- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 2, 2009

Any moment now, hordes of hickory shad are due to arrive in our area. Early arrivals have been hooked (and released) in the upper tidal Susquehanna River at the Conowingo Dam, also the Potomac around Fletcher’s Cove in Georgetown. As you read this, more than a few are caught in the Rappahannock River within shouting distance of downtown Fredericksburg, Va.

Virginia fisheries biologist John Odenkirk said, “Now is the time.” Odenkirk mentioned that he and a friend spent only 1 1/2 hours upstream of the Route 1 bridge two days ago, using light spinning outfits and casting tandem-rigged shad darts into the swirling waters. “We landed about 60 fish between us,” he added. Almost all of the shad the two hooked were male hickories, but Odenkirk believes that the bigger females and fresh arrivals of the usually larger white shad will be seen by the weekend. If heavy rains visit, it will hurt the shad run temporarily.

Then there are the white perch that cooperate nicely in just about every upper tidal creek and river from Virginia to the northern Chesapeake Bay’s tributaries. You almost need to be in the headwaters of those rivers and creeks. The Patuxent has been delivering the goods; so have the Chester, Magothy and Choptank rivers. Parts of the South River, the Potomac’s Wicomico tributary, the Rappahannock and James rivers — all are seeing decent perch action.

In the upper tidal Potomac between the Wilson Bridge and western Charles County, expect very good catches of bass and blue catfish if you can guess where the critters are hanging out on any given day.

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

AREA 1: D.C. AND VICINITY

TIDAL POTOMAC RIVER: 0-35 miles (★★★) — Around the Fletcher’s Cove (Georgetown, off Canal Road; call 202/244-0461) Ray Fletcher said, “We’re catching some hickory shad, also some white perch, and you wouldn’t believe the sizes of the blue catfish right here in front of our place.” Fletcher carries District licenses and bloodworm or nightcrawler baits for the perch and herring slabs for the “cats.” The shad will strike small shad darts, rigged single or in tandem. Use ultra-light spinning tackle for them. As you leave the District, bass boaters find action over newly emerging underwater grass beds from near the Wilson Bridge to the Broad Creek area, but the nearby Piscataway Creek has been stingy. Not so the Gunston Cove and Pohick Bay portions of the river where rock piles and the growing milfoil beds hold largemouths that like 4-inch finesse worms in red-with-black-stripes, or hard crankbaits in firetiger, red or red/chartreuse. The Pomonkey Creek has given up catches, as have the Virginia feeders from the Occoquan down to the Aquia and of course Maryland’s always busy Chicamuxen Creek. In the saltier water, rockfish season will soon be under way. The trophy season runs April 18 through May 15. One 28-incher per day is legal downstream of the Harry W. Nice Bridge (U.S. 301), including the Maryland and Virginia tributaries downstream of the bridge. Starting May 16 through Dec. 31 it’s legal to keep two 18- to 28-inch fish per day. Questions? Call the Potomac River Fisheries Commission, 800/266-3904

WICOMICO RIVER: 55 miles (★★★) — The upper ends of the river have been good for white perch, some of them in the 10-inch range. A large shad dart, or a quarter-ounce Silver Buddy, as well as small, curly-tailed white or chartreuse grubs do the job.

MATTAWOMAN CREEK: 40 miles (★★★) — Work 4-inch red finesse worms, olive color Paca baits, or reel back a Baby 1-Minus or other shallow-running crankbait in firetiger or chartreuse/red colors across the creeks many flats that have grass coming up in three to four feet of water. The bass will do the rest.

SOUTHERN MARYLAND LAKES: 40-50 miles (★★) — Gilbert Run Park’s Wheatley Lake (Route 6, east of La Plata) might still have a few stocked trout available and it won’t be long now before the sunfish will awaken. A few small bass are available. At St. Mary’s Lake (south on Route 5, past Leonardtown, to Camp Cosoma Road) the lake levels are still down, but a johnboat could be launched. Crappies and bass are showing some willingness to take grubs, jigs, or small crankbaits.

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) should be ready for some decent catch-and-release bass catches. Jerkbaits and shallow crankbaits along shoreline cover will do. Catfish will look at a fresh cut piece of fish or a couple of bunched-up nightcrawlers.

WSSC RESERVOIRS: 20-30 miles (★★) — (Triadelphia, off Route 97, or Route 650, in Montgomery County; Rocky Gorge, off Route 29 in Montgomery County) Some decent-size bass have come from Rocky Gorge, but we haven’t heard of any good bass catches at Triadelphia. The crappies will start schooling up around brush stickups in both lakes, also check out the backs of deeper coves. For the crappies, a 1/16- or 1/32-ounce white/red or white/green grub or shad darts fished about 3 or 4 feet below a bobber is all that’s required.

PATUXENT RIVER: 25-60 miles (★★★) — The far upper ends of the river, above Hill’s Bridge, have been good for fat, spawning white perch that jump on to a small grub fished from a lead-headed jig hook. In the Western Branch and Mattaponi Creek a few bass are available along with scattered yellow perch that have finished their spawning chores.

OCCOQUAN RESERVOIR: 25-30 miles (★★★) — In the Fountainhead Park (Route 123, Fairfax County) stretch of the reservoir, the ranger, Smokey Davis, said: “Recent rains have raised the water level in the reservoir to full pool. The water is moderately stained and the water temperature is in the mid 50s. Several bass over 5 pounds were weighed in over the weekend.” The lake’s bass, said Davis, are staging in 6 to 8 feet of water as they are slowly heading toward their spawning grounds. Spinnerbaits and medium-running crankbaits produce most of the fish. “The crappie bite slacked off a little because of the rising water but channel catfish have been taken on chicken livers and cut bait,” he added.

BURKE LAKE: 29 miles (★★★) — (Ox Road, Route 123, Fairfax County) Crappies and bass are definitely stirring, and the fishing could be good this weekend. Trouble is the boaters’ and fishermen’s parking lot. Too many nonfishing visitors take up the spaces, and the park personnel appears seem not to care.

AREA 2: CENTRAL, WESTERN MARYLAND

UPPER POTOMAC RIVER: 35-100 miles (★★★) — Department of Natural Resources biologist John Mullican says the walleyes have begun to spawn and the fishing can be productive. Crankbaits and jigs do the job on the ‘eyes, especially above Taylor’s Landing in Washington County. The smallmouth bass catches are holding up nicely in slowly rising water. Try to hop a tube or plastic grub on a jig hook around the bottom and the rock pools, or use a small jerkbait.

DEEP CREEK LAKE: 179 miles (★★★) — Lake guide Brent Nelson (240/460-8839) says the water temperatures are rising. Perch, pickerel and bass action can be found in the coves of the lake. The DNR says you might catch a northern pike now if you use a large spoon or jerkbait. The crappie and yellow perch like a small jig/minnow cobination. Walleye season is closed until April 15.

SUSQUEHANNA RIVER: 65-100 miles (★★★) — The lower Susquehanna River and the Susquehanna Flats show some rockfish and largemouth bass. The hickory shad are up by the Conowingo Dam’s spillover and the creeks will see shad action this weekend.

AREA 3: CHESAPEAKE BAY

MARYLAND: 45-75 miles (★★) — Trollers are out dragging parachute bucktails and umbrella rigs to see if the big stripers are here and if so, exactly where they can be targeted when the trophy season arrives April 18 (to run through May 15). One 28-inch-or-over striper a day is allowed, but the charter captain and mate cannot keep fish for themselves. The trophy fishing is restricted to the main stem of the Chesapeake Bay from Brewerton Channel to the Maryland-Virginia state lines and the Tangier and Pocomoke sounds (but none of their tributaries). Meanwhile, decent-sized but smaller stripers are found in good numbers by boaters who cast soft plastics around the Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Plant’s warm-water discharge area.

VIRGINIA: 75-150 miles (★★★) — Northern Neck charter fishing captain Billy Pipkin (captbilly@captbillyscharters.com) is getting ready for the striper fishing just like all the other charter boat captains. Farther down the Bay, the Peninsula Salt Water Sport Fisherman’s Association’s Ken Neill said: “It’s time to get serious about flounder. Flatfish are being caught in the normal flounder spots. The bend at the third island of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel has been the best early season spot so far.”

AREA 4: EASTERN SHORE/MARYLAND

CHOPTANK RIVER: 120 miles (★★) — (Route 50 east to Cambridge) The Denton to Martinak stretch turns up some bass that like crankbaits, and way up in the river above Greensboro, white perch are taken by locals.

POCOMOKE RIVER: 140-170 miles (★★★) — (From Snow Hill down to Shad Landing) Find an easy outgoing tide and begin casting firetiger or crawfish pattern crankbaits around waterlogged wood and between spatterdock patches. The bass will do the rest.

NANTICOKE RIVER: 120 miles (★★) — (Sharptown ramp off Route 313, or use the Marshyhope Creek ramp outside Federalsburg) Crappie, bass and perch are inside the Marshyhope Creek, with some bass and perch action noted up around Seaford, Del.

AREA 5: CENTRAL VIRGINIA

LAKE ANNA: 82 miles (★★★) — (Route 208, Spotsylvania County) Lake Anna guide Jim Hemby (www.jimhemby.com) said this is the best time of the year for crappies. Fish shallow docks, beaver huts, brush and rock piles and shoreline grass beds. Hemby likes to use a 1/16-oz. jig hook with a small tube but eventually switches to a live minnow under a bobber. The guide now finds bass roaming the shallows but also hanging out under docks before the spawning time begins. “Fish windy, rocky points where the baitfish are spawning and throw big-bladed spinnerbaits, crankbaits and Carolina-rigged lizards,” he said. For the lake’s striped bass, the fishing has been great thus far, Hemby said. “The stripers are feeding all the way up the rivers down to the third dike, and they’re are not selective about what they want to eat, gorging themselves on herring and gizzard shad,” he said.

RAPPAHANNOCK RIVER: 47-100 miles (★★★) — Some white perch are in the Fredericksburg waters, but the best news is the many hickory shad that have arrived. Pray that the heavy rains stay away. A soft rain will actually help, but we don’t want a gully washer. Shad can be caught rock-hopping above the Route 1 bridge. Within days, expect white shad to arrive.

LAKE BRITTLE: 59 miles (★★★) — (Route 793, off Route 29) Good crappie opportunities, along with a fair chance of latching onto a fair-sized bass now and then.

LAKE ORANGE: 75 miles (★★★) — (Concessionaire: 540/672-3997; look for left-turn sign on Route 20 before entering town of Orange) The crappie bite should be good, but the bass catches can be super some days if you throw shallow crankbaits and jerkbaits around the lake’s waterlogged tree stumps, points and brushy areas.

LAKE GASTON: 179 miles (★★★) — (Route 46, Gasburg) Good bass catches can be made now in the creeks, around lake and creek points and along edges where grass is beginning to come up. Crankbaits, Rat-L-Traps, soft plastics of all types will work. Crappies are biting around bridge abutments and certain brushy spots.

KERR RESERVOIR: 185 miles (★★★) — (Route 58, Clarksville) Catfish and crappies by the numbers, but you’ll need to hunt for largemouth bass, which actually are quite plentiful in this lake. If you see some flooded shoreline willow bushes, cast a jerkbait or a rattle bait into the waterlogged greenery. Then hang on because chances are good for a bite.

JAMES RIVER: 115 miles (★★★) — (Tidal Richmond area and downstream) Blue catfish, white perch and shad are clear up to the tidal line in Richmond. The “cats” are biting well also in the Dutch Gap and Appomattox mouth area.

CHICKAHOMINY RIVER: 135 miles (★★★) — (Williamsburg area) Large catfish are taking bottom-fished herring or menhaden slabs, and the bass catches are pretty good even though sizes aren’t the best. Upstream crappie hunters score nicely if they use small live minnows.

AREA 6: WESTERN VIRGINIA

SHENANDOAH RIVER: 75-85 miles (★★★) — (Route 340, Front Royal, Luray and Bentonville areas) The river is in fine fishing shape so far, but I don’t know what the rain might do to mess it up. Dick Fox, our Front Royal river expert, uses Sting Ray grubs and medium diver crankbaits to catch his smallmouth bass while he drifts along in his aluminum boat.

SMITH MOUNTAIN LAKE: 210 miles (★★) — (Route 122, east of Roanoke) Haven’t been able to get a decent report out of this area, but the bass and stripers are probably active now, just as they are in Lake Anna.

UPPER JAMES RIVER: 130 miles (★★★) — (Route 6, south of Charlottesville, Scottsville) Smallmouth bass will take a variety of lures, but if the heavy downpours come it will hurt the river. A quiet, soft rain won’t hurt; in fact, it will help.

AREA 7: ATLANTIC OCEAN

MARYLAND: 153-175 miles (★★★) — (Route 50 to Ocean City) Keith Lockwood of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources said: “There is not a whole lot to report from the beaches or inlet areas of Ocean City this week. The water is getting warmer, though, each week and there have been scattered reports of a few tautog being caught at the Ocean City Inlet area.”

VIRGINIA: 210 miles to Virginia Beach (★★★) — Ken Neill of the Peninsula Salt Water Sport Fisherman’s Association reported that the seaside inlets of the Eastern Shore can be fine for targeting flounder. East of the Outer Banks, the bite of 100- to 200-pound bluefin tuna remains excellent. Yellowfin tuna are a more challenging catch. Some dolphin are being caught out of Hatteras.

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. Mueller’s Inside Outside blog can be found at www.washingtontimes.com/sports.

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