When more than 200 boats launched from the Osborne Park and Boat Landing on the James River Thursday to compete in the 2021 Bassmaster Northern Open, Christie Bradley of Bealeton was one of three women competing in the Pro Division.
Relative newcomers Trait Zaldain of Texas and Michelle Jalaba of Michigan are the other female pro anglers in the field. Liz Urban of Manassas is one of three women co-anglers registered.
The Pro Division is also called the Boater Division. Anglers in this division typically own the boats and dictate the strategy. They are accompanied by co-anglers for the first two days of the tournament.
A total of 431 anglers have registered for the tournament. Opens are popular with regional anglers who are often well-versed in fishing the local waters. That is evident in the 63 Virginians registered in the Pro Division out of 225 total anglers, and 102 of the 206 co-angler registrants.
The pro anglers hail from 35 states, plus Japan and Canada.
Pro angler registrants pay $1,800 to enter the tournament while co-anglers pay $475. The Pro Division anglers can weigh up to five fish each day while co-anglers weigh up to three fish.
Based on a 150-boat field, first place in the Pro Division pays $35,000 while the top co-angler can win $17,000. The top 40 anglers in each division finish in the money. With the large field entered in this Northern Open, payouts are expected to substantially increase. Emily Harley, BASS communications manager, said the most recent open tournament two weeks ago had 224 pros/boaters, upping the payout for first place to $53,750.
Local anglers tend to do well in the opens. Virginians Chris Dillow and Rick Morris won James River Northern Opens in 2015 and 2017, respectively. Veteran New Jersey pro Mike Iaconelli won the 2019 Eastern Open on the James. Ohio pro Charlie Hartley placed first in the 2016 Central Open.
Bradley, whose biggest sponsor is Bass Pro Shops, is also on the Green Top Sporting Goods pro staff. She has been a fixture in regional tournaments for more than 15 years and was one of the original competitors in the now defunct Women’s Bassmaster Tour. She said she is focusing on the Bassmaster Southern Opens this year along with this local Northern Open.
“Unless I win it, of course, then I’ll have to try to get into the second and third Northern Division tournaments so I can fish the Bassmaster Classic [the Super Bowl of tournament angling],” she said. “I’m also competing in the Virginia Elite 70 with my brother [Gary]. That team trail includes five events in the region.”
Bradley said she has fished the James three times in the last few weeks but hadn’t locked in a strategy as of earlier in the week. Weather may dictate many of her moves.
“I’m definitely running the tide. I’ll probably be making some long runs Thursday and Friday, and hopefully Saturday,” she said. “The most important part of my strategy will be timing the tide right.
“I’ve learned a lot about fishing down here in the spring over the last few years. I’m not in the habit of catching those 7-pound-plus fish down here, but I know it can happen on any cast. Same with a double-digit fish.”
The full field competes through Thursday before the boater/pro side is cut to the top 10 anglers for “Championship Saturday.” The co-angler champion will be crowned after the Day 2 weigh-in. Daily takeoffs from Osborne Park & Boat Landing begin at 6 a.m. Weigh-ins for Friday take place at the Landing at 2 p.m. The Day 3 big event weigh-in is set to be held at the Bass Pro Shops in Ashland at 3 p.m.
Coverage of the event will be available at Bassmaster.com.