- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 19, 2006

Whether you hunt smallmouth bass in the Shenandoah River or look for largemouths in Virginia’s Lake Anna and Maryland’s tidal Potomac River, the month of January has been a winner. The fish haven’t been bashful about looking at a smartly presented lure, and if you don’t mind early morning chills, there’s action to be had.

Things are not always that good during the first month of the year. In fact, some are real stinkers, with ice and extreme cold weather making our lives miserable.

Front Royal’s Dick Fox, who caught his first smallmouth bass in the Shenandoah two weeks ago, followed it over the weekend with at least 30 more. Some were decent-sized fish by smallmouth standards, meaning they might have weighed two pounds. Fox likes dropshot rigs with little scented finesse worms or live minnows.

Lake Anna, west of Fredericksburg, and Lake Gaston in south-central Virginia have turned up fair to good largemouth bass numbers. The stripers at Anna have been active, too.

In the main stem of the Potomac, recent winds have made life miserable, but things are getting back to normal as bass, crappies and channel catfish will look at a plastic grub or live bait minnow from the Blue Plains Waste Treatment Plant down to Fox Ferry Point, the Spoils Cove and the protected waters over at the Belle Haven Marina Cove and adjacent waters.

The Patuxent River and a number of tidal Potomac tributaries give up fat yellow perch, but the spawning run is not yet under way. These could be resident fish, although it’s time for some migrating perch to begin showing up to stage in deep creek bends and holes, waiting for that magic 48- to 49-degree water temperature when the urge to spawn becomes irresistible.

Good news for Rappahannock fans — State fisheries biologist John Odenkirk says the smallmouth bass fishing outlook for the upper Rappahannock River is bright.

“Fish should be getting more abundant and larger. Near perfect environmental conditions [primarily rainfall during the month of June] occurred in 2004 and 2005, which resulted in record production [of juvenile bass] in 2004 and near record production in 2005,” he reports.

“History has shown that strong year classes are persistent through time and provide good angling for years. The electrofishing catch rate of [one-year-old] smallmouth bass during fall 2005 samples was predictably high after record catch rates of juveniles last year. These fish should be very noticeable this spring and summer.”

Odenkirk says average bass spawns through the late 1990s and early 2000s resulted in only modest numbers and size structure during the past few years and the near spawning failure of 2003 partially will be felt this year. After electrofishing surveys were completed, the sizes of the fish either were average or slightly above average, indicating a slight shift toward larger individuals in the bass population.

“Look for this trend to continue,” says Odenkirk, who feels increased forage above the river’s now demolished Embry Dam should result in increased bass growth and higher biomass at upstream sites.

Early trout in Southern Maryland — I don’t know who will be first, but starting today the DNR will begin to stock Southern Maryland impoundments with hatchery-reared trout. Lake Waterford, Myrtle Grove Ponds and Cosca Lake all will get 750; Greenbelt Lake, Lake Artemisia, Melwood, Tucker and Hutchins ponds will get 500 each; and Hughesville Pond will receive 250.

Free downloads of navigation charts — Mariners now can get free electronic downloads of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s raster navigational charts. A raster chart is a digitally scanned image of a paper nautical chart used by boaters for navigation.

NOAA will produce official raster charts and deliver weekly updates with Notice to Mariners — notices containing changes in local navigational information. NOAA will distribute the free raster charts and updates the same way it distributes NOAA electronic navigational charts at nauticalcharts.noaa.gov/staff/charts.htm.

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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