- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 28, 2005

Do you recall the happy face the Maryland Department of Natural Resources put on when it announced its $1 Million Fishing Challenge? The challenge insinuated someone would win a cool million bucks for catching specially tagged fish in the Chesapeake or one of its tributary rivers. Well, the whole thing fizzled. The contest ended July 18, and then a special drawing was scheduled. As it turned out, nobody won $1 million even though four anglers (out of 103 qualifiers) were entered in a “lucky” drawing for the big money.

I didn’t like this tourist promotion bit the day the state announced it. From the start, fishing writers had doubts concerning the payout. Each of the four finalists who had caught one of the tagged fish received $2,500 Boater’s World gift certificates — nice but not nearly as nice as actually winning $1 million. The whole deal went down rather awkwardly. Now, the state says it might do it again.

I have an idea. Fire the person who dreamed up this goofy plan and use the $1 million to build a couple of boat launch ramps or a fishing pier that the public sorely needs.

Meanwhile, if you can afford an ocean charter or can finagle a freebie trip on a friend’s boat, go after tuna. The fishing for yellowfin and bluefin tunas has been fine in the offshore waters of Maryland and Virginia. Most of these tasty fish are hooked by trolling or dropping chunks of baitfish. Now and then a marlin might rise to trolled lures or ballyhoo baits. In Virginia, a hot area for both tuna and billfish has been the 30-fathom stretch east of the Fingers. Also, if you want to check how strong your arms are, amberjacks can be found over numerous wrecks along Virginia’s near-shore light towers.

In the Chesapeake Bay, trolling and chumming for rockfish and blues have been good despite the tremendous daytime heat, while in the tidal rivers, the fishing for largemouth bass continues. Just do yourself a favor: start before sunup and quit by 10:30 a.m. That’s what we do.

(RATINGS KEY: …. =EXCELLENT FISHING; … =GOOD; .. =FAIR; . =POOR.)

AREA 1: D.C. AND VICINITY

POTOMAC RIVER: 0-35 miles (…) — From the Boathouse at Fletcher’s Cove (Georgetown, off Canal Road; 202/244-0461), Ray Fletcher said, “We’re in our summertime mode. It’s mostly catfish now and a few bass here and there.” I admire the man’s honesty. No false promises from him. Meanwhile, downriver from Fletcher’s and the Chain Bridge vicinity, heading into the Columbia Island and 14th Street Bridge area as well as Washington Channel and Hains Point, there’ll be some fat catfish, bass and carp. But many anglers are staying home because it simply has been too hot to fish. Charles County bass guides Andy Andrzejewski (301/932-1509) and Dale Knupp (301/934-9062), who fish the river from the Wilson Bridge down to Virginia’s Aquia Creek, are scoring during the earliest hours possible. Topwater poppers and soft stick baits do the job at the edges of weed beds and inside weed pockets up and down the river. Quite a few boaters check out the massive milfoil carpets inside the mouth of Chicamuxen Creek. If the tide is receding properly, a weedless topwater lure or small finesse worms in a variety of colors will be looked at by the bass. Some of the hooked bass are small, but now and then a worthy specimen is taken. The same happens up and down the river, including parts of the main stem. Downstream, south of the Route 301 bridge, it seems white perch provide all the fun. They’re taken on small spinnerbaits, inline spinners or baited bottom rigs along weed edges, rocky bulkheads, river points and duck blinds, including the Swan Point Bar before you reach the Wicomico. The Wicomico River has been fine for perch and some spot or croakers, but high tides and low light is best. On the St. Mary’s County side of the Wicomico, Quade’s Store in Bushwood (301/769-3903) has rental boats and bait. The main stem of the Potomac below Piney Point turns up a few flounder, many white perch, some fat spot and croakers, with midriver trollers scoring on small blues and rockfish as they head toward Cornfield Harbor on the Maryland side and Coan River on the Virginia side.

MATTAWOMAN CREEK: 40 miles (…) — Get started as early as possible — earlier than the standard opening of the gates at Smallwood State Park, which means going to the always open Slavin’s ramp in Indian Head on Mattingly Avenue. Work sunken wood, weedline edges and spatterdock pockets during receding tides with plastic worms, weedless spoons, topwater poppers and the like. You will catch bass from above Slavin’s ramp down to the mouth of the creek. Catfish like clam necks or cut herring chunks on bottom rigs almost anywhere in the creek’s channel waters.

SOUTHERN MARYLAND LAKES: 40-50 miles (…) — Gilbert Run Park’s Wheatley Lake (Route 6, east of La Plata) hasn’t been the best because of the heat, but the sunfish don’t care. They will bite. St. Mary’s Lake (Route 5, south of Leonardtown on Camp Cosoma Road) is still down during dam construction but walk the edges and find a few bass and sunnies. Don’t know where the crappies went.

LITTLE SENECA LAKE: 30 miles (..) — Black Hill Regional Park (off Route 117, near Boyds, 301/972-9396) and nearby Seneca Creek Lake (Clopper Road, Gaithersburg, 301/924-2127) have not been good over the past several days. Still, sunfish, a few catfish and maybe a bass now and then are possible.

WSSC RESERVOIRS: 20-30 miles (…) — (Triadelphia, off Route 97 or Route 650 in Montgomery County; Rocky Gorge, off Route 29 in Montgomery County) Bass have gone after early-morning topwater poppers, and the slower you fish them after you cast near a stickup or some type of obstruction, the better it is. When the sun bakes the water, fish deep with scented plastic worms or tubes.

PATUXENT RIVER: 25-60 miles (…) — White perch will bite almost anything you throw at them, from Beetlespins to small inline spinners or 1/8-ounce spinnerbaits. It starts above Benedict and continues downstream near the Route 4 bridge. Also, use bloodworms, peeler crab chunks or the new artificial bloodworm bait to hook Norfolk spot, some croakers and perch. There are croakers, bluefish and small rockfish in the mouth. If you want a rental boat on Solomons Island, call or visit Bunky’s (410/326-3241).

OCCOQUAN RESERVOIR: 25-30 miles (…) — From the area of Fountainhead Park (Route 123, Fairfax County), park ranger Smokey Davis reports, “The past week was one of the best in recent memory. Good sized bass were caught every day by anglers fishing topwater baits early and then switching to Carolina-rigged plastics as the sun rose over the trees. Fish were eight to 10 feet deep in the openings of long, deep coves and inside points of major creeks, such as Hooes, Sandy Run and Three Fingers. Crappies and catfish were readily available, along with nice bluegills and yellow perch that were caught off the [Fountainhead] pier. The biggest bass of the week was a 6-pound, 2-ouncer, and several catfish ranging from eight to 12 pounds were also brought in.”

BURKE LAKE: 29 miles (…) — (Ox Road, Route 123, Fairfax County) Bass have played hard to get, but it can be done with scented plastics and by getting away from the noise of weekend crowds. Bluegills and some fine catfish are taken.

AREA 2: CENTRAL, WESTERN MD.

UPPER POTOMAC RIVER: 35-100 miles (…) — DNR biologist John Mullican says the upper river is in great shape. Smallmouth bass have been striking small, white buzzbaits, but they also will pick up a bottom-bounced chartreuse/pepper grub or tube. Many anglers in the Shepherdstown area of the river have waited until dark to wade for bass when white miller insect hatches can take place.

DEEP CREEK LAKE: 179 miles (…) — Guide Brent Nelson (301/596-5712, evenings) and steadfast pal Oatis Oakum of Allegany County search for smallmouth and largemouth bass early in the morning before the vacationers show up. The fishing can be good; the two use tubes, worms and small jerkbaits to score. Big bluegills please the youngsters who catch them on worm-and-bobber rigs in the coves.

SUSQUEHANNA RIVER: 65-100 miles (…) — Topwater lures, spinnerbaits and scented worms can be deadly on bass when they are fished around grassy edges from Port Deposit down to Havre de Grace and on toward the Susquehanna Flats. Perch and catfish round out the fishing, with occasional fine rockfish showing up on the Flats.

AREA 3: CHESAPEAKE BAY

MARYLAND: 45-75 miles (…) — Christy Henderson of Buzz’s Marina (301/872-5887, buzzsmarina.com) in St. Jerome’s Creek in St. Mary’s County says, “Breaking rockfish and blues are reported everywhere. Point No Point, buoys 72A to 70, back on the Middle Grounds, Mud Leads, Shell Leads, everywhere. Chummers brought back limits of rockfish in the 31-inch range. We saw bluefish in the 8- to 10-pound range. A boater trolling by the ledge at buoy 70 suddenly had all his lines go down at the same time. They were red drum [redfish] in the 40-inch range, the biggest being 48 inches. What’s up with that? Trolling for drum?” Christy also mentioned some red drum and jumbo croakers being taken on the Middle Grounds. Local angler Gary Masters was casting into breaking rockfish just outside the mouth of St. Jerome’s Creek, and whenever his lure managed to get down under the stripers, he would hook spike trout. Elsewhere on the Chesapeake, trollers and chummers do quite well on keeper stripers and some bluefish from the Patuxent River mouth north toward Deale and across to the eastern side of the ship channel toward Stone Rock or the mouth of the Choptank. The DNR’s Keith Lockwood says anglers are seeing some of the best striper fishing in the upper bay in many a year. From the lower Susquehanna across and south to the Chester River mouth and down toward Hackett’s Light, the fishing can be fine. The rock jetty and shallow water abutments of the Bay Bridge give up white perch.

VIRGINIA: 75-150 miles (…) — Northern Neck charter captain Billy Pipkin (captbillyscharters.com or 804/580-7292) says bluefish and some decent Spanish mackerel are seen. Rockfish are released daily. The mouth of the Rappahannock River shows croakers at night and bluefish during the day. In the lower bay, big flounder have been caught along the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel and in the area of the Cell. Large croaker also can be found near the Cell. Ken Neill says the cobia bite remains good. “They are being caught by chumming and more and more are being caught by anglers running the buoys. Sheepshead fishing continues to be productive along the bridge-tunnel.”

AREA 4: EASTERN SHORE MD.

CHOPTANK RIVER: 120 MILES (..) — (Route 50 east to Cambridge) In the mouth of the river, light tackle casters using spinners, spinnerbaits or small Rat-L-Traps find young rockfish and fat white perch. The perch are hooked clear up to Cambridge. Expect to see a few snapper bluefish in the mouth, along with spot. Upper river bass fishing has been slow.

POCOMOKE RIVER: 140-170 miles (..) — (From Snow Hill down to Shad Landing) Not many bassboaters are even trying in this heat. The reports we get are few and far between, but one fellow did well with 4-inch Yum worms along wood and spatterdock edges just below Snow Hill.

NANTICOKE RIVER: 120 miles (..) — (Sharptown ramp off Route 313) Hot weather has not been kind to bass fishermen. Few are trying. The main stem marsh banks give up a few fat early morning bass.

AREA 5: CENTRAL VIRGINIA

LAKE ANNA: 82 miles (…) — (Route 208, Spotsylvania County) Largemouth bass obviously don’t like really hot weather and water so start fishing deep — as deep as 30 feet, where some of the bass have gone. Oversized plastics covered with scent and fished with heavy slip sinkers in the mouths of creeks or around sharply declining lake points work now. Dark hours can be fine for suddenly erupting schools of stripers. Keep a rod with a Sassy Shad or Rat-L-Trap ready.

RAPPAHANNOCK RIVER: 47-100 miles (..) — (Fredericksburg to Leedstown) The bass fishing has been poor, but catfish are coming on. This is especially true of big blue catfish that attain weights of 50 and 60 pounds in this tidal river. Bottom rigs with cut fish slabs are best. Upstream, above the tidal line in Fredericksburg, fish for smallmouth bass clear up to Remington (a long stretch of water). But if tremendous thunderstorms occur this weekend, they can quickly mess up the water.

LAKE BRITTLE: 59 miles (..) — (Route 793, off Route 29) Some early hour bass are hooked on plastics or jerkbaits, but overall catches are down. Sunfish and catfish will eat baits.

LAKE GASTON: 179 miles (…) — (Route 46, Gasburg) Our friend Marty Magone reports, “Tell all the guys whining about the summer fishing on Gaston to crank up their motors and run uplake. The water temperature above the I-85 bridge is a refreshing 70 degrees. Pick any of the multitude of grass beds near the river channel, wait for a little breeze and cast any chugger-type bait on top of the submerged vegetation. In the middle of the day under a blazing sun we scored on 10 bass that totaled 30 pounds. By the way, bonus stripers in the 10- to 12-pound range along the grass beds are a daily occurrence. If you fish on the weekends you will find much less jet ski traffic in this area.”

KERR RESERVOIR: 185 miles (…) — (Route 58, Clarksville) Stripers and blue catfish provide the bulk of the fishing excitement. Bass anglers must start early and fish a quick series of topwater lures near stickups and such, then switch to soft plastics and fish deep around points and creek mouths.

JAMES RIVER: 115 miles (..) — (Tidal Richmond area and downstream) Blue catfish and flathead catfish up to 40 pounds are taking bottom baits from just below Richmond clear down to the Appomattox River mouth.

AREA 6: WESTERN VIRGINIA

SHENANDOAH RIVER: 75-85 miles (…) — The Route 340, Front Royal, Luray and Bentonville areas show quite a few small bass. Charles Stanley reports from his float trip: “I put in at the low water bridge at Bentonville and floated down to Karo Landing. I do not want to brag, but the smallmouth bass numbers were high. I went through an entire pack of Gene Larew plastic crayfish in green melon pepper, rigged Texas-style and also caught several on Harry Murray’s Brown Lead Eye Hellgrammite in the faster water. None of the fish was over 10 inches, but they were aggressive. Maybe this is an indication that Mother Nature is slowly bringing our river back to what it used to be.”

SMITH MOUNTAIN LAKE: 210 miles (..) — (Route 122, east of Roanoke) Jig metal squids or soft fluke lures on heavy heads in deep water below Hales Ford Bridge and you could end up with a trophy striped bass. Bass fishing has been super slow.

UPPER JAMES RIVER: 130 miles (..) — (Route 6, south of Charlottesville, Scottsville) If the rains stay away or at least don’t come down too strong, there will be many smallmouth bass caught on spinners, tubes, jigs, topwater lures, flyrod streamers and poppers. Catfish and sunfish are plentiful.

AREA 7: ATLANTIC OCEAN

MARYLAND: 153-175 miles (…) — (Route 50 to Ocean City) Flounder fishing is productive, but finding a keeper is tough for some. Still, angler Ed Dorsch had no trouble during his vacation. He and friends caught many flounder, including keepers in the 16- to 24-inch range, as well as fat croakers. The Route 50 bridge area and Ocean City Inlet show striped bass that will take a smartly hopped Sassy Shad. Surf anglers catch kingfish, croakers and snapper blues, while offshore boaters connect on bluefish at the Jackspot and bluefin tunas from Massey’s Canyon on southward. Yellowfins are at the Hot Dog and Poorman’s Canyon. Washington Canyon has seen some white marlin and dolphinfish rise to the baits. Offshore wrecks are good for seabass.

VIRGINIA: 210 miles to Virginia Beach (…) — Ken Neill of the Peninsula Salt Water Sport Fisherman’s Association reports tuna fishing remains strong, with yellowfins and bluefins being caught mostly by trolling, but bait chunking also has been successful. “A pretty good white marlin bite has developed also,” Neill said. “A hot area for both tuna and billfish has been the 30 fathom area east of the Fingers. Amberjacks can be found over numerous wrecks, with the South Towers being the most predictable locations.” Near-shore anglers also find some nice king mackerel that chase schools of menhaden along the Virginia Beach ocean front, particularly around Sandbridge. Spanish mackerel also are plentiful close to shore and at Cape Henry at the entrance of the Chesapeake. For charter boats, call Virginia Beach Fishing Center (757/422-5700).

Gene Mueller can be reached at gmueller@washingtontimes.com.

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