- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 27, 2007

A steady string of tidal water bass catches over the past several weeks taught me once again to ignore much of what I’ve learned about their blood brothers and sisters, the bass that live in freshwater lakes and rivers and do not see a steady change of water depths every six hours or so.

The one similarity between largemouth bass in either type of water is their appearance, but even that is not always so. Tidal bass occasionally show skin discolorations in the form of large black spots around the head, tail or spine. Freshwater largemouths only have the same big mouth and of course similar dark-green skin with black vertical body bars that help to identify the species.

Recently, when my friend David Garner joined me for an outing on what is one of the best tidal bass rivers in the U.S., the Potomac, it didn’t matter that we started shortly after daybreak. It might be important in freshwater lakes and ponds during hot, sunny days, but on a tidal river we pay more attention to the flood or ebb tide’s stages than anything else. If it begins to recede as the boat is launched at sunup, it will be welcomed. Most river bass hunters prefer a steadily declining tide; the more it ebbs, the better they like it.

David and I slipped on our life vests and soon headed away from the Smallwood State Park launch ramps in Mattawoman Creek, rounded Stump Neck, and aimed for a tidal feeder creek that in its mouth is widely covered by dense milfoil beds, but eventually opens into a bit of an open-water channel with marsh banks and aquatic grasses to one side and a tree-lined shore on the other.

We didn’t catch a thing during two initial -mile-long, non-stop casting and lure retrieving runs of the channel area. Our choice of “baits” were 4-inch-long, scented plastic worms in black or green pumpkin color, or a shallow-lipped lure known as a Baby 1-Minus. After our experience, some newcomers to tidal water bass fishing would have given up and moved to another area, but we knew better.

Over many years of doing this we learned that whenever the creek ebbed strongly and continually lowered the water levels, it would trigger a feeding urge in its bass population. Why? As the creek drops, it leaves erstwhile water-filled shore pockets high and dry. Any minnow, shiner, crawfish or young sunfish that stays in such places must now decide to leave or risk being stranded.

The bass, which hang out in nearby deeper water, know it. Their sight, sound and olfactory senses are keenly aware of such potential feeding spots. David discovered it as a soft rain began to fall, but the tide continued to drop. He cast a chrome/blue shallow-running crankbait into roughly one foot of water at the edge of a stretch of arrow arum weeds. “Bang!” A bass snatched up the lure.

It was a fat female that had not yet laid her eggs. He quickly followed that with yet another largemouth, a male that looked skinny compared to the female.

The water receded ever more. David soon had a Maryland limit of five largemouths, all of which were released. I followed suit and hooked a spawned-out female on a baitfish-imitating lure, then a second and third one on a plastic worm that reeked of garlic.

The ebbing tide scenario continued to work wonderfully well for us.

During a subsequent outing with long-time friend Bob Rice, the wind blew so hard that local marinas flew small-craft warning flags. But Bob and I had a desired ebb tide and we could stay inside the reasonably sheltered Mattawoman Creek, choosing a massive weed-filled cove, flipping Berkley Beast plastics into open pockets here and there, or retrieving the same shallow crankbaits that David scored with wherever we spotted an open “alley” among the grass beds.

Bob easily outfished me that day. He caught more bass than I did, but along the way it proved that receding tides give the bass a real appetite.

Look for Gene Mueller’s Outdoors column Sunday and Wednesday, and his Fishing Report on Thursday, only in The Washington Times. E-mail: gmuellerwashingtontimes.com.

Gene Mueller/The Washington Times

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