- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 22, 2009

After a week of wildly fluctuating weather and temperatures, the fishing in the next four or five days might be rosy for some and awful for others.

It begins with the upper tidal Potomac River between the District and western Charles County where bass anglers congregate even when the elements aren’t the best. However, even during the rain, northeast wind and dropping water temperatures, the winner of a two-day local bass tournament last weekend managed to catch a total of 25 pounds of largemouths, while others returned to the Mattawoman Creek weigh center with empty livewells.

On Tuesday, I fished with a friend in a tidal Charles County feeder creek and never even felt a tug on the end of my line. On the other hand, my partner caught five bass and three fat yellow perch — all on a small Rattlin’ Thin Fin crankbait that he fished slowly, twitching it near the surface along the edges of marsh banks or sunken wood on one shoreline. I did the same and never had a hit. Go figure.

A reminder that now is the time to visit any tidal river in our area and cast blue/chrome lipless rattle baits to the rock piles that surround many middle and lower river buoys. It works in the Potomac, Patuxent, Choptank, Nanticoke, Rappahannock and James rivers. Don’t overlook jutting points early in the day when the rockfish will be chasing alewifes and white perch in those places. The 1/2-ounce fish catchers go by such names as Rat-L-Trap, Red Eye, or Super Spot, to name a few. Don’t expect the stripers to hang around when the sun climbs high into the sky.

(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) expect pretty much the usual: catfish, some largemouth bass, even occasional smallmouths and walleyes. The bass-boat crowd that prefers this river above all others, had a tough time last weekend, what with rain and strong northeast winds making an angler’s life miserable. However, a few good days lie ahead, even though the temperatures will fluctuate like a yo-yo. The creeks now see a lot of dying grass, much of it hydrilla and milfoil. Even so, stop-and-go retrievals of Rattlin’ Thin Fin lures around open grass pockets and/or sunken shoreline wood can result in vicious strikes from bass, with bonus bites provided by well-fed resident yellow perch.

In the salty waters below the Route 301 bridge in Charles and King George counties, some bucktail trollers report catches of 18- to 20-inch rockfish, while others can’t even catch a cold. Hookups increase as you head downriver past St. Clements and St. George’s islands.

WICOMICO RIVER: 55 miles (**) — We heard from several boaters who slow-trolled bucktails and small spoons inside the river and they connected on keeper rockfish, but this fishing also bounces from feast to famine. One day it’s good, the next day it’s Skunksville.

MATTAWOMAN CREEK: 40 miles (***) — Soft-plastic craws and various-depth crankbaits have done quite well among the creek’s fallen wood and along sharply dropping marsh banks. Bass and catfish can be caught, with the catfish preferring clam snout baits on the bottom.

SOUTHERN MARYLAND LAKES: 40-50 miles (**) — Gilbert Run Park’s Wheatley Lake (Route 6, east of La Plata) and St. Mary’s Lake (south on Route 5, past Leonardtown, to Camp Cosoma Road) received quite a bit of wind and rain over the weekend, and fish catches were almost unheard of.

LITTLE SENECA LAKE: 30 miles (**) — At Black Hill Regional Park (off Route 117 near Boyds, 301/972-9396) and the nearby Seneca Creek Lake (Clopper Road, Gaithersburg, 301/924-2127), now that the weather has settled down, the bass fishing will perk up. However, the past weekend was a stinker.

WSSC RESERVOIRS: 20-30 miles (***) — (Triadelphia, off Route 97 or Route 650 in Montgomery County; Rocky Gorge, off Route 29 in Montgomery County) There will be some decent catches of bass and crappies coming out of both lakes this weekend. Constantly changing temperatures, however, turn choosing the proper lures into a chore. The crappies will jump on a 1/16-ounce white/red shad dart gently jigged up and down 3 or 4 feet under a bobber.

BALTIMORE AREA RESERVOIRS: 50-75 miles (**) — (Prettyboy Lake is on Route 137; Liberty is on Oakland Road in Eldersburg, Carroll County) Local anglers up this way predict fine bass fishing in the coming week. Also good crappie and catfish chances, but I haven’t seen enough proof of it in the past week. here’s hoping it will happen.

PATUXENT RIVER: 25-60 miles (***) — Lexington Park’s Ken Lamb said there have been rockfish caught from the river shore in the last several days. “A 35-incher was taken at Goose Creek just below Cedar Point Sunday,” he said, then urged us to use Sassy Shad lures and surface plugs. Another southern Marylander said he trolled up some keeper rockfish upstream of the Route 4 bridge.

OCCOQUAN RESERVOIR: 25-30 miles (**) — From Fountainhead Park at the Fairfax/Prince William counties’ reservoir, ranger Smokey Davis reported: “The cold, windy and rainy weather last week made fishing nearly impossible and those who ventured out had little success. As the weather calms down, however, things should improve considerably. The baitfish are in the coves, and the bass will follow them. The topwater bite should be good early but as the sun rises switch to a shad color, shallow-running crankbait. White spinnerbaits and smoke-gray 4-inch Senkos will also take bass this time of the year. The reservoir is moderately stained, about a foot below normal pool, with surface temperatures in the low 60s.”

BURKE LAKE: 29 miles (***) — (Ox Road, Route 123, Fairfax County) With recent drops in the water temperature, crappies will bite. Small jigs and darts under a bobber will do around the brush piles. The bass will look at a medium-diving crawdad-color crankbait.

AREA 2: CENTRAL, WESTERN MARYLAND

UPPER POTOMAC RIVER: 35-100 miles (***) — Fisheries biologist John Mullican said the upper Potomac — at least the lower parts — received much-needed rain last weekend. But the far western portions did not fare as well and the water remains very low and clear west of Hagerstown.

“Water temperatures have dropped into the upper 40s to low 50s,” Mullican said. “We have begun our annual fall electro-fishing surveys in the middle and lower Potomac, but the western sites will have to wait for higher flows. Anglers can expect good numbers of walleyes and smallmouth bass this fall.”

DEEP CREEK LAKE: 179 miles (***) — Lake guide Brent Nelson (240/460-8839) said it’s a shame that so many anglers leave this lake the moment the temperatures drop. The fishing now can actually be better, especially if you’re looking for walleyes and fat yellow perch. The same holds for smallmouth bass that tend to be quite active in cooler water. The Maryland Department of Natural Resources’ Keith Lockwood said northern pike and chain pickerel are very active now near the mouths of many of the coves.

SUSQUEHANNA RIVER: 65-100 miles (***) Expect rockfish to cooperate below the Conowingo Dam during water releases that tends to activate the stripers. Various swimbaits, medium-depth crankbaits, hopped bucktails and Bass Kandy lures might provide surprising results. Smartly jigged plastics around the rocks of the Port Deposit shoreline could see smallmouth and largemouth bass action.

AREA 3: CHESAPEAKE BAY

MARYLAND: 45-75 miles (***) — Rockfish and slowly lessening numbers of bluefish can provide trolling and casting successes from the northern parts of the Bay around Pooles Island south to the Bay bridges and onward to the Choptank River mouth, as well as across to the western shore from near Shadyside to the Gas Docks, Point No Point, Buoys 72 and 72A, the general Middle Grounds and over to the Potomac River mouth. Only strong wind can ruin the bucktail trollers’ chances. As concerns the fish after the recent blows on the Bay, from his Lexington Park Tackle Box store, Ken Lamb said, “One captain was reduced to chasing birds and casting lures, which [actually] went very well with rockfish and blues.” Lamb said he is waiting for the first sea-run rockfish of 40 inches or better. Maybe it will happen this week.

VIRGINIA: 75-150 miles (***) — Charter fishing captain Billy Pipkin (804/580-7292; www.ingrambaymarina.com) from his Northern Neck marina, reported that the past week provided a mixed bag of conditions. “Despite nearly a week of bumpy water and windy conditions, fishing continues to go well,” he said. “Cool evenings have dragged the water temperature down to 63 degrees between Smith Point and the Bay Bridge Tunnel. Surface temperatures are varying slightly each day.” Rockfish catches are improving as some fat keepers head south from Maryland (while the Marylanders are waiting for ocean rockfish to head into their waters). Pipkin said the Northern Neck reef offers stripers up to 24 inches, but catching limits requires patience. The charter fishing skipper said that trolling action for 3- to 4-pound rockfish during the morning and late-afternoon hours. “Surface feeding [schools] can be found at Windmill Point, Smith Point, around Buoy 62, the flats below the Davidson wreck and the Middle Grounds,” he said. Bottom fishing can be fine in the lower Rappahannock River with Norfolk spot providing the action. “Trout fishing outside of Ingram Bay Marina is going well as the specks are loaded in the river mouth at this time,” Pipkin added.

AREA 4: EASTERN SHORE/MARYLAND

CHOPTANK RIVER: 120 miles (***) — (Route 50 east to Cambridge) The huge water area that is part of the river mouth will deliver pan-size to 24-inch-long rockfish, along with some blues, for casters and trollers this weekend. Only wind can mess up a promising day here. Upstream, the bass fishing has been slow — very slow.

POCOMOKE RIVER: 140-170 miles (***) — (From Snow Hill down to Shad Landing) Good chances for largemouth bass that like shallow and medium-depth crankbaits in various colors. Plastic worms can also deliver the goods if you can hold them on the bottom with a heavy enough slip sinker during usually strong outgoing tides.

NANTICOKE RIVER: 120 miles (***) — (Sharptown ramp off Route 313, or use the Marshyhope Creek ramp outside Federalsburg) Although the fishing wasn’t very good last week, I feel that the Marshyhope Creek and other feeders, including those on the Delaware side of the river, will deliver the bass and crappie goods this weekend. The crappies will jump on a small white tube jig, held off the bottom by a bobber, while the bass will go for shallow and medium-depth crankbaits cast to sunken wood and dock pilings.

AREA 5: CENTRAL VIRGINIA

LAKE ANNA: 82 miles (***) — (Route 208, Spotsylvania County) Guide Jim Hemby (www.JimHemby.com; 540-967-3313) reported: “The lake is about 18 inches low, and the water temperature has dropped 6 degrees. It’s 61 degrees uplake and 66 degrees midlake. Stripers are breaking midlake and at Dike 3. Pencil poppers are catching most of these fish,” he said, adding that schools of stripers roam over the 30-foot flats where jigging spoons and Super Flukes, rigged on 1/2-ounce heads catch fish, although bigger rockfish prefer gizzard shad that are held down with planer boards and such. Hemby also said the bass are in the backs of the creeks and up in the rivers, with many bass being hooked around shoreline grass in the North Anna River. Crappies can be caught in very shallow water now around beaver huts and other brushy spots.

RAPPAHANNOCK RIVER: 47-100 miles (***) — The upper river above Fredericksburg should deliver some nice smallmouth bass that will jump on a 1/4-ounce crankbait or a tube jig in deep holes that the smallies will go to when fall arrives. Try also a topwater propeller lure early in the day. Tidal water bass catches were way down last week, and I haven’t heard anything sounding even remotely optimistic over the past several days.

LAKE BRITTLE: 59 miles (***) — (Route 793, off Route 29) It’s time for the crappies. Feed them a small live minnow or a 1/16-ounce shad dart or plastic grub under a “cork” wherever you see waterlogged brush, branches and stick-ups. Bass should go for shallow crankbaits or spinnerbaits.

LAKE ORANGE: 75 miles (**) — (Concessionaire: 540/672-3997; look for left-turn sign on Route 20 before entering town of Orange) Crappie and bass anglers have complained about a lack of catches. But the catfish hookups are always possible.

LAKE GASTON: 179 miles (***) — (Route 46, Gasburg) Hawtree Creek and others in the upper portion of the reservoir have been giving up well-fed bass that continue to jump onto “fat” worms, like the Senko or Zero. Some shallow crankbait fishing is also possible. Some nice-sized striped bass have been caught on live shad.

KERR RESERVOIR: 185 miles (***) — (Route 58, Clarksville) Lipless Rat-L-Trap and RedEye lures, along with medium and shallow depth crankbaits have done well on bass. The crappie bite is picking up steam as waterlogged brush is giving up fat “specks” on live minnows. Cut bait produces big catfish in deeper channel waters. The water temperature is in the high 60s.

JAMES RIVER: 115 miles (***) — (Tidal Richmond area and downstream) Guide Mike Hoke, (804/357-8518) said the crappie action around Richmond has been good. he recommends using live minnows. Big blue catfish are being lured with bottom-fished cuts of shad. The water is clear and 68 to 70 degrees.

CHICKAHOMINY RIVER: 135 miles (***) — (Williamsburg area) The biggest catches belong to catfish bottom baiters. The bass fishing has had its ups and downs this week. Crappies should cooperate this weekend. Water conditions are fair. For local water condition information, call River’s Rest (804) 829-2753.

AREA 6: WESTERN VIRGINIA

SHENANDOAH RIVER: 75-85 miles (***) — (Route 340, Front Royal, Luray and Bentonville areas) Fly fishing guru Harry Murray said the smallmouth bass fishing in the North and South Forks of the river is good, with Murray’s Mad Tom in size 8 or Murray’s Heavy Black Hellgrammite in size 6 working well. Conventional tackle users score with small crankbaits and tubes..

SMITH MOUNTAIN LAKE: 210 miles (***) — (Route 122, east of Roanoke) Rockfish are caught not only in deep, lower lake water, but they also are now coming into shallow areas in the Blackwater and Roanoke rivers. Bass and crappies can be found in boat docks and brush piles all around the upper and lower lake.

UPPER JAMES RIVER: 130 miles (***) — (Route 6, south of Charlottesville, Scottsville) Smallmouth are beginning to favor deeper holes in this clear river. Plastic grub users or fly fishermen using streamers in crawfish patterns can score. Zoom flukes also do well.

AREA 7: ATLANTIC OCEAN

MARYLAND: 153-175 miles (***) — (Route 50 to Ocean City) Our prediction last week came through. It blew a gale, as the locals say. Most of the boats stayed in their harbors, but a few bluefish, tautogs and stripers were caught by diehard anglers at the Ocean City Inlet. If wind dies down, there’ll be tunas caught in the offshore areas east of the resort city.

VIRGINIA: 210 miles to Virginia Beach (***) — If the boats can get out to the offshore waters, the guess is that tuna will be caught without effort. Over the wrecks, be reminded that if you catch sea bass they must be released now. Can’t keep any sea bass. Triggerfish, maybe some tilefish are possible on deep-water wrecks. 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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