April 28, 2023
CLARKSVILLE, Va. — Angling opportunity often is dictated by thresholds or marks at which bass may be inclined to change their positioning and/or behavior. That could be the case for anglers competing in the St. Croix Bassmaster Open at Buggs Island Reservoir where a moderate amount of high water will likely offer the potential for expanded opportunities.
Competition days will be May 3-5 with daily takeoffs from Occoneechee State Park at 6:30 a.m. ET and weigh-ins each day back at the park at 2:30 p.m. Full coverage will be available on Bassmaster.com.
Also known as John H. Kerr Reservoir for the former U.S. Representative from North Carolina, who was instrumental in the project’s history, this 50,000-acre Roanoke River impoundment boasts 900 miles of shoreline stretching across three counties in Virginia and three in North Carolina. Having logged countless hours on this lake, Bassmaster Elite Series pro John Crews of Salem, Va., said he sees the scenario shaping up to favor a shallow bite.
“The lake level is at 302, which is just high enough to where the bushes will play,” Crews said. “Full pool is 300. At 301 the fish start to want to be shallow, but once you reach 302 the bushes really become a major factor in where the fish are.”
With a mix of willows, buckbrush and terrestrial trees common to the Buggs Island shallows, anglers fond of flipping, pitching and other power-fishing techniques should fare well. Tournament competitors will find bass in a mostly postspawn mode, with some holding shallow on the recently flooded cover and others following more traditional spring patterns.
“There could be a few bed fish lingering around, but there will definitely be a lot of postspawn fish shallow,” Crews said. “The shad spawn will be a major (opportunity) that guys are going to have to take advantage of to do well.
“If the water starts dropping before or during the event, a lot of those fish will pull out of the bushes and it will be a little tougher. You’ll see more offshore structure come into play. Maybe not the deep offshore structure, but the offshore stuff may become a bigger factor.”
Crews said that midrange offshore habitat could include points, brushpiles, stumps and isolated rock. Bridges are always a good bet this time of year, as they offer shady areas of funneled current where postspawn bass can lounge prior to entering their summer patterns.
“There are no interstate bridges, but there are probably a dozen bridges crossing the lake,” Crews said. “The tournament’s going out of Clarksville, Va., and there are three bridges in Clarksville, so there’s a significant amount of riprap and bridge pilings (near the takeoff site).”
A potential wildcard could be spotted bass. Often displaying roaming tendencies, especially in lakes with blueback herring, the spotted bass introduced to Buggs Island can dramatically alter the traditional largemouth fishery by offering a distinctly different pursuit. But as Crews notes, the spotted bass impact at Buggs Island currently is minimal.
“There are not enough numbers right now to focus on spots; they just mix in with the largemouth,” Crews said. “The number of blueback herring has risen. They’ve always been there but they’re starting to become more of a factor. It’s making the fish more nomadic.”
“The spots just show up here and there, so don’t be surprised to see some good ones at the weigh-ins.”
How good? Crews said local tournaments have seen spots of up to 4 pounds. By comparison, largemouth in the 5- to 6-pound range are possible, although this tournament falls during a time when many of the fish will have yet regained the weight they lost during their recent spawn.
Overall, Crews said Buggs Island is in good shape, and with the entirety of tournament waters likely in play, the lake should fish big. Crews expects a mix of flipping jigs, Texas-rigged creature baits or worms, crankbaits and frogs to dominate the shallow-cover game.
Offshore, Carolina-rigged straight worms, swimbaits, shaky heads and drop shots will see a lot of action. Stressing the importance of capitalizing on the early morning shad spawns, Crews said buzzbaits and spinnerbaits will account for much of this opportunistic success.
Forecasting the weights, Crews said the tournament could see a small number of 20-pound bags, but repeating that feat on successive days will be a Herculean task. He believes 15 pounds a day will make the final round, with a three-day winning weight in the low 50s.
“This is one of the better times of year to fish this lake because it spreads everybody out,” Crews said. “With the water high, it opens up a lot of the river stuff. It will open up more water and that’s a good thing.”
More than 390 anglers will take part in the pro and co-angler divisions, including 168 pros who are competing in the Elite Qualifiers Division. EQ anglers are fishing all nine Opens in all three divisions for a chance at one of nine spots on the 2024 Bassmaster Elite Series.
Texas angler Ben Milliken leads the Opens EQ points standings with 396 points after only two events — a fifth-place finish in the season-opener at Alabama’s Lake Eufaula and a victory on Toledo Bend in April.
The St. Croix Bassmaster Open at Buggs Island Reservoir is being hosted by Mecklenburg County, Va., Tourism.
2023 Bassmaster Opens Series Title Sponsor: St. Croix
2023 Bassmaster Opens Series Platinum Sponsor: Toyota
2023 Bassmaster Opens Series Premier Sponsors: Bass Pro Shops, Dakota Lithium, Humminbird, Mercury, Minn Kota, Nitro Boats, Power-Pole, Progressive Insurance, Ranger Boats, Rapala, Skeeter Boats, Yamaha
2023 Bassmaster Opens Series Supporting Sponsors: AFTCO, Daiwa, Garmin, Lew’s, Marathon, Triton Boats, VMC
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The Bassmaster Tournament Trail includes the most prestigious events at each level of competition, including the Bassmaster Elite Series, St. Croix Bassmaster Opens Series, TNT Fireworks B.A.S.S. Nation Series, Strike King Bassmaster College Series presented by Bass Pro Shops, Strike King Bassmaster High School Series presented by Academy Sports + Outdoors, Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Team Championship, Yamaha Rightwaters Bassmaster Kayak Series powered by TourneyX, Yamaha Bassmaster Redfish Cup Championship presented by Skeeter and the ultimate celebration of competitive fishing, the Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Toyota.