After two consecutive weeks of wind and rain that all but ruined the fishing for those who prefer to go after smallmouth bass and walleyes in the mountain rivers, the muddy waters have cleared and the fishing can resume. For example, the upper Potomac and Rappahannock rivers now are fishable and if we receive nothing more than a passing shower, let the casting begin.
The type of fishing that draws large numbers of followers this time of year, Maryland's striped bass season for specimens 28 inches and longer, is going great guns. Our steadfast reporter for large segments of the Chesapeake Bay in Southern Maryland, Ken Lamb, says the best action for the big stripers over the past week was found in the lower Potomac River. For example, a few days ago a trio of anglers left the Point Lookout Marina in the Potomac's Smith Creek tributary and by the time they cleared the channel markers of the creek and entered the big river, the rods went down and the boat's occupants each had a trophy-size rockfish.
Many similar stories are heard from middle and upper Bay areas, including the areas east of Chesapeake Beach, the channels west of Tilghman Island, Bloody Point and others.
Then there's Christy Henderson, of Buzz's Marina in St. Mary's County, who sent a message that said the flounder have started to take baits from St. Jerome's Creek out into the waters of the adjacent Bay. She also said that croakers are in "thick this week." You can get them anywhere from her creek down to Point Lookout, she added.
The croakers (aka hardheads) also have been caught inside the Patuxent River, all along the lower Potomac, clear up to and inside the Wicomico River, and even inside the Choptank River, as far up as the Cambridge Fishing Bridge/Pier.
On the subject of the tidal Potomac River, every fisheries biologist we've chatted with agrees that no other river in Maryland or Virginia can turn up the numbers and the variety of fish species that this historic waterway can. Of course, between the nation's capital and western Charles County, Md., the largemouth bass heads the list and Mr. Bigmouth won't disappoint you. Two days ago, when a friend and I fished for crappies in a Potomac feeder creek in Prince George's County, we caught what we were after, but the largemouths wouldn't leave us alone. They jumped on tiny grubs intended for fish half their size.
D.C. AND VICINITY
(all listed distances begin in Washington)
POTOMAC RIVER: 0-35 miles -- Ray Fletcher, of Fletcher's Cove, is happy to report that the river has cleared, boat rentals are available, and the weekend should deliver more American and hickory shad, not to mention big catfish. Also, on May 16, the D.C. rockfish season will open and an angler can keep two stripers of at least 18 inches in length, but no more than 28 inches, per day. For river conditions above Chain Bridge, call Fletcher's at 202-244-0461 (or go to www.Fletcherscove.com). Downstream, the bass, crappies, catfish, Chinese snakeheads, increasing numbers of striped bass and white perch are holding court between the District and western Charles County. Bass guide Andy Andrzejewski (301-932-1509) says if you concentrate on the feeder creeks, you'll find fish along marsh banks, sunken wood and spatterdock field edges that offer a nice dropoff next to the vegetation. If you're serious about hooking a big striper while trolling with parachute bucktails and such, start putting your lines over when you reach the St. George's Island area of the river and head south. toward Point Lookout. The action can be terrific.
WICOMICO RIVER: 55 miles -- Quade's Store in Bushwood tells us that the croaker fishing can be very good one day, but slow the next. The croakers are in the river and they've been biting nicely from piers or boats after sunset, particularly. What's needed is a prolonged spell of hot weather to keep the fish active.
MATTAWOMAN CREEK: 40 miles -- Good bass and catfish chances, also some scattered crappies that now are spawning, so forget brush piles; they're in 2 to 4 feet of water, spread out along sandy, gravelly shorelines doing their reproduction chores.
SO. MARYLAND LAKES: 40-50 miles -- Gilbert Run Lake (a.k.a. Wheatley Lake) on Route 6, west of La Plata, has bluegills beginning to sit on their spawning beds on the opposite shore from the concession stand. It's ideal for flyrodders and of course the worm-and-bobber set. At St. Mary's Lake (Route 5 south of Leonardtown to a left turn at Camp Cosoma Road) the crappies are happy to snatch up a small shad dart, fished under a bobber. Bluegills are on their beds and flyrodders can have a ball with small popping bugs or sinking Black Gnat-style flies. A few bass are taken.
WSSC RESERVOIRS: 20-30 miles -- Rocky Gorge and Triadelphia reservoirs in the Prince George's/Montgomery/Howard counties corridor will deliver the goods as far as fat sunfish and crappies are concerned. Work quiet shorelines where both species are now spawning.
PATUXENT RIVER: 25-60 miles -- Ken Lamb, of Lexington Park's Tackle Box, says you'll find croakers in the mouth of the river, most likely near the north or south shoreline. I also heard from a reader who said he caught croakers from the Solomons public fishing pier, using squid strips and small grocery store-bought raw shrimp.
OCCOQUAN RESERVOIR: 25-30 miles -- "Most of the fishermen I have talked with have said the majority of the bass are spawning on the main lake flats in two to four feet of water," said Fountainhead Park ranger, Smokey Davis, who added that there are some bass in the creeks where the majority of the spawn normally takes place but most of the fish are now on the beds on the flats. Some 2- to 4-pounders are caught on plastics, pitched into the spawning bed. Even a few large females are taken on swim baits. "Reports of nice crappies being caught on small minnows or white crappie killer jigs have surfaced but you really have to hunt for them," said Smokey. Conditions are excellent with surface temperatures in the mid to high 60s.
BURKE LAKE: 29 miles -- Crappies and bluegills are spread out along shallow water shorelines, sitting on spawning beds. Stick to depths between 2 and 4 feet and use 1/16-oz. or 1/8-oz. darts, jigs and grubs with or without a bobber. The bass will look at a medium-depth crankbait or soft Paca Craw or Rage Tail crawfish claw imitations.
CENTRAL & WESTERN MD.
UPPER POTOMAC RIVER: 35-100 miles -- Finally, smallmouth bass anglers can pursue their favorite species from Washington County south to Montgomery County. Rock beds, eddys and deep holes in the river will give up smallmouths. Use tube jigs, small crankbaits, grubs or spinners. A few walleyes are hooked on colorful tubes and even crankbaits.
DEEP CREEK LAKE: 179 miles -- No real active spawning activity here as far as the largemouth bass are concerned. This is a colder region of the state and everything is a little behind schedule, but smallmouth bass and walleyes will look at a deep-diving crankbait in red or orange. The coves are always good for perch and some fat crappies.
SUSQUEHANNA RIVER: 65-100 miles -- The Susquehanna Flats rockfish season now is over and the fishing was anything but spectacular this year. Blame tough winds on most of that. It turned the fishing into a real chore. Inside the river, the bass are taking soft plastics, including crawfish imitations and finesse womrs around Havre deGrace marina pilings and main river blowdowns.
MARYLAND: 45-75 miles -- Good striper action is had from Bloody Point and the channels east of Tilghman Isaland south to the Virginia state line, but if you listen to Southern Maryland boaters, all you have to do is run a mile or so from your harbor and a big striper is stuck on your lure hooks. Ken Lamb, of the Tackle Box in Lexington Park, and Christy Henderson, of Buzz's Marina in St. Jerome's Creek, agree that the fishing this week has been wonderful. Christy also reminds fishermen who like to drop their hooks in the waters of St. Mary's County that the flounder have arrived. Some are caught inside St. Jerome's Creek and others are taken just outside the creek mouth.
VIRGINIA: 75-150 miles -- Dr. Ken Neill, the fishing phenom who works the Bay and ocean waters of Virginia, said, "Big black drum have started to bite in the buoys 16, 13, and 10 areas. They have been available inside the ocean inlets for the past couple of weeks. Now they are invading their lower Bay congregating areas. Expect to find fleets of boats, in the afternoons, at each of these areas for the rest of May." Flounder fishermen are complaining that the catches have been sparse, but that can change on a moment's notice. Rockfish and the first small schools of young bluefish are in the mouth of the Bay. The cobias should be here. Maybe they'll be taken in the next several days around the Bay Bridge-Tunnel and other nearby waters.
CHOPTANK RIVER: 120 miles -- There's a chance of hooking a croaker as far up as the Cambridge bridge fishing pier and of course downstream from there. Reliable catches are not possible right now, but that can change quickly with steady, warm weather. There'll also be some decent white perch caught. Rockfish will soon be gathering in the mouth, but these will be of the 18- to 22-inch variety.
POCOMOKE RIVER: 140-170 miles -- Snow Hill to Shad Landing stretches deliver some fair-sized bass if you cast and retrieve Little Deep N or Mann's Baby 1-Minus crankbaits. Try also various colors of scented Berkley PowerWorms.
NANTICOKE RIVER: 120 miles -- (Sharptown ramp off Route 313, or use the Federalsburg ramp on Marshyhope Creek) The Marshyhope's bedding bass are just about ready to finish the spawning process. Some of the main river's side pockets also show spawning fish. Soft plastics thrown directly to the beds can result in vicious strikes as the bass guard their beds zealously. Crappies are possible in all the feeders.
LAKE ANNA: 82 miles -- My lakeside informant says the water throughout the lake has finally cleared, but the crappie fishing has fallen off. During much of this past week, many fishermen are only finding a few specks and they have generally been small fish. "Many bass are done with spawning, some are currently on beds and the rest will probably get on their beds with the full moon next week," he said and added that no one yet is trolling for stripers, but they're still being caught by live bait fishermen.
RAPPAHANNOCK RIVER: 47-100 miles -- Virginia Department of Game & Inland Fisheries biologist John Odenkirk said the river will be nicely fishable and some good numbers of American shad should still be around. Once again, he said that he can't remember the time when there were so many white shad in the Fredericksburg sector. However, they won't be here much longer. Catfish and some perch will take up the slack, and downriver bass hunters have been scoring from Hicks Landing down to and past Port Royal. Upper river smallmouth bass fans will finally get a chance to do some decent fishing.
LAKE BRITTLE: 59 miles -- Bass are starting to come off their nests, but the crappies are still spawning. The fishing can be very rewarding now since you can add spawning bluegills to the mix. Flyrodders can have a ball catching redbreasted sunfish.
LAKE ORANGE: 75 miles -- (Concession stand, 540-672-3997) The bluegills and crappies are spawning and they are anxious to grab anything that comes near their nests. The bass and catfish catches have been good.
LAKE GASTON: 179 miles -- Marty Magone said Hubquarter Creek has been a hotspot for bass, even some that like topwater poppers already. Uplake areas that can be reached by boaters who can launch at the Route 1 bridge ramp to shorten the run find stripers in clear waters. Two per day of 21 inches or more are legal.
KERR RESERVOIR: 185 miles -- Bass and crappie catches have been fine, with occasional 2-pound "specks" caught. The rockfish are always a possibility and the one sure catch will be the large blue catfish.
JAMES RIVER: 115 miles -- (Tidal Richmond and downstream) Bass and blue catfish boaters find the river in good shape and very inviting. The "cats" are willing to suck in a slab of herring or bream, with the bass hanging out in backwater coves getting ready to leave their spawning beds.
CHICKAHOMINY RIVER : 135 miles -- (Williamsburg area) Good bass, crappie and perch fishing in the creek. For bass, stick to the marshy edges of the river and use Paca Craws and such.
WESTERN VIRGINIASHENANDOAH RIVER: (60 to 85 miles) -- Get going. The river is calm and clear. The smallmouth bass should be biting from Front Royal up or down this historic waterway.
SMITH MOUNTAIN LAKE: 210 miles -- Spawning crappies and bass that are either on the beds or getting ready to do it can make for fun outings. Some stripers are hooked, but this kind of fishing is not very predictable.
UPPER JAMES RIVER: 130 miles -- (Route 6 south of Charlottesville to Scottsville) If further bad weather stays away, plan your smallmouth bass outing. The river will be waiting for you. Bring your flyrod streamers, your standard tackle spinners, tubes, grubs and crankbaits and have a ball.
MARYLAND: 153-175 miles -- Sue Foster, of Oyster Bay Tackle in Ocean City, Md., and Fenwick Island, Del., passes along information that quite a few large stripers have been caught in or near the surf from Ocean City to Assateague. Flounder are showing up in the backwaters and that's good news for all of us. Offshore action currently points to sharks, but the bluefish will be here within days.
VIRGINIA: 210 miles to Virginia Beach --The red drum catches around Fisherman Island continue. Dr. Ken Neill sent us some photos of the big channelbass and they were spectacular. Snapper bluefish are hooked from the Virginia Beach ocean front toward the mouth of Chesapeake Bay. The usual flounder hangouts of Chincoteague, Wachapreague and Oyster give up some of the flatties and will get much better in the days ahead.
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