(Because many local and distant waters are beginning to slow down as far as productive fishing is concerned, and concessionaires who rent out boats having packed it in for the year, we now switch to a different format. Today is the first of our cold-weather fishing reports. Actually, it's about colder water temperatures that reduce the movements of a number of fish species. What the air feels like to humans has little to do with it. However, there are some places that will deliver the goods throughout the freezing months, and they will be highlighted every week as readers continue to look for watery places to visit. The regular fishing report with its dozens of listings will - depending on the weather - resume in March 2012.)
For anyone who owns a fishing boat or is willing to stand ashore when nighttime temperatures reach freezing, the top choice from December through February easily can be the large blue catfish that inhabit the upper tidal reaches of the Potomac River. They can be found from the Fletcher's Cove area of the river in Georgetown downstream to western Charles County, in Southern Maryland.
However, the blue cats especially seem to like an area just outside the tributary Piscataway Creek in Prince George's County, Md., where the water depths drop from as little as 12 feet to 35-foot layers, which is perfect for boaters. The area of the green "can" buoy outside the creek mouth, marking the edge of the main-stem of the river, is a good place to check with an electronic depth sounder that can mark the presence of the fish as they gather just above the bottom.
For shore-bound anglers, Fort Washington, run by the National Park Service, has an access road and parking spot not far from the water. Fishermen gather around the very point at the Fort Washington Light to cast their lines into the depths of the Potomac's main body. Typical baits include whole filleted slabs of menhaden, herring or small bluefish (if you can find someone who has a few in a freezer). Most anglers use stout 9- or 10-foot rods, with at least 20- to 30-pound testline on saltwater spinning reels. A 4-ounce bank sinker is slipped onto the line, followed by a large two-way swivel that tied to the end of the line that holds the weight; the other side of the swivel will then be connected to the end loop of a large snelled hook, something in the 6/0 or 7/0 size. This type of rig is known as a fish finder. The skin-on fish fillet is hooked, twisted, then hooked through once more. It will keep the catfish from stealing the bait.
Set the reel drag fairly light or open the bail altogether when a catfish picks up the bait. It should be able to pull line from the reel without noticing any real resistance. Meanwhile, the sinker stays in place, not alarming the fish. Allow it to take the bait, then adjust your spinning reel's drag quickly (or take a baitasting reel's click function off), remove slack line if there is any, and set the hook with all you've got.
The fight is on. Don't be surprised if a 30- or 40-pounder soon thrashes on the surface. Here's hoping you have a large landing net. Blue catfish can attain weights in excess of 100 pounds, although a 60-plus pounder is the biggest ever caught in the Potomac.
Crappie and bass bite continues. There is no reason why tidal Potomac River fans between Washington and Virginia's Prince William County shouldn't be hunting for local crappie and largemouth bass. Both species are available in the Spoils Cove, near Wilson Bridge, also the various marina docks and sea walls in the Swan and Piscataway creeks, and do not overlook the possibilities offered by the Occoquan Bay and River on the Virginia side of the Potomac; ditto for Potomac and Aquia creeks, also Mallows Bay on the Maryland shore. The same goes for Virginia lakes, such as Anna, Gaston and Kerr.
Chesapeake's stripers are waiting. The Maryland and Northern Neck portions of Virginia of the Chesapeake Bay are sure to give up more whopping-size rockfish this week, along with plenty of smaller resident stripers. The most productive catches have come from a broad area between Southern Maryland and the state's Eastern Shore. However, the lower Potomac and Patuxent rivers, as well as Bay portions toward the Choptank River, also provide decent catches. For example, local angler Frankie Houser came into Lexington Park's Tackle Box over the weekend and reported that he caught two 45-inch rockfish, one 43-incher, two 40-inch long beauties and one that measured 39 inches - all in one pass of trolling at Cedar Point around noon. Meanwhile, don't forget that the striped bass season ends in Maryland waters Dec. 15, but continues in the Potomac River and Virginia waters until Dec. 31.
Virginia ocean and bay. Dr. Ken Neill, the lower Chesapeake Bay and nearby Atlantic Ocean fishing phenom, sent word that warm water moved into the offshore Norfolk Canyon and on toward North Carolina. "Boats that ran out there found yellowfin tuna and wahoo waiting for them," he said and added that swordfish are available for boaters willing to spend the night, since swordfish are more likely to pick up lures and baits in the dark.
Virginia's close-in offshore Triangle Wreck is loaded with jumbo sea bass. "Some of those sea bass may come up [cut] in half due to the bluefish that are roaming around," said Neill. Meanwhile, tautog action is good at the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel and other nearby structures. Rockfish catches definitely are improving. "A number of 40-plus-pound stripers have been caught at the northern section of the bridge-tunnel," Neill said. "Larger fish should become more available each week."
By the way, Virginia's tautog regulations are about to become more restrictive. The state must decrease both recreational and commercial tautog landings by 53 percent. Proposals include reducing the bag limit to three fish, increasing the minimum size to as much as 17 inches and increasing the closed time period to as long as 177 days. Let the Virginia Marine Resources Commission know which of the regulation proposals you find least attractive by going to www.mrc.state.va.us/Notices/pn_multi1211.shtm.
For additional outdoors news check out www.genemuellerfishing.com
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