It wasn't all that long ago when New Orleans super chef Paul Prudhomme came up with his famous blackened redfish and seafood lovers everywhere loved the dish.
So many people clamored for the blackened taste delight that Prudhomme eventually begged people to try other fish species prepared the same way lest the redfish become an endangered species. Commercial netters went after the red drum or channel bass, as it's also known, with a vengeance. Soon, serious restrictions on the catching of "reds" were put into place.
Nowadays, the redfish is doing fine and even is the subject of conversation in the Maryland portions of the Chesapeake Bay - not normally thought of as redfish country. Now, certain sport fishermen and charter fishing captains go expressly after these tough-fighting visitors from the South. This time of year, some are hooked in the Bay, especially at the Mud Leads and the Middle Grounds. They're caught by slow trollers using big spoons but also by croaker anglers who use fragrant baits such as shrimp and crab. Sizes of the red drum in the Chesapeake range from 10 to near 40 pounds. However, don't promise anyone a blackened redfish dinner until you've caught one of these tacklebusters. They're not easy to come by.
What's easy are the stripers that love a live Norfolk spot. The rockfish are hooked by live-liners all over the Bay, with one of the hottest producers (when the tide is right) being the Gas Docks in Calvert County, around the corner of the Patuxent River. Trollers also score, but be prepared to release many undersized fish. In time, you'll come home with your two 18-inch-and-over keepers.
In the lower ends of the tidal rivers, the Patuxent, Potomac and Choptank in Maryland, and the Rappahannock in Virginia, have been good for croakers, striped bass, white perch and plenty of spot. The upper tidal Potomac still is king of the hill when it comes to largemouth bass even when the temperatures climb. Many of the local boaters now play it smart, leaving the house before sunrise and coming back home before noon. Fish can be found, but you must work at it, seek their hiding spots under dense grass mats, in deep dropoffs next to marsh banks, and in the dark recesses of docks and bulkheads.
The Atlantic Ocean turns up tunas, sharks, dolphin fish and marlin in various numbers from Delaware to Maryland, and on to Virginia and North Carolina. Inshore, flounder fishermen concentrate on their favorite species in the backwaters and inlets of Ocean City, Md., and the Eastern Shore waters of Chincoteague and Wachapreague, Va. However, some of the best flounder fishing has been found around the pilings and man-made islands of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel near the mouth of the bay.
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, "We didn't see much rain and the river is in good shape." Rental boaters and rock hoppers find some large catfish on bottom-fished cut baits, also largemouth bass with artificial lures. By the way, Fletcher's is just about the only place that sells D.C. fishing licenses, so if you don't have one, the concession there will fix you up. Fletcher's is located off Canal Road in Georgetown. Downriver, bass fishermen are doing surprisingly well as long as they play the tides coupled to early or late hours. Let's face it, the heat is not exactly helping day-time catches. If you arrive near a main river rock pile, sunken wood, or grass bed edge during a moving tide early in the morning, chances are you'll find bass action on topwater buzzbaits, chug baits, plastic craws or Chatterbaits that run just under the surface. Our fishing has been wonderfully productive from the Pomonkey on down past the Mattawoman mouth, on to the Mallows Bay, Wades Bay and Arkindale Flats waters, but the tides-and-times game must be played. In the slightly saltier parts beginning near the mouth of the Nanjemoy and Port Tobacco feeders, you'll find early morning (or evening) rockfish, white perch and astonishing numbers of catfish, usually on the Virginia shorelines where plenty of rip-rap is available where the fish like to hide. Fish also for rockfish around every buoy that has protective rock lines around the markers. Throw lipless rattle baits in blue/chrome and hang on. Stripers and croakers are available in limited numbers from the Route 301 bridge south to St. Clements, St. George's Island, Blackistone Island and all areas downstream toward Point Lookout. Of course, Norfolk spot are biting on moving tides in most of the lower river, and some of the more skilled fishermen who know where the ledges and dropoffs are outside the Cornfield Harbor area are finding keeper flounder.
WICOMICO RIVER: 55 miles – Croakers are possible, as are plenty of white perch and Norfolk spot. But we hear complaints from croaker fishermen who say they've seen better "hardhead" years.
MATTAWOMAN CREEK: 40 miles – One of my close contacts who prefers to fish for largemouth bass said he had the worst time finding fish in the creek earlier this week. However, the Mattawoman has plenty of bass; it's just that the heat is taking a toll and the bass are finding shady out-of-the-way places that many of us simply never think would hold a bass. Still, I'm certain if you fish the drops along the marsh edges and inside open pockets of weed beds, using Paca Craws and soft fat worms, you'll find action sooner or later.
SO. MARYLAND LAKES: 40-50 miles – At Gilbert Run Lake (Route 6, east of La Plata) you're guaranteed to hook sunfish even when the sun is baking your hide. That's pretty much it. However, at St. Mary's Lake (Route 5, south of Leonardtown to left turn at Camp Cosoma Road) a local fisherman, Shannon Landowski, caught a 7-1/2-pound largemouth while he reeled in a bluegill. The bass inhaled the sunfish and was landed by the angler. (A photo of it can be seen at www.genemuellerfishing.com).
WSSC RESERVOIRS: 20-30 miles – Triadelphia and Rocky Gorge lakes in the Prince George's/Montgomery/Howard counties area are feeling the heat, but deep-water baits can bring catfish, while early morning spinnerbaits and any other vibrating lure, along with soft, scented worms, will interest the bass if you concentrate your efforts on visible water-logged structure. But be reminded, when the sun bakes the water, the bass will head down and act lethargic. Not so with the bluegills. They're willing any time.
PATUXENT RIVER: 25-60 miles – The rockfish in the mouth of the Patuxent are breaking from Drum Point to Cedar Point in good numbers and size. To illustrate, the Tackle Box store owner Ken Lamb went out on Capt. Greg Buckner's "Fin Finder" (301 873 1327) last week. "The plan was to go live-lining at the Gas Docks, but we came across breaking rockfish with lots of birds about a mile east of Drum Point," he said. "We moved into the breaking fish, cut the engine and started casting jigs, poppers with trailing bucktails, and other surface lures. Everything worked. We had our limit of two fish per person and one each for the mate and the captain by 7 a.m." Meanwhile, if you need Norfolk spot for supper or for live-lining bait, they're biting on tiny bits of bloodowrm bait all over the Patuxent whenever the tides are moving.
OCCOQUAN RESERVOIR: 25-30 miles – Daytime heat hasn't encouraged man nor fish to give it a try. Sure, some of the lake specialists are finding topwater and "worming" action before it gets too hot. They concentrate on lake points and sunken brush or solid wood, such as tree trunks. These places usually are preferred hiding or ambush spots for bass. Haven't heard anyhting about crappie catches, but I'll bet that the bluegills will take a nightcrawler chunk.
BURKE LAKE: 29 miles – A handful of bass is nailed on topwater lures early in the day. Then the johnboaters switch to fishing slowly with plastic, scented worms, such as Berkley PowerWorms. Don't expect too much, though. Times can be tough now.
CENTRAL & WESTERN MD.
UPPER POTOMAC RIVER: 35-100 miles – Everything depends on the weather. If strong, sustained rain storms suddenly arrive, it can alter the fishing outlook. But currently, the fishing is fine for fly fishermen casting streamers for smallmouth bass, as well as conventional tackle users who prefer tubes, grubs, spinners, small topwater poppers and 1/4-ounce crankbaits anywhere from Taylor's Landing in Washington County down to Point of Rocks, Lander, Dickerson, etc., in Montgomery County.
DEEP CREEK LAKE: 179 miles – Lake guide Brent Nelson (firstname.lastname@example.org) reports, "Smallmouth bass, although not very big, will hit prop and chugger baits on the surface during low light hours adjacent to rocky main-lake points and flats. When the sun shines, go to small tubes and 1/8-ounce spider jigs. A few largemouth bass will find shade under pontoon boats and in offshore submersed aquatic vegetation. Wacky-rigged soft stick baits and spinnerbaits take the largemouths. Night fishing will find fish shallower and a black spinnerbait or chatterbait with trailer will take both largemouth and smallmouth bass. Walleye fishing is slow but savvy anglers report taking a few on leeches and slow trolled Hot 'n' Tot crankbaits in perch colors. Bluegills will take small poppers and rubber spiders on a fly rod, especially near Sky Valley."
SUSQUEHANNA RIVER: 65-100 miles – The Susquehanna Flats are good for catfish and some decent stripers, even largemouth bass. The insides of the river can deliver a mix of smallmouth and largemouth bass in the Port Deposit area, but the fishing has not been the best ever,
MARYLAND: 45-75 miles – Live-lining small Norfolk spot in hopes of catching a keeper rockfish is all the rage currently. It's being done successfully from the waters above the Bay Bridges down to the Virginia state line. For example, our friend Ken Lamb recounted how St. Mary's County angler Tom Tippett went to the Gas Docks (not far north of the Patuxent River mouth) where he dropped live spot to catch stripers. Tippett quickly caught a 34-incher and others measuring in the 20-inch class. Then comes charter fishing captain Greg Buckner who fished Tippett left. He live-lined with spot at the same Gas Docks' north side, as close the the boundary makers as possible, and did great. He had four rockfish over 30 inches and lots of smaller specimens. The afternoon bite on the falling tide has been best. Similar reports come from the upper Bay's Chester River mouth, the Hackett's Bar area, also the waters near Bloody Point and Eastern Bay, as well as many channel edges and deep holes from the Gooses down to the Middle Grounds. Of course, trollers using small spoons, surgical tubing or bucktails also connect. With the current heat, croakers aren't always easy to get, but the Middle Grounds are still reliable. Not only that, that area and the Mud Leads see the arrival of schools of whopping-size channel bass. Capt. Buddy Shue, according to Lamb, has found 40-inchers several times. "Big spoons trolled in front of the fish are the key, and the ability to smell them (I am not making this up)," said Lamb. Lamb is not joking. I've been with several charter fishing captains who say they can smell fish. What happens is this: the big redfish and other species concentrate on a school of bait, attack and start ripping the little baitfish apart. Many pieces of these baitfish float to the top and do emit an odor. The experts thus "smell the fish."
VIRGINIA: 75-150 miles – Closer to our area, croakers, rockfish and spot head the list in Northern Neck waters, but watch out for some redfish, as well. The big "reds" are beginning to show up in 25 to 35 feet of water, especially along channel edges and sharp depressions. Down in the lowest parts of the Bay, flounder are still the main attraction, said Dr. Julie Ball. "Doormats up to 10 pounds have been seen," she added. "Anglers working structure with jigs, adorned with artificial baits such as Gulp Jerk Shads are coming out on top, with live baiters coming in second," she reported and also said that the Bay Bridge-Tunnel pilings and the third and fourth island tubes are the best flounder hotspots this week. Cobia catches still aren't up to snuff, but some in the 20- to 30-pound range are taken on the Latimer Shoal and the Inner Middle Grounds. Ball said that Spanish mackerel trollers can score at Cape Henry, although some boaters score also at the Bridge-Tunnel. "The best catches are in 20 to 25 feet of water, with planers working better than in-line sinkers," she said. By the way, a few black drum have been hooked at the third and fourth islands of the popular Bridge-Tunnel and locals anglers say some red dum (channel bass) are around, as well. Look also for spadefish and sheepshead and use a variety of baits, including fiddler crabs, blue crabs, clam, and sand fleas.
CHOPTANK RIVER: 120 miles – Once again this week the majority of fish catches are made in the mouth and the insides of the river for a few miles. Small rockfish, with occasional keepers, are the rule along with croakers and spot. White perch and catfish are all over the river way up beyond the Cambridge fishing bridge.
POCOMOKE RIVER: 140-170 miles – From Snow Hill down to Shad and Milburn landings, the chances for bass are quite good, but you have to tie a moving tide (preferably outgoing) to the earliest hours possible. Crankabits, topwater chug baits and poppers do well in spatterdock and sunken wood.
NANTICOKE RIVER: 120 miles – Marshyhope Creek on the Maryland side continues to be your best bet. But I had a call from a local fisherman who read our advice about throwing Rat-L-Traps to flooded river points early in the day anywhere from Vienna downstream. "I had five rockfish," said Artie Miller, "and I kept two of them in the 20-inch range."
LAKE ANNA: 82 miles – My lakeside fishing pal said that lots of thunderstorms and showers have kept the lake level within inches of full pool. That makes it more difficult to target largemouth bass way back under some of the docks. You're just going to have to practice your skipping techniques, for that's been a very reliable pattern recently. As for the stripers, trollers are connecting across the lake from the state park, around the mouth of Contrary and Mitchell creeks and downlake from Dike 1 to the dam. Surface temperatures are now in the 90s all over the lake. The catfish have moved into deep water haunts.
RAPPAHANNOCK RIVER: 47-100 miles – VDGIF biologist John Odenkirk said in spite of heavy rains Monday, the main stem of the river looks good. In fact, it is so low that he recommends wade-fishing if you're above the Rapidan junction, but some float fishing is possible below the junction. "Wade fishing is what we ought to be doing now anyway," said Odenkirk. "The water feels good." He's right and if you throw tubes or small crankbaits you'll hook enough smallmouth bass to keep you coming back.
LAKE BRITTLE: 59 miles – The earlybird gets the worm, or rather gets the bass. It can be done even in 100-degree heat. Start early and finish before the lunch hour. Cast craw baits or Senko-style worms around brush and waterlogged wood. You'll connect. Of course, the bluegills and catfish are not nearly as picky. Worm baits can get both.
LAKE ORANGE: 75 miles – Call concessionaire Darrell Kennedy, of Angler's Landing (540-672-3997) for the latest water conditions. Catfish are guaranteed if you use clam necks or cut fish pieces on bottom rigs. The bass can be a different story, but they can be caught if you patiently work soft plastics around any waterlogged obstacle, especially if deep water is nearby that the bass can "cool" off in.
LAKE GASTON: 179 miles – Lakeside resident Marty Magone said the downlake areas of Gaston will be tough for fishermen because of a current weed eradication program that isn't helping the bass' willingness to chase a bait. They're dumbfounded by it all. But in the uplake stretches, stripers and largemouth bass are going for jerkbaits, early hour topwaters. If it's only bass you prefer, a fat worm, like the Senko and Zero, will draw hits.
KERR RESERVOIR: 200 miles -- Bobcat's Lake Country Store (434-374-8381) Bass, catfish and crappies are yours if you arrive very early. The heat has been oppressive and it's generally the earliest morning and latest evening hours that produce the best results.
JAMES RIVER: 115 miles – (Tidal Richmond and downstream) Most of the catches point to blue and flathead catfish. They're not going to stop taking tasty bottom baits, such as whole bream or cut herring. The bass fishing has not been very good.
CHICKAHOMINY RIVER: 135 miles – Check with River's Rest (804-829-2753) for the latest conditions. Forget the noontime hours if it's bass you want, but working a craw or finesse worm along marsh drops and the insides of the upper river's many waterlogged trees and branches can yield results.
SHENANDOAH RIVER: 60-85 miles – Front Royal's Dick Fox said, "I fished the river hard over the past seven days, caught plenty of smallmouth bass, but the bigger ones are hard to find. The river is below normal levels, water temperature is around 78 degrees.Use small buzz baits, inline spinners and small Senko type baits. They're working for us. Best areas are the deep pockets behind fast water."
SMITH MOUNTAIN LAKE: 210 miles – It's the night fishing that produces the best striper results right now as they rockfish cruise shoreline shallows after sundown in search of food. Most of the large- and smallmouth bass show signs of feeding at daybreak. be there, if you can, and fish points, shore dropoffs and feeder creek mouths with crankbaits, spinnerbaits, Chatterbaits and soft plastics.
UPPER JAMES RIVER (at Scottsville): 130 miles -- This river, famous for its smallmouth bass all along the eastern U.S., hasn't turned up the numbers of fish one normally expects. If no more rains arrive, the river will give up some "brown" fish on tubes, jigs, spinners and the like, but overall successes aren't the best.
MARYLAND: 153-175 miles – Sue Foster of Oyster Bay Tackle in Ocean City says the water temperature in the close-in ocean parts is 75.7 degrees and the fishing is pretty much the same as it was last week. Lots of small flounder, but occasional 18 to 20 inchers can be found. Surf anglers find a few sand sharks, skates and young bluefish. Lots of little stuff is available in the backwaters and inlet that the vacationing kids enjoy. She says you should buy a baggie of artificial bait called FishBites, which is cheaper than buying bloodworms, although bloodworms are still tops when it comes to attracting bites from kingfish. Use a high/low weighted bottom rig with fairly small hooks and feed small pieces of either bait onto the barbs. By the way, bluefish come into the Ocean City Inlet nearly every night and the Oceanic Pier offers fairly decent croaker catches. Offshore blue-water boats find tuna, some marlin, dolphin (mahi-mahi), sharks and closer in bluefish. Headboats still concentrate on sea bass.
VIRGINIA: 210 miles to Virginia Beach – Dr. Julie Ball (www.drjball.com) reports that the Atlantic inlets up and down the Virginia coastline offer large Norfolk spot, croakers, even a few puppy drum and bluefish. The same inlets and adjacent bays occasionally also provide an amazing sight as exotic tarpon surface in those waters and a few lucky anglers actually hook one now and then. Dr. Ball also said that amberjack are taken by anglers who make the long run to the Southern Towers. But there's other offshore action as well. "Deep-dropping [baits] is good, with nice blueline tilefish, black bellied rosefish, seabass, and a smattering of grouper hitting well," said Ball. Meanwhile, the tuna bite is still good. A mixed bag of 30-pound class yellowfin tuna, scattered bigeyes, and bluefin tuna is possible. "Many of these fish are more inshore, with the Fingers producing well," said Ball. The chance for marlin and dolphinfish is good.
For additional outdoors news visit www.genemuellerfishing.com
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