The proliferation of large blue catfish in the upper tidal portions of the Potomac River is astounding. In a river that not too many years ago wasn’t even home to this tough piscatorial adversary, the Potomac already has given up several in the 60-pound range and, a few days ago, an angler up around Fletcher’s Cove in Georgetown came to the concession building to show off a 55-pounder. It is believed that these catfish could have migrated north from Virginia’s James and Rappahannock rivers.
The blue “cats,” as they are respectfully known to users of cut fish baits and tough line, rods and reels, can grow to well over 100 pounds. This was proved recently when a world record 143-pound blue “cat” was landed in the huge Kerr Reservoir (aka Buggs Island Lake) in south-central Virginia. The day will come when the Potomac River will join other record-producing waters, including a former record-setting hotspot for blue catfish, the tidal James River, downstream of Richmond.
Meanwhile, this week’s fishing outlook includes the ever-widening possibility of hooking a Chinese snakehead. This week, one of our contacts found six snakeheads attacking his bass lures in the Potomac’s Nanjemoy Creek, located in Charles County. Another fisherman hooked two of them in the river’s Mallows Bay. Our small group that visits the river on a regular basis has seen snakehead catches in the last two outings, including a 10 1/2-pounder by the “Fishing Pole,” the bass guide Andy Andrzejewski.
These Asian invaders are not about to disappear. They’re here to stay and according to the top Virginia fisheries biologist, John Odenkirk, they are not decimating the largemouth bass population. In fact, there have never been more bass in the tidal stretches than this year, so you might as well enjoy the tremendous fight a snakehead puts up and its willingness to charge into virtually every artificial lure known to man. I’m not a big fish eater, so I shouldn’t be asked if they’re an epicure’s delight, but word has it that these fish are every bit as tasty as striped bass. You do know that every snakehead you catch must properly be disposed of, don’t you? The best place for that could be a dinner plate.
On the subject of stripers, Calvert County's Gas Dock in the Chesapeake Bay continues to be the top producer of the striped delicacies for charter and private boaters. The numbers of these fish that hang around the Gas Dock is fantastic. One captain after another justifiably brags about “limiting” out on rockfish within 30 minutes after setting an anchor and dropping live Norfolk spot to the finned predators.
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) don’t be surprised if you hook a large blue catfish, even while standing on the rocks. Ray Fletcher told me that a 55-pounder was caught over the past weekend. “They’re plentiful and they’re getting bigger every year ,” said Fletcher. Elsewhere, heading down the river, the heat has kept quite a few of the bass boat regulars off the water, but bass can be caught, although not in the numbers we’re used to during spring and autumn. We had several outings in recent days when largemouths and an occasional snakehead was boated in the Occoquan’s Belmont Bay, main Potomac waters near Possum Point, and one of our regular contacts called to say he hooked snakeheads and some bass in the Nanjemoy Creek. Overall, conditions aren’t the best, but fish can be caught.
WICOMICO RIVER: 55 miles – Croakers and white perch, plenty of spot and catfish are available from Bushwood up and across to Cobb Island, but the croaker catches are up and down. No one we know of is hooking bunches of them.
MATTAWOMAN CREEK: 40 miles – Topwater buzz baits can do a fine job on the bass during the dawn hours, but be sure to switch to craws and fat worms after sunup. Fish the hydrilla, milfoil and spatterdock, but never overlook sunken or flooded wood.
SO. MARYLAND LAKES: 40-50 miles – Slow going at Gilbert Run Lake (Route 6, east of La Plata), but a handful of sunfish and small bass is possible. At St. Mary’s Lake (Route 5, south of Leonardtown to left turn on Camp Cosoma Road) some of the local johnboaters find largemouth bass, including occasional lunkers, while others can’t even catch a cold. Things haven’t been easy here for most anglers in the past two weeks. Blame the heat.
WSSC RESERVOIRS: 20-30 miles – Triadelphia and Rocky Gorge lakes in the Prince George’s/Montgomery/Howard counties area have been miserly as concerns giving up good numbers of bass, but a few are caught on craw-style baits and crankbaits. If you can be on the water before the roosters crow, try a Rebel Pop-R or a small buzzbait around stickups and sunken wood. Crappies appear to have gone on vacation. Very few are hooked, but sunfish and catfish are available.
PATUXENT RIVER: 25-60 miles – Stripers are in the mouth of the river and at Little Cove Point, while spot, varying amounts of croakers and lots of white perch are available throughout the lower river. The white perch, some anglers say, have never been more plentiful than this year, especially in the lower feeder creeks.
OCCOQUAN RESERVOIR: 25-30 miles – Slow going generally, but earlybirds can beat the sun and find a few bass along shoreline drops and around lake points that show quickly falling water next to them. Soft plastics are usually the best way to go, but early or late hour topwater lures will see some action. Don’t overlook the many blowdowns in this lake and its small side creeks and coves. They often hold bass and crappies.
BURKE LAKE: 29 miles – Not much is happening right now, but that will change quickly when water temperatures drop a bit. Currently, don’t be surprised to get readings in the 80s. Early hour topwater lures, followed by wacky-rigged Senko-style worms can produce a bass now and then.
CENTRAL & WESTERN MD.
UPPER POTOMAC RIVER: 35-100 miles – Up and down the western Maryland portions of the river, the water is clear, low, and warm. However, smallmouth bass are hanging out on the washed-out depressions along the shorelines and if you stay far enough back — so the fish can’t see you — and make extra long casts with spinners, grubs, tubes and small crankbaits or topwaters, you’ll get action. Wading can be especially fruitful.
DEEP CREEK LAKE: 179 miles – Early hours and smartly cast topwater poppers and soft jerkbaits, such as the Zoom Fluke, will be looked at by the largemouth bass that have been hanging around the edges of grass beds. After the sun climbs high, start skipping wacky-rigged Senkos, or Strike King’s Baby Rage Tail craw baits under boat docks.
SUSQUEHANNA RIVER: 65-100 miles – Near the base of Conowingo Dam, a few small stripers, catfish and washed-over bass from Conowingo Lake are hooked. The river from Port Deposit to Havre de Grace sees only small numbers of largemouth bass, but those that are caught (usually on soft plastics) are well-fed.
MARYLAND: 45-75 miles – Charter captain Greg Buckner’s “Miss Susie” hosted the staff of the Tackle Box store in Lexington Park and just as soon as Buckner rounded the mouth of the Patuxent River, he spotted surface-erupting fish at Little Cove Point. “The fish had the water turned white and birds by the hundreds were diving into the moving feast,” said Tackle Box boss, Ken Lamb. More breaking fish appeared at Cove Point, and a long string of birds worked the entire area from Cove Point to the Gas Docks, Lamb recalled. On the northern end of the Gas Docks a dozen boats were anchored, using live spot and one fish after another was hooked. When Buckner stopped to set anchor he had stacks of stripers under the boat. “We had our first fish before the anchor line was tight,” said Lamb. “The rockfish were so plentiful and ravenous that several would follow a hooked fish up to the surface trying to get the visible piece of spot out of its mouth.” To make a long story short, sizes ran from 22 to 27 inches, weighing 3 to 5 pounds, and in 30 minutes the Miss Susie’s mate yelled that everybody had caught his limit of two keeper rockfish. The spotted sea trout that Lamb hooked with a friend last week slowed down in their regular locations in the Honga River, but flounder have shown up in Chrisfield and big red drum are on the prowl over the Mud Leads. Some Spanish mackerel were caught off the Targets below Cedar Point. Bluefish are inching northward. Reports have it that Smith Point (on the Virginia side of the Bay near the state line) has a bunch. By the way, the well-known fishing Lore family down in St. Mary’s County ‘s has launched a new head boat, the “Lucky Charm,” (301-872-5815) that will operate out of St. Jerome’s Creek. They have been connecting on fine catches of croakers on the Middle Grounds this week. Elsewhere, breaking school of rockfish are seen up and down the Bay, with one reader telling me that he ran into a huge school of surfacing stripers just outside the Eastern Bay a few days ago.
VIRGINIA: 75-150 miles – The area closest to the Maryland state line produce breaking rockfish for topwater lure casters, while the Smith Point section turns up more bluefish every day. Croakers, spot and perch are in the Northern Neck feeder creeks and rivers from Smith Point down to the Rappahannock. Meanwhile, from down around the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, Dr. Ken Neill said that the lower Bay’s cobias are beginning to relate to the buoys and along the pilings of the Bridge-Tunnel. One cobia that might have weighed 90 pounds was tagged and released. “Along with the cobias, schools of red drum and some jack crevalle are being encountered by sight fishermen,” said Dr. Neill who also pointed out that the flounder fishing is very good, especially at the CBBT. Large sheepshead continue to be caught at this crossing. Spanish mackerel are available along the oceanfront and throughout the lower bay. Fish can be seen airing out along the Baltimore channel. Some nice speckled trout are coming form the Mobjack Bay area.
CHOPTANK RIVER: 120 miles – Scattered schools of rockfish and croakers are in the mouth, but complaints are heard by some boaters who come home skunked. Upper river shows little action.
POCOMOKE RIVER: 140-170 miles – From Snow Hill down to Shad Landing the fishing has been super slow these past several days. Cooler water is needed.
NANTICOKE RIVER: 120 miles – Marshyhope Creek near Federalsburg turns up a bass now and then, but the fishing is not very good right now.
LAKE ANNA: 82 miles – My lake reporter says if you’re fishing for largemouth bass during the day, go deep and try crankbaits that tap the bottom or big worms on a Carolina rig, which can be time-consuming. For a better shot at real success, cast topwater lures or shallow crankbaits at the crack of dawn to main lake targets such as docks, willow grass beds and lake points. Stripers are feeding most every morning and they’re caught by trollers or anglers who cast topwaters to breaking fish. Rose Valley has been a fair spot this past week but most of the stripers are found downlake from there. To support the striper report, add local lake guide Jim Hemby (540-967-3313) who says the striper fishing is hot. His clients are catching good numbers every morning, “And the bite is getting progressively better,” he said. Hemby said his stripers are found in the mid-lake regions and they’re feeding on 25 to 40 foot flats, gorging themselves on blue-back herring.
RAPPAHANNOCK RIVER: 47-100 miles – The VDGIF’s John Odenkirk says the river above Fredericksburg is in fine shape for waders. “It’s clear, low and fishable,” he said, but pointed out that long casts to shady spots are required for success with the smallmouth bass. In the tidal stretches, a few largemouth bass and plenty of catfish are hooked. The heat has kept the bass from being very active.
LAKE BRITTLE: 59 miles – With water temperatures approaching 90 degrees, you can imagine that the bass fishing is taking a hit. However, that may be due to fewer anglers trying for them. The sunfish and catfish on the other hand aren’t as picky about hot, cool, or warm water. They’re biting, but try to start your fishing day as early as possible.
LAKE ORANGE: 75 miles – Darrell Kennedy runs the Angler’s Landing (540-672-3997) concession if you have questions. Kennedy said crappies can be caught on live minnows around the pier and in brush piles that sit in water up to 15 feet deep. A few walleyes are hooked on crankbaits in the uplake areas, while catfish catches continue to be good throughout the lake. Try clam necks or chicken livers. If it’s bass you want, you need to be there very early in the day and cast loud topwater chugbaits or buzzbaits. Plastic worms also find a bit of action as the day progresses, but remember that the water temperature stands in the mid-80s — not the best conditions for bass fishing.
LAKE GASTON: 179 miles – Holly Grove Marina (434-636-3455) and Craig Karpinski report fairly good bass fishing if you start early or don’t even come near the water until the sun goes down. Topwater lures are a good bet early and late, but soft plastics also see action. If it’s crappies you want, use live minnows in 10 feet (or more) of water around bridge abutments and brush piles. A few landlocked rockfish are possible on jerkbaits and topwater lures early in the day..
KERR RESERVOIR: 200 miles — Bobcat’s Lake Country Store (434-374-8381) reports that the fishing isn’t the best, although some of the anglers who brave the heat are fooling largemouth bass as they use crankbaits or Carolina-rigged plastic worms. The store describes the catfish action as “decent,” which appears to mean that they’re not jumping on the hooks by the dozens. Water temperatures hover near 90 degrees.
JAMES RIVER: 115 miles – (Tidal Richmond and downstream) Catfish and a small number of bass are hooked below Richmond, but this river has seen better days. Blame the hot sun right now.
CHICKAHOMINY RIVER: 135 miles – Check with River’s Rest (804-829-2753) for the latest conditions, but be reminded that the latest word about the bass fishing here has been slow, to put it mildly..
SHENANDOAH RIVER: 60-85 miles – Front Royal’s Dick Fox said, “The water levels keep getting lower, with water temperature now at 84 degrees. We are wading and using the kayaks to move us down the river.” Fox mentioned that he and his fishing pals now use only 6-pound-test fluorocarbon line that the fish can’t see as easily. “The bite is still good, but the smallmouth bass are getting spooky,” he said. “Make long casts with Senko-type baits, also in-line spinners and small tubes. They’re working for us.”
SMITH MOUNTAIN LAKE: 210 miles –The bass fishing has been slow, although some nice largemouths are taken in shaded shallow-to-deep dropoff waters on plastic worms and craw baits. Local reports had it that the striped bass fishing actually was good last weekend, but the best catches always came on live shad, sunfish or herring. These stripers appeared to hang around in large numbers near the mouths of feeder creeks in the middle and lower parts pf the lake.
UPPER JAMES RIVER (at Scottsville): 130 miles — Local Guide L.E. Rhodes (434-286-3366) says smallmouth bass can be caught in a clear, shallow river that has the water temperatures up in the mid-80s. Try to fish the deeper layers of water along shaded shorelines. Fly fishermen use streamers that imitate baitfish, while soft plastics such as flukes, grubs and tubes always do well for conventional tackle users.
MARYLAND: 153-175 miles – Sue Foster of Oyster Bay Tackle in Ocean City says that the flounder, croaker and snapper bluefish parade continues in the back bays behind Ocean City, but those who want to fish from a big boat not far from shore might want to look at Capt. Jeffrey Grimes‘ “Hellbent Charters” that will run half or full day trips in the bay or along the coast. Most of his customers catch flounder on live minnows or Berkley’s Gulp bait. Call him at 717-574-4010 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. The sea bass catches from other headboats are holding up fairly well, while distant offshore boats connecton billfish, sharks and scattered dolphin fish and king mackerel. The air temperature on the offshore boats this week was up to 20 degrees cooler than the typical high 90s and near 100s.
VIRGINIA: 210 miles to Virginia Beach – Dr. Ken Neill said that amberjack are available at the Southern Towers but they have not been the sure thing that they usually are. “Have live bait and a backup plan if you make the run down there,” he said. Offshore, action remains good. “Billfish are doing very well and there is a mixed-bag of dolphin fish, yellowfin and wahoo around. Ocean front at Virginia Beach shows plenty of Spanish mackerel.
• For additional outdoors news visit www.genemuellerfishing.com.
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