As slightly lower temperatures beckon anglers of all stripes over the coming days, bass fishermen have asked if there's a problem in the upper tidal Potomac River regarding the apparent disappearance of submersed aquatic vegetation (SAVs) — the fish-hiding weed beds that are a necessary part of a bass hunter's day.
After discussing this with a professional fisheries biologist and several hard-core river regulars, the consensus is that the presence or lack of the water weeds — mainly hydrilla, milfoil and wild celery — in various parts of the river is an ongoing and ever-changing dynamic. One year, the weed beds show up strongly; another year they're not easily found. For example, dense grass beds in the Potomac's Dogue Creek, downstream of Mount Vernon, have pretty much disappeared. However, new hydrilla and milfoil is again growing and when we fished it a couple of days ago, we found a few bass and catfish that snatched up plastic craws over the emerging vegetation.
It is believed by some bass anglers that Dogue and Piscataway creeks, even parts of Pohick Bay, might have been sprayed with herbicides to answer the complaints of wealthy shoreline residents who wanted the vegetation gone, lest their boats become bogged down in the waterlogged greenery that has become a nationally famed fish nursery. However, biologist John Odenkirk of the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries does not believe this is happening. "The grass comes and goes. Things change from year to year," he said.
Elsewhere, in the Maryland and Northern Neck of Virginia portions of the Chesapeake Bay, the chances of hooking striped bass and slowly increasing numbers of bluefish are good. The best rockfish catches, however, continue to point to the Southern Maryland side of the Bay, especially the Gas Docks section in Calvert County. To be sure, stripers are caught throughout the Bay, but not in the numbers those magical dock waters have been giving up. If you're heading toward the Route 50 Bay Bridge, quite a few stripers are hooked by jig bouncers along bridge abutments.
Spotted sea trout have again been taken in the Eastern Shore's Honga River, with a few also found in the Kedges Straits of the Tangier Sound. To round out the week, perhaps you'll run into a small school of Spanish mackerel. Boaters have been seeing these small, delicious mackerel leaping from the water in a number of places, particularly in Virginia and lower Maryland Eastern Shore parts of the Bay.
Freshwater anglers who are after smallmouth bass in the mountain rivers should fare well in the coming days. The water temperature might drop a smidgeon, and waders or johnboat drifters using a variety of lures will connect on their favorite fish, with the upper James and Rappahannock rivers in Virginia perhaps the best of the week, even though the Rappahannock received a dangerous flash-flood type of rain last weekend. All is well now unless more downpours return.
D.C. AND VICINITY
(All listed distances begin in Washington)
POTOMAC RIVER: 0-35 miles – In the District around Fletcher's Cove (202-244-0461), Ray Fletcher said it's the same old story as last week. "Very warm water, catfish, but little else right now. Much the same is true of the waters below town, although the meteorologists say a little bit of a cooling period is under way. It may help bass boaters and shoreline lure and bait casters from below Wilson Bridge down to Virginia's Aquia Creek tributary, especially in the morning and evening hours. In the lower, saltier portions of the river there are plenty of Norfolk spot and white perch up and down the Maryland and Virginia sides. "Bottom fishing has not been this good in many years," said the owner of Lexington Park's Tackle Box, Ken Lamb. Lamb sees dozens of customers who stop by to show off their catches and he backs it up by sending us dozens of photos.
WICOMICO RIVER: 55 miles – Croakers are hooked on squid, shrimp and crab baits when it's overcast or when the sun begins to get low in the West. The white perch and spots are literally everywhere in this Potomac feeder river.
MATTAWOMAN CREEK: 40 miles – We've had better days in this creek, but early morning boaters find a little bass action on buzzbaits and grass rats, followed by a few hookups in grass pockets and sunken wood if you use Chigger Craws or Baby Rage Tail craw-style baits. There is an algae bloom under way in the creek that can slow down current success rates even more.
SO. MARYLAND LAKES: 40-50 miles – Gilbert Run Lake (Route 6, east of La Plata) is good for paddleboats and kids perhaps hooking a sunfish on a worm-and-bobber rig, but little else. At St. Mary's Lake (Route 5, south of Leonardtown to left turn on Camp Cosoma Road) your chances for bass increase, but the warm water makes for tough hours-long searches before you find a willing largemouth.
WSSC RESERVOIRS: 20-30 miles – Triadelphia and Rocky Gorge lakes in the Prince George's/Montgomery/Howard counties area have been super slow as far as bass catches are concerned. The slight cooling trend that is reaching our area now might help a little.
PATUXENT RIVER: 25-60 miles – The river is loaded with Norfolk spot, along with a good mix of croakers and white perch. Rockfish are all over the mouth of the river and some anglers have hooked them by casting artificials from shore around Cedar Point. Shore fishermen stalking the rocks between Hog Point and the swimming beach on the Patuxent Naval Air Station are catching rockfish on top water plugs, Sassy Shads or bucktails. Breaking schools of stripers are surfacing from Cedar Point up to the Bay's Gas Docks.
OCCOQUAN RESERVOIR: 25-30 miles – The reservoir has seen more productive days, but all is not lost. A few bass are taken alongside lake points where water depths change quickly. Early hours can turn up a cruising largemouth next to sunken wood and brush. Catfish are available as always.
BURKE LAKE: 29 miles – Hopefully, the slight drop in temperatures will increase the bass catches. Right now, there's not much to write home about. A few bass are taken on early hour topwater lures, followed by hookups on small crankbaits and soft plastics. Crappies have been tight-lipped.
CENTRAL & WESTERN MD.
UPPER POTOMAC RIVER: 35-100 miles – The warm waters in western Maryland will have cooled a bit by the time you read this, which makes for increased chances of smallmouth bass chances in the Washington, Frederick and Montgomery counties portions. A small black popper cast toward the Virginia shorelines and brought back in splashy fashion can see bass being fooled. If that doesn't work, never give up on plain Mepps spinners, or fringed tube lures in various colors. Sudden rainstorms can change conditions quickly.
DEEP CREEK LAKE: 179 miles – Skip tubes, worms or creature baits under floating docks and hold on. A fair number of bass are fooled every day by anglers using this method. By the way, deep-water coves are giving up fat yellow perch and bluegills on regular garden worms or tiny minnows.
SUSQUEHANNA RIVER: 65-100 miles – Don't go promising fish dinners to the neighborhood before you come up this way. Things have been slow, especially for bass hunters trying to catch a decent specimen between Port Deposit and Havre de Grace. Catfish, however, are present in good numbers.
MARYLAND: 45-75 miles – The Middle Grounds have been turning up plenty of croakers every day after sunset. The Tackle Box in Lexington Park reported one charter boat loading up on 207 croakers in an hour and a half. Meanwhile, the live-lining of spot at the Gas Docks in Calvert County continues to be amazing. "Huge schools of 'rock' will fight each other for an offered baitfish," said Ken Lamb. A school of Spanish mackerel was seen last weekend off Point Lookout and the spotted sea trout have shown up once again in the back bays and cuts of the Honga River. Heading up the Bay, chummers and trollers connect on a striper along the edges of channel waters between the Gooses and Bay Bridge. In fact, the Bay Bridge pilings have been giving up numbers of rockfish to jig users. The upper parts around the Chester River's Love Point have given up fair rockfish numbers.
VIRGINIA: 75-150 miles – Dr. Julie Ball (www.drjball.com) said some of the boats in the lower Bay are hooking up to a dozen cobias per outing and many of those magnificent fighting fish weigh between 40 and 60 pounds. The biggest cobias of the year hit the scale last week after sight caster, Aubrey Williams, of Chesapeake, Va., took the lead in the state for the year with a 101-pound brute that went for a live bait. "Cobias are starting to transition into their late summer trend of grouping into large schools near the mouth of the Bay and along the ocean front," said Ball. By the way, the flounder fishing is still going strong. "Dozens of doormats, with some weighing up to 11-pounds, are fulfilling limits for anglers," she said. The flounder are striking at jigs and live baits presented along structure in the lower part of the Bay, according to the lady dentist and fishing phenom, Dr. Ball, who wants us to know that huge schools of red drum (channel bass) continue to roam off the ocean front and the lower Bay, especially near the Baltimore Channel. Schools of jack crevalle and tarpon were spotted roaming the same areas with the redfish this week. Along the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, the sheepshead attack crab, clam and fiddler crabs at the pilings and tubes of the wide span. Large croakers are in the same waters.
CHOPTANK RIVER: 120 miles – The mouth is loaded with spot and boaters are finding them by the numbers, then using the little specimens as bait for stripers. The live-lining system produces a few good fish now and then. Croaker catches come and go in these waters, and upper river fishing has seen better days.
POCOMOKE RIVER: 140-170 miles – From Snow Hill down to Shad Landing you could tie into a bass, using Senko-style worms or small crankbaits, if the tides cooperate and you concentrate on sunken tree roots, flooded bushes or spatterdock edges. Not many bass boaters are seen on this river at this time.
NANTICOKE RIVER: 120 miles – Marshyhope Creek near Federalsburg has been super slow as far as bass catches are concerned. In fact, the river clear up to Seaford hasn't been very productive. Lower water temperatures will help immensely. A few rockfish are caught just below Vienna in the early hours as insiders to this river cast Rat-L-Trap lures to river points where the rockfish hang out, looking for food. But forget after the sun rises.
LAKE ANNA: 82 miles – My lake contact said that the slightly cooler weather helped the early morning topwater bite for largemouth bass. A dock pattern continues to produce best results and tossing a medium or shallow diving crankbait way back under a dock and letting it rest will often surprise you with how well that produces strikes. Trollers looking for stripers are getting their best catches in the mornings when the sun is still low in the sky.
RAPPAHANNOCK RIVER: 47-100 miles – After that torrent of storm-generated rain water that resulted in super-fast water and several people having to be rescued in the Fredericksburg area last week, things have returned to normal. The upper river will deliver some decent smallmouth bass to waders and flatbottom johnboat drifters. Cooler night temperatures during the second half of the week will definitely be a bonus. The tidal portions below Fredericksburg have been stingy about giving up good numbers of largemouth bass. To be sure, a plastic worm or craw bait will lure one out of its hiding spot inside a sunken tree or the mouth of a feeder creek, but the better fishing will come in late September.
LAKE BRITTLE: 59 miles – Slow going for bass, but sunfish and catfish are possible. The water simply is too warm for productive bass outings.
LAKE ORANGE: 75 miles – Darrell Kennedy runs the Angler's Landing (540-672-3997) concession if you have questions. Catfish and bluegills are willing if you are. The bass catches are down, way down.
LAKE GASTON: 179 miles – Holly Grove Marina (434-636-3455) will supply last-minute weather conditions if you're heading this way. Early mornings in the upper lake areas and feeder creek mouths are good for topwater hookups on stripers and some hefty bass, but overall numbers are not what they will be when autumn arrives.
KERR RESERVOIR: 200 miles -- Bobcat's Lake Country Store (434-374-8381) can tell you the latest water conditions. Catfish are heading the list of catches and a few bass boaters say they're finding a largemouth now and then. Let's face it, it's the summer doldrums and the fishing will get better eventually.
JAMES RIVER: 115 miles – (Tidal Richmond and downstream) A few hefty blue and flathead catfish are hooked in the Dutch Gap area on chunks of juicy, cut fish attached to bottom rigs, but little else is happening right now.
CHICKAHOMINY RIVER: 135 miles – Check with River's Rest (804-829-2753) for the latest water conditions. The bass fishing has seen better days, although a few decent largemouths are taken early in the day along brushy or marshy shorelines on soft jerkbaits, fat worms that are wacky- or Texas-rigged.
SHENANDOAH RIVER: 60-85 miles – Front Royal's Dick Fox said, "The river remains low, with water temperatures staying around 85 degrees. The fishing has slowed up a bit, what with the warmer water, but smallmouth bass can still be caught. We are still using the same lures, such as topwater plugs, spinners and small plastic baits. Your best bet is to fish early in the day or late in the evening."
SMITH MOUNTAIN LAKE: 210 miles – Nighttime striper anglers find some action, but you must seriously hunt for your smallmouth or largemouth bass. The fish in this lake don't care for hot weather and they've seen far too much of it this year.
UPPER JAMES RIVER (at Scottsville): 130 miles -- Local Guide L.E. Rhodes (434/286-3366) can be called if you wish to book a professional. Meanwhile, the next several days should be good for waders and johnboaters going after smallmouth bass with a variety of lures. That includes flyfishing streamers and poppers.
MARYLAND: 153-175 miles – Sue Foster of Oyster Bay Tackle in Ocean City said the flounder fishing in the back bays and from the ocean pier has been very good. Although you must content with plenty of undersize flatties, a good number of 18- to 22-inch specimens have been hooked on drifted minnows or squid strips. "Croaker fishing is up and down in the bay," she said, with some days turning up bonanza catches, while others give up little. "Bluefish are biting around the Inlet area and Route 50 Bridge and a few nice stripers were caught at the inlet," added Foster. If you like big Norfolk spot, the back bay is loaded with them. Sharks, skates, small bluefish and kingfish are hooked in the surf, with the Route 50 bridge a good bet for stripers and blues. The nearby offshore headboats find sea bass and flounder, while the distant blue-water boats get into billfish, sharks and dolphin fish when all goes right.
VIRGINIA: 210 miles to Virginia Beach – According to the Virginia Beach Fishing Center, the Spanish mackerel fishing along the Virginia Beach ocean front continues to deliver the goods. Many of the fish weigh over two pounds (which is good for Spanish mackerel) and they're caught by swiftly trolling small silver spoons and the like. Good numbers of snapper bluefish are mixed in with the mackerel. Dr. Julie Ball (www.drjball.com) adds that black-tip sharks up to six feet in length are showing up in coastal chum slicks. Black-ti0p sharks up toPlenty of Taylor bluefish are also around. A good number of sharks, especially black tips, are sniffing out chum slicks along the coastal and lower Bay waters. Some of these fish are pushing to over 6-feet. "Amberjacks are still circling offshore wrecks and the Southern Towers," said Ball, "but the fish are holding tight to the towers lately." In the distant offshore waters, the billfish action is still good, with blue marlin showing up more frequently. Catches are spread out from the Norfolk Canyon to the Cigar. Tuna are widely scattered, and a few dolphin fish, wahoos and mako sharks are hooked.
• For additional outdoors news, check out www.genemuellerfishing.com.
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