot. I'm sure there are times even on Southern impoundments, especially during Bob Sealy's Big Bass Splash derbies on Rayburn or Toledo Bend, where there are thousands of boats on the water at any given time. I'm sure that in those situations, you're always fishing within eyesight of numerous other competitors, but that's far from the norm.
As a product of the South, I had to bite a hole in my tongue to keep from showing my Southern ass to some of the guys who definitely had little respect for an appropriate distance. On the Elite trail, it's uncommon for us to fish within a cast of each other for any length of time. There are exceptions, though, such as Wheeler last year, when the fish were bunched up out on the Decatur Flats. There, guys would stake out a small area on the Flats and spend the majority of their day within a cast of the same spot. Even on Wheeler this year, there were several of us that fished relatively close to each other for parts of each day the entire event. Even then, there would only be three or four of us in the area at a time, a far cry from 22.
How would Elite anglers have handled the Chesapeake scenario? With the Chesapeake being such a vast fishery, we would have spread out much more. Also with the field at a little over half the 190 boats in the Northern Open, we would not have bunched up quite as much. Probably the biggest difference would have been the fact that the overwhelming majority of us would not move in on someone else if we saw them catch fish. I've had a few that I felt were encroaching a little on the area that I was fishing, but they maintained a respectful distance.
As I found out of the Upper Chesapeake, the term "respectful distance" is about as far as I can throw a three-quarter ounce Red Eye Shad.
For more info on Kevin Short or to contact Kevin, check out his website at www.kfshort.com.