- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Rain might raise the water levels of mountain rivers, but Western Maryland fishermen don’t believe it can stop them from going after smallmouth bass in the Potomac.

The same is true for Virginians who prefer the Shenandoah, Rappahannock and James rivers. Surely, the coming weeks will give us more settled weather. I, for one, have had it with the rain.

Even when it’s wet, the upper tidal Potomac River promises good catches of bass. The largemouths are feeling the slowly lowering water temperatures and are responding accordingly. They know that lean feeding days lie ahead and try to fatten up in preparation for winter. Open pockets in the water vegetation and edges around fallen trees and rocky shoreline portions are good choices for casters of firetiger color crankbaits, white/chartreuse-skirted Chatterbaits and soft plastic crawfish imitations. Remember, the Potomac’s bass feed on crawfish more than most people expect.

Large Virginia reservoirs, including Anna, Gaston, Kerr and Smith Mountain, are delivering outstanding catches of bass for the same reason the Potomac River’s largemouths are interested in eating. Winter is coming, and the fish know it.

In the Chesapeake Bay, the striped bass are active now that fall is here and the water temperatures have dropped.

From the Tackle Box in Lexington Park, proprietor Ken Lamb said, “Trollers, lure casters and surf casters - all are catching rockfish in the Patuxent, Potomac, and the Bay proper [where] rockfish and blues are mixed, many of them breaking on the surface up and down the ships channel.

Many of these large schools of fish are small, but decent-sized specimens can show up anywhere, anytime.”

The fishing in the Atlantic Ocean begins along the shores of Maryland’s Ocean City where flurries of small bluefish charge into the beach waters every day.

In the back bays behind the resort city, the rockfish and tautogs have been more cooperative, while the deep-sea charter fishing boats connect on scattered yellowfin tunas and a few billfish. Closer to shore, sea bass are a given around ocean wrecks. In Virginia, there’s a better-than-average chance for well-fed channel bass (red drum) in the surf waters of the Eastern Shore’s barrier islands, but offshore boaters also do well as they hook yellowfin tunas and dolphin fish.

Finally, the Coastal Conservation Association/Virginia says the current menhaden management system has allowed this critically important fish species to decline to its lowest abundance ever recorded. The CCA/VA urges concerned anglers to register their concerns by letting the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) know they want to protect this vital forage stock that bluefish, striped bass, cobia, sea trout, flounder, red drum and sharks depend on. Seabirds, including the osprey, also feed on menhaden.

Currently, overfishing of menhaden by the “reduction industry” (it includes commercial netters in the Chesapeake Bay who sell the menhaden to plants that turn the little oily fish into various products) is occurring.

In August, the ASMFC approved Draft Addendum V to the Atlantic Menhaden Fishery Management Plan that raises the overfishing threshold while proposing new rebuilding targets. A copy of Addendum V and the public hearing schedule for the Atlantic Coast can be found on the ASMFC website, http://www.asmfc.org/public

The nearest public meeting will be held Oct. 18 at 6:30 p.m. at the Potomac River Fisheries Commission’s John T. Parran Hearing Room, 222 Taylor St., Colonial Beach, Va., 22443.

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, Ray Fletcher said the river is nicely fishable, but he, like all of us, doesn’t know how much rain is expected. If we receive an inch or less of precipitation, the fishing for catfish and a few largemouth bass will be fine. In the main stem and feeder creeks of the river below the District you can expect decent catches of bass, catfish and a few snakeheads starting with the Belle Haven area’s backwater coves and pockets and extending down to Broad and Piscataway creeks, although we’ve had better luck in the main stem near Little Hunting Creek where the bass are looking at Baby 1-Minus lures in firetiger colors, as well as soft plastic Chigger Craws in open pockets among the milfoil and hydrilla weeds. The fishing continues from the Marshall Hall stretch down to Virginia’s Pohick Bay, and every creek on either side. Good catches come from the Quantico and Aquia creeks. Yes, a few decent fish are hooked in the Chicamuxen and farther down in the main stem’s Mallows Bay. But by the time you get past Wade’s Bay, it’s time to begin thinking of early morning rockfish around rocky shores, buoys and such where the stripers will jump on rattle baits, including Strike King’s Red Eye, or the Rat-L-Trap. Just be sure you fish before a hard sunrise. They’ll disappear into deep water the moment the bright light hits the shallows. Down-river, rockfish are hitting white Sassy Shads and BKD’s around Ragged Point, says Ken Lamb. “The fish love the rocky bottom inside of Ragged Point in the mouth of Nomini Bay,” he said, adding that the river now is filling up with 18- to 24-inch rockfish in all the normal holes.

WICOMICO RIVER: 55 miles – Nothing much is happening inside the river except that there are plenty of hungry white perch and willing catfish. The buoy rocks just at the entrance of the Wicomico is holding rockfish that will look at a Sassy Shad, fished on a 3/8-ounce or 1/2-ounce jig hook, or a lipless rattle bait in blue/chrom.

MATTAWOMAN CREEK: 40 miles – Bass catches are holding up well. Early hours or overcast days invite the use of topwater poppers and grass rats. The channel ledges along the marsh banks always seem to produce largemouths that can’t stay away from a craw bait, such as the Baby Rage Tail, or Chigger Craw. However, now is also the time to start using small crankbaits wherever a bit open water is available adjacent to structure.

SO. MARYLAND LAKES: 40-50 miles – Gilbert Run Lake (Route 6, east of La Plata) offers small bass, sunfish and maybe a crappie or two. At St. Mary’s Lake (Route 5, south of Leonardtown to left turn on Camp Cosoma Road) the bass fishing is getting better every day as water temperatures have begun to decline, but we can’t locate any schools of crappies just yet. Hang in there. They’ll be schooling any day now.

WSSC RESERVOIRS: 20-30 miles – Triadelphia and Rocky Gorge lakes in the Prince George’s/Montgomery/Howard counties area have shown slightly increased bass activity, especially for anglers using jointed Rebel or Rapala jerkbaits, 1/4-ounce Mann’s Baby 1-Minus and other shallow-lipped crankbaits. Fish around any stickup or fallen log that you see. Plastic craw claws work well Texas-rigged and cast to lake point dropoffs. There has been no significant schooling of crappies – yet. It can happen by the time you read this.

PATUXENT RIVER: 25-60 miles – If it’s white perch you want, get into the feeder creeks anywhere downstream of Benedict and cast Beetlespin and other small flashy spinners around shoreline obstructions, fallen trees, logs, docks and piers. It won’t be long before they leave for deeper main-stem water. The area between Greenwell State Park and the mouth has been alive with rockfish. Even shoreline fishermen using Sassy Shad lures or bucktails have caught keeper rockfish.

OCCOQUAN RESERVOIR: 33 miles – Rain is on the schedule, so it all depends on how much will fall. I’d say it won;t amount to enough to keep you from going fishing, but take a rain suit. The bass are taking a hard look at spinnerbaits, crankbaits and soft plastics. The catfish are biting all over the lake, but the crappies are still taking it easy. No serious catches have been reported.

BURKE LAKE: 29 miles – The bass fishing visitors do quite well and by the time you read this the crappies may have begun schooling and taking small minnows or tiny shad darts and jigs 3 or 4 feet under a bobber. Catfish are crazy about clam necks or liver strips.

CENTRAL & WESTERN MD.

UPPER POTOMAC RIVER: 35-100 miles – From western Maryland, the DNR’s Mark Toms agrees that a lot of rain will discolor the water, but he doesn’t believe the fishing for smallmouth bass will come to a halt this weekend, which, by the way, has been pretty good.

DEEP CREEK LAKE: 179 miles – Bring your rain suit and/or sheep wool sweater. Either one might be needed in the next several days. Bass catches can actually be good for boaters working the deep-water coves and sunken structure with jerkbaits, soft plastics and crankbaits. In fact, crankbaits can draw strikes from walleyes along rocky points and deep, adjacent dropoffs.

SUSQUEHANNA RIVER: 65-100 miles – The Conowingo Dam spillway waters and short stretches downstream have turned up a few nice keeper rockfish that have jumped on Redfin and other jerkbaits, but deep-running crankbaits also connect. The largemouth bass fishing has been less than spectacular, to put it mildly.

CHESAPEAKE BAY

MARYLAND: 45-75 miles – “We are now reduced to chumming and chunking with fresh alewives, and chasing birds that signal breaking fish,” says Ken Lamb, who operates the popular Tackle Box store in Lexington Park. Lamb’s remark about using alewives concerns the preferred use of Norfolk spot, but this species has left the Maryland parts of the Bay. Lamb not only sees a lot of fishermen come into his store, showing off their catches, but he likes to go fishing himself. His reports are dependable. For example, he says that the fall run of stripers from the ocean may arrive early. “It has been very chilly up north and the big rockfish may arrive in mid-October instead of mid-November.” Trollers using umbrella and tandem rigs could find a few 40-inch rockfish this or next weekend. Meanwhile, as some of our friends up around the Choptank River and even Eastern Bay complain about lackluster catches of bluefish, in the lower Maryland parts of the Chesapeake the bluefish have been plentiful from the Targets south to Point Lookout, but Lamb said he’s gotten reports of plenty of blues north to the Bay Bridge. By the way, surf rod users on the Point Lookout State Park pier have caught bluefish and stripers on lures and cut baits.

VIRGINIA: 75-150 miles – In the Northern Neck’s waters, rockfish and blues dominate clear down to the mouth of the Rappahannock River. A lot of boaters now run about looking for breaking schools of either species and they frequently succeed, casting rattling lures and topwater poppers. Virginia Beach’s Dr. Julie Ball (www.drjball.com) reports that Bay’s striped bass season got off to a good start. “Anglers targeting striped bass are finding success casting to schoolies up to 28-inches around the islands, tubes and pilings of the Bay Bridge-Tunnel, especially at night. Plenty of snapper bluefish are also in the mix. Anglers can keep two fish per person ranging from 18 to 28-inches. One of the two fish may exceed 34-inches.” Ball also said that big croakers are still available in the lower Bay, with some of the “hardheads” weighing two pounds. They’ve been biting at Lynnhaven Inlet and the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel. In addition, red drum are caught in the lower Bay and along its shorelines. “Sheepshead [up to] seven pounds are providing plenty of late season action on the tubes of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel,” she added. However, what the rain situation will do the fishing is anyone’s guess.

EASTERN SHORE/MD.

CHOPTANK RIVER: 120 miles – Slow going for most striper anglers in the mouth and short inland portions of the river. However, I keep receiving photos from Eastern Shore residents who are holding up stripers that they catch on surface poppers early and late in the day around river points and shoreline shallows.

POCOMOKE RIVER: 140-170 miles — Most of the river has been slow for bass fishermen this week, but if you combine an outgoing tide with casting shallow crankbaits to waterlogged brush and trees, there is no reason why you shouldn’t score anywhere between Snow Hill and Shad Landing.

NANTICOKE RIVER: 120 miles – Most of the fish catches come in the lower sections toward the Chesapeake Bay as stripers from 2 to 4 pounds charge into surface lures and soft or hard jerkbaits in the early and late hours of the day. The middle and upper regions of the river have shown only marginal bass catches.

CENTRAL VIRGINIA

LAKE ANNA: 82 miles – If it’s largemouths you’re after, start your search far up in the creeks in relatively shallow water, reported our lake insider. “Target boat docks, hard bottom, rocky banks and the remaining willow grass fields.” He also said that the crappie fishing has been pretty good for numbers, but not great for size this past week, with the best crappie fishing found up-lake in the North Anna branch. The lake’s stripers have not been easy to target, although occasional topwater catches are possible.

RAPPAHANNOCK RIVER: 47-100 miles – Upper river portions, above Fredericksburg, could see enough rain to raise levels or discolor the water, but some smallmouth bass anglers figure there’ll be some fish caught this weekend. In the tidal portions below town you’ll hook largemouth bass with rattle baits, spinnerbaits and plastic worms in fallen trees of the river’s shoreline or in the mouths of creeks between Fredericksburg and Port Royal. Not much is happening below Port Royal until you reach the far-off downstream saltwater areas where stripers, bluefish and some speckled trout are hooked. We’re talking downstream of Moratico.

LAKE BRITTLE: 59 miles – There will be good bass and catfish fishing this weekend, no matter what the rain might have done. Perhaps the crappies will begin to cooperate as well.

LAKE ORANGE: 75 miles – Darrell Kennedy runs the Angler’s Landing (540-672-3997) can supply water condition reports. The catfish and bass catches are holding up well. Some johnboaters find good bass numbers up-lake early in the day when noisy surface poppers cast to pads or stickups receive strikes. Clam necks and liver baits, fished on the bottom, are sure to draw catfish.

LAKE GASTON: 179 miles – Lakefront resident Marty Magone says the typical fall baitfish schools have not started moving into the backs of the creeks yet so up-lake grass flats and grassy points have been producing most of the bass catches.Topwater and Senko-type plastics have been the ticket.If you have the patience to flip a worm or jig around deepwater docks, some nice fish can be had. Crappie fishing should be heating up around the numerous brush piles near creek channels.

KERR RESERVOIR: 200 miles — Bobcat’s Lake Country Store (434-374-8381) will help with information about water conditions. The bass fishing will get into high gear this weekend and never mind how well the large blue catfish will feed even if the rain fell. They’re hungry for slabs of herring or whole sunfish. The crappie bite has not gone into high gear just yet.

JAMES RIVER: 115 miles – (Tidal Richmond and downstream) This river can turn ugly brown in a hurry if strong rains visit, but as this was written the rain had not done any damage. Catfish will take bottom baits either way. Bass catches are not the best, but some are caught in the backs of coves, such as the barge graveyard. Incidentally, don’t be surprised if a rockfish attacks a jerkbait or topwater popper. Some of them are traveling upstream right now.

CHICKAHOMINY RIVER: 135 miles – River’s Rest (804-829-2753) will provide the latest water conditions. Good chances for largemouth bass and channel catfish, maybe a blue catfish on occasion. The crappies are still scattered and have not yet schooled in tight numbers.

WESTERN VIRGINIA

SHENANDOAH RIVER: 60-85 miles – Dick Fox, who fishes the ‘Doah regularly said the river is low right now and very clear with a water temperature of 57 degrees. “A lot of fish have left their summer haunts and are moving to wintering areas, which is slower, deeper water.” Dick said that although the fish he’s catching are quality specimens, the overall numbers are down. “Black tubes have been the best lures for us,” he said and added, “The cool days and the scenery are worth the trip [up here] alone.” If heavy rains arrive, the water color will change.

SMITH MOUNTAIN LAKE: 210 miles – Land-locked stripers are cooperating over large sections of the lake, especially for boaters who spot a surfacing school of feeding rockfish. Ditto for the largemouth and smallmouth bass that will jump on deep- and medium-depth crankbaits around lake points and rocky creek entrances.

UPPER JAMES RIVER (at Scottsville): 130 miles — Look for decent smallmouth bass hookups this weekend even if it rained some. However, if a deluge arrived all bets are off.

ATLANTIC OCEAN

MARYLAND: 165 miles to Ocean City — Sue Foster, of the Oyster Bay Tackle Shop (410-524-3433) in Ocean City, said, “We had a picture-perfect Columbus Day weekend. Not much wind, warm, and fairly clear water. There were tons of snapper bluefish in the surf. Flounder fishing was really good. The tautog bite is on [and] stripers are starting to hit from the Route 50 Bridge at night.” A few small sea trout are hooked, as well, and offshore boaters find sea bass, triggerfish and tautogs. Some of the blue-water boats might tie into a yellowfin tuna or a billfish, but there are no guarantees for these species. Surf anglers at Assateague island might tie into a whopper red drum.

VIRGINIA: 210 miles to Virginia Beach – Dr. Julie Ball (www.drjball.com) said that good red drum (channel bass) surf fishing can be had among the breakers in the seaside inlets and barrier islands along the Eastern Shore. “The wash along Sandbridge is also a good place to try,” she said and added that a few big sharks are patrolling these same areas. Cobia are making a final showing along the ocean front, said Ball. Amberjack may still be an option at the Chesapeake Light Tower, but the South Tower could be better before it all ends for the season. “When boats can get offshore, white and blue marlin are still around, and wahoo are on the upswing. Plenty of dolphin [fish] are still a sure bet,” said Ball and added that yellowfin tuna are available, with some 80-pounders found on the northern end of the Norfolk Canyon.

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