- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 23, 2011

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.


(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.

PATUXENT RIVER: 25-60 miles – Trollers and jig bouncers report good rockfish action off Helen’s Bar. The mouth of St. Leonard’s Creek also produces stripers and if it’s white perch you want, drop pieces of bloodworm into 45 and 50 feet of water in the mouth of the river off Green Holly and Drum Point. Lexington Park’s Ken Lamb said, “A typical day’s catch can be 50 or more fish.”

OCCOQUAN RESERVOIR: 33 miles — Find sunken wood, brush, tree branches and such, and you’ll also find schooling crappies that like to hang out in 5 to 10 feet of water. Live 2-inch minnows are the best bait, but curly-tailed grubs or bucktailed shad darts can also deliver a fine fish supper. One of our bassing pals tells us that he hooked several decent largemouth bass on a black jig’n’pig combination (which includes a black pork chunk on the hook) not far from Fountainhead Park. He was fishing in roughly 8 feet of water, he said.

BURKE LAKE: 31 MILES — Even if the concession is closed, the lake is open to anglers year-around. Sunken brush piles give up crappies and some bass. The fishing for the crappies can be very good in various lake areas, but the bass fishing now will demand slow and deliberate working of plastic grubs or porkrind strips on a hair jig. Deep-running crankbaits can also work. By the way, catfish are willing if you feed them clam necks or cut pieces of herring.


UPPER POTOMAC RIVER: 35-100 miles – The DNR’s western Maryland river crew warns us that lots of rain was forecast, which would raise water levels considerably. With a little luck it won’t be all that bad and the fishing for smallmouths and walleyes can continue. For example, The DNR’s big river specialist, the biologist John Mullican, was finding good smallmouth bass action as far up as Allegany County before it started drizzling.

DEEP CREEK LAKE: 179 miles – Our friend Brent Nelson suggests that right now is the time to cast and retrieve hard jerkbaits. “The jerkbait bite is on big-time at DCL,” said Nelson. “Fish with a suspending Lucky Craft jerkbait in the Ghost Minnow color,” he said. “You will load the boat with smallmouth and largemouth bass, as well as pickerel,” he said. By the way, when you see Deep Creek Lake abbreviated DCL, it’s the accepted way the lake is known by locals up in Garrett County. It’s always just DCL.

SUSQUEHANNA RIVER: 65-100 miles – Mostly catfish in the waters of the nearby Conowingo Dam, but the rock beds from the dam downstream toward Port Deposit hold a few striped bass and largemouths. Overall, the fishing has seen better days.


MARYLAND: 25-65 miles — From the Tackle Box in Lexington Park comes word that large sea-run rockfish are taking trollers’ umbrella rigs, bucktail tandems, and huge spoons. Good reports of catches are coming from Hooper’s Island Light, the PR and HI buoys, also Buoy 72. An Eastern Shore fishing contact also mentioned that the big stripers are being hooked in the mid-Bay area. Smaller specimens in the 18- to 22-inch range are widely scattered and they don’t mind jumping on trolled bucktails and the smaller Sassy Shad lures, especially those in chartreuse or white. In the upper Bay, there’s some chumming being done by rockfish hunters.

VIRGINIA: 75-150 miles – In the waters of the Northern Neck, trollers from the Virginia side of the Potomac River mouth down to Smith Point and on toward the Great Wicomico find plenty of rockfish. The same is true of the Rappahannock River mouth and lower insides of the river. Down around the Bay side of the Virginia Beach area, Dr. Julie Ball (www.drjball.com) said that striped bass catches are increasing daily. “Plenty of school-sized fish are keeping local anglers busy, with a few big fish now making a debut. Casters working the pilings of lower Bay bridges and the Third and Fourth islands’ tubes at the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel are hooking dozens of fish up to 36-inches on Wind Cheaters and Storm lures, especially at sunset,” said Ball and added that boats wire-lining with their lures over the tubes of the bridge-tunnel and working the deeper water at the High Rise area are finding a larger class of fish ranging up to around 30 and 40-pounds. Topwater trolling is working on smaller rockfish along the bridges on an outgoing tide. Ball said that Stretch 25 lures work especially well. Ball also reported that great tautog action is still happening on lower Bay structures. Along with the Bay Bridge-Tunnel, the wind-protected concrete ships off Kiptopeke also deliver fish during windy conditions.


CHOPTANK RIVER: 120 miles – Again this week, the stripers are hanging out in the mouth of the river, but overall catches inside the river leave a lot to be desired. However, the waters nearest to the Bay proper often see plenty of rockfish action.

POCOMOKE RIVER: 140-170 miles — Snow Hill bass boaters find a nice largemouth now and then using jerkbaits, Mann’s Baby 1-Minus lures retrieved around myriad sunken brush and fallen trees. Even wacky-rigged fat worms find a bass here and there. Crappies are in the backs of deep-water coves wherever plenty of waterlogged wood is found.

NANTICOKE RIVER: 120 miles – Nothing worth driving the 100 miles for if it’s good numbers of bass you’re looking for. However, the Marshyhope on the Maryland side and Delaware’s Broad creeks (not far from Sharptown) will give up some largemouth bass and crappies.


LAKE ANNA: 82 miles – Our lake informant said, “One [nuclear power station] reactor is now back online but the down-lake current still hasn’t brought the fish back to the lower lake portions. Stripers are now found up-lake around the Route 208 Bridge, Jetts Island and in and around Plentiful Creek, both at the mouth and inside on the left side, way toward the back. Largemouth bass are in a typical winter pattern. Some crappies can be found around bridge pilings and deep-water docks, but other specks have now moved into deeper layers of water throughout the lake.

RAPPAHANNOCK RIVER: 47-100 miles – The river above Fredericksburg looked okay on Tuesday, but with the rain the chance is good that the water will rise and become discolored. If heavy rains did not materialize, slowly dragging tubes and grubs across deep holes below rock formations can result in fat smallmouth bass. Just don’t expect summer-like numbers.

LAKE BRITTLE: 59 miles – The lake has been drawn down four feet for repairs on the dam, so now is a great time to take a camera and snap photos of exposed structure that normally is covered by water. Not only that, the crappies, bass and catfish are concentrated in a narrower area; catching them might be a little easier.

LAKE ORANGE: 75 miles – Take it to the bank. There are plenty of crappies in this lake and now is a good time to go after them with live minnows, fished 3 to 5 feet below a bobber, or instead of live bait, use a 1/16-oz. hair or feather ig in white or chartreuse. Bass catches have been down, but fat catfish are waiting for a liver or clam bait dropped into the deeper layers of the lake channel.

LAKE GASTON: 179 miles – Our lakeside reporter, Marty Magone, sent photos of several fine stripers that he caught. He said, “Uplake stripers and bass are nailing crankbaits along the main channel near Flat Creek. I had three stripers and 17 bass on Sunday.” He’s also been connecting on stripers in Poplar Creek, using a shiny blade bait, like the Silver Buddy.

KERR RESERVOIR: 200 miles — Bobcat’s Lake Country Store (434-374-8381) can provide a water condition report. Up-lake stripers are possible and large catfish in the deep channel waters are almost a given if you’re patient and have weighted bottom rigs, their hooks loaded with herring or sunfish. The bass and crappie fishing has been pretty good over the past several days.

JAMES RIVER: 115 miles – (Tidal Richmond and downstream) Mike Hoke of Life’s Revenge Guide Service (804/357-8518) can deliver a good outing on this river. The blue catfish bite is heating up. That means fish between 30 and 60 pounds are almost regular catches. We heard that some stripers were caught down around the Appomattox River mouth, while the feeder creeks are giving up a decent largemouth bass now and then. The water is murky.

CHICKAHOMINY RIVER: 135 miles – River’s Rest (804-829-2753) will provide the latest water conditions. Easily the best bass feeder to the James River. The “Chick” always shows plenty of largemouth action, as well as catfish and crappies.


SHENANDOAH RIVER: 60-85 miles – Front Royal resident and skilled fisherman, Dick Fox, said, “The river is about normal but very clear with a temperature of 46 degrees. We are averaging about 8 to 10 fish per trip running from 12 to 15 inches. We are still using tubes, creatures and jigs on 6-pound-test fluorocarbon line.” The weather forecast, however, called for rain which can change conditions very quickly.

SMITH MOUNTAIN LAKE: 210 miles – Scattered catches of rockfish are possible from some upper lake areas down to the “S” Curve. Occasionally, you can even see the striper schools “busting” threadfin shad baitfish on the lake’s surface, which is ideal for casting jerkbaits and Rat-L-Trap lures. The bass and crappie fishing has been good inside some of the feeder creeks that show plenty of bottom structure.

UPPER JAMES RIVER (at Scottsville): 130 miles — If the rain fell as hard as was predicted, there’s a good chance that the weekend fishing will be ruined. The smallmouth bass are here, but if water levels rise, it will be tough sledding.


MARYLAND: 165 miles to Ocean City — Sue Foster, of the Oyster Bay Tackle Shop (410-524-3433) in Ocean City, mentioned that the water temperature in the resort city stands at 55.9 degrees. “A few nice stripers were caught in the surf, but the bite was very hit or miss,” she said, then added that tautog picked up inshore. “Sea bass fishing was excellent offshore. A few stripers were caught offshore, but not many. Some stripers [are close to] inshore bridges.” The Maryland DNR’s Keith Lockwood said that bluefin tunas are moving through the region. “[They] can certainly offer some exciting fishing when encountered. They are known to be in close to shore feeding on menhaden right along with the striped bass and a little farther out they will run down large bluefish like an F-16 going after a bi-plane,” Lockwood said.

VIRGINIA: 210 miles to Virginia Beach – Dr. Ken Neill, one of the top saltwater fishermen along the coast, send the following message: “We ran out of Rudee to check out the warmer water just east of the Cigar. Tuna action was good. We caught 11 yellowfin tunas. We also collected four baby bluefin tunas for Dr. John Graves, under a science permit. The little guys are off to the Virginia Institute of Marine Science and other laboratories. The yellowfin tunas [we caught] are destined for the Thanksgiving Feast. On Monday, we headed back out [to the offshore wrecks] after bluefish (for a scientist in Africa somewhere). We did not do much with the bluefish, catching only one of about 12 pounds. We did very well with the jumbo sea bass, however. We loaded up with some really nice fish, weighing in seven over five pounds. [Had] a lot of sea bass over four pounds.” Meanwhile, Dr. Julie Ball (drjball.com), another saltwater hotshot, reports that if the boats can get out and the wind isn’t too strong, good deep-dropping action can be had. “Plenty of nice blueline tilefish, golden tilefish, blackbellied rosefish, and a variety of grouper are lurking along the edges of the Canyon in 300 to 600 feet of water, or more. Squid, jigs, and cut bait will do the trick,”she reported.

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