Continued threats of rain and rising water levels in the mountain rivers of Virginia and Maryland are sure to worry fishermen in search of smallmouth bass. However, one angler, Dick Fox, of Front Royal, Va., says the fishing in his favorite waterway, the Shenandoah, has been fantastic.
"Now is the time to hit the Shenandoah," he says. "The river is a little high, with a slight stain and a water temperature of 58 degrees. We have been catching good numbers of 12- to 15-inch smallmouth bass, with a few 17-inchers mixed in. Black tubes have been best for us, but many other lures will catch the bass right now. The bluegills are very active, and the crappies are biting." Earlier this week, Fox also caught a 6-pound-plus largemouth bass on a tube. Big largemouths are a rare find in this river.
In the upper tidal portions of the Potomac River, it doesn't matter whether it rains or the sun shines. Either way, the largemouth bass, catfish, even some decent white perch, are biting. The massive fields of water weeds, including milfoil and hydrilla, have not yet begun to die off. They are green and still provide ideal ambush spots for the bass, occasionally also Chinese snakeheads. There have been productive outings in the Mattawoman, Quantico and Chicamuxen creeks, as well as Virginia's Pohick Bay. An old lure I found in the shed caught a limit of small bass this week. Do you know Uncle Buck's Buzzer, an inline buzzbait that was all the rage in the 1970s? Its hook is covered with deer hair, dyed in various colors. It still does the job.
The Chesapeake Bay's lower Maryland parts have been fine for rockfish trollers, jiggers, even topwater lure casters. One group of friends finds excellent surface fishing for striped bass over shoreline flats in the mouth of the Choptank; others have found plenty of action over wide areas between the Calvert Cliffs and the Virginia state line. Of course, the good fishing extends into the Northern Neck's waters and beyond, clear down to the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel where flounder, sheepshead, red drum and slowly increasing numbers of striped bass are hooked.
If the Atlantic Ocean is your favorite water, Dr. Ken Neill, whose boat, the Healthy Grin, comes out of Virginia Beach and travels offshore more than most, said, "We ran out to the Triangle Wrecks [and] had the place all to ourselves. The chopper blues have arrived. We caught big bluefish on the troll and by jigging. We also caught some false albacore." A bit to the north, bluefish catches are reported by Ocean City, Md., boaters.
In other Virginia saltwater news, the fishing for sea bass has been shut down through the rest of October, but flounder anglers a few miles east of Virginia Beach are hooking the sea bass with ease - and they're releasing them. Triggerfish are caught on coastal wrecks, but not much can be said about more distant offshore waters because of recent windy weather. When things calm down, there will be hookups with tunas, wahoos, even swordfish if you stay out overnight. Elsewhere, North Carolina boats running east of the Outer Banks are finding dolphin, yellowfin and blackfin tuna, also good numbers of wahoo.
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, blue and channel catfish, as well as a few bass, are hooked. The catfish like cut baits on the bottom, but the bass prefer jigs, craws and crankbaits. In the main stem of the river below the District, bass guide Andy Andrzejewski (301/932-1509) and I worked the creeks near the Smallwood State Park ramps yesterday during a strong incoming tide and found willing largemouths over large grass-dotted flats in 3 to 4 feet of water. Some of the grassy spots showed enough open pockets between the vegetation to allow the casting/retrieving of shallow-running crankbaits in firetiger colors, just like last week. In addition, a number of bass struck small buzzbaits. Incidentally, the grass has not yet died off, what with the water temperature being 64 degrees. Until it happens, fish the main stem and the tributaries with surface lures, crankbaits, spinnerbaits and plastic craws. Farther down the river, beyond the Route 301 Bridge between Charles and King George counties, the rockfish frequently cooperate. Ken Lamb says, "The Potomac now has rockfish in all the nooks and crannies." Lamb has received catch reports from St. Clements Island and Ragged Point. "These fish are 22 to 24 inches long," he said, and added, "Bigger fish can show up at anytime." That means that you'll probably find rockfish clear down toward Point Lookout.
WICOMICO RIVER: 55 miles – A few rockfish are found at the mouth and plenty of white perch are inside the river, but be reminded that the perch like a moving tide, coming or going, but do bite well when it is very low.
MATTAWOMAN CREEK: 40 miles – Bass and catfish are almost guaranteed if you play the tides properly. A nicely outgoing tide in the middle portions of the creek will have the largemouths looking at a watermelon or junebug color plastic craw, such as a Baby Rage Tail or Chiggercraw, especially along marsh bank drops. But early hour topwater poppers and loud buzzbaits also see action inside the weed beds. Clam snouts or cut fish pieces will draw channel catfish.
SO. MARYLAND LAKES: 40-50 miles – Gilbert Run Lake (Route 6, east of La Plata) delivers the usual assortment of bluegills, even a few shellcracker sunfish, along with "bank runner" bass. At St. Mary's Lake (Route 5, south of Leonardtown to left turn on Camp Cosoma Road) it's time for a 1/32-ounce shad dart in white/red or white/green tied to light line, with a bobber three or four feet above the little lure whose body looks perpendicular to the line, then cast around sunken and stickup wood that the lake has much of. Cast it out, then jiggle the rod tip every 5 seconds or so to make the little dart, well, dart up, down and sideways. The largemouth bass prefer small scented, plastic worms or 1/4-ounce spinnerbaits in standing timber and around lake points.
WSSC RESERVOIRS: 20-30 miles – Triadelphia and Rocky Gorge lakes in the Prince George's/Montgomery/Howard counties area will provide decent fishing this weekend. Take a look at the crappie jig'n'bobber description above in the Southern Maryland lakes portion and duplicate it. Crankbaits and scented soft plastics can do the job on bass, especially when you concentrate on jutting lake points.
PATUXENT RIVER: 25-60 miles – Plenty of white perch are in the creeks, but they are a picky lot as far as tides are concerned. Like most fish, they prefer moving water, but the perch kind of shut down when the tide is very low. The chance of finding stripers at the mouth, even stretches inside the river, are very good.
OCCOQUAN RESERVOIR: 33 miles -- Topwater bass lures have been fine around stickups and rock formations as long as the sun wasn't up and shining hard. Overcast conditions always are best. As the day goes on, switch to plastics and crankbaits that will lure the largemouths. The crappie catches have been better in the past several days.
BURKE LAKE: 31 MILES -- Crappies will oblige, but not in the numbers that we'll see in another week or two. Jerkbaits and small spinnerbaits are looked at by largemouth bass that hang around sunken branches and brush.
CENTRAL & WESTERN MD.
UPPER POTOMAC RIVER: 35-100 miles – With a little luck, the western Maryland portions of the river will not be affected by the rain. Sure, water levels will rise some, but the fishing for smallmouth bass -- increasingly also, walleyes -- should be fine.
DEEP CREEK LAKE: 179 miles – Rain or no rain, it doesn't matter. There'll be good catches of bass, walleyes, yellow perch and fat sunfish this weekend. However, wear your long-johns. It gets cold up here much sooner than down in the low country.
SUSQUEHANNA RIVER: 65-100 miles – A few nice rockfish should be on the menu if you fish in the upper tidal parts of the river, near Conowingo Dam. Hefty catfish are also available and they like cut pieces of fish, dropped to the bottom. Bass angler Eric Felder wrote that he connected on several 3-pound largemouths in sunken shoreline trees outside the mouth. He used a chartreuse/white spinnerbait.
MARYLAND: 45-75 miles – The Bay has delivered excellent fishing for many boaters, but of course there are always some who say they can't see any fish until they visit a seafood market. The Tackle Box in Lexington Park reported massive surface eruptions by striped bass and bluefish of all sizes in the mid-Bay region near the HI Buoy over the weekend. Some of the stripers measured as much as 36 inches, weighing around 12 pounds. They were caught by trollers, jig bouncers and lure casters. By the way, if you can locate a rock pile or mass of stones such as those that surround the Patuxent River's old Cedar Point lighthouse base near the Bay, you'll get into stripers with surface poppers and plastic jerk baits as long as the sun hasn't risen. The mouth of the Choptank River can deliver topwater strikes by rockfish and scattered catches of spotted sea trout continue to come from the Bay's Honga River.
VIRGINIA: 75-150 miles – In the Northern Neck, expect great catches of striped bass, some blues and occasional hookups with spotted sea trout, especially down toward the Rappahannock River mouth. Dr. Ken Neill, one of the top fishermen in the southern Bay, says the trout action down his way is good on both sides of the bay, with the Mobjack Bay area very good. Flounder fishing has been good around the Baltimore Channel near the mouth of the Bay, also the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel. Neill said, "Some of the flounder pounders have been running into more than they planned for as schools of large red drum are still hanging around the lower Bay."
CHOPTANK RIVER: 120 miles – Dr. John Scanlon, M.D., hasn't had any trouble with rockfish in the mouth. "We got into them again today in skinny water with topwater baits (poppers, Spooks, Top Dogs, Redfins) with stripers up to 30 inches [hitting the lures]," he wrote and added, "It has been quite unbelieveable."
POCOMOKE RIVER: 140-170 miles -- Mostly modest catches of bass are seen by anglers who will have to contend with rain for another day. The Snow Hill section of the river can deliver some bites on scented plastic worms when the tide begins to ebb. Snow Hill, by the way, has a good public boat ramp.
NANTICOKE RIVER: 120 miles – A Southern Marylander said he traveled all the way over to the Eastern Shore and the town of Federalsburg, launched his boat at the public boat ramp near town and actually found a few crappies and one bass in Marshyhope Creek. "It definitely wasn't worth the cost of the gasoline," he said. He asked to remain anonymous.
LAKE ANNA: 82 miles – The largemouth bass bite is most definitely on despite the occasionally terrible fishing fishing conditions brought on by sudden rains and wind. Our lake insider says to target areas close to shore inside the many feeder creeks. "After you locate fish with a crankbait or spinnerbait, work over the same area more thoroughly with soft plastics such as Gulp! worms or Senkos," he suggests. "Striper fishing remains slow, although some live bait users have had a bit of success. The crappies continue to cooperate around bridge pilings and deep water docks," he adds.
RAPPAHANNOCK RIVER: 47-100 miles – We're hoping that the rains did not affect the upper river's smallmouth bass fishing, but this was written just as the first drops fell. If the water above Fredericksburg remains fairly stable and fishable, you'll catch smallmouth bass on jigs, spinners, plastic grubs, topwater poppers and small crankbaits from Remington down to the Rapidan and beyond.
LAKE BRITTLE: 59 miles – The crappies have begun to cooperate more this week. Largemouth bass and channel catfish catches also have perked up.
LAKE ORANGE: 75 miles – Darrell Kennedy runs the Angler's Landing (540/672-3997), but the concession has been shut down until spring 2012. Meanwhile, the upper lake's bass will look at a shallow to medium depth crankbait, even quarter-ounce Rat-L-Traps. Catfish will inhale clam snouts or liver strips up and down the lake channel.
LAKE GASTON: 179 miles – Look for good bass fishing even if it rains. The uplake creeks that offer shorelines with adjacent deep dropoffs can be very fruitful for crankbait and plastic worm users. Some of the upper lake's flats are great for topwater popper lures that the bass like -- occasionally also a couple of stripers.
KERR RESERVOIR: 200 miles -- Bobcat's Lake Country Store (434-374-8381) can provide a water condition report. The large blue catfish like slabs of herring bait on the bottom, not all that far from Clarksville. The bass fishing can be very good now as the largemouths are in a feeding mood and will look at anything that resembles a worm, crawfish, or baitfish. Crappie chances are steadily improving.
JAMES RIVER: 115 miles – (Tidal Richmond and downstream) Heavy rain will raise river levels, what with runoff from up above Richmond. But chances are it won't mess up the weekend because the big blue catfish are beginning to roam about Dutch Gap and the Appomattox River mouth. Some fair bass catches are had by boaters targeting backwater coves and brush-laden pockets.
CHICKAHOMINY RIVER: 135 miles – River's Rest(804-829-2753) will provide the latest water conditions. Good bass and catfish hookups are yours this weekend even if the rain came down today. Shoreline trees have held good numbers of bass and crappies.
SHENANDOAH RIVER: 60-85 miles – Dick Fox, of Front Royal, said, "Now is the time to hit the Shenandoah. The river is a little high, with a slight stain and a water temperature of 58 degrees. We have been catching good numbers of 12 to 15 inch smallmouth bass, with a few 17-inchers mixed in. Black tubes have been best for us, but many other lures will catch the bass right now. The bluegills are very active and the crappies are also biting." Fox also caught a 6-pound-plus largemouth bass on a tube. Big largemouths are a rare find in this river.
SMITH MOUNTAIN LAKE: 210 miles – Lots of bass and striper activity, especially during overcast periods. The rockfish hammer a trolled Redfin lure, or Sassy Shad, although some can be jigged up with Hopkins jigging spoons or Kastmaster jigs once you locate a deep school on your depth finder. The largemouth bass are available in rock beds, stickups and fallen trees inside feeder creeks, mostly near the mouth of the creeks. Crankbaits, plastic craws, and spinnerbaits score.
UPPER JAMES RIVER (at Scottsville): 130 miles -- Look for good smallmouth bass catches made with small crankbaits, fringed tubes, soft jerkbaits, even topwater poppers -- if the rain didn't mess things up.
MARYLAND: 165 miles to Ocean City -- Sue Foster, of the Oyster Bay Tackle Shop (410-524-3433) in Ocean City, said, "The great bluefish bite slowed way down as winds gusted from the west at 30 m.p.h." However, Foster also mentioned that as soon as the wind died down, the fish started biting again. In addition, the tautog and flounder bite is good and there's welcome news for everybody: The stripers are starting to show up now. Offshore fishing came to a halt during the recent squalls.
VIRGINIA: 210 miles to Virginia Beach – Dr. Ken Neill, whose boat, the Healthy Grin, travels offshore more than most, said, "We ran out to the Triangle Wrecks [and] had the place all to ourselves. The chopper blues have arrived. We caught big bluefish on the troll and by jigging. We also caught some false albacore. We used to keep them for bait, but now everyone is eating the bait." Dr. Neill's wife says false albacore taste as good as tuna sushi. In other action, the sea bass fishing has been shut down through the rest of October, but offshore flounder anglers are hooking sea bass left and right -- and they're releasing them. Dr. Neill also said that triggerfish are caught on coastal wrecks. Not much can be reported in the distant offshore waters because few boats have ventured out. By the weekend, it will be possible to find tunas, wahoos, (even swordfish if you stay out overnight). Elsewhere, North Carolina boats running east of the Outer Banks are finding dolphin, yellowfin and blackfin tuna, also good numbers of wahoo.
• For additional outdoors news visit www.genemuellerfishing.com
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