Where does a professional bass fishing guide go when 400 tournament anglers beat his work place — the Potomac River — to a froth? In the case of La Plata's Andy Andrzejewski, it's a no-brainer; he hitches his 22-foot bass boat to the pickup truck and heads south on Route 301 until he reaches the tidal Rappahannock River.
"Would you look at that," said the Fishing Pole as he crossed the Port Royal bridge. "Not a boat in sight. We'll have some peace and quiet here."
Ah, the Rappahannock. Visions appear of George Washington throwing a coin across it because if our first president ever threw anything across a river, chances are it was the Rappahannock, not the Potomac as so many believe.
The roads we drove on passed through some of the most historic acreage in all of America. We were in Northern Neck country, where Mr. Washington spent his early years. There also was the famous Lee family — Harry Lighthorse Lee, Robert E. Lee, and Francis Lightfoot Lee, a signer of the Declaration of Independence. It was home to presidents James Madison and James Monroe. And on top of all that, you can catch bass in a place that should be called Historyland.
In Port Royal, we turned right onto Route 17, followed it for a mile or two to a country store and a little road sign that said Hicks Landing Road. We paid the $7 launch fee at the store's honor box and drove down to the river, where we slipped the boat into the water. Only one other vehicle sat in the little parking lot.
Moments later, we began the hunt for bass among myriad sunken tree branches, cuts, feeder creek mouths, rotting dock wood and green spatterdock patches.
"The tide's not on our side this morning," Andrzejewski said, pointing to extremely high water levels caused by a coastal storm surge. "We'll hang around long enough until it begins to drop."
As every tidal water angler knows, high flooding waters can sound the death knell for bass hounds. But when the water recedes, the fishing takes on an entirely new perspective.
So it happened when the Potomac River guide flipped a soft plastic worm toward old, rotting and waterlogged dock stumps — an ideal place to hunt for largemouth bass. I watched him lean forward, quickly take up slack line and then set the hook to a feisty river bass that was fooled by the slithery, fragrant "food."
"Now we're talking," Andrzejewski said. "The funny thing about this river is that far too many fishermen don't think [the Rappahannock is] worth their time."
There have been years when droughts or flooding caused entire year classes of bass to be decimated because the fish couldn't properly finish or even begin their spawning chores. However, that can happen anywhere, not just in the Rappahannock. Just ask the Virginia Department of Game & Inland Fisheries' John Odenkirk, a biologist who cares a great deal about bass reproduction and bass fishing conditions in general. Recent exhaustive studies by Odenkirk and his colleagues have shown the bass population in the Rappahannock to be far better than was previously believed.
Andrzejewski proved as much as he scouted formerly productive spots upstream of Hicks Landing and found a fair number of bass.
Front Royal, Va., angler Dick Fox, who normally fishes in the Shenandoah River, agrees with Odenkirk and Andrzejewski.
"I love the Rappahannock," he said when the two of us got into a mess of largemouths not long ago. "Where else can you find a tidal bass river that's less crowded than the Rap?"
We'd better watch it, though. Accounts such as this could increase the fishing travel here. Only one thing will prevent it and that is the fact that the tidal Rappahannock is one of the poorest marked rivers in the country. Distances between red and green river markers are few and far between. A novice boater faces miles of harrowing, shallow waters that abut a sometimes narrow, winding river channel.
c Look for Gene Mueller's Outdoors column Sunday and Wednesday, and his Fishing Report on Thursday, only in The Washington Times. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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