- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 18, 2008

Fall is on its way. You can smell it in the early morning air. Those of us who launch boats before sunup now are beginning to wear a light jacket before heading out. The area’s fish populations already are beginning to respond to the change in the water temperatures, slight as it may be.

The Potomac River, home of the premier tidal bass fishing waters of the entire East Coast, will show a steadily increasing number of bass for anglers who start early and begin their fishing days by casting loudly splashing, popping and gurgling topwater lures. The bass will do the rest as they continue to hang out in vast weed beds and along marsh banks. Get to these areas while you can. Eventually, a hard frost will arrive, the grass will begin to die off and the bass will flee the then oxygen-depleted water to head for new ambush areas, such as weed-free docks, sunken wood and channel edges.

On the subject of the upper tidal Potomac, if you plan to be on the river Sept. 27-28, be prepared for crowded conditions. The Northeast Division of the Bass Fishing League will conduct its final tournament of the year out of Charles County’s Smallwood State Park during those two days. The BFL expects more than 200 participants, and the Potomac will be a busy place — that much is guaranteed.

If it’s the Chesapeake Bay you prefer, get ready for increased numbers of rockfish and a larger class of bluefish than we saw during the summer. In fact, there are still many Spanish mackerel in the Bay and trollers of small, shiny spoons will connect on the mackerel, but be sure to also put out an umbrella rig with small bucktails or Sassy Shads for the rockfish. Sure, the blues will chew up some of your lures, but you’ll have fun all the same because the fishing is good.

Here is this week’s outlook:

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

AREA 1: D.C. AND VICINITY

TIDAL POTOMAC RIVER:0-35 miles (★★★) — Ray Fletcher of Fletcher’s Cove (Georgetown, off Canal Road; call 202/244-0461) said fish activity has definitely picked up.

“The water is cooling down and the bass are responding. Quite a few can be caught. Of course, there are plenty of catfish, too,” he said.

Much the same story is heard up and down the tidal Potomac where water temperatures have declined enough to push some of the bass into shallower water at least during the early and late hours of the day. They respond to topwater lures, 4-inch scented plastic worms and medium-depth crankbaits in crawfish patterns.

Just about all the feeder creeks will deliver the goods ,and some might add excitement by way of Chinese snakeheads that occasionally attack bass lures.

Downstream, every rock-surrounded river buoy and multi-legged channel marker seems to be home to feeding rockfish. But you need to be there before the sun rises if you wish to catch them on lip-less rattle baits or topwater poppers.

If it’s croakers you’re after south of the Potomac River Bridge in Charles County, things don’t look very good. The same holds for spot, but white perch are taken on small Beetlespin lures and 1/8-ounce spinnerbaits just about everywhere there is some rocky rip-rap or a duck blind. The flounder catches continue to hold up from the Steuart Pier at Piney Point down to drops and channel edges at Tall Timbers and also in the Cornfield Harbor area adjacent to Point Lookout. The center of the river gives up blues and rockfish for trollers.

WICOMICO RIVER:55 miles (★★) — Stripers up to 22 inches have been caught during outgoing tides around the rock piles of the buoy at the mouth of the river. If there are any croakers caught I’ve yet to hear from anybody who was successful, but the white perch are active throughout the river.

MATTAWOMAN CREEK:40 miles (★★★) — Catch a vigorous outgoing tide and you’ll also catch bass. The largemouths have been active during ebbing water periods from the Sweden Point Marina area up the creek to the Mattingly Avenue boat ramp and on toward the Hancock Cove. By the way, the channel waters below the Mattingly Avenue launch ramps are great for catfish that love clam necks or cut fish.

SOUTHERN MARYLAND LAKES:40-50 miles (★★★) — Gilbert Run Park’s Wheatley Lake (Route 6, east of La Plata) shows some fair sunfish and bass activity. Although this 67-acre lake is home to a few whopper largemouths, the general size you’ll catch on short worms or 1/4-ounce crankbaits is small. At St. Mary’s Lake (south on Route 5, past Leonardtown, to Camp Cosoma Road) you’ll do well on a mixed bag of bass, crappies and sunfish, even some chain pickerel.

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) will deliver good bass catches, along with catfish and plenty of sunnies.

WSSC RESERVOIRS:20-30 miles (★★★) — (Triadelphia, off Route 97, or Route 650, in Montgomery County; Rocky Gorge, off Route 29 in Montgomery County) The water is cooling off and the bass are more cooperative around lake points, fallen timber or brush piles. Small plastic worms on Texas-style light slip sinker rigs will score. I like a blue ring worm with a chartreuse tail, dabbed with Smelly Jelly fish attractant, or any Berkley Power Worm. Topwater poppers should see some early morning action. Haven’t heard anything about decent crappie catches, but the speckled fish will soon school up in sunken brush.

PATUXENT RIVER:25-60 miles (★★★) — White perch like inline spinners or standard 1/8-ounce spinnerbaits from Battle Creek up to Benedict — wherever there are grass-lined shores or rip-raps, as well as boat docks. Rockfish and some blues have been decked inside the river mouth, but some days the fishing is tough. Reader Andy Croley sent an e-mail, writing, “Went shore fishing at Goose Creek on the Patuxent Naval Air Station on Monday. The water was smooth, [but] I caught only five blues from 12 to 14 inches and one spot.”

OCCOQUAN RESERVOIR:25-30 miles (★★★) — From Fountainhead Park (Route 123, Fairfax County) ranger Smokey Davis said, “The reservoir is at full pool and is clearing up nicely. As a result the fishing has been very good the last few days. Bass have moved up in the flats and spinnerbaits and medium-running crankbaits have taken some quality fish including several in the 4- to 5-pound range. The crappie bite has been fine with several 12- to 14-inchers taken off the pier on medium-size minnows under a bobber. Catfish love chicken livers or cut bait, and the bluegills are no problem. The water temperature is between 72 and 74 degrees.”

BURKE LAKE:29 miles (★★★) — (Ox Road, Route 123, Fairfax County) Good early hour shallow water bass chances, but even after sunup you can score in deeper water with Texas-rigged plastic worms, or even crankbaits. The crappies are in the lake, but they’re not responding well just yet. They will when it gets a little colder.

AREA 2: CENTRAL, WESTERN MARYLAND

UPPER POTOMAC RIVER:35-100 miles (★★★) — The DNR’s Keith Lockwood tells of a fine catch by upper river angler Kenny Wampler, who was floating the North Branch of the Potomac from the Pinto area to the Cumberland Fairgrounds. He hooked several smallmouth bass, but the smallies weren’t very cooperative. Wampler suddenly saw a large tiger muskellunge and quickly began casting to it. The muskie struck and it was eventually landed and measured. It turned out to be 42 inches long. Wampler released it, hoping it could be hooked again another time. By the way, some of the dense grass in the upper river is beginning to break up, which eventually will free up lots of fishable water but currently can be a problem as far as choking jet motor intakes and fishing hooks.

DEEP CREEK LAKE:179 miles (★★★) — Lake guide Brent Nelson (240/460-8839) says the cool nights can really be felt up this way. The water temperature is dropping, but the fishing for smallmouth and largemouth bass leaves a bit to be desired. The fish will adjust to the cooler water and they’ll go on a feeding spree when they do.

SUSQUEHANNA RIVER:65-100 miles (★★) — Water is being released through the Conowingo Dam and that should result in striper catches, perhaps even some smallmouth bass and walleyes near the dam and around the rocky shores of Port Deposit.

AREA 3: CHESAPEAKE BAY

MARYLAND:45-75 miles (★★★) — The Bay delivers the goods from as far up as the Chester River mouth to as far down as the Virginia state line. In the upper Bay, trollers and live-liners who can secure a few Norfolk spot are finding rockfish and blues, but many of the stripers continue to be under 18 inches. All the same, before the day is over, you’ll have keepers.

In the middle Bay from Chesapeake Beach down to the Gooses and the Cove Point area, a wonderful mix of Spanish mackerel, bluefish and rockfish is available. The fishing covers wide areas from the western shore across to the Hooper’s Island Light and down toward the Kedges Straits at the north end of the Tangier Sound.

In Southern Maryland’s St. Mary’s County, Christy Henderson of Buzz’s Marina (St. Jerome’s Creek) reports, “Fishing is good. The Spanish mackerel are still here and they’re good-sized. The bluefish are ‘getting shoulders’ and the rockfish are back. The bigger news was that the flounder are abundant again. They are in the same places as before — the mouth of [our] creek and Cornfield Harbor in the lower Potomac. One man got some sea trout in the Mud Leads last weekend along with croakers, rockfish, mackerel and blues. We have had a lot of small craft advisory days, so the customer count is still low.

VIRGINIA:75-150 miles (★★★) — Northern Neck charter fishing captain Billy Pipkin (captbilly@captbillyscharters.com) connects on Spanish mackerel, larger bluefish than he has seen in a while, and increasing numbers of decent-sized rockfish.

From the lowest parts of the Bay, Dr. Julie Ball (www.drjball.com) reports, “Anglers are loading up with decent bluefish and schoolie-sized striped bass while casting and jigging around the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel and the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel especially at night. Spadefish are becoming less common, but nice triggerfish [are available] along the entire span of the bridge-tunnel. Although hit and miss, a few decent sheepshead and tautog are available in the same areas.”

Ball also mentions that cobia travel in schools on the surface in open water near the mouth of the bay and along the ocean front, where fish over 70-pounds were boated lately.

“Big fish are also cruising bridge pilings and circling inshore buoys,” she says. “Flounder are still lining lower bay structures, drop-offs, and inlets.”

Ball adds that large croakers are available at the Bay bridge-tunnel’s pilings.

AREA 4: EASTERN SHORE/MARYLAND

CHOPTANK RIVER:120 miles (★★★) — (Route 50 east to Cambridge) The broad mouth of the river and portions of the narrower insides are beginning to allow lure casters to catch for early or late hour rockfish — and some are scoring with Rat-L-Traps and small bucktails, tipped with white or pink plastic worms. Even the Cambridge fishing bridge now could give up a few rockfish, but certainly plenty of white perch. The Denton and upstream waters show better bass activity this week.

POCOMOKE RIVER:140-170 miles (★★★) — (From Snow Hill down to Shad Landing) Shallow-water bass crankbaits will score, along with 4-inch Power Worms and small white/chartreuse spinnerbaits. The bass are enjoying the cooler nights, and they’re responding to a wobbly or slithery lure.

NANTICOKE RIVER:120 miles (★★★) — (Sharptown ramp off Route 313, or use the Marshyhope Creek ramp outside Federalsburg) If you work at it you’ll catch bass whether it’s Maryland’s Marshyhope Creek or Delaware’s Broad Creek, or the main stem’s many sunken brush and tree littered shores.

AREA 5: CENTRAL VIRGINIA

LAKE ANNA:82 miles (★★★) — (Route 208, Spotsylvania County) This nuclear power station lake has seen a good deal of rain and it now stands at full pool, and the lake’s various fish species apparently are enjoying it. Good topwater buzzbait and popper action along with shallow water crankbaiting has ensued. Stripers are also hooked, but usually before sunrise. Even the crappies have responded to bait minnows or small jigs under a bobber. From now until late autumn you’ll find this lake to be a good choice, feeding on small threadfin shad and blueback herring

RAPPAHANNOCK RIVER:47-100 miles (★★★) — Lower tidal parts around Hicks Landing will turn up some largemouths if you fish finesse worms in downed trees and around the mouths of feeder creeks. The upper freshwater parts of the river are good for smallmouth bass that like little topwater buzzbaits, or 1/8-ounce tube jigs and grubs, as well as a variety of inline spinners.

LAKE BRITTLE:59 miles (★★★) — (Route 793, off Route 29) Expect above average sunfish and catfish hookups, but also increasing numbers of bass that are cruising the shorelines, looking for an easy meal. Give it to them by way of a shallow-lipped Mann’s Baby 1-Minus lure or a wacky-rigged “fat” worm like the Zero or Senko.

LAKE ORANGE:75 miles (★★★) — (Concessionaire: 540/672-3997; look for left turn sign on Route 20 before entering town of Orange) Better fishing is offered now as the bass feel the cooler nights and lower water temperatures. The same goes for catfish and crappies, although the crappies have not yet begun to school up as they will next month.

LAKE GASTON:179 miles (★★★) — (Route 46, Gasburg) Good bass possibilities in the upper lake waters, as well as feeder creeks, such as Songbird, during these wonderful cool mornings and late afternoons.

KERR RESERVOIR:185 miles (★★★) — (Route 58, Clarksville) Crankbaits have been the bass lures of choice lately. The fishing has improved since plenty of rain fell during the recent tropical storm. Crappie fishing can be good in deep-water brush piles during the day, but minnows are almost a “must-have” bait, Live sunfish or shiners will draw strikes from blue and flathead catfish.

JAMES RIVER:115 miles (★★★) — (Tidal Richmond area and downstream) The catfish bite has picked up, but freshly cut menhaden, spot or herring baits are a huge plus right now.

CHICKAHOMINY RIVER:135 miles (★★★) — (Williamsburg area) The water is finally clearing, and there is a better-than-average chance of hooking largemouth bass and catfish. Cooler weather has helped immensely.

AREA 6: WESTERN VIRGINIA

SHENANDOAH RIVER:75-85 miles (★★★) — (Route 340, Front Royal, Luray and Bentonville areas) From the Front Royal area, Dick Fox reports, “The North and South Forks of the river are clear and very fishable.” Fox said anyone who visits can catch smallmouths with fly-rod streamers and poppers, or with spinning tackle and small grubs and tubes.

SMITH MOUNTAIN LAKE:210 miles (★★★) — (Route 122, east of Roanoke) Bass are possible, but far too many are of a small size and tournament anglers are griping. Anyhow, the bass have gone into shallow flats and old stump fields where short-lipped crankbaits or wacky-rigged plastic worms do the job.

UPPER JAMES RIVER:130 miles (★★★) — (Route 6, south of Charlottesville, Scottsville) Fine smallmouth bass opportunities for waders. It doesn’t matter if you use a fly-rod or spinning tackle, the smallies aren’t finicky.

AREA 7: ATLANTIC OCEAN

MARYLAND:153-175 miles (★★★) — (Route 50 to Ocean City) Keith Lockwood of the Maryland DNR said coastal fishermen are having a good time catching flounder in the back bays of Ocean City and now there’s also a good influx of large croakers and small red drum at the Ocean City inlet. That is sure to bring the fishermen onto the inlet’s rock jetty. Offshore boats are doing fine with wahoos, but expect some decent tunas as well. The resort city’s headboats and private craft are fishing various wreck sites and they’re finding croakers by the numbers, but also some fair to good fishing for sea bass and flounder.

VIRGINIA:210 miles to Virginia Beach (★★★) — Dr. Ken Neill, of the Peninsula Salt Water Sport Fisherman’s Association, reports good offshore fishing.

“Billfish action remains hot with good numbers of white marlin being caught and some sailfish and blue marlin are in the mix,” he says. “Dolphin are everywhere. Yellowfin tuna and wahoo are becoming a more common catch, and getting a bigeye tuna bite is a possibility. Offshore bottom fishing, as always, is good. Large sea bass and blueline tilefish are on the 50-fathom curve. Grouper, golden tilefish and other species are caught along the walls of the Norfolk Canyon.”

Neill said yet another pending all-tackle world record was caught in Virginia waters when Dan Dutton, while fishing on Neill’s boat, the Healthy Grin, captured a 21-inch spotted hake that should become the latest world record. Meanwhile, amberjack and jack crevalle are available at the Chesapeake Light Tower.

Neill also wants king mackerel hunters to know that even if they’re not connecting right now, the month of October is a great for kings.

“The Sandbridge Fishing Pier will be full of anglers looking for the fall bull red drum run,” he adds.

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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