Not everyone in town and in the suburbs is going to stay indoors and devour turkey, dressing and pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving Day.
Some of us will spend at least the morning hours chasing after trophy striped bass in the Chesapeake Bay, which can take up a huge amount of watery territory. Fishing for the big ocean-run rockfish can begin just west of the Choptank River on the Eastern Shore side of the Bay in Maryland and continue down past Virginia’s Rappahannock River and on toward the Bay side of the Virginia Beach area.
In fact, the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel’s islands and abutments that are home to wonderful numbers of tautogs also will see trollers and casters connect on rockfish that can weigh from as little as 4 pounds to upward of 30.
The rivers near Washington, primarily the lower Potomac and the Patuxent, are loaded mostly with 18- to 22-inch stripers, but don’t be surprised if your trolling rod suddenly bends like a pretzel when a 30-pound ocean striper is hooked. It has happened this week, especially in the lower ends of the Potomac.
Speaking of the tidal Potomac River - its upper portions between Alexandria and the general Wilson Bridge sector, then continuing south toward the Piscataway Creek and Virginia’s Dogue Creek, as well as Pohick and Occoquan Bay - the crappie population has never been better. During repeated outings in the past several days, we fished only with artificial, soft-bodied grubs and 40 or 50 crappies of good size inhaled our “baits.” Only a small number was kept and filleted to provide a few delicious dinners.
The tidal water bass, meanwhile, are a tad less active, but they often look at the crappie lures and inhale them, while juicy cut-up fish slabs in the river - especially the main stem’s channel edges between the Piscataway and Swan creeks - give up blue catfish of size. The fishing can be so good that now there are several catfish guides on the river, looking only for the tough fighting blue “cats.”
If you’re planning to go after the smallmouth bass that inhabit the mountain rivers, including the Potomac in Western Maryland, or Virginia’s Shenandoah, Rappahannock and James, be aware that it rained heavily as this was written. If it poured as hard in the mountains, the rivers’ water levels will rise and become discolored. As a result, there will be very little successful fishing for the favored species, the smallies, as some call the brown-scaled fish.
Finally, nearby ocean fishing will be decided by wind and rain. If the weather is decent, far offshore boaters from Ocean City, Md., to Virginia Beach and North Carolina’s Outer Banks, will hook yellowfin tunas. The boats closer to land will bring home sea bass, tautogs, even a few flounder. The ocean beaches might even give up a whopper rockfish to surfcasters here and there.
D.C. AND VICINITY
(All listed distances begin in Washington)
POTOMAC RIVER: 0-35 miles – In the District at Fletcher’s Cove (202-244-0461), off Canal Road, an enterprising angler could cast cut-up pieces of fish and attach them to a bottom rig with a strong-enough sinker to keep it in place. Large catfish can be yours and the fishing is quite comfortable even from shore, but be sure to use stout tackle and strong line. Although the concession is closed now, there is plenty of free parking and lots of shoreline fishing room for the “cats,” as well as smallmouth bass and occasional largemouths. Downstream, depending on the proper tides, fantastic fishing for crappies and bass begins at Fox Ferry Point, continues to the outside rock lines of the Spoils Cove. The cove itself also delivers the goods. The crappie schools bring smiles to anglers’ faces from below Alexandria down to Maryland’s Swan and Piscataway creeks. For crappies, all you need is a 1/16-oz., or 1/8-oz. jig hook with a 2-inch Gulp grub on the hook. If you use Sting Ray grubs in avocado color, they also attract bass, along with crappies, clear down to Dogue Creek and Gunston Cove — wherever you can find 5- to 10-foot-deep water with rocks and wood on the bottom to allow the fish to hide as they lie in ambush for baitfish. The local bass guide Andy Andrzejewski (301/932-1509) has been steadily catching both species on Sting Ray grubs, fished on a 1/8-oz., or 1/4-oz. round-headed jig hook, the “bait” dabbed with Smelly Jelly fish attractant in almost any flavor. His areas of choice include portions of the Occoquan, also Potomac and Aquia creeks. By the way, blue catfish are caught just outside the mouth of the Piscataway Creek and up toward Swan Creek. In the saltier portions of the river, trophy stripers are hooked as far up as Piney Point and St. George’s Island, while smaller rockfish are plentiful throughout the lower river. Some of the biggest rockfish of the week are coming from dropoffs around river Buoy 9.
WICOMICO RIVER: 55 miles – Nothing much to write home about. Some cut fish-loving catfish inside, from Bushwood up toward Chaptico, but that is pretty much it unless some schoolie stripers suddenly decide to come into the river. Rockfish in the 18- to 22-inch class are found outside the river mouth, but the trolling for them is hit-and-miss.
MATTAWOMAN CREEK: 40 miles – To be sure, bass can be caught even now, but do not expect large numbers of hookups with the largemouths. Crankbaits and various grubs and “fat” worms can do the job along marsh bank dropoffs during outgoing tides. If you want to fish the remaining grass beds, some bass are still in the greenery, but given a few more nights of very low temperatures and the “grass” will begin to die off, with the largemouths migrating to sunken wood near shore, wherever deep channels or cuts are nearby for them to disappear into. Catfish like clam necks in the center channel of the upper creek, past the slow-down markers.
SO. MARYLAND LAKES: 40-50 miles – Gilbert Run Lake (Route 6, east of La Plata) hasn’t given up much of anything. At St. Mary’s Lake (Route 5, south of Leonardtown to left turn on Camp Cosoma Road) you can hook some fair-sized crappies if you small live minnows under a bobber, although 2-inch plastic grubs also work. A few bass are taken on deep crankbaits or 4-inch Power Worms.
WSSC RESERVOIRS: 20-30 miles – Triadelphia and Rocky Gorge lakes in the Prince George’s/Montgomery/Howard counties corridor will give up crappies in shallow-to-deep shorelines that offer sunken brush or waterlogged trees. The bass fishing has been very slow, but I wouldn’t give up casting jig’n’pig combinations around lake points that offer sharply dropping water on either side.