Imagine, exotic tarpon swimming about in Virginia waters. One of the best saltwater anglers along the East Coast, the fishing dentist, Dr. Ken Neill, went to the Eastern Shore where during certain hot summers fishermen in the know hook tarpon from Wachapreague down the coast to barrier island cuts and channels near the Chesapeake Bay’s mouth.
It’s almost as if the fish felt they still were in Florida’s tropical waters. Several days ago, Neill fished for the silvery giants with Capt. Blake Hayden, of Right Tide Charters. “We saw plenty,” said Neill, who had two tarpon snatch the baits. “Both fish just came to the surface enough to show themselves and then the hook pulled out.” The tarpon that busted off looked to weigh from 60 to 80 pounds. What’s next, blue marlin in the Potomac River?
Talking about the Chesapeake, the entire bay delivers good fishing trips for private and charter boaters. You could drop baited hooks among freshly dumped ladles of chum just outside the Chester River, north of the Route 50 Bay Bridge, and hook rockfish without much effort. The same is true for trollers and chummers down around the Diamonds, Thomas Point, Breezy Point, the Gooses, Calvert Cliffs, the Gas Docks, Point No Point and spots along the eastern side, from Hooper’s Island Light down to the Middle Grounds.
Croakers are well-represented throughout all of the Chesapeake’s rivers. We haven’t heard a lot about bluefish, but scuttlebutt has it that a few 5-pounders were hooked by croaker anglers on the Middle Grounds.
Even though the dog days of summer are upon us with stifling humidity and water as warm as a baby’s bath, the upper tidal sector of the Potomac River between the District and Charles County, Md., yields an astonishing number of largemouth bass, blue catfish, Chinese snakeheads and lesser species such as white perch and resident yellow perch.
No less productive are the mountain rivers, the upper Potomac, James, Rappahannock, and all of the Shenandoah. There, smallmouth bass, channel catfish, sunfish and even occasional muskellunge are hooked by float-tripping johnboaters and kayakers. Also finding success are fishermen who like wading the shallows to cast for deeper river pockets with tube lures, grubs, small crankbaits or topwater poppers. Fair warning about trying to float-fish: Many parts of these rivers are so shallow, a johnboat will scrape the bottom.
If you’re a fan of ocean fishing anywhere among Delaware, Maryland and Virginia, the offshore fleet is doing well on tunas of various types but also scattered billfish and sharks. Closer in, sea bass and triggerfish are found by headboat captains, while the backwaters from Ocean City down to Virginia Beach, including the lower Chesapeake Bay, turn up flounder and croakers by the numbers. Many of the flounder are small and must be returned, but in Maryland where 18-inchers are a must, enough are taken to make a trip to Ocean City worthwhile.
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 is in good shape and we have people up here catching big blue catfish on cut baits. Some of them weigh 30 pounds or more.” Fletcher also said that a surprising number of schoolie stripers is still around. Downriver, the bass guide Andy Andrzejewski (301-932-1509) finds plenty of action on early-hour buzzbaits cast across the hydrilla and milfoil beds. He switches to shallow crankbaits and wacky-rigged plastic worms as the sun begins to “bake” the water, but plenty of fish are coming his way in Virginia and Maryland feeder creeks. Do not overlook main-stem rock piles that seem to hold bass nearly all day.
WICOMICO RIVER: 55 miles – The Bushwood stretch of the river and the waters toward Chaptico Bay’s deeper channels give up croakers and white perch, with Norfolk spot seen more often toward the mouth of the river. If you can afford it, pieces of bloodworm on 2-hook, high/low bottom rigs will catch all three species, but the croakers also like shrimp, peeler crab or squid strips. If you’re fishing along shoreline grass edges or pier pilings, the white perch will jump on small inline spinners, spoons and 1/8-ounce shad darts.
MATTAWOMAN CREEK: 40 miles – Early and late hours are fine for bass boaters casting loud buzzbaits across the massive weed carpets in the creek. However, my favorite way of bass fishing here is with a pumpkinseed or blue fleck color craw bait. Flip it along the edge of a drop found all along the upper marsh edges and see if a bass isn’t waiting for it in 5 to 6 feet of water. Spinnerbaits cast to small openings and pockets in the spatterdock will be looked at by the largemouths. Catfish in channel waters like clam necks or cut fish pieces on the bottom.
SO. MARYLAND LAKES: 40-50 miles – At Gilbert Run Lake (Route 6, east of La Plata) you’ll find a few bass and plenty of sunfish if you get there before the children arrive and you know they will make some noise. At St. Mary’s Lake (Route 5, south of Leonardtown to left turn at Camp Cosoma Road) a johnboat helps. If you’re looking for large sunfish, the upper lake ends are fine, especially for flyrodders using small popping bugs. The bass will hop on a small crankbait or a spinner of some kind down below the boat ramp. Don’t overlook the rip-rap at the foot of the dam for bass, but use small lures.
WSSC RESERVOIRS: 20-30 miles – Triadelphia and Rocky Gorge lakes in the Prince George’s/Montgomery/Howard counties corridor will deliver early hour bass for patient shore walkers or johnboaters. I like the lakes’ points and brush tops whenever a 4-inch plastic worm or craw claw bait is added to the mix. Catfish will devour a chicken live bait, or nightcrawlers. Sunfish of all sizes are in the shoreline waters, usually in the shade of overhanging trees.
PATUXENT RIVER: 25-60 miles – Croakers and Norfolk spot are all over the river and the feeder creeks are loaded with good-tasting white perch. Not that the croakers and spot do not taste good; it’s just that white perch are better as far as I’m concerned. At the mouth, don’t be surprised if you see some breaking striped bass early in the day when things are calm.