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The 4th stop for the BFL Piedmont division is the James River up near Richmond VA, coming up on the 18th. I have been told that the best time to practice for a tournament on tidal waters is 2 weeks before as tides are similar to what they will be during the tournament, therefore I decided to spend my three day July 4th weekend on the James, not only to look for some tournament fish but it is a totally different place than the waters I am used to fishing. I spent a week there last September for the BFL regional, I kind of struggled then but learned a few things and had plenty of time to reflect, and think about things I coulda and shoulda done then.

Friday I rolled out around 5AM and headed up 85, avoiding the numerous speed traps the VA state police had set up and working. A stop for a biscuit and boat gas and i arrived at the Dutch Gap ramp in Chester VA and put in just before 8, plan for today was to fish from the 295 bridge up. Forecast called for a good chance of storms but nothing materialized and I stayed dry all day. I put in and hit a few close by places I fished in September and tried a few things that almost got the guy I roomed with a trip to the BFL All American. I caught a 3 lber early off a dock, things died. With the Bassmaster Northern open starting later this week, there were plenty of tricked out wrapped boats running around practicing. I continued hitting some docks and fished a handful of wing dams on an outgoing tide, picked up a 4-5lb catfish. I hit a few more docks, I came to a bundle of pilings that looked fishy and pitched around it fishing the crap out of it, my plastic got a about 4 feet away and I felt a thump, got heavy and line moved, I swung and it was on, pretty certain it was another catfish, only it wasnt, it was a huge largemouth, right at 8 lbs, my biggest bass of the year and I never expected it to come from the James. I caught a 2.75 lber not long after. I continued up river and then ran back down and fished some barge wrecks and more docks, I took out around 4:30 and headed for the motel.

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Saturday my plan was to launch at Hopewell and make the run from there to the Chickahominy river, a very popular place in the bigger tournaments that holds some good fish but its a very long run from Osborne Landing where most of the bigger tournaments go out of. I have fished it several times but always trailered there, so this was kind of a test run for me to find my way and know what to expect. When I got to the ramp, it was kind of a misty drizzle and fog. The ramp was flooded due to a high tide and pretty heavy rain the night before. I talked to a local and told him my intentions, he thought floaters would be a major concern, I ran out to the confluence of the James and Appomattox rivers and caught a 14" flipping wood, I waited for the drizzle to let up and surveyed the water conditions, soon the fog lifted and water looked safe to run so off I went. Being careful to run the channel all the way as I had no clue what to expect anywhere. When i got to the mouth of the chick, it got pretty rough with an out going tide and the wind. I ran a few miles into an area I have fished in the past, I look at my GPS and had logged 44 miles from where I put in at. I fished my stuff in the chick, caught a few keepers and by 2PM was ready to make the long run back. There were plenty of guys in there practicing for the open too. I stopped a few places around Hopewell and the mouth of the Appomattox and called it a day around 4:30. I covered 95 miles, if I were to make that run during the tournament, I would probably be around 120 miles round trip.

Sunday my plan was to launch at Hopewell again and concentrate on the Appomattox and a few areas close by. It was an outgoing tide and I started fishing some creek mouths and a "funnel area" we found practicing for the regional. I was throwing a spinnerbait along a line of vegatation, I saw a 14"-15" bass hit it and I swung on him, the rod slipped from my hands, hit the deck and into the river it went and looked to be flowing in the current as it disappeared from sight into 3 or 4 feet of dirty water and muck bottom, I quickly dropped my powerpole and tied my culling beam on a heavy rod with the hooks open started dragging the bottom where I thought it might be, and pulling up muck and vegatation all the while thinking about the current moving and the possibility that fish was dragging it around. After about 20 minutes I am relieved to finally snag it. I ran around hitting some different stuff, with no bites, around 11 I decided to leave the App and run to a creek. Between 12 and 1 I caught a fair limit. It was getting late and there was a pit I wanted to go in and check out so I ran back and hit it. I run through fairly quick running a crankbait around some barges and tugboats and fishing a seawall, I did catch a small catfish cranking. It was about 3:30 as I reached the end of the wall and was ready to call it a day, at the end of the wall there were 3 bundles of pilings to tie the barges off to I would make my final casts to. As I dropped my shakeyhead next to the second bundle, I picked up off the bottom and initially thought I was snagged until I felt it swim and my drag started burning off to deep water. I knew it was either a big cat, sturgeon or scuba diver. He took me deep, then came back to the pilings, went around one set into shallow water, then around the other set where it briefly felt he had wrapped me up, then he came loose and went back deep into the channel, with a 6-6 spinning rod and 8 lb test I was pretty much just along for the ride. I finally got him far from the piling and we played around out in the channel for a good while in 17 ft of water, he would pull 10 ft of drag, I would get back 3 ft, this went on for a good long while and I kind of followed him around on the trolling motor, finally I started gaining a little and he would take it back, I decided if I had any chance, I would have to get him back to some shallow water so I eased him over to the edge of the channel, he didnt like that idea. About 35 minutes into the epic battle, I finally got him to the top to see what I had, a huge blue cat, he surged again and I pulled out my net, finally got him up again and make a try with the net, he took off again, 3rd time I got his head in the net and struggled to lift the fish into the boat but got it, I would guess 50-60 lbs if not more, I knew my scale was only good to about 20 so didnt even try. I decided to carry him back to the marina to see if they had a scale or maybe run into a catfisherman along the way. I put his head in the livewell and left his back end hang out covered with a wet weigh in bag, never could find anyone with a scale. It was a beast. I hit the road right at 5 and had a nightmare of a drive home between a few heavy storms and the NCDOT narrowing I-85 to one lane in 2 different places within 10 miles, orange barrels doing nothing more than blocking traffic, no work crews, no danger, no equipment. Once the traffic moved again after the first area, it stopped again as everyone merged to one lane and stopped again, when I got home i felt like the Griswalds when they got to Wallyworld. Though the fishing was overall pretty tough, 2 river monsters made it worth it.

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