Wetherell Follows Two-Stage Plan To Lead Bassmaster Open On James River

Alex Wetherell was not particularly thrilled with his practice, but his mood changed dramatically after catching a five-bass limit that weighed 25 pounds, 9 ounces to lead Day 1 of the St. Croix Bassmaster Northern Open at the James River presented by Mossy Oak Fishing.

“This is proof that practice does not matter,” said Wetherell, who lives in Middletown, Conn. “This was not a good practice at all. I sampled (various areas) and, thankfully, that sampling turned into a pretty good bag today.

“In practice, I’d catch a fish and get out of there. I didn’t sting too many of these fish and, come tournament time, I expanded on these areas and caught some good ones.”

Wetherell’s leading bag — his biggest in tournament competition — included a pair of 7-pounders. One of those big fish bit during the first 20 minutes.

Making a long run, Wetherell spent his day in tributary waters where he targeted a mix of cypress trees and pads with moving baits. Some of the bass in his areas were prespawners, but some had moved onto beds.

“I’m running into both in the same areas, but (prespawn and spawning fish) are 20 yards apart,” Wetherell said. “I’m fishing stuff right near the areas where they’re spawning. I caught some of my bigger fish doing that, and I caught 2- to 4-pound fish that seemed to be on beds.”

Wetherell knew the week’s warming trend would hasten the fish’s seasonal pattern, but with the low-visibility characteristic of tidal rivers, he couldn’t count on seeing any spawning fish.

“It scared me that we’re having all this warm weather and all these fish were going to move in for the spawn because I didn’t feel like I had areas where I thought they would spawn,” he said. “Today I just kind of figured it out just by the way they would hit. The deal I found was a prespawn deal and the spawn deal was just kind of a bonus.”

Typically, fish that are guarding beds will only nip at intrusive baits and try to carry them off their property. This often yields multiple missed bites, but Wetherell was able to dial in a presentation that allowed him to hook several bed fish.

“The key was slowing down and really picking apart the areas,” he said. “As windy as it was, I would just put my Minn Kota Raptors down, fancast an area and really work it through. Having a couple of big fish early settled me down and allowed me to work thoroughly and that gave me some of those key bites.

“In practice, I really didn’t catch many fish that were very big and I thought, ‘If I catch 15 pounds today, I’ll be really happy.’ I’m over the moon about the bag I had today. From yesterday to today, I feel totally different.”

Looking ahead to Day 2, Wetherell said, “There are definitely fish around. I don’t know if I’m going to catch another 7-pounder, but I’ll definitely be around them.”

Brad Leuthner of Independence, Minn., is in second place with 22-4. Catching a 7-5 kicker eased the pain of seeing what could have been a monster bag diminished by tough breaks.

“That 7-pounder goes a long way, but I had another one on that was that big if not bigger,” Leuthner said. “This morning, I got some mud in my livewell pump and I had a 2 1/2-pound fish die. I could have had another 3 or 4 pounds today.”

Leuthner said he fished the Chickahominy — a major tributary downstream from takeoff — and sought areas with the gravel bottom that spawning fish favor. He said he caught all prespawners, but they were located adjacent to those hard-bottom areas.

“I mixed it up throughout the day,” Leuthner said of his bait selections. “When the tide was right, I could throw a moving bait, but when the tide (was unfavorable), I had to slow down with plastic baits.”

Joey Murphy of Elkton, Md., is in third place with 22-3. Fishing shallow cover with slower presentations, Murphy said his best strategy involved making the most of the day’s different tide stages.

“For what I was fishing, I wanted more water over their heads, but I was able to get them on the lower tides as well,” Murphy said. “It seemed like you had to transition with them as the tide changed.”

Murphy caught good bass throughout the day, but he ended with a bang.

“I caught a 7-11 25 minutes before check-in time,” he said. “I culled out a 2 1/2-pounder with that one.”

Murphy is in the lead for Phoenix Boats Big Bass honors with that 7-11.

James Nealy of Yale, Va., leads the co-angler division with 15-2. Fishing shallow wood cover with reaction baits, Nealy’s day got off to a quick start and included an 8-2 that leads the Phoenix Boats Big Bass standings for the co-angler division.

“When you get your limit early and you catch a big kicker fish (8-2) early, it makes you feel good and makes the rest of the day easy,” Nealy said. “I had my limit in the first hour and a half, then I caught the big one around 11 o’clock.

“About an hour before we came in, I made one final cull with a 4-pounder.”

Friday’s takeoff is scheduled for 6:30 a.m. ET at Osborne Park & Boat Landing. The weigh-in will be held back at the Landing at 2:30 p.m. Coverage is available on Bassmaster.com.

Visit Richmond and Henrico County, Va., are hosting the event.