OK, so we’re not having Arctic weather, but it will be cold again soon enough. When the mercury drops and the wind turns a 40-degree day into one that feels like it’s 25, more than one of the Potomac’s fishing insiders begins to take a hard look at the Occoquan River in Prince William and Fairfax counties.
Its myriad rip-rap shorelines, marina dock pilings and the heavy-bouldered shores beneath I-95 — and for shoreline anglers the pilings of the adjacent Route 1 bridge — can be home to a rich assortment of fish species. Among the local tributaries that flow into the tidal Potomac, few are as promising as the Occoquan.
Along with largemouth bass, occasional resident stripers, sunfish, crappies, catfish, white and yellow perch can be caught throughout the winter. Even when the wind blows on the broad Potomac, the Occoquan provides quiet hiding places where relaxed fishing is possible. We cast a one-sixteenth-ounce or one-eighth-ounce jig hook that has been fed through the body of a 1- or 2-inch-long soft plastic grub. If you’ll allow a bit of blatant commercialism, my favorite curly-tailed winter grubs are made by Berkley. They’re called “Gulp” and the manufacturer claims that fish will pass up real food in favor of these scented grubs. Chartreuse is a fine starter color.
Then there’s the ever-popular 3-inch-long avocado color flat-tailed grub known as Sting Ray. A creamy fish attractant sold under the name of Smelly Jelly is dabbed onto the grub’s body. If you prefer another attractant, have at it, just be aware that the Sting Ray can draw strikes from all the species in this river.
Freshwater Potomac offers action — Our friend Kevin Wilson said he went up to the Potomac’s Washington County, Md., sector where he and a friend, Bob Barber, fished for the toothsome muskellunge. Wilson caught one of about 39 inches retrieving a Musky Innovator Real Fish Sucker, and his pal Barber used a large Rapala X-Rap that fooled a fine walleye. You can see both men’s catches by going to my website, listed at the bottom.
Shenandoah turns up a few fish — Local angler Dick Fox launched his boat at the Shenandoah’s Riverton ramp in Front Royal, Va. He and fishing pal Fred Drury checked the water temperature, which was 36 degrees. All the same, Fox and Drury caught several nice smallmouth bass on soft plastic lures known as tubes.
Lower Chesapeake’s rockfish biting — “The water temperatures are easing into the perfect range for huge striped bass just in time for the holidays,” says Dr. Julie Ball (www.drjball.com), a super-skilled angler who lives in Virginia Beach. Ball is talking about the Chesapeake Bay in an area we mentioned last week. It primarily centers on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel waters, not all that far from the Atlantic. “With 40- to 50- pound rockfish becoming more active, anglers are finding it difficult to think about targeting anything else,” said Ball.
Kerr Reservoir and Lake Anna — Virginia reservoirs, Anna and Kerr, are giving up fine numbers of crappies and occasional good catches of largemouth bass. Kerr, also known as Buggs Island Lake, delivers large blue catfish on bottom-fished cut baits. The best baits for crappies, of course, are small live minnows fished 3 or 4 feet under a float in sunken brush, but 1- or 2-inch curly-tailed grubs in white or chartreuse also do very well.
For more outdoors news, check out www.genemuellerfishing.com