- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 7, 2008

The summer heat has not put a serious crimp into the catches of largemouth bass in certain tidal rivers that feed the Chesapeake Bay. The leader of the pack, as always, is the Potomac River between Washington and western Charles County, Md., where early mornings coupled to receding tides can deliver the goods for casters of topwater poppers, buzzbaits, weed-crazling “frogs” and such. To a lesser extent, but occasionally worth a try, the tidal Rappahannock upstream of Port Royal, Va., can give up some decent catches, as can the Susquehanna and upper Choptank in Maryland.

If it’s smallmouth bass you prefer, slip on a pair of wading shoes and a life vest with pockets that can hold your lures, even a sandwich. Why a life vest? Should you wade along in what you believe is shallow water, there’ll be the occasional surprise when you step into a deep hole. The vest let’s you float about until you once again get firm footing. Currently, all the mountain rivers are very low, but enough smallmouth bass are caught to make an outing to the upper Potomac, Shenandoah, Rappahannock or Susquehanna worthwhile.

In the Chesapeake Bay, expect good catches of bluefish and Spanish mackerel if you troll along with a lightly weighted, short chrome or silver spoon. Rockfish also show up on the trolled lines now and then, and in the southern parts of the Maryland parts of the Bay, some night fishermen looking for croakers over the Middle Grounds, now occasionally get hooked up with fighting redfish.

Before we get to this week’s fishing outlook, a note: Be sure to check out my new blog on all things outdoors, “Inside Outside,” on washingtontimes.com/sports.

(Ratings key: ★★★★=excellent fishing; ★★★=Good; ★★=Fair; ★=Poor.)

AREA 1: D.C. AND VICINITY

POTOMAC RIVER: 0-35 miles (★★★) — John at Fletcher’s Cove (Georgetown, off Canal Road; call 202/244-0461) said there are still a few stripers in that part of the river in addition to plenty of catfish and a chunky bass now and then. Bass and sunfish on occasion are hooked in the adjacent C&O Canal. The water is in perfect condition for fishing. In town and below the District, the bass fishing points mostly to casting topwater lures or soft scented plastics to weed beds, underwater rock formations, rip-rap, docks and creeks that offer marsh edges where bass often lurk. The fishing can be good in the mornings if a tide is receding, and of course pretty good all day when it’s overcast. In the saltier parts of the river, the best fishing is well below the Route 301 bridge, say from St. Clements down to St. George’s Island as slow-trolled bucktails and spoons attract a fair number of bluefish and stripers. Cornfield Harbor, near Point Lookout, has been good for a mixed bag of flounder and sea trout. Mid-river trollers around the wide mouth of the river score with roving bands of bluefish, but also some rockfish and Spanish mackerel.

WICOMICO RIVER: 55 miles (★★) — Several of our steady fishing reporters said the fishing hasn’t been the best. “We couldn’t find any croakers and we also tried for rockfish, but they didn’t care to bite, either,” said Bob Greer, who lives in McConchie, near La Plata. Others echo his report. One fellow fished all day near Quade’s Store (301/769-3903) in Bushwood and never had a croaker, which is what he was looking for, but white perch and some Norfolk spot were willing.

MATTAWOMAN CREEK: 40 miles (★★★) — Weekdays have been good to bass hunters who cast grass “rats” and frogs across dense weed carpets. The bass sometimes rise and slam into the rubbery, hopping fakes. Senko or Zero worms, rigged wacky style, attract bass in marsh bank areas of the creek even after sunup.

SOUTHERN MARYLAND LAKES: 40-50 miles (★★) — Gilbert Run Park’s Wheatley Lake (Route 6, east of La Plata) had a bit of a fish kill, apparently caused by an oxygen-robbing algae bloom. Most of the dead fish were little shad and bluegills. Word has it that a near 9-pound largemouth bass was hooked here recently. St. Mary’s Lake (south on Route 5, past Leonardtown, to Camp Cosoma Road) shows decent bass fishing, lots of bluegills, and scattered chain pickerel.

LITTLE SENECA LAKE: 30 miles (★★★) — Black Hill Regional Park (off Route 117 near Boyds, 301/972-9396) and the nearby Seneca Creek Lake (Clopper Road, Gaithersburg, 301/924-2127) delivers lots of sunfish for flyrodders and some fair chances for bass if you use scented plastics. Catfish are almost guaranteed if you stick a clam neck or piece of liver on the hook.

WSSC RESERVOIRS: 20-30 miles (★★★) — (Triadelphia, off Route 97, or Route 650, in Montgomery County; Rocky Gorge, off Route 29 in Montgomery County) Bass can be found alongside fallen tree trunks and rock formations. Jigs, grubs and plastic worms are best, but an early morning jerkbait, such as a broken-back Rapala, can be deadly. Flyrodders score nicely on bluegills.

PATUXENT RIVER: 25-60 miles (★★★) — Reader Andy Croley said, “I went fishing Monday night, caught my limit of bluefish before dark. The spot were running great. As soon as you cast out, they would bite. I spent more time rebaiting the hook than fishing. One nice bluefish even grabbed the old bait as I was reeling in to put on fresh bait. The blues I kept measured 14 to 16 inches; released another 10 to 15.” At the river mouth you’ll find rockfish at dawn around the old Cedar Point lighthouse footers, White perch are in all the creeks. Croakers are hanging out in deep holes.

OCCOQUAN RESERVOIR: 25-30 miles (★★★) — From Fountainhead Park (Route 123, Fairfax County) ranger Smokey Davis said, “The big news this past week was the strong catfish bite. Channel ‘cats’ up to 8 pounds were brought in. Clam snouts and chicken livers were the best baits. Bass are suspended and are tougher to catch. Early morning or late evening topwater lures work well but finding fish in the middle of the day is a challenge. The crappie bite remains very good and flyrodders clean up on bluegill. The reservoir remains at full pool, slightly stained with surface temperatures in the mid-80s.”

BURKE LAKE: 29 miles (★★) — (Ox Road, Route 123, Fairfax County) In answer to several readers who’ve asked whatever happened to the court case involving a non-fisherman who parked in the fishing access parking lot (which is a posted no-no) and the judge decided to hand out a small fine. End of story. The fishing, meanwhile, points mostly to catfish, but a few keeper bass are possible. Bluegills are in good supply.

AREA 2: CENTRAL, WESTERN MARYLAND

UPPER POTOMAC RIVER: 35-100 miles (★★★) — Only severe thunder showers can ruin a wet-wading outing up around Knoxville and also downstream in various locations, including Lander, Point of Rocks and Dickerson. Smallmouth bass will look at slender fringed tubes on -ounce jig hooks, which won’t hang up as easy. However, if a jig gets stuck between some rocks, try opening the reel and allow some line to flow with the current. Such basic river hydraulics often free a lure. Spinners also do well.

DEEP CREEK LAKE: 179 miles (★★★) — Lake guide Brent Nelson (240/460-8839) says he’s finding bass action using jerkbaits around the edges of grass beds and in some of the open pockets of the weed carpets. The proven “skip-the-tube-under-a-dock” method continues top work well on largemouths.

SUSQUEHANNA RIVER: 65-100 miles (★★★) — Slightly improved bass chances in the Havre de Grace area’s grassy edges and the fallen wood seen along main-stem shorelines that are only a stone’s throw from the Tydings Park Marina. Low water flow from Conowingo Dam isn’t helping local anglers.

AREA 3: CHESAPEAKE BAY

MARYLAND: 45-75 miles (★★★) — Christy Henderson of Buzz’s Marina (buzzsmarina.com) on St. Jerome’s Creek in St. Mary’s County, reports, “The rockfish are scattered but anglers are picking up a few on live-lined spot in our creeks mouth. They are also getting them on the artificial reef at Point Lookout. The flounder fishing has really picked up in the usual spots, such as Cornfield Harbor in the lower Potomacc. You have to weed through the smaller ones but the big ones are there as well. There are still big croakers available behind Buoy 72 and the Middle Grounds, especially at night. We had one customer who caught several big red drum (aka redfish or channel bass) Tuesday night along with bluefish, croaker and flounder as he was chumming and bottom fishing.” Christy says the bluefish are everywhere. The mackerel are here and trolling with planers and [small] Clarke spoons the way to go.” A mixed bag of stripers in the 18- to 24-inch class, along with youthful bluefish and a smattering of Spanish mackere can make for good trolling from the Calvert Cliffs area and Hooper’s Island Light north toward a broad area covering the Bay from Thomas Point Light over to Bloody Point and beyond the bridges toward Hacketts Bar and up toward the Love Point area. The waters around the Bay Bridges, near the rock jetty, give up perch and some spot, but not many croakers,

VIRGINIA: 75-150 miles (★★★) — Northern Neck charter fishing captain Billy Pipkin (captbilly@captbillyscharters.com) said flounder fishing remains a highlight in the Buoy 42 area. Drifting over the hard rocky bottom will produce the most action. A steady drift is essential to a proper presentation. Trolling offers good chances for success in all the lower rivers and the Bay. “Schools of surface-feeding bluefish mixed with a heavy concentration of Spansih mackerel have been located right out my back door in Ingram Bay. Other locations yielding good [catches are near] Buoy 62, on the flats below Tangier Island just south of the Davidson wreck , Smith Point bar, the mouth of the Rappahannock River near Windmill Point and at the GW 1 off the Great Wicomico River.” Freom the lowest parts of the Bay, Julie Ball (www.drjball.com) reports that spadefish are schooling around the span of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, the Cell, and Plantation Light. Big croakers are around Plantation Light. “Hardheads up to 21 inches were caught on clam baits while targeting spadefish this week,” she said and added that bigger croakers are also coming from Oyster, from between the “fish light buoy” and the “chimney” in about 30 feet of water. Speckled trout are making a good showing in lower bay backwaters, with some big fish also coming from the seaside shallows of Fishermans Island this week. “Chris Beck of Cape Charles landed a nice 6-pound, 2-ounce speck while casting a Mirrorlure in this area,” Ball said.

AREA 4: EASTERN SHORE/MARYLAND

CHOPTANK RIVER: 120 miles (★★★) — (Route 50 east to Cambridge) The mouth of the river doesn’t deliver the croakers as it did for a while, but some are caught. Perch and spot are available a good ways up into the river. For bass fans, the fishing has been better over the past week around Martinak, Denton and Greensboro.

POCOMOKE RIVER: 140-170 miles (★★★) — (From Snow Hill down to Shad Landing) Bass chances have greatly improved for some reason, but who’s complaining? Plastic worms, small crankbaits and jerkbaits do the job up and down from Snow Hill to Pocomoke City.

NANTICOKE RIVER: 120 miles (★★★) — (Sharptown ramp off Route 313, or use the Marshyhope Creek ramp outside Federalsburg) Bass catches along the marsh banks has shown some improvement from Sharptown to Seaford, Del. Marshyhope Creek bass have taken a liking to wacky-rigged Senko and Zero worms.

AREA 5: CENTRAL VIRGINIA

LAKE ANNA: 82 miles (★★★) — (Route 208, Spotsylvania County) The earliest hours are needed for stripers. If you happen to be above the Splits when a feeding school of rockfish surfaces, chasing bait, you’ll have a great time with jerkbaits, surface poppers and Rat-L-Traps. Jusat be sure not to run through the school. Thatsll chase them down to the bottom for sure. Bass catches are up and down, but deep-water coves and bruish piles or boat house legs can turn up some fine largemouths.

RAPPAHANNOCK RIVER: 47-100 miles (★★★) — Smallmouth bass can be caught on spinners and tubes from below Remington to the Rapidan, but the water is very low. Wading is recommended. In tidal water, bass fishing has imporved between Port Royal up to and above Hicks Landing. Finesse worms are still the best choice.

LAKE BRITTLE: 59 miles (★★) — (Route 793, off Route 29) Bass fishing hasn’t shown much improvement, but sunfish and catfish are in good supply.

LAKE ORANGE: 75 miles (★★★) — (Concessionaire: 540/672-3997; look for left turn sign on Route 20 before entering town of Orange) Bass, catfish, sunfish and a few crappies make this a good place to spend some quality fishing time. Your best bet most likely are the catfish.

LAKE GASTON: 179 miles (★★★) — (Route 46, Gasburg) Lake resident Marty Magone said, “Main-lake points between Stonehouse Creek and Eaton’s Ferry Bridge have been producing school-size bass over the past two weeks. Most anglers here are casting jigs into the 12- to 20-foot drops in the early hours. Upriver, the flats still hold schools of shad in the grass, making for some exciting topwater action for bass and small stripers.”

KERR RESERVOIR: 185 miles (★★★) — (Route 58, Clarksville) Catfish are a given, but even the bass fishing is holding up its end. Sunken brush and wood of any kind holds largemouths, as do stump fields and creek points at their entrances. Jewrkbaits, wacky-rigged worms and standard Texas-rigged plastics will deliver the goods.

JAMES RIVER: 115 miles (★★★) — (Tidal Richmond area and downstream) Cut baits fished on the bottom around Dutch Gap and near the mouth of the Appomattox River have been good for some large b lue catfish and even a couple of rockfish.

CHICKAHOMINY RIVER: 135 miles (★★★) — (Williamsburg area) Good bass fishing for some, but other boaters complain about a lack of action. Catfish of all sizes, however, are not bashful.

AREA 6: WESTERN VIRGINIA

SHENANDOAH RIVER: 75-85 miles (★★★) — (Route 340, Front Royal, Luray and Bentonville areas) Dick Fox, of Front Royal, said, “River is low but the fishing is good. Smallmouth and largemouth bass can be found in the same areas with plenty of bluegills mixed in. We use Senko-type baits, also topwater and inline spinners to catch our fish.”

SMITH MOUNTAIN LAKE: 210 miles (★★★) — (Route 122, east of Roanoke) Boat house and lake points have been good producers. Carolina-rigged plastic worms can do the job, as can Texs-rigged plastcs. Early hours call for topwater chug baits.

UPPER JAMES RIVER: 130 miles (★★★) — (Route 6, south of Charlottesville, Scottsville) Topwater propeller-style lures can produce smallmouth bass catches in low water. Pick your spots around deeper layers where boulders provide sanctuary for the bass.

AREA 7: ATLANTIC OCEAN

MARYLAND: 153-175 miles (★★★) — (Route 50 to Ocean City) The DNR’s Keith Lockwood says flounder fishermen find plenty of action in the back bays of Ocean City and Assateague Island, but many are too small to keep. In the Ocean City Inlet, expect small tautogs, sea bass, bluefish and a few sheepshead during day hours, but the fishing improves as night comes when bigger rockfish and blues invade the inlet. The surf is best fished before the sun bakes the sand, but either way, it’s mostly small kingfish, spot and maybe a snapper bluefish or sand shark. Offshore boats find a mixed assortment of blue and white marlin, sharks, dolphin (fish), king mackerel and bluefish.

VIRGINIA: 210 miles to Virginia Beach (★★★) — Virginia Beach’s Julie Ball (drjball.com) said, “Amberjacks are a no-brainer at the South Tower, where anglers are finding good numbers of big fish. A few big Barracuda are also coming from the same area. “The Virginia Beach Fishing Center reports that billfish are back on track this week, with multiple white marlin release citations coming from the fleet. The best marlin bite is raging around the 450-line lately. Bull dolphin are plentiful around Norfolk Canyon, while a few big wahoo are making things interesting. Rumors of yellowfin tuna are floating around. A few boats spotted several schools,” she said. For charters, call the Virginia Beach Fishing Center, 757/491-8000.

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