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Weekend fishing report

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If the high cost of gasoline forces you to stay close to home, be thankful that at least you have some of the finest largemouth bass fishing in the country as close-by as the tidal Potomac River. The late spring is turning up excellent numbers of the fish. They're caught from downtown Washington south to Charles County's feeder creeks on a variety of lures, from topwater poppers to deepwater plastic worms.

In the lower tidal rivers that feed the Chesapeake Bay, don't overlook the Patuxent and Potomac, where increasing numbers of Atlantic croakers are making their presence felt.

Shrimp, squid, bloodworm or artificial FishBites pieces on weighted bottom rigs do the job from the Potomac's Swan Point to the mouth of the Wicomico and inside to Bushwood, then downstream again in the main stem to Piney Point, St. George's Island and south to Point Lookout.

Trollers and lure slingers out in the Bay connect on a mix of striped bass and bluefish from Virginia's Rappahannock River mouth north into Maryland, from the Point Lookout Pier area to the Middlegrounds, Buoy 72, Hooper's Island Light, Gooses, Calvert Cliffs stretches and up to the Bay Bridge and beyond.

From the Virginia Beach area, Ken Neill reports that along with the weather, the fishing is hot. “Everything is here now,” he said. “Billfish have joined into the offshore mix off the Virginia coast. In fact, offshore action is good from Morehead City, N.C., to Ocean City, Md., and we are right in the middle of it. Tuna, dolphin, wahoo, marlin and sailfish are all being caught offshore.”

Here's this week's outlook:

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

AREA 1: D.C. AND VICINITY

POTOMAC RIVER: 0-35 miles (***) — At Fletcher's Cove (Georgetown, off Canal Road; call 202/244-0461), the blue catfish continue to bite cut baits on the bottom. Many anglers find a couple of keeper rockfish now and then and one man caught a large walleye a few days ago. The river is fishable even after Tuesday night's rains. In the tidal creeks below the District, largemouth bass are taking topwater poppers, Baby 1-Minus crankbaits and soft plastics of every type from near the Wilson Bridge down to Mallows Bay and across the river to the Aquia Creek.

WICOMICO RIVER:55 miles (***) — The Bushwood area up to Chaptico Wharf is beginning to turn up better numbers of croakers now. The trick is to find a good high tide and some movement in the water. Crabbers are complaining. Trotliner Mike Roselle said he ran a baited 1,000-foot line a few days ago and came home with 18 — 18 crabs, not 18 bushels — a poor outing, to put it mildly.

MATTAWOMAN CREEK: 40 miles (***) — Good early hour topwater fishing for bass (maybe even a snakehead) around massive weed carpets and spatterdock fields. The DNR has found snakeheads in the Marsh Island area. Soft plastics work well upstream toward Hancock Cove.

SOUTHERN MARYLAND LAKES: 40-50 miles (***) — Gilbert Run Park's Wheatley Lake (Route 6, east of La Plata) gives up sunfish, small bass, even some crappies. At St. Mary's Lake (south on Route 5, past Leonardtown, to Camp Cosoma Road) the bass fishing has been very good, as have crappie and bluegill outings.

LITTLE SENECA LAKE: 30 miles (***) — Black Hill Regional Park (off Route 117 near Boyds, 301/972-9396) and nearby Seneca Creek Lake (Clopper Road, Gaithersburg, 301/924-2127) show excellent sunfish fly-rod action, but also good bass and catfish opportunities for those who prefer conventional gear.

WSSC RESERVOIRS: 20-30 miles (***) — (Triadelphia, off Route 97, or Route 650, in Montgomery County; Rocky Gorge, off Route 29 in Montgomery County) A good pick in the early and late hours for crappies and bass. Sunken rocks, brush and trees hold the fish. Small live minnows under a bobber will catch both species, but bass purists prefer to use soft plastic worms.

PATUXENT RIVER: 25-60 miles (***) — Croakers have been hooked around Greenwell State Park, the Hawk's Nest and a number of other river areas, including portions of the Patuxent Naval Air Station side of the river, while flounder drifters look for the flatfish under the Route 2/4 Bridge in Solomons. The mouth of the river has been home to rockfish and snapper blues.

OCCOQUAN RESERVOIR: 25-30 miles (***) — From Fountainhead Park (Route 123, Fairfax County) ranger Smokey Davis said, “The father-son team of Roger and Tyler Sparks, of Woodbridge, won last weekend's Fountainhead Bass Club tournament with a 6-fish limit that weighed 19.7 pounds. They found post-spawn bass on Carolina-rigged soft plastics off points and in the mouths of deep coves. The biggest bass in the tournament weighed 5.1 pounds. The hot weather has improved the catfish bite with chicken livers or cut bait being the bait of choice.”

BURKE LAKE: 29 miles (***) — (Ox Road, Route 123, Fairfax County) Superb bluegill fly-rod popping since the sunnies are hard on their bedding sites. Bass hookups can be good, but what happened to the crappies? One fishing friend tried for them with minnows and hooked fewer than five.

AREA 2: CENTRAL, WESTERN MARYLAND

UPPER POTOMAC RIVER: 35-100 miles (***) — DNR biologist John Mullican says the upper river levels are coming down and the water temperatures are going up. However, fine chances of hooking smallmouth bass await you if you use fringed tubes, small crankbaits or even a small propellered topwater lure.

DEEP CREEK LAKE: 179 miles (***) — Lake guide Brent Nelson (240/460-8839) and the DNR's Keith Lockwood agree that skipping tubes under floating docks continues to be a great way to hook smallmouth bass. Largemouth bass and walleyes can be found around lake points, and both species will look at crankbaits and grubs.

SUSQUEHANNA RIVER: 65-100 miles (***) — The insides of the river deliver scattered bass around docks, pilings and rock formations, and plastics work well. The rockfish catches continue on the Susquehanna Flats. The grass is thick. Think of sliding soft plastic Zoom Flukes across the greenery.

AREA 3: CHESAPEAKE BAY

MARYLAND: 45-75 miles (***) — Christy Henderson of Buzz's Marina (www.buzzsmarina.com) on St. Jerome's Creek in St. Mary's County says the new Point No Point reef holds schools of small rockfish and blues. “The croaker fishing has really picked up though, especially at night,” she adds. One of her customers, George Hashman, ran out to the Target Ship at night a couple of days ago and he loaded up on big croakers and one 35-inch red drum. She also passed along word that bluefish can be found all over the place, but most are small. In the Bay, trollers — occasionally even topwater lure casters — score on skinny, medium size rockfish from the mouth of the Potomac up to the Patuxent and on to the Gooses, Herring Bay, Poplar Island, Eastern Bay and areas above the Bay Bridge. There's a chance you can find a black drum at Stone Rock and the Sharps Island Flats, but bites are sporadic. The DNR's Keith Lockwood says croakers have moved into the middle Bay region now with “some amount of certainty, but a number of fishermen are reporting that the bulk of them are relatively small only measuring in the 7-inch to 9-inch size category.” From Lexington Park's Tackle Box, Ken Lamb reported, “Charter captain Greg Buckner on the “Miss Susie” has begun night bottom fishing trips for croakers and has landed upwards of 150 big ones in one outing, fishing below buoy 72. Capt. Sonny Forest on the “Fin Finder” is getting croakers at night and Norfolk spot in the daytime.

VIRGINIA: 75-150 miles (***) — In the upper parts of the Virginia portions of the Bay, schools of school stripers and bluefish roam about for trollers and sight-casters. Croakers are possible along all the dropoffs from the Rappahannock River north to Smith Point Light. Down the Bay, Virginia Beach's Julie Ball (www.drjball.com) reported good news in the form of large gray sea trout showing up at the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel. “Chris at Chris´ Bait and Tackle reports that grays ranging to around eight pounds are hitting grubs presented around the northern span of the Bridge-Tunnel,” she said. “Joseph E. Hudgins, Jr., of Chesapeake, scored with the new state-leading gray trout when he hooked a nice 9 1/2-pound specimen while working the Fourth Island area [and] charter captain Steve Wray reports that striped bass up to 32 pounds are still hitting live bait over the tubes and along the pilings of the Bridge-Tunnel CBBT, especially at the curve approaching the third island.”

AREA 4: EASTERN SHORE/MARYLAND

CHOPTANK RIVER:120 miles (***) — (Route 50 east to Cambridge) Expect croakers, perch and some small rockfish and snapper blues to hang out in the mouth during high tides. I haven't had one decent bass report from around Denton, but there has to be a little action along the spatterdock and sunken brush.

POCOMOKE RIVER: 140-170 miles (***) — (From Snow Hill down to Shad Landing) Excellent bass catches now and then, whenever the tides begin to decline. Soft plastics and shallow crankbaits are the best lures.

NANTICOKE RIVER: 120 miles (**) — (Sharptown ramp off Route 313, or use the Marshyhope Creek ramp outside Federalsburg) Marshyhope Creek anglers found a little crappie and bass action this week, but this river really should be a lot better as far as bass are concerned..

AREA 5: CENTRAL VIRGINIA

LAKE ANNA: 82 miles (***) — (Route 208, Spotsylvania County) Early and late hours are almost a “must” if it's bass you're after, but don't expect a steady procession of trophy bass. It's not going to happen, but smaller specimens hang around brush, rocky points, rip-rap and such. Crappie fishing is good.

RAPPAHANNOCK RIVER: 47-100 miles (***) — The upper river continues to deliver smallmouth bass, but a slowdown on the largemouths has been noticed in the tidal parts of the river. Blue catfish are hooked now and then in Fredericksburg.

LAKE BRITTLE: 59 miles (**) — (Route 793, off Route 29) Bass, sunfish and crappies. The sunfish caught on a popping bug are your best bet.

LAKE ORANGE: 75 miles (***) — (Concessionaire: 540/672-3997; look for left turn sign on Route 20 before entering town of Orange) Crappies and fly-rod-caught bluegills will make anybody happy. Bass and catfish round out the picture, but there are more willing catfish than bass.

LAKE GASTON: 179 miles (***) — (Route 46, Gasburg) Early and late hour topwater poppers can result in powerful strikes from bass in Songbird, Jimmy's and Peahill creeks. Main-lake grass delivers some fat largemouths to users of soft plastic worms.

KERR RESERVOIR: 185 miles (***) — (Route 58, Clarksville) Catfish are the main catches, but early morning bass hunters also score with topwater lures and plastics. Crappies are going deep in this heat.

JAMES RIVER: 115 miles (***) — (Tidal Richmond area and downstream) Large blue catfish are the rule between Richmond and the Appomattox River. The bass fishing is only so-so.

CHICKAHOMINY RIVER: 135 miles (**) — (Williamsburg area) Don't forget the Wal-Mart Bass Fishing League's Piedmont Division bass tournament on Saturday. This will be a busy place.

AREA 6: WESTERN VIRGINIA

SHENANDOAH RIVER: 75-85 miles (***) — (Route 340, Front Royal, Luray and Bentonville areas) Front Royal's Dick Fox reports the smallmouth bass fishing to be excellent — a strange thing to say when so many people believe the river is terribly polluted.

SMITH MOUNTAIN LAKE: 210 miles (***) — (Route 122, east of Roanoke) Some decent bass fishing is had in the upper lake. Loud surface lures and scented plastic worms are all you need.

UPPER JAMES RIVER: 130 miles (***) — (Route 6, south of Charlottesville, Scottsville) The water is warming, but the smallmouth bass aren't the least bit bashful. Tubes, jigs, grubs, spinners, streamers — all of them work in rocky pools and riffles.

AREA 7: ATLANTIC OCEAN

MARYLAND: 153-175 miles (***) — (Route 50 to Ocean City) Offshore bluefish, tuna, dolphinfish and even the chance for a billfish are possible, while closer to land the headboats find seabass and a few tautogs over various wrecks. Even the new reef, created when subway cars were dumped on the Jackspot, already has turned up some bluefish. Inshore action at the Ocean City Inlet includes rockfish, sheepshead and some snapper blues. The flounder fishing in the backwaters isn't bad, but keeper-size fish are hard to find.

VIRGINIA: 210 miles to Virginia Beach (***) — Ken Neill reports that billfish have joined the offshore mix off Virginia's coast. “Offshore action is good from Morehead City, N.C., to Ocean City, Md., and we are right in the middle of it. Tuna, dolphin, wahoo, marlin and sailfish are all being caught offshore. Out of Virginia, the Triple 0s to the 41200, east of the Cigar has been a good area to fish. Offshore bottom fishermen are doing well with sea bass, tilefish, and a few large snowy grouper.” Large amberjacks are possible at the Chesapeake Light Tower and other structures. Spadefish are being caught at the Chesapeake Light Tower and over nearby wrecks.” Virginia Beach's Julie Ball said decent catches of nice yellowfin tuna and gaffer dolphin were accented by a whirlwind of billfish activity near the Triple Zeros where several blue and white marlin were released. Michael Hall, of Virginia Beach, landed a 38-pound dolphin while trolling at the Cigar. For more information, go to www.drjball.com. 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.

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