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Gene Mueller’s Fishing Report

Fine time of year to fish for crappies

- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 9, 2011

What a glorious time of year to be a dyed-in-the-wool sport angler. It's November, with cool nights and fairly warm days, and in the case of the Potomac River, crappies are biting big-time in a number of its tidal portions.

It begins with Spoils Cove, just a hop upstream of the Wilson Bridge where small hair or bucktailed jigs, fished plain or under a plastic bobber, will be looked at by the tasty, speckled fish. Some fat crappies also are hooked in the backwater coves along the Alexandria shoreline, as well as downstream, inside the Piscataway Creek, Pohick Bay and Occoquan River and Bay. There'll be crappies hooked in all of the feeder creeks and small bays clear down to the Arkindale Flats and beyond. Best of all, each of these spots also give up largemouth bass and sometimes unusually good numbers of yellow perch.

Then consider the Chesapeake Bay where, in addition to a fine resident population of striped bass (aka rockfish) there are reports of large ocean stripers that come into the Bay every autumn. Among some of the first ones seen was a 42-inch, 34-pound whopper caught by Ron Drinkwater, of Leonardtown, Md. Christy and Michael Henderson, of Buzz's Marina on St. Jerome's Creek, measured and weighed it. The marina owners said the stripers' gill rakers contained sea lice, something that rockfish pick up only in the Atlantic Ocean, not the Chesapeake Bay. Incidentally, Michael Henderson sent a photo of an ocean striper that he caught a few days before Drinkwater's catch.

In the mountains, in freshwater parts of the Potomac, overall catch rates for smallmouths - as well as catch rates for quality-size bass, - have been some of the highest ever documented, according to Maryland Department of Natural Resources biologist John Mullican.

He said that this is largely due to the record 2007 year class that is now 5 years old and ranging in length from 12 to 15 inches. Mullican mentioned that during sample electro-shockings, large smallmouths have been collected, with the largest measuring more than 20 inches in length. The DNR biologist pointed out that autumn is a perfect time to visit the mountains, enjoy the scenery and catch those fine river bass.

Much the same of what Mullican said is echoed by his counterparts in Virginia who monitor the James, Rappahannock and Shenandoah rivers, all of which are home to good numbers of smallmouth bass even though this time of year they're not as easily fooled as the little ones are during summer.

If it's ocean fishing you prefer, the waters east of Ocean City or Virginia Beach can be productive this time of year. Of course, blustery winds can put a crimp into the fishing, but when it doesn't blow, the offshore wrecks hold sea bass and tautogs, even some fine flounder. In the more distant ocean waters, any day now, the bluefin tunas will arrive and the fishing will be ever so wonderful. By the way, in the lowest Virginia portions of the Chesapeake Bay, close to the ocean, there are large numbers of striped bass that can make a day on the water something to remember.

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, there'll be catfish of good size taken on bottom-fished cut baits. Some well-fed bass are hooked in shoreline cover. Heading downstream, the Spoils Cove and Fox Ferry Point waters are giving up bass, with the Spoils also turning up crappies. It will be a zoo inside the cove when the word gets out that the crappies are schooling. Local bass guide Andy Andrzejewski (301/932-1509)is finding bass, catfish, crappies and yellow perch all on the same lure, the 3-inch Mann's Sting Ray grub in avocado color. However, when we fished a few days ago, we found willing crappies taking Gulp grubs in chartreuse up and down the river wherever small and large feeding flats could be found that were close to hiding cover, such as rock piles and dock pilings. For example, a fish-rich area for a variety of species right now includes the Occoquan Bay and river, as well as portions of Pohick Bay and Maryland feeder creeks, including the Chicamuxen and Mattawoman. Downriver, from below the Route 301 bridge to the St. Clements Island area, some rockfish are caught trolling bucktails and Sassy Shads, but even better action can be expected from St. George's Island south toward Point Lookout. Occasional large schools of surface-feeding rockfish are seen, which makes for great casting sport.

WICOMICO RIVER: 55 miles – Just outside the river mouth, a few rockfish are hooked by slow-trollers. Inside, from Bushwood across to Cobb Island, not much is happening. Even the white perch are hard to find since they've moved into deep river holes.

MATTAWOMAN CREEK: 40 miles – The Burn Point and Deep Point areas of the creek have given up bass, catfish and small stripers. Bass catches are made on bottom-bounced plastic grubs, crankbaits and spinnerbaits. Much the same bass fishing can be had along the marsh banks and dropoffs in the slow zone toward the Mattingly Avenue boat ramps.

SO. MARYLAND LAKES: 40-50 miles – Gilbert Run Lake (Route 6, east of La Plata) has been very slow as far as bass catches are concerned, but with worm baits and bobbers, the kids can hook a few bluegills. At St. Mary's Lake (Route 5, south of Leonardtown to left turn on Camp Cosoma Road) look for crappies in flooded brush, standing timber and shallow-to-deep flats where crappies often look for minnows and such. Bass catches have been low this week.

WSSC RESERVOIRS: 20-30 miles – Triadelphia and Rocky Gorge lakes in the Prince George's/Montgomery/Howard counties can be added to the list of places where the crappie fishing is going to be good. Use small darts and jigs under a bobber near or in sunken trees and brush. The bass can be found waiting in ambush for baitfish alongside jutting lake points. Medium to deep crankbaits will do the job; so will a plastic, scented craw bait.

PATUXENT RIVER: 25-60 miles – The river is loaded with rockfish, says Ken Lamb of the Tackle Box in Lexington Park. "Trollers from the Hawk's Nest to Sheridan Point -- close to twenty miles -- are catching plenty of stripers," he said. "One party of three trolling near Broome's Island had their six fish in about 10 minutes of trolling. Many reports of 30-plus fish per outing are not uncommon. The trick is to troll deep along the edges of the oyster bars and up and down in the deep holes. The fish are healthy and fat, resembling footballs." The well-known charter fishing captain Sonney Forrest (443 532-0836) agrees. He adds that you might want to try it across from Broome's Island and upriver. Incidentally, Capt. Forrest has been cashing in on quality stripers out in the Bay.

OCCOQUAN RESERVOIR: 33 miles -- If the crappies won't take a live minnow, plastic grub or shad dart, fished under a bobber, I'll eat my fishing hat. Creek mouths and main-lake sunken wood are good place to hunt for the speckled fish. The largemouth bass, meanwhile, are hanging around around lake points that show adjacent, quickly dropping water. Use crawfish color crankbaits, plastic craws and jerkbaits. Catfish like clam necks almost anywhere on the bottom.

BURKE LAKE: 31 MILES -- A friend told me that he caught crappies practically within stone's throw of the concession building. "I used a 1/16-ounce white Dollfly jig with a bobber about four feet above the lure," he said. Haven't heard much about decent bass catches.

CENTRAL & WESTERN MD.

UPPER POTOMAC RIVER: 35-100 miles – The weekend will produce smallmouth bass and a few walleyes from Washington County down to Montgomery County. The water is in great shape, but don't expect large numbers of fish. However, what you will catch usually is of a good size. Grubs, small crankbaits and regular inline spinners.

DEEP CREEK LAKE: 179 miles – Bass hookups have slowed for many anglers, but long-lipped crankbaits and slowly fished Sting Ray grubs and such will find action around creek mouths and lake points. Live minnows on drifted spinner rigs can draw strikes from walleyes. Yellow perch like minnows, as well. But they can be fished from hook-and-bobber setups in the deep coves.

SUSQUEHANNA RIVER: 65-100 miles – Maryland's Department of Natural Resources says there's excellent fishing for lunker smallmouth bass in the lower Susquehanna -- and that's a fact. We've taken some exceptionally fine smallmouths around the stone ledges and rocks along the Port Deposit shoreline, but reports of good catches of largemouth bass are not as optimistic. Catfish are hooked below Conowingo Dam by anglers using previously frozen cut herring baits.

CHESAPEAKE BAY

MARYLAND: 25-65 miles -- At Buzz's Marina on St. Jerome's Creek in St. Mary's County, Leonardtown fisherman Ron Drinkwater returned to the dock with a rockfish that showed sea lice in its gill rakers, which is supposed to be proof that it came from the ocean. Drinkwater brought the 43-inch-long rockfish into the Tackle Box in Lexington Park on Monday. "The big fish was not put on a scale, but probably had a weight of close to 30 pounds," said proprietor Ken Lamb. who added, "The huge striper had plenty of sea lice, indicating migration from the Atlantic in the last few days." Drinkwater used a downrigger, with the line holding a single bucktail lure, trimmed with a white plastic curlytail "bait." Lamb said the steady flow of big rockfish has begun and will continue until about the second week of December. The Maryland season ends Dec. 15, but the Potomac River and Virginia seasons continue until December 31. Either way, if you can't hook an ocean striper, all the fish-chasing boaters agree that there are plenty of 18- to 24-inch rockfish in the Bay (and feeder rivers) in the 18- of 34-inch range. They can be cast to during feeding sprays when they erupt on the surface, but also are caught while trolling or jigging most any time. One hotspot this week has been the broad entrance mouth of the Choptank River. By the way, keeper rockfish have been taken on jigging lures around the Bay Bridges' stone abutments, with white perch in the upper Bay found on oyster bars and adjacent dropoffs.

VIRGINIA: 75-150 miles – In the waters of the Northern Neck, trollers and sight casters are hooking rockfish without any problems as the fish have been quite cooperative from Smith Point down to the mouth if the Rappahannock River's Windmill Point. The fishing dentist, Dr. Julie Ball (www.drjball.com) said that speckled sea trout are found all over the lower Bay and the striped bass action is picking up, with mostly schoolies dominating the scene. If the wind blows and boats can't make it out into the Bay proper, "Plenty of action is available within the lower Bay's inlets, rivers, and off fishing piers. At the Bay Bridge Tunnel, anglers are enticing big rockfish while casting 6-inch Storm lures at the rocks of the first island, with some fish pushing to nearly 40-inches this week. Wire liners are also faring well." Ball also said anglers find limits of nice rockfish over the Fourth Island tube, with many fish measuring to around 36-inches. Tautog action is very good in Bay waters, said Ball, whenever the wind slows down enough to let boats reach them. "When anglers can sneak out, most any structure is providing nice sized 'tog averaging from three to eight pounds. Fiddler crab [baits] are becoming harder to come by, but blue crabs are working, too. A few sheepshead are still a possibility in the same vicinities," she added.

EASTERN SHORE/MD.

CHOPTANK RIVER: 120 miles – The vast, wide mouth of the river has turned up good numbers of keeper rockfish, usually hooked on jigging lures or trolled soft and hard baits.

POCOMOKE RIVER: 140-170 miles -- The bass fishing has been very slow over the past several days, but there are spots up and down the river, particularly near Snow Hill where crappies can be caught on darts and grubs.

NANTICOKE RIVER: 120 miles – White perch are found in deep holes south of Vienna, while rockfish often slam into Rat-L-Traps early in the day around grassy river point during high tides, as the stripers chase baitfish. Near the mouth, most of the local boaters troll with bucktails and spoons to catch rockfish.

CENTRAL VIRGINIA

LAKE ANNA: 82 miles – Our lake insider said, "Because of the earth quake here back in August, the [nuclear] power plant still isn't back in operation. That means there's not much current down-lake around the dam or Dike 3. Right now, the word is out that mid-lake and up-lake regions are the places to be fishing. Crappie fishermen are having a ball catching fish in relatively shallow water around main-lake points. A dock pattern is good for the bass. Throw crankbaits, spinnerbaits or slow down and skip Gulp! plastics back under the docks."

RAPPAHANNOCK RIVER: 47-100 miles – Upper river will give up good-sized smallmouth bass, but overall numbers are down as the water steadily chills. The river is in great shape. Downstream, below Fredericksburg, but close to town, there will be some smallmouth hooked in the tidal water. Toward Hicks Landing and Port Royal, it's usually largemouth bass. They like crankbaits, rattle baits and soft plastic craws and grubs.

LAKE BRITTLE: 59 miles – The weekend will have fishermen using small darts and grubs under a bobber and they will catch crappies. A few decent bass and catfish are also available.

LAKE ORANGE: 75 miles – The concession is closed until spring 2012. Crappies are taking small bottom-fished plastic grubs or 1/16-ounce darts under a bobber. Most of the flooded timber and sunken brush hold the flecked fish. Bass catches are down for some reason, but the catfish are available and they like clam snouts.

LAKE GASTON: 179 miles – Our lakeside reporter, Marty Magone, said up-lake bass are relating to the main channel drops and points now that water temperatures are in the 50s. "Deep-diving crankbaits and jig worms have been working very well, he said. "Large crappies up to two pounds [occasionally] slam into the crankbaits. Some fish can still be caught near the dying vegetation in the flats, but it can be slow going." Two days ago, Magone caught 14 bass and one striper.

KERR RESERVOIR: 200 miles -- Bobcat's Lake Country Store (434-374-8381) can provide a water condition report. The crappie and bass fishing is grinding into high gear. Don't forget, Kerr is one of the country's best-known crappie waters. Big catfish take cut baits on the bottom.

JAMES RIVER: 115 miles – (Tidal Richmond and downstream) Coves and shoreline cuts that offer deep-water sanctuary have turned up largemouth bass. The main stem of the river from near Richmond down to and past the Appomattox River mouth gives up blue catfish that will test your knot-tying skills and your gear.

CHICKAHOMINY RIVER: 135 miles – River's Rest (804-829-2753) will provide the latest water conditions. The "Chick" is better, as far as bass are concerned than the main, tidal James River. Few of the local bass boaters will disagree as they find largemouths on crankbaits, Rat-L-Traps and soft craws during slowly receding tides.

WESTERN VIRGINIA

SHENANDOAH RIVER: 60-85 miles – Dick Fox, of Front Royal, said, "The Shenandoah is in great shape, remaining at normal levels with a water temperature of 44 degrees. Fishing is normal now in the cold water and the numbers are way down, but quality is still good. Tubes, grubs, creature baits, crawled along the bottom, are working for us."

SMITH MOUNTAIN LAKE: 210 miles – Weekend visitors will find schooling, land-locked striped bass -- if they shut down their outboard motors the moment they spot a surface eruption by the fish. Cast a Sassy Shad, a large rattle bait or bucktail and you can hook some decent rockfish. Largemouth and smallmouth bass have been less than cooperative, but this lake has plenty of each.

UPPER JAMES RIVER (at Scottsville): 130 miles -- Look for decent catches of larger-than-usual smallmouth bass, but the overall hookup numbers will be way down over those made on smaller specimens during summer. Spinners, crankbaits in crawfish color and plastic grubs and short worms can produce fish.

ATLANTIC OCEAN

MARYLAND: 165 miles to Ocean City -- Sue Foster, of the Oyster Bay Tackle Shop (410-524-3433) in Ocean City, said, "Lousy weather again this week. We had gale force winds on Saturday and 10 to 13 foot seas! The first big striper was caught from the Assateague Island surf on Sunday when the wind calmed down somewhat. Tautog were biting good from the usual haunts in Ocean City most of the week and some of the weekend. Party boats got into a good catch of sea bass [last Friday] before the wind drove them home." The sea bass will be on the menu this weekend if winds are kind. By the way, Foster said that the Delaware Bay, north of Ocean City, is turning up striped bass in the 30- to 40-pound range.

VIRGINIA: 210 miles to Virginia Beach – Julie Ball (drjball.com) reports that speckled sea trout are caught inside Rudee Inlet. "The smaller fish are swarming near the mouth of the inlet and off the jetties, with the best action happening at night," she said. "Anglers are having better luck with larger keepers farther inside the inlet, especially near the Marine Science Museum, where most fish [have been measuring] 19 to 23 inches. Tautogs are biting over inshore and offshore wrecks. In addition flounder and large seabass are in the mix. "Anglers can now keep legal-sized seabass, which is 12.5-inches until December 31st, and big chopper bluefish continue to patrol offshore structures," added Ball. The distant offshore waters have not seen any fishing boats because of strong winds, but the time for bluefin tuna to arrive is here.

• For additional outdoor news, go to www.genemuellerfishing.com

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