- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Among the smallmouth bass rivers within a reasonable driving distance of the District, Virginia’s upper James, the Potomac in western Maryland and Pennsylvania’s Susquehanna generally receive the bulk of local anglers’ attention. However, after the most recent studies by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, good news comes from the historic Rappahannock River upstream of Fredericksburg as well as the tidal portions of the river below that city.

Thorough checks with electroshock equipment showed good results that, as fisheries biologist John Odenkirk said, continue to suggest a bright future for smallmouth and largemouth bass angling.

Odenkirk reports that although the overall smallmouth population appears to have declined somewhat from recent years - largely because of a poor catch of juveniles - the sizes of fish increased greatly in 2008 after four average to excellent year classes between 2004 and 2007.

Odenkirk said that the uninterrupted four-year growth of the smallies is the strongest consecutive year class grouping ever documented in the Rappahannock.

“It was first noted last year, and the fish have carried through into another season as hoped,” he said, recommending that the best time to fish for bigger smallmouths on the Rappahannock and its Rapidan River tributary is right now.

“Near-perfect environmental conditions [primarily rainfall during the month of June] occurred during these years and allowed for strong recruitment,” Odenkirk said. “Also, fish growth has been accelerated. In the first evaluation of smallmouth bass growth since [the] Embrey Dam was removed, it was found that bass were growing much faster than before.”

Odenkirk said proof is offered by 4-year-old bass that on average measured some 3 inches longer in 2008 than fish of the same age measured in 2001.

In the tidal Rappahannock River, the fishing for largemouth bass between Fredericksburg and Port Royal also is steadily improving, the fisheries specialists said. Odenkirk pointed out that during electroshock studies this year, a record 27 bass per hour of electro-fishing occurred.

“The population has been consistently increasing since [our] study began in 2003,” he said.

Happily, the juvenile catch rates were very stable for the period from 2004 to 2008, which suggests consistent recruitment after the river suffered from poor spawning successes prior to 2004. Odenkirk said that the catch of juvenile fish in 2008 also was at a record level.

What isn’t known is why there is continued poor fishing and poor recruitment of new bass in what used to be superb river sectors downstream of Port Royal, clear down past Leedstown and even into the tidal marsh feeder creeks above Tappahannock, Va. That area has not delivered productive bass outings for a number of years now.

If you have particular questions, Odenkirk’s Fisheries Division can be reached at 540/899-4169.

Don’t break rockfish laws-It’s true, the Maryland Natural Resources Police are short-handed and could use some help from the budget-cutting governor, but we should never believe that lawbreakers can now have their way because the police are stretched a little thin.

At 11 a.m. Dec. 17 inside Solomons Harbor, the Natural Resources cops nabbed six individuals aboard the vessel Stoney’s Kingfisher and charged them with exceeding the daily recreational catch limit for stripers as they found 20 rockfish, some of which had already been filleted. Five Lusby residents and a Greenbelt man were charged with violating daily catch limits and failure to bring whole fish to the dockside. Stripers cannot be filleted aboard an undocked vessel. A court date of Feb. 9 has been scheduled in Calvert County District Court.

cLook for Gene Mueller’s Outdoors column Sunday and Wednesday and his Fishing Report Thursday, only in The Washington Times. E-mail: gmueller@washingtontimes.com. Mueller’s Inside Outside blog can be found at www.washingtontimes.com/sports.