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.
OCCOQUAN RESEROIR: 33 miles -- Better chances for bass this week. If the rain doesn't come, you'll do well from Fountainhead's lake points and sunken wood up to Bull Run where plenty of underwater wood can hold the largemouths. Catfish and bluegills are hungry, but what happened to the crappies? They're not cooperating.
BURKE LAKE: 29 miles – Expect improved bass chances what with the water temperatures having dropped a bit. Even a small decline in the water temps can change your fishing success. Soft plastics and shallow to medium depth crankbaits can bring strikes around brush piles and points.
CENTRAL & WESTERN MD.
UPPER POTOMAC RIVER: 35-100 miles – The water from Washington County to Montgomery County is low, clear, and willing to turn up smallmouth bass as long as you're willing to wade or bump along some of deeper water in a drifting johnboat. I talked with a DNR biologist stationed in western Maryland, asking him if threats of Hurricane Irene might bring rain into the far western parts and he said, "You never know. It can happen, but there are so many ways she can move, no one knows until it actually happens."
DEEP CREEK LAKE: 179 miles – Lake boaters find increased smallmouth and largemouth bass activity. Water temperatures have cooled quite a bit and the fish are showing more life than in recent weeks. Skipping jigs, grubs and worms under boat docks still is a good way of getting a largemouth, while tubes and small jig'n'pig combos dropped around lake point rocks and dropoffs can find smallies. Yellow perch and fat sunfish are always possible for bait users.
SUSQUEHANNA RIVER: 65-100 miles – Catfish are hooked on clam necks or cut baits at the base of the Conowingo Dam, just as we said last week. A reader of our reports landed a number of fat channel "cats." Bass fishing between Port Deposit and Havre de Grace has been only fair, but the Susquehanna Flats give up a largemouth now and then.
MARYLAND: 45-75 miles – Continued good catches of stripers are made by boaters who are live-lining Norfolk spot at the Gas Docks in Calvert County. But the Gas Docks aren't the only place for rockfish. They are widely scattered in the Bay, with fair to good catches coming from the Chester River at Love Point where chummers score. The Bay Bridge's pilings have been giving up keeper rockfish to jig and bucktail users. The False Channel above the Choptank mouth has been good for rockfish, but there'll be days when you're lucky to get only one bite. So when it's slow, a lot of boaters troll bucktails along the various channel edges and over humps and rises in 30 feet of water. The DNR says if you want spot, try the Hackett's Bar, the mouth of the Choptank and Eastern Bay where jumbo spot are hanging out that are too big for live-lining, but perfect for a frying pan. The best croaker fishing is found after the sun sets and the baits are dropped around Buoy 72A, the Middle Grounds, also the Tangier Sound. We haven't heard much about new Spanish mackerel catches, but there small schools of them in the Bay, especially along the Marland/Virginia state lines. No need to remind us all what will happen if hurricane rains and strong winds come visiting.
VIRGINIA: 75-150 miles – Dr. Julie Ball (www.drjball.com) said the flounder fishing is going great guns in the lower Bay's deep channels, drop-offs, and sunken structures. "Good reports are coming from the 3rd and 4th islands of the Bay Bridge-Tunnel, Back River Reef, and near Buoy 42," she said. Ball adds that cobia catche are practically a sure thing. "Pods of fish appear on the surface in the lower Bay and along the ocean front as they prepare to depart local waters. Many fish are pushing to well over 50-pounds," she said. Schools of large red drum are in the lower Bay, especially near the 3rd and 4th islands. Ball also mentioned that speckled trout are biting on the Poquoson flats and Hungars Creek, with smaller fish coming from the Bayside creeks on the Eastern Shore.
CHOPTANK RIVER: 120 miles – One day the spot and evening croakers bite well, the next day they appear to have disappeared. It's an up-and-down fishery here. Upstream, at the Route 50 fishing bridge in Cambridge, some white perch and occasional croakers or spot are found, but the fishing is not red-hot.
POCOMOKE RIVER: 140-170 miles -- A belated tip of the fishing cap to Maryland angler Justin Kelly who fished near Pocomoke City recently and caught a state record 17-pound, 49-inch, longnose gar. Apparently, he was after gar because he used a live bluegill as bait and a steel leader on the hook to keep the line from being chewed in two. However, bass fishermen have had a tough time in the usual places upstream at Shad Landing and Snow Hill.
NANTICOKE RIVER: 120 miles – The fishing has been super slow if it's bass you're after, although the lower river's salty waters gives up croakers, some stripers, even a speckled sea trout now and then.
LAKE ANNA: 82 miles – My lake reporter said, "Hurricane Irene could change things quickly, but current conditions have the lake level down more than a foot. Skipping your lures under boat docks has been relatively easy. The largemouth bass like that shade although some schooling is starting to happen in mid-lake regions as the bass cruise around and chase baitfish. Stripers have been active breaking on the surface but at Anna, this starts and ends seemingly in the same instant. Trollers connect now all over the lake." He also offered an earth quake update, saying, "It was shaking so badly here, our ceiling fan blades struck the ceiling; pretty much every egg in the refrigerator was broken and most of the pictures fell off the walls; many closets and my wife's pantry were emptied. Thank God the bottle of Jack Daniels in the kitchen didn't break, but I'm seriously worried about my plumbing."
RAPPAHANNOCK RIVER: 47-100 miles – Low water that shows a bit of color, which is good for upper river smallmouth bass fans. Wading is the best way to go around the Rapidan and upstream portions. In the tidal stretches, a few largemouth bass, catfish and perch are hooked, but more cool weather is needed before things really improve.
LAKE BRITTLE: 59 miles – If it doesn't rain heavily by the weekend you'll do well on bass, catfish and bluegills. Cooler night temperatures have helped quite a bit.
LAKE ORANGE: 75 miles – Darrell Kennedy runs the Angler's Landing (540/672-3997) concession if you have questions. It's mostly channel catfish and a handful of bass right now, but give us a few more days with night temperatures in the 50s and watch out. The fishing will take off like a rocket.
LAKE GASTON: 179 miles – Our fishing pal Marty Magone and his pal Randy Carter, of Bracey, Va., have whacked the rockfish with surface lures, such as the Chug Bug and Rico. They find most of their best catches in the upper lake. Some decent bass are taken in the creeks (Hawtree is one) on soft plastics.
KERR RESERVOIR: 200 miles -- Bobcat's Lake Country Store (434-374-8381) can tell you the latest water conditions. Local lake boaters have noticed and improvement in water temperatures and subsequent fish catches. Bass, blue and flathead catfish, even deep-water crappies are making outings worthwhile.
JAMES RIVER: 115 miles – (Tidal Richmond and downstream) If it's blue catfish you want and you can afford a professional guide, get in touch with Mike Hoke, (804-357-8518) who will put you on the "cats." A few good bass are hooked on craw baits and plastic worms. Everybody down this way is waiting to see what Hurricane Irene will do and if she might bring heavy rains to the river.
CHICKAHOMINY RIVER: 135 miles – Check with River's Rest (804-829-2753) for the latest conditions. The bass fishing has been good, with Chatterbaits, plastic worms and spinnerbaits doing the job from the River's Rest area downstream to the marshy river edges and waters around duck blinds.
SHENANDOAH RIVER: 60-85 miles – Our Front Royal friend, Dick Fox, who sends a report every week, wrote: "The riiver is still low but it has cooled down to 78 degrees. The fishing is fair with the early or late bite the best." He sent the report a bit later than usual, so he blamed the earth quake on it. Meanwhile, if you plan to fish the 'Doah, as some call it, use tubes, jigs, grubs all day and small topwater poppers early or late.
SMITH MOUNTAIN LAKE: 210 miles – Currently, the visiting boaters are mostly into finding and hooking the lake's striped bass. They're doing quite well, thank you, especially in the night hours. Bass catches have been fair and they will get a lot better in the next 3 or 4 weeks.
UPPER JAMES RIVER (at Scottsville): 130 miles -- The fishing guide L.E. Rhodes (434-286-3366) is a professional guide who will put you on the smallmouth bass, but you can do it on your own, too. Wading or johnboat drifting has been productive. Use spinners, grubs, tubes and small jigs, as well as Tiny Torpedo surface poppers.
MARYLAND: 153-175 miles – Sue Foster of Oyster Bay Tackle in Ocean City passes along information from charter fishing captain Jeffrey grimes (Hellbent Charters) who said he was fishing a rising tide and caught bluefish, sea bass and flounder. The bait? White artificial strips of Gulp baits made by the Berkley Company. The far offshore bite includes white and blue marlin, some dolphin (fish) and sharks, while the vacationers in the resort city fish the back bay for small bluefish, a few keeper-size flounder and occasional croakers. All bets are off if Hurricane Irene comes even remotely close to the Maryland coast.
VIRGINIA: 210 miles to Virginia Beach – A. Dr. Julie Ball (www.drjball.com) said that nice sized Spanish mackerel are providing action from the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay out to the Chesapeake Light Tower. Deep-droppers are still faring well off the Virginia coast with headboats from Rudee Inlet bringing in tilefish, rosefish, barrelfish, grouper and big seabass. "A few big amberjack are still available at the South Tower and some of the offshore wrecks," she said and added that billfish are at the top of the list in the offshore waters. White and blue marlin, also dolphin (fish) are available in good numbers. However, all eyes are on Hurricane Irene which is predicted to bring bad weather. If she hits the coast, it will cancel all ocean and lower bay fishing.
• For additional outdoors news: www.genemuellerfishing.com.
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