- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 17, 2006

MARSHALL HALL, Md.

Could this be the most wonderful time of the year? I’m not referring to Christmas and the fact that there will be a new electric toy train or model airplane with a real motor under our tree just for me, which I’ll actually enjoy even at my age.

What I’m talking about is, for the next three months I’ll be able to join a small number of fellow blue-nose anglers and go fishing without facing crowds, hundreds of other boats, or — heaven forbid! — being stuck on the Potomac River in the middle of yet another mega bass fishing tournament with some fellow from Mississippi or Georgia telling me I’m fishing “his water.” (Of course, he means he’s scouted the stretch we’re casting our lures in and now wants it all to himself. But that’s not going to happen.)

One day last week, with barely visible patches of sheet ice covering the public boat launch at Marshall Hall, my friend Andy Andrzejewski, who earns his keep as a Potomac River guide, turned the key to an outboard motor, pulled the gearshift handle into reverse and powered the boat away from its partially submerged trailer.

There wasn’t another soul visible in the lot or on the water. Try that in July or August and you’ll be waiting in line when a couple dozen like-minded individuals attempt to get away from the boat ramp ahead of you.

Just for the run upriver, Andrzejewski and I put on knitted caps, slipped warm gloves over chilled fingers and zipped up super-warm bomber-style jackets that also double as life preservers. They’re wonderfully effective as cold weather barriers and flotation devices. As we reached our various destinations, we’d don regular caps and sometimes even remove our heavy jackets.

The guide ran the boat to the Virginia side of the Potomac and stopped within casting range of Mount Vernon’s in-water cupola. George Washington’s home, looking splendid in a thin layer of fog, was not yet open to the public.

Andrzejewski and I readied casting outfits that held at least 14-pound-test line to be used with 2-inch-long Mann’s Sting Ray grubs. We generously dabbed them with a creamy, garlicky substance made by Smelly Jelly and then prepared two fairly light spinning rods that would hold 1/32-ounce or 1/16-ounce white or chartreuse shad darts. About three feet above the tiny lures, we attached a thumb tip-sized bobber. Two other rods were rigged with 1/16-ounce curly-tailed, chartreuse or white plastic grubs.

Alternately using the Sting Rays and the shad darts, the guide immediately caught yellow perch and several undersized striped bass. I had a smallmouth bass — not the usual fare in tidal water — try to rip a Sting Ray from its exposed jig hook and latch onto a medium-sized yellow perch.

When the fog lifted, we left Mount Vernon and ran upstream to briefly fish in Swan Creek, then headed for the Spoils Cove upstream of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge.

Either the avocado color grubs, the bright shad darts or the curly-tailed grubs did the job on crappies in Swan Creek’s many submerged tree branches and old dock pilings and among the Spoils’ myriad sunken logs, stone piles and ditches. It was there we saw our first fellow fisherman, a shoreline angler who apparently used live minnows under his quill-style float. He, too, latched onto crappies and some perch.

To our delight, action also was provided by several largemouth bass that wouldn’t leave the Sting Rays alone. Our enjoyable day was interrupted only by the noise of airplanes landing and departing at Reagan National Airport, not by bass fishing contestants who might want to tell us we were fishing in “their” water.

Look for Gene Mueller’s Outdoors column Sunday, Wednesday and Thursday, only in The Washington Times. E-mail:gmueller@washingtontimes.com.

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