- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 9, 2009

It doesn’t matter whether you prefer fishing for smallmouth bass in the mountainous portions of our rivers, going after their largemouth cousins in ponds, lakes and tidal creeks, chumming for rockfish in salty waters, dropping a bait for croakers or fighting a tough amberjack in Virginia’s offshore waters — the fishing is good just about everywhere.

Let’s begin with croakers, which have been biting well in the mouth of the Choptank, as well as the Patuxent and lower parts of the Potomac rivers. Flounder have taken drifted minnows in the mouth of St. Jerome’s Creek, the Cornfield Harbor area of the lower Potomac, and a good many portions of the Tangier Sound.

Stripers in the 18- to 23-inch range are hooked in the Chesapeake Bay by cummers, trollers, bait drifters and lure casters who find action from the Bay Bridges down to the Point No Point lighthouse area and then into the lower Potomac.

The upper tidal Potomac River’s bass continue to bite well in the main stem and the feeder creeks, where early-hour top-water baits are followed by mostly spinnerbaits, plastic worms, craws and “creature” baits after the sun climbs high.

By the way, after the recent Mattawoman Creek bass kill — which no one doubts was caused when a large bass tournament group released its catches and 601 bass died within a day or two after being turned loose — you’d think other tournament groups would learn. But they’re not nearly the great conservationists they like us to believe they are. This weekend, another 150- to 200-boat tournament is coming out of Leesylvania State Park on the Virginia side of the Potomac. For shame. We expect more dead bass, caused by warm water conditions and severe stress.

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

AREA 1: D.C. AND VICINITY

TIDAL POTOMAC RIVER: 0-35 miles (***) — At Fletcher’s Cove (Georgetown, off Canal Road; call 202/244-0461) Ray Fletcher said: “The river is in good shape and the big blue catfish continue to provide most of the action. Some bass hooked, mostly on the Virginia side of the river.” Downstream, the bass fishing continues at a brisk pace. Early-hour top-water lures, followed by a variety of soft plastics, spinnerbaits — even shallow-running Chatterbaits trimmed with a split-tail trailer or a Shadalicious swim bait — result in good action from the tidal bass. On the sad side, yet another big bass tournament is being held out of Leesylvania State Park this weekend. Will these selfish people ever learn that conducting “live release” bass contests in hot weather amounts to nothing more than “the bass die later” tournaments. Have these people never heard of delayed mortality, after the fish have been stressed severely in livewells and been handled extensively? The state should outlaw these tournaments at least when water temperatures climb above 78 degrees. Elsewhere, the croaker and spot fishing in the saltier parts of the Potomac is on again, off again. It ranges from pretty good to pretty lousy. Not much is happening from the Route 301 Bridge downstream to St. Clements except some decent rockfish catches are possible if you troll with bucktails along the deep channel edges. Croakers, spot and flounder are definitely possible from Piney Point to St. George’s Island and on to Cornfield Harbor. A mix of bluefish and rockfish is possible in the lower midriver parts.

WICOMICO RIVER: 55 miles (**) — Up-and-down success rates for croakers. Some find action during gthe dark hours in the Bushwood sector, but others complain that they can’t even catch a cold down here.

MATTAWOMAN CREEK: 40 miles (***) — The final count of dead bass seen by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources was 601. All this happened after a release of tournament-caught bass a few weeks ago. Will anybody listen when we say that hot water and bass contests do not go well together? Meanwhile, bass are possible in grass and on sunken wood, as well as marsh shore drop-offs. Plastics and top waters are the main producers.

SOUTHERN MARYLAND LAKES: 40-50 miles (***) — Gilbert Run Park’s Wheatley Lake (Route 6, east of La Plata) shows some sunfish and bass for shoreline or johnboat users. St. Mary’s Lake (south on Route 5, past Leonardtown, to Camp Cosoma Road) turns up good numbers of bass, fat bluegills and widely scattered crappies.

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) are fine if you can do your fishing before the sun bakes the water. Bass, sunfish, crappies and good-size channel catfish are available.

WSSC RESERVOIRS: 20-30 miles (***) — (Triadelphia, off Route 97, or Route 650, in Montgomery County; Rocky Gorge, off Route 29 in Montgomery County) Find a sunken brush pile or log jam in the backs of deep-water coves and you’ll see crappies that jump on a simple rig consisting of a 1/16-ounce white-red shad darts held from bottom snags by a bobber — about 3 or 3 1/2 feet above the little lure. All you need do is cast it, then jiggle the rod tip gently to give the dart a bit of underwater motion. Bass are hanging out alongside jutting lake points where the water drops off sharply. A plastic worm or smartly fished jerkbait early or late in the day will see action.

BALTIMORE AREA RESERVOIRS: 50-75 miles (***) — Pretty-boy Lake is on Route 137; Liberty is on Oakland Road in Eldersburg, Carroll County.) The bass fishing is very good now in both lakes, although I’d pick Liberty over Pretty-boy when it comes to willing largemouths. Both lakes have good numbers of smallmouth bass that hang around rocky outcroppings and sunken boulders.

PATUXENT RIVER: 25-60 miles (***) — Spot and croaker are everywhere, said Ken Lamb of the Tackle Box in Lexington Park. “The Patuxent is loaded up with medium to large spot off Green Holly, Sandy Point, Drum Point, the O’Club, the EM beach near the entrance to now closed Harper’s Creek and further west to Hawk’s Nest at the entrance to Cuckold’s Creek. Catches here include [plenty] of small croakers,” said Lamb, who passed along that big croakers are caught near the Three-Legged Marker in the mouth of the river and off the O’Club in the deeper areas of 35 to 40 feet of water at sunset. He also said that the flounder were biting very well at the Three-Legged Marker and at the drop-off at No. 5 Marker in the mouth of the river.

OCCOQUAN RESERVOIR: 25-30 miles (***) — Fountainhead Park ranger Smokey Davis said: “The bass bite has been strong this past week. Several limits of quality fish were weighed in, including a 19-pound stringer, topped off by a “kicker” bass that weighed 5.15 pounds. Carolina-rigged soft plastics, fished off long, deep, main-lake points did the most damage. Brush Hogs, plastic worms and Zoom flukes were especially effective. Crappies have moved deeper and are a little harder to come by, but channel catfish love chicken livers or clam snouts and some nice bluegills are caught on meal worms. The reservoir is clear and about 2 feet below normal pool.”

BURKE LAKE: 29 miles (***) — (Ox Road, Route 123, Fairfax County) The cooler hours of the day are good for bass, crappies, sunfish, widely scattered walleyes and hungry channel catfish.

AREA 2: CENTRAL, WESTERN MARYLAND

UPPER POTOMAC RIVER: 35-100 miles (***) — The upper river is in good shape, and local angler Steve Sariganis proved it when he hooked a citation-size smallmouth bass. From Knoxville to White’s Ferry, your chances of hooking the sallies is good. The same holds for sunfish and generally small catfish.

DEEP CREEK LAKE: 179 miles (***) — Lake guide Brent Nelson (240/460-8839) agreed with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources’ Keith Lockwood when the latter said the lake had settled into a summer mode of fishing. Expect heavy boat traffic on weekends, which can slow down the fish bites. What to do? Get out very early and skip lues under docks and around lake points where smallmouth and largemouth bass hang out. Some bass, sunfish and yellow perch will look at bait or artificials in deepwater coves.

SUSQUEHANNA RIVER: 65-100 miles (**) — Some rockfish action can be had if you cast and retrieve bucktails, crankbaits and various jigs at the Conowingo Dam when water is being released. The Flats might give up a bass or two, but the fishing has been tough.

AREA 3: CHESAPEAKE BAY

MARYLAND: 45-75 miles (***) — A good Chesapeake Bay report for southern Marylanders is offered by Ken Lamb, who owns the popular Tackle Box store on Route 235 in Lexington Park. Lamb says live-lining spot is the ticket for great rockfish catches at the Gas Docks and at the nuclear power plant. The fishing at both Calvert County locations can be terrific, with anchored boats bringing in fine rockfish at a steady rate.

Actually, the rockfish picture is bright all over the Chesapeake. It begins as far north as Love Point on the Chester River where chum and live-lined spot score on legal stripers. The same rockfish possibilities extend from the Chester down to the Hackett’s Light, Bloody Point, Thomas Point, channel edges near Herring Bay and Chesapeake Beach and of course south to the Patuxent and Potomac rivers, including in-between stops at Eastern Shore channel ledges from Hooper’s Island Light down to the Virginia line. If it’s flounder you’re after, Lamb said, “Those who venture across the Bay to Buoys 74 and 76 can catch plenty of flounder. Live minnows and strips of fresh spot will bring strikes.”

Meanwhile, flounder have also been caught at the Point Lookout Bar and the edge just north of Point Lookout at the old Hotel site. As far as the croaker fishing is concerned, the Bay’s ship channel edges can provide excellent nighttime croaker catches. From Buzz’s Marina on St. Jerome’s Creek (St. Mary’s County), Christy Henderson reports that the flounder are hanging out in the mouth of her creek, as they always do this time of year, but they’re also in the lower Potomac’s Cornfield Harbor. “They’re doing really well with the flounder in front of the Boys Camp down there,” she said. Meanwhile, croakers are caught over the Wilson Bridge rubble reef, she added, and said they also have been caught over the oyster sanctuary south of the Target Ship in the Middlegrounds area. She reminded anglers that some solid 5-pound bluefish are caught in southern Maryland waters, along, of course, with plenty of smaller ones. By the way, the Point No Point lighthouse has been fine for rockfish, usually caught by bait cummers.

VIRGINIA: 75-150 miles (***) — From Northern Neck charter fishing captain Billy Pipkin (www.captbillyscharters.com) comes word that the bottom fishing in the Chesapeake’s rivers far outperformed the main stem of the Bay this week. The mouth of the Rappahannock River continues to hold a mix of quality spot and croaker from the river mouth up to the White Stone Bridge. Pipkin reports that bluefish are becoming more plentiful with scattered schools feeding during morning and late afternoon hours from Windmill Point up to Smith Point and in Bay’s feeder rivers. These fish weigh only one pound on average, but larger specimens are available in chum lines from the channel edge above Buoy 62, the Asphalt Pile and [into Maryland’s Middlegrounds]. The charter fishing captain also reminds us that flounder action is improving in the Buoy 42 area with several fatties up to 25 inches being landed there this week. Down in the lowest parts of the Bay, master angler Julie Ball said flounder fishermen are working the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel pilings and ditches and she said 19-inch keeper fish are becoming more common. She said that Andrew Rei of Virginia Beach caught an 8-pound, 10-ounce “doormat” near the bridge-tunnel on a live spot. Tautogs are also hooked at the crossing.

AREA 4: EASTERN SHORE/MARYLAND

CHOPTANK RIVER: 120 miles (***) — (Route 50 east to Cambridge) Good-sized croakers have been caught in the river’s mouth and upriver at the Cambridge fishing bridge croakers, and small bluefish are hooked on the Talbot County side. Lots of Norfolk spot and white perch also are available. The DNR says some visitors who work with small collapsible crab traps occasionally get enough blueclaws to feed two or three people.

POCOMOKE RIVER: 140-170 miles (***) — (From Snow Hill down to Shad Landing) Bass catches slowed down this week. It all depends on tides, preferably those that are ebbing. If you come here, work medium-depth crawfish-pattern crankbaits around spatterdock edges and waterlogged wood. Switch to soft plastics if the crankbaits don’t work.

NANTICOKE RIVER: 120 miles (***) — (Sharptown ramp off Route 313, or use the Marshyhope Creek ramp outside Federalsburg) The Seaford, Del., stretch and its many shoreline obstructions have been good for plastic wormers looking for bass. The abutments on either side of the bridge just before you enter Seaford can give up bass. Haven’t gotten any encouraging bass news from Federalsburg’s Marshyhope Creek.

AREA 5: CENTRAL VIRGINIA

LAKE ANNA: 82 miles (***) — (Route 208, Spotsylvania County) Lake guide Jim Hemby said Virginia Game and Inland Fisheries stocking programs are really paying off. “We are seeing acres upon acres of stripers ranging from above the Splits down to the dam,” Hemby said. “The creel limits on the lake are generous also at four per person per day. July is the month when any angler can catch stripers on the lake. As for the largemouth bass, Hemby said, “They’ve taken up residency in their summer haunts and are predictable in their feeding patterns. In low light conditions, fish top water baits [chuggers, prop baits, twitch baits, etc.] on main lake points, flats and humps. After the sun gets bright the bass will retreat to the depths using stumps, rock and brush piles, bridge pilings and ledges as cover. Use Carolina rigs, worms, drop-shot rigs, deep-diving crankbaits, etc.”

RAPPAHANNOCK RIVER: 47-100 miles (***) — You’ll have smallmouth bass attacking jigs and grubs, small prop-bladed top-water baits or Zoom Fluke jerkbaits in the upper reaches of the river. Pray that heavy rains stay away. In the tidal parts, in Fredericksburg, there is a chance of hooking a large blue catfish. The largemouth bass like small spinnerbaits, 4-inch finesse worms, Strike King’s Red Eye or Rat-L-Trap lipless rattle baits particularly if you concentrate on creek mouths and sunken wood upstream of Port Royal.

LAKE BRITTLE: 59 miles (***) — (Route 793, off Route 29) Crappies have scattered, but a bobber-and-minnow rig will find them around sunken wood or brush. Besides, a good bass might like the same offering. Plenty of sunfish are available for the kids.

LAKE ORANGE: 75 miles (***) — (Concessionaire: 540/672-3997; look for left turn sign on Route 20 before entering town of Orange) Stick to the earliest possible hour of the morning and work loud buzzbaits or Rebel Pop’R topwater lures around stick-ups and lake points for the bass. After the sun rises and warms the surface waters, switch to a plastic worm or a slowly retrieved spinnerbait. Plenty of catfish are here.

LAKE GASTON: 179 miles (***) — (Route 46, Gasburg) Lake resident Marty Magone said that plastic worms continue to be his best producers for bass in the lake’s feeder creeks. Some top-water action is always possible. Use Pop R’s and Ricos around marker buoys in the creeks that show the edges of flats and rock piles.

KERR RESERVOIR: 185 miles (***) — (Route 58, Clarksville) The best fishing here easily points to catfish, the blue and flathead variety. Next come the crappies that now are in 15 to 25 feet of water, often near lake points. Slip-bobbered minnows can turn the trick for deepwater “specks.” The bass catches are fair.

JAMES RIVER: 115 miles (***) — (Tidal Richmond area and downstream) The usual fishing fare: Blue catfish from just below the Richmond dam and especially down around Dutch Gap and south of there. The bass fishing has seen better days.

CHICKAHOMINY RIVER: 135 miles (***) — (Williamsburg area) Instead of fishing the tidal James, a lot of bass hounds come into this feeder river and they’re doing quite well. Check out the crappies and perch in the upper end of the “Chick.”

AREA 6: WESTERN VIRGINIA

SHENANDOAH RIVER: 75-85 miles (***) — (Route 340, Front Royal, Luray and Bentonville areas) Front Royal angler Dick Fox said: “The river is in great shape with a slight stain. Smallmouth bass are hitting top-water lures, incline spinners and the old standby: tubes in dark colors.”

SMITH MOUNTAIN LAKE: 210 miles (***) — (Route 122, east of Roanoke) Early bird anglers don’t need or get the worm; they get the bass. Docks, points, gravel bars and stump fields hold plenty of largemouths.

UPPER JAMES RIVER: 130 miles (***) — (Route 6, south of Charlottesville, Scottsville) This should finally be a good and productive weekend for waders and boaters looking for smallmouth bass. You’ll catch them on tubes, jigs, grubs, spinners, small top-water buzzbaits and of course fly rudders can connect with streamers and keelbugs.

AREA 7: ATLANTIC OCEAN

MARYLAND: 153-175 miles (***) — (Route 50 to Ocean City) Back-bay flounder fishermen will score, but many will be undersized. The backwaters also contain lots of tiny bluefish and young croakers. Surf fishermen can score on the usual summer fare, such as kingfish, small blues, sand sharks and a few croakers. The distant blue waters around the Washington Canyon and other far-off places deliver a few white marlin, occasional tunas and some dolphinfish. Expect a wahoo now and then.

VIRGINIA: 210 miles to Virginia Beach (***) — Peninsula Salt Water Sport Fisherman’s Association member Ken Neill reports: “The South Tower is absolutely loaded with amberjacks. King mackerel have joined the mix with fish being caught on the inshore humps by anglers targeting tuna and along the ocean front by anglers targeting them with live bait. Bluefin tuna are available from the inshore hills like the Hot Dog and 26 Mile Hill on out to 30 fathoms. Dolphin catches are very good. Billfish encounters are becoming common and there are some bigeye tuna and wahoo in the mix.” For charter bookings, check with 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. Also check out Inside Outside, Gene Mueller’s blogs about outdoors happenings here and elsewhere. Go to www.washingtontimes.com/sports and click on Inside Outside.

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