The 2,100-acre Occoquan Reservoir, straddling Prince William and Fairfax counties, holds a few secrets that even long-time Northern Virginians might not know about.
For starters, it is true that it is the top-rated bass lake in the Virginia Game and Inland Fisheries Department’s Northern District. It also is a fact that a 66 1/4-pound state record flathead catfish came out of the impoundment. And don’t even mention the possibility that trophy-sized northern pike will be caught here again and again, but it is not true that it provides a world-class crappie fishery, as some of my friends would have us believe.
Perhaps it’s a case of the time-worn “you should’ve been here yesterday” scenario, but whenever a southern Marylander named Mueller visits his septuagenarian friend, Fountainhead Regional Park ranger Smokey Davis, the reservoir’s crappie population suddenly suffers from a serious case of lockjaw. They simply don’t want to play with us.
For our planned day of crappie fishing, Davis even brought along his son, Bill, 50, who visited from Morton, Ill., and now was going to show us how to hook the speckled fish that sometimes are known as calico bass, paper mouth or names not fit to reprint in a family newspaper.
Actually, Bill didn’t come all that way to give us a fishing lesson - he truly is skilled enough to do just that - but rather to help his dad make sandwiches for the three of us. I’m talking about hoagies with multiple layers of various deli meats, lettuce, onion, tomato and cheese that a small dog would have had trouble jumping over.
We began our day in semi-darkness, red-and-green bowlights pointing the way to brushy shoreline spots or fallen trees that now were partially submerged - just the kind of habitat a bunch of crappies would like to call home.
Then why is it that my first cast with a light spinning rod and a 1/16-ounce Beetle Spin lure that was aimed to the right of a sunken log produced a fat bass? That largemouth wasn’t supposed to be there. The crappies, according to my ranger pal, should have been in these posh surroundings, waiting to ambush a small minnow that might happen to swim by.
Bill, the fellow from Illinois who - heavens forbid - roots for the Chicago Bears, not the Redskins, actually hooked a crappie on a small artificial grub during a subsequent stop. It was along a shoreline where a nearly submerged tree’s branches poked from the lake waters. It was at least half the size of a Greyhound bus, but no other fish came out of this maze of waterlogged wood. Oh, Smokey saw his bobber disappear, but when he set the hook only his little Dollfly jig came back to the boat.
Eventually, Bill found another crappie in a small brush-laden cove a long way from the Fountainhead Park marina. The wind now started blowing strongly; brown and yellow leaves flew off the hardwoods, telling us that autumn was definitely here. I caught a crappie so small that it really shouldn’t have been allowed to be away from its mother.
But the bass kept biting a variety of crappie lures without any trouble. As Bill Davis pointed out, “If we had to feed our families with fish, we could have done that today, but not with crappies.”
To add insult to our injured pride, the rain came, pelting our shirts and thin jackets. The vote to call it quits was unanimous.
• Look for Gene Mueller’s Outdoors column Sunday and Wednesday and his Fishing Report on Thursday, only in The Washington Times. E-mail: email@example.com. Also check out Mueller’s weekend fishing report and his Inside Outside blog at washingtontimes.com/sports.