For anglers who live in the nation's capital and the surrounding suburban counties of Maryland and Virginia, things are about to break wide open even though the weather hasn't been very cooperative.
Typically, it begins with the upper, tidal portions of the Potomac River - a body of water that can deliver a piscatorial cornucopia. Currently, the massive largemouth bass population in the river is showing signs of life. It has been a tough winter for our area and nothing is more welcome than the sudden strike from a 3- or 4-pound bass when you least expect it.
It's happening in the main stem of the Potomac from below Belle Haven Marina on the Alexandria side of the waterway across to the Maryland shore, especially in the Spoils Cove, the Fox Ferry rock line and Fox Ferry Point. Add also several downstream feeders, including the Mattawoman, Occoquan, Chicamuxen, Aquia and Potomac creeks.
Best of all, the bass are jumping on red/brown- or brown/orange-lipped crankbaits, rattle baits, plastic worms and Sting Ray grubs along shallow-to-deep marshes and wood-rock-laden shorelines. Meanwhile, some bloodworm dunkers are finding enough white perch for dinner just below the Marshall Hall boat ramp, but the perch already are arriving at Fletcher's Cove in Georgetown, off Canal Road. This is their spawning water and more will show up every day. A few hickory shad are there as well, with many more to join the throng soon.
As concerns Maryland shore walkers who are looking for white perch, the Allen's Fresh sector of the Wicomico River in Charles County still delivers the goods, but schools of yellow perch are just about gone.
In the Chesapeake Bay, most boat owners are awaiting the arrival of trophy rockfish season April 16, but now are busy getting their craft in shape for rigorous trolling trips when 28-inch-and-over stripers are legal. Currently, a few rockfish hunters are working their lures in the Calvert Cliffs nuclear power station's outflow waters with varying success.
Virginia bass boaters have done well at Lake Anna, Lake Gaston and Kerr Reservoir. Incidentally, Kerr (also known as Buggs Island Lake), last week gave up a state record blue catfish of 109 pounds.
D.C. AND VICINITY
(all listed distances begin in Washington)
POTOMAC RIVER: 0-35 miles -- From the Wilson Bridge area, including the Spoils Cove and Fox Ferry Point portions, down to the Mattawoman, Chicamuxen, Occoquan, Potomac and Aquia creeks, the bass bite is on. Brown/orange or red/orange crankbaits, various colored plastic worms, Mann's Sting Ray grubs in avocado color, and even Chatterbaits trimmed with Sassy Shad-type plastics, can produce nicely along shallow-to-deep dropoffs in the creeks and on the main stem wherever marshy banks, wood or rocky banks are found. The spatterdock lilies are growing quickly now. You can see the plants' tops when the tide recedes. Bass can be caught in such areas. Coast Guard-licensed bass guide, Andy Andrzejewski (301/932-1509) two days ago reported that in less than two hours he caught five bass. "All on plastic worms," he said. "The bass were relating to the edges of grasses, either the inside or outside edges. The bass also are found on downed trees in the creeks. Water clarity is mixed; stained in some areas and clearing in others. Water surface temperature is 56 degrees." And from Fletcher's Cove (off Canal Road) Dan Ward reports that white perch are biting and if the weather cooperates just a little, more hickory shad will arrive. However, the striped bass have yet to arrive.
WICOMICO RIVER: 55 miles -- The far upper parts of the river, especially the Allen's Fresh sector, gives up white perch and a few left-over yellow perch.
MATTAWOMAN CREEK: 40 miles -- We've had wonderfully productive outings inside the creek -- lower or upper reaches -- as largemouth bass attacked a variety of 1/4-ounce crankbaits, Sting Ray grubs (smeared with Smelly Jelly) and Chatterbaits. We have not been successful finding crappies and/or perch, but they're in the creek.
SO. MARYLAND LAKES: 40-50 miles -- Gilbert Run Lake (a.k.a. Wheatley Lake) on Route 6, west of La Plata) can turn up a few crappies, sunfish, small bass and perhaps a couple leftover stocked trout. At St. Mary's Lake (Route 5 south of Leonardtown to a left turn at Camp Cosoma Road) early catches of bass have been made by shoreline walkers. Spinners, small crankbaits or nightcrawlers are looked at. Small white jigs, fished under a bobber, can attract crappies.
WSSC RESERVOIRS: 20-30 miles -- Either Rocky Gorge or Triadelphia reservoirs in the Prince George's/Montgomery/Howard counties corridor can turn up some whopper bass because the largemouths are beginning to look for suitable spawning sites. The biggest bass I ever caught in Maryland waters came from Triadelphia on March 17 some years ago. I walked the shoreline, casting a 4-inch Rapala jerkbait around little stickups and brush tops. The bass struck. It weighed 7 pounds, 15 ounces. Meanwhile, small jigs and darts, kept from snagging brush by a bobber, will be good for crappies.
PATUXENT RIVER: 25-60 miles -- Haven't heard anything from the mouth of the river or the first few inside miles, but upstream, around Hill's Bridge, there'll be some white perch and remnant yellow perch caught on worm baits, small spinners or slowly, steadily retrieved 1/8-ounce shad darts. One of our PAX River regulars sent a note from the Western Branch tributary that said he caught a spent male yellow perch, a white perch, a few bass and his first-ever tidal water smallmouth bass.
OCCOQUAN RESERVOIR: 25-30 miles -- Ranger Smokey Davis said a 40-boat (80 participant) bass tournament had the winners bring in six largemouths weighing 24 pounds. That's not bad at all. The bass are biting from one end of the lake to the other in 5- to 6-foot depths, with a variety of lures doing the job. Crappie catch reports have been meager.
BURKE LAKE: 29 miles -- Some bass and crappies are taken around sunken brush, but the best fishing is yet to come.
CENTRAL & WESTERN MD.
UPPER POTOMAC RIVER: 35-100 miles -- Recent rains haven't helped, but as things settle down there'll be walleyes hooked on bright-colored grubs and tubes just upstream of Taylor's Landing in Washington County. Of course, walleyes might be hooked anywhere in the upper river, even the Montgomery County portions. Smallmouth bass might hop on a tube jig or a bright spinner. And here's a question: Why aren't river anglers using the No. 2 and No. 3 Mepps spinners anymore? They can be terrific lures for smallies.
DEEP CREEK LAKE: 179 miles -- Bass guide Brent Nelson (firstname.lastname@example.org), who knows more about Deep Creek Lake than anyone I know, said, "Ice-out northern pike are now available at the back ends of southern coves. Beckman's Cove is your best bet because it heats up the fastest. Hook a large shiner in the dorsal fin and free-line this presentation in 3 feet of water. Walleyes and perch are there, too. Bass are still deep but move up as the afternoon sun warms bluff banks and southern facing rocks. Find one of the many warmer underground springs and the adjacent ambient water temps will harbor both smallmouth and largemouth bass. A four inch smoke grub with a plain 1/8 oz ball head jig, worked slowly and just over the bottom will catch a variety of fish species during and just after ice-out."
SUSQUEHANNA RIVER: 65-100 miles -- White perch are taken in the main stem up to Conowingo Dam, as well as in the feeder creeks between the dam and Havre de Grace. Catch-and-release rockfish are always possible near the dam, but those are smaller resident specimens, not the trophy-size stripers soon to show up here during the annual spawning run. The big stripers usually are targeted by small-boaters on the adjacent Susquehanna Flats.
MARYLAND: 45-75 miles -- Charter fishing captain Eddie Davis (cell phone 301/904-3897), speaking from his St. Mary's County home, said that the Chesapeake Bay in the Maryland parts near the Virginia state line is alive with striped bass. "There's an awful lot of fish here now and we're doing some booking, especially for the upcoming trophy rockfish season." The season runs April 16 through May 15. One fish of 28 inches or longer will be legal per person. Eel baits will not be permitted.
VIRGINIA: 75-150 miles -- Virginia Beach fishing specialist Dr. Julie Ball says schools of big rockfish are heading into the Chesapeake Bay, eventually swimming north to Maryland waters. The lower end of the Bay now offers a mix of small and large catch-and-release stripers. Ball said diving birds give away the schools.
CHOPTANK RIVER: 120 miles -- Upper reaches of the river, a good stretch above Denton, show white perch and some largemouth bass. But don't expect large numbers of bass.
POCOMOKE RIVER: 140-170 miles -- (From Snow Hill down to Shad Landing) The Snow Hill sector might be good for some perch action, but the bass fishing has been slow in all sectors of the river.
NANTICOKE RIVER: 120 miles -- (Sharptown ramp off Route 313 , or use the Federalsburg ramp on Marshyhope Creek) Crappies and some bass are available now, but the upper river parts in Seaford, Dela., have also been good to boaters looking for bass and mixtures of white and yellow perch. The yellow perch, however, are spawned out.
LAKE ANNA: 82 miles -- March can be fabulous for largemouth bass at this nuclear power station lake. Not only bass, but also crappies and a smattering of fine landlocked rockfish. Jigs, grubs, crankbaits and dropshot-rigged plastics will draw the bass in deeper layers of brush, adjacent to sunny shorelines. The crappies jump on a 1/16-ounce white/red shad dart or marabou feather jigs fished under a bobber.
RAPPAHANNOCK RIVER: 47-100 miles -- Pray for a few days of warm, sunny weather -- with no rain -- and the hickory shad will arrive in Fredericksburg. Below the historic city, from Port Royal up to Hicks Landing, there's a chance of a few bass jumping on smartly fished crankbaits, but recent rains haven't helped the water clarity.
LAKE BRITTLE: 59 miles -- Crappies and some fair-sized bass will be available even if it rains. Water clarity isn't the best, but the fish are used to changes in water conditions.
LAKE ORANGE: 75 miles -- (Concession stand, 540/672-3997) Crappies and bass are stirring. Live minnows are best for the crappies, but you can use small crankbaits and spinnerbaits for the bass. Cast them to flooded timber and blowdowns, which of course are also crappie hangouts.
LAKE GASTON: 179 miles -- Lakeside resident Marty Magone has been whacking the bass and some lake stripers using his faithful Lazer blade bait. It's a shiny metal lure with treble hooks and the fish probably take it to be a shiner of some sort. His favorite areas have been near Hawtree Creek an other tributaries.
KERR RESERVOIR: 185 miles -- Everybody in these parts is abuzz about the 109-pound potential state record blue catfish that was caught last week. But don't overlook the fine early bass and crappie opportunities that are available right now, not to mention the widely scattered striped bass in the upper lake.
JAMES RIVER: 115 miles -- (Tidal Richmond and downstream) You can bet your last dollar the river's catfish specialists will be soaking herring or bream baits in search of a monster blue catfish. They can't understand why Kerr Reservoir gave up a 109-pounder. Bass fishing has been less than exciting, but when the dogwoods bloom, there'll be shad and some stripers up in the Richmond sector.
CHICKAHOMINY RIVER : 135 miles -- (Williamsburg area) Grubs, 1/4-ounce crankabits in red or red/orange, or slowly fishing spinnerbaits will find some decent-size bass. Upper end still shows some yellow perch and fat white perch.
SHENANDOAH RIVER: 75-85 miles -- Our friend Dick Fox, who lives in Front Royal, says during his first outing since the high water conditions abated he found stained water, but nearly normal levels and 51-degree water temperatures. Tube lures managed to draw hits from a dozen smallmouth bass. None of them were of bragging size, said Fox.
SMITH MOUNTAIN LAKE: 210 miles -- The water is still cold and bass catches leave a little to be desired. There's a chance for hooking a lake striper is you have herring baits, but it will be a week or two of warmer weather before all-around fishing improves.
UPPER JAMES RIVER: 130 miles -- (Route 6 south of Charlottesville to Scottsville) If heavy rains stay away you'll find some willing smallmouth bass in the quiet pockets below and above riffles. Tubes, jigs and spinners will do the job.
MARYLAND: 153-175 miles -- A good distance east of Ocean City one of the headboats found tautogs. One captain reported a smattering of codfish, which is good news indeed although the plentiful catch days of the 1960s and '70s have not returned. It won't be long now before we'll see some red drum (a.k.a. channelbass or redfish) traveling along close to the beaches where surf anglers can reach them with cut mullet baits.
VIRGINIA: 210 miles to Virginia Beach -- Offshore boaters connect on tautogs over the inshore wrecks, says Dr. Julie Ball, the IGFA representative in Virginia Beach (www.drjball.com). Ball also mentioned that the big striped bass are starting to head into the Chesapeake Bay. Farther out in the ocean, deep-water baits attract blueline tilefish and blackbellied rosefish. The Ocean View Fishing Pier is open, but not much is happening for bait dunkersjust yet. Puppy drum are taking grubs, even topwater lures, inside the Elizabeth River. The fishing dentist, Dr. Ken Neill, adds, "Croaker are here but I have only heard of gillnet catches so far. Big red drum are on the way. They will be biting on the Eastern Shore by the next full moon."
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