- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 24, 2011

It may not appear as if autumn is on its way, but several cooler-than-normal August nights already have improved the fishing in a number of local waters — something that is sure to happen everywhere later next month.

The water temperatures in the Chesapeake Bay have declined a bit and a number of fishing friends have told us of good catches over the weekend and the past several days. The same is true of certain stretches of freshwater rivers in the mountains of Virginia and Maryland.

Thanks to a female named Irene, there is one minor problem. Hurricane Irene could throw us a curveball filled with rain and strong winds along the middle Atlantic coastline. That would cancel offshore fishing plans for the Ocean City and Virginia Beach bluewater boats that wanted to cash in on currently good billfish hookups in the deep canyon waters many miles east of those resort cities.

Locally, the tidal Potomac River has had its share of ups and downs. Some bass fishermen do very well along the edges of main-stem grass beds and atop a number of sunken rock piles, also known as ballast rocks, deposited by ships long, long ago. We know of one bass fishing guide who has the exact locations of such ballast rocks marked on his GPS unit. He, of course, cashes in on largemouth bass that hang around these ideal bait ambush spots preferred by predator species.

The feeder creeks of the Potomac are good for topwater action early and late in the day, with the bright hours normally calling for soft plastic lures, such as crawfish imitations and scented worms. Did you know, by the way, that a large part of a Potomac largemouth’s diet consists of crawfish? No small wonder then that plastic baits looking like simple crawfish claws with a bit of body above the pincers work so well. In case you’re shopping for them, various brand names include Baby Rage Tail, Paca Craw, or Chigger Craw.

One of the frequent complaints we hear is the absence of croakers (aka hardheads) in Maryland waters, which promptly is followed by anglers who claim they’re not having any problems hooking the tasty fish. One thing is sure, the Potomac River between Charles County, Md., and King George County, Va., has not delivered red-hot numbers. There was a day when the area around the Route 301 bridge that connects the two states was a hotbed for croakers. Not so now. A few are hooked, but not enough of them to bring charter fishing parties to the area. The same goes for the Wicomico River between Charles and St. Mary’s counties. The Bushwood portions of the river used to be loaded with croakers, but now a body has to work hard to bring home enough to feed the family.

Here’s a belated tip of the fishing hat to Justin Kelly of Westover, Md., who fished in the Pocomoke River near Pocomoke City recently and caught a state record 17-pound, 49-inch, longnose gar. Apparently, he was after fish with teeth because he used a live bluegill as bait and a steel leader on the hook to keep the line from being chewed in two. DNR biologist Keith Lockwood said Kelly’s gar exceeded the 36-inch minimum angler award size, and it broke the previous state record of 16 pounds. Although there are shortnose gar in some Maryland waters, including the tidal Potomac River, the longnose variety is considered a rare catch.

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, “The river has color,” which in “angler speak” means it isn’t crystal clear, but eminently fishable. In fact, some anglers would rather not have super clear conditions because it makes the fishing a little tougher. Fletcher also said that the catfish bite has picked up, which is good news. Meanwhile, the licensed bass guide, Andy Andrzejewski (301-932-1509), finds largemouth bass, an occasional Northern snakehead, and suprisingly feisty catfish that chase after his Chatterbait and shallow-lipped lures. He also uses craw-claw baits with good success from the Marshall Hall area down to the Chicamuxen and Quantico creeks, as he seeks out weed bed edges and various points where rocks protect PRFC markers, or stony underwater bottom. As you head downriver, there’s a chance of finding barely legal stripers around the No. 8 and No. 5 river buoy rock piles. Use rattle baits early in the day. The fishing stops when the sun is high in the sky. White perch are available along weed-edged shorelines from Mathias Point downstream to the Route 301 bridge and beyond, but the croaker fishing has its ups and downs — mostly downs. It does pick up a little farther down beyond St. George’s Island and toward Point Lookout.

WICOMICO RIVER: 55 miles – The croakers aren’t cooperating for a number of boaters between Bushwood and Chaptico Wharf. Evening hours and high tides have been turning up a few of the hardheads, but the white perch and catfish catches outshine the croaker hookups.

MATTAWOMAN CREEK: 40 miles – Sliding a soft plastic craw or scented worm from a marsh bank down into 6- to 8-foot depths in the upper creek (past the slow zone markers) can bring a couple of bass to the hook, occasionally a good specimen of 5 pounds or better, as happened to angler, Tony Wellstone, who sent a photo of a 5-pound-plus largemouth that he caught on a Chigger Craw bait. The grass beds near the state park can turn up topwater bass if you’re there before the sun rises too high in the sky.

SO. MARYLAND LAKES: 40-50 miles – Gilbert Run Lake (Route 6, east of La Plata) shows the effects of slightly cooler weather and water. The bass have been more active in mid-lake brush pile spots, while sunfish are making the worm-and-bobber set happy. The same goes for St. Mary’s Lake (Route 5, south of Leonardtown to left turn on Camp Cosoma Road) where nighttime temperatures in the high 50s have awakened some decent-sized largemouth bass that like shallow crankbaits and soft plastics in the channels and points above the boat ramp, but some bass also are found among the rocks lining the dam.

WSSC RESERVOIRS: 20-30 miles – Triadelphia and Rocky Gorge lakes in the Prince George’s/Montgomery/Howard counties are sure to deliver better bass, catfish and bluegill catches because the fish are feeling a drop in previously high water temperatures. If you don’t think that either of the reservoirs can deliver big bass, back when I fished both of the lakes, which is a few years ago, I hooked one on a large Mepps spinner that weighed 7-pounds, 15-ounces.

PATUXENT RIVER: 25-60 miles – The river offers Norfolk spot, many of them too big to use as live bait for stripers. However, why not keep some for the table. The spot have been reported from the mouth clear up to and past the Benedict bridge. Earlybird surface lure casters connect on rockfish around the base of the old Cedar Point lighthouse, but in the dark, you’d better know what you’re doing because this area can be a challenge for novice boaters. Some croakers are hooked on shrimp or bloodworm baits in the deeper channels at Solomons Island.

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