GENE MUELLER: Potomac delivers largemouth bass

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Professional fishing guide Dale Knupp is convinced the tidal Potomac River between the District and western Charles County is home to the best bass fishing on the East Coast.

One of the reasons, Knupp says, is that the historic waterway delivers the goods throughout the year, from early spring into the thick of winter. But November, when water temperatures fluctuate from the low 60s to the mid-50s, is a particularly good time to go after America’s most popular gamefish: the largemouth bass.

“In the summertime, [the aquatic vegetation] is so thick that it’s difficult to pinpoint locations of the bigger bass because they tend to ‘bury’ themselves in the thickest mats they can find,” said Knupp, of La Plata, Md., as he prepared to launch his boat on an overcast day.

“But this time of year, the grass is dying and the fish are moving to more accessible areas, such as wood-filled banks, creek ledges, rocks and deep-water grass.”

During this transition, knowing that a well-fed largemouth might lie in ambush for some kind of food alongside a partially sunken tree inside any number of the Potomac’s feeder creeks, Knupp casts crawfish-color crankbaits - lures with a “lip” that force the fake baits to dive and wobble during the retrieval of line. Since bass feed heavily on crawfish, the choice of crawfish-patterned baits makes sense. Depending on the weight of the lure, the width and length of the lure’s lip and the speed of retrieval, the crankbait can dive and wobble enticingly in up to 15 feet of water.

Knupp said one reason for casting deep-running lures is that the temperatures in shallow water tend to fluctuate so much that the bass try to find a more suitable comfort zone in deeper layers of water. While there, they can move at will, quickly hunt for food in the shallows if called for and then retreat to their former resting places.

If the long-lipped crankbaits - anything from quarter-ounce to half-ounce models - do not deliver the hoped-for bites, Knupp wastes little time switching to Plan B.

“I’ll choose a jig’n’craw or a jig’n’pig, especially when the water temperatures is in the mid-40s to mid-50s,” he said. “The more the water temperature drops, the slower I move my lure and the smaller I’ll want the lure to be. I’ll go from a five-eighth-ounce bait to as little as one-quarter-ounce in the case of a jig’n’craw or jig’n’pig.”

(These bottom-hopped lures consist of a weighted, weedless jig hook and a plastic crawfish body or a piece of real pork skin, usually all in brown, dark blue, or black.)

When all else fails, Knupp takes a round-headed jig, pushes an avocado-colored Sting Ray grub onto the hook, allowing a good portion of the hook’s belly and barb to be totally exposed, then smears the plastic grub body with plenty of a fish attractant known as Smelly Jelly. He casts it into creek channels, ledges, bank edges and around stone walls, using strong braided line on his reels. The bass often do the rest when they see what they think is a live bullhead minnow.

And what flavor of Smelly Jelly does Knupp prefer?

“Anything,” he said with a laugh, “as long as it’s garlic.”

cLook 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. Also check out his Inside Outside blog on www.washingtontimes.com.

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