- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 6, 2009

Not everyone can afford to pay $350 to $500 for a day’s fishing, hoping to troll up a trophy-size rockfish aboard a Chesapeake Bay charter boat. And not everybody’s name is Dale Knupp, a fellow who surely has a lucky horseshoe in his back pocket.

The man’s success in finding fish is uncanny. Some time ago, he hooked a 42 1/2-inch-long striper on a 3-inch plastic Sting Ray grub. It happened in the Potomac River, around the corner of the Mattawoman Creek, a few hundred yards south of Stump Neck.

Rockfish of such size are not common in the upper tidal river in December, even though Knupp’s catch showed it can be done. Why that big fish inhaled such a small “bait” is difficult to fathom, but it did. However, I recently asked my frequent fishing partner, river guide Andy Andrzejewski, if it is possible for owners of small boats and anemic wallets to come home with striped bass that are at least of legal keeper size, which is 18 inches. He nodded and said, “This time of year, it can be done in a number of places.”

We launched Andrzejewski’s bass boat at Smallwood State Park’s Sweden Point Marina in Charles County. As he steered away from the boat ramps, I’ll wager the guide didn’t burn 3 ounces of gasoline before he shut down his huge Evinrude outboard and slipped a bow-mounted trolling motor into the green waters of the Mattawoman Creek.

We now looked squarely at the tip of Deep Point, a part of Indian Head’s U.S. Naval Surface Warfare Center. Along the water’s edge, the occupants of a stakebed truck unloaded bags of an unknown substance that we suspected was a type of explosive propellant. It occasionally is harmlessly burned because of its age or tested for reliable ignition.

While the men stashed the powder bags, Andrzejewski skirted the point looking for the 15- to 20-foot-deep ledges that we knew were there, the guide’s eyes glued to a depth finder in the front of the boat.

“There they are,” he said, staring at the sonar device’s screen. “Either they’re rockfish or bass, maybe carp, but they’re not small perch.”

With that, we both lowered Sting Ray grubs over the side that had been dipped in a fish attractant cream known as Smelly Jelly. When the avocado color lures that were threaded onto a 1/4- or 3/8-ounce ball-head jig hook touched bottom, we simply lifted them 15 inches or so off the creek floor, then let them fall again.

“Got him,” Andrzejewski said casually, as if the catching of fish in wintry water was a snap. His rod bent sharply, and moments later he swung a striper of about 17 inches aboard. It was quickly judged a nonkeeper and returned to the water.

I was next when I felt a tiny tap on the end of my line, but instead of setting the hook I let it be as we drifted along with an outgoing tide. Whatever it was, it couldn’t stand the suspense. It finally struck, and when I flipped it over the gunwale it measured 18 inches.

So it went off and on, with Andrzejewski even finding strapping largemouth bass now and then. But when the warning lights came on ashore and a siren wailed, it was time to get out of the way. The powder soon would be ignited via a remote system, with flames and smoke shooting into the sky.

It was time for a move, but we knew the search for river stripers can be successful across the river on Virginia’s shoreline amid the stone piles of the Possum Point Power Plant, in a relatively small area where a wooden Potomac River Fisheries Commission marker is seen. It is there where a lipless rattle lure, in addition to the Sting Ray, can turn up rockfish when the tide is right.

We also have found rockfish over a series of underwater channels, sharp drops and rock piles between the mouth of Occoquan Bay and upriver portions toward Craney Island.

Stripers are possible along the channel edges of the Greenway Flats and farther upstream in the District’s Washington Channel, especially around Hains Point and across the river at Gravelly Point.

For me, when all else fails, there always will be the protective rocks around river buoys in the downstream river stretches near the Nanjemoy Creek and the Port Tobacco River.

If you can be happy with 18-inch stripers, much the same can be done in the Choptank and Nanticoke rivers, as well as many parts of the Patuxent and Susquehanna rivers, or Virginia’s Rappahannock and James.

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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