- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 26, 2011

As local anglers face a variety of autumnal options, they can begin by choosing to fish in the mountains or the tidal Potomac and Rappahannock rivers in the Maryland and Virginia flatlands this week. It begins with an excellent outlook for smallmouth bass in the upper Potomac, from Washington County to Montgomery County. Johnboat drifters can find smallmouth bass, perhaps even walleyes and an occasional tiger muskellunge, but the water has cooled and in many parts is too deep for wading, so please be careful.

In the Rappahannock River above Fredericksburg, Va., state fisheries biologist John Odenkirk said the water was a little high, but clear. The fishing for smallmouth bass can be very good, indeed, with the sizes of the “smallies” bigger than usual, but overall numbers are down a bit. The same is true for the Shenandoah River.

If it’s largemouth bass you prefer, the upper tidal Potomac between the District and western Charles County is the ticket. Water temperatures have dropped from summer’s typical 80 and 85 degrees to autumn’s 60 - and even those will decline in days to come. This week, three of us went out to seek willing bass, and they cooperated fairly well in the main stem’s various rock piles and sunken wood. Long-lipped quarter-ounce crankbaits did the job and for the first time since last winter, Sting Ray grubs attracted catfish and bass around creek points if you could keep them from becoming mired in the submersed vegetation that will die when a hard frost arrives.

Terrific rockfish catches in the Chesapeake Bay are just getting started, says charter fishing captain Eddie Davis (301/904-3897), who knows that cool autumn days are what striped bass have been waiting for. Capt. Davis has been scoring limit catches of fish northeast of Point Lookout. Davis comes out of Smith Creek, in the lower end of the Potomac River. He also reminds Bay anglers that 3- and 4-pound bluefish are frequently mixed in with the stripers, but he expects them to leave any day now. Elsewhere, rockfish are roaming over wide portions of the Bay and with a little luck a boater might spot a surface eruption of a school of the striped fighters. When it happens, spinning rods and topwater poppers or rattle lures of the sort that bass fishermen use will produce.

What about Lake Anna, Va., fishing guide Chris Craft, who recently competed in a Virginia Outdoors (VAO) tournament at his home lake when he foul-hooked a huge grass carp. “To say the fight was on is an understatement,” Craft said after he landed a 54-pound, 10-ounce carp in what turned out to be a nearly 30-minute fight. Craft’s grass carp beat the existing record by more than 10 pounds. (But aren’t you supposed to hook a fish in the mouth before claims of a record can be made?) Grass carp were introduced to the nuclear power station reservoir to control unwanted vegetation. The jury still is out concerning the grass eaters’ effectiveness.

Finally, when the chairman of the Potomac River Fisheries Commission’s Finfish Advisory Board, Robert T. Brown, learned that the middle Atlantic’s menhaden forage fish population was in a steep decline, including those of the Potomac River, he suggested that the villains were the upper tidal river’s largemouth bass and catfish. He proposed that bass creels should be increased; any bass hooked could not be released alive, and any tournament group holding a bass fishing tournament be charged a fee payable to the PRFC. He never figured the reason for the near collapse of the menhaden population might be the commercial netting of the little oily fish.

D.C. AND VICINITY

(All listed distances being in Washington)

POTOMAC RIVER: 0-35 miles – In the District at Fletcher’s Cove (202-244-0461), off Canal Road, there’ll be the usual catfish, caught on bottom-fished cut baits, but bass catches on the Virginia shore, especially, will pick up. The water is in good shape. Local bass guide Andy Andrzejewski (301/932-1509) and I went out again, this time fishing the Maryland and Virginia shoreline wherever we could find submerged rocks and wood. Quarter-ounce crankbaits in firetiger or a glittery red/green (such as found on Norman’s Deep Baby N) worked wonderfully well on the largemouths and one rockfish. The bass also inhaled junebug and watermelon rind color craws, and for the first time this fall, we caught bass and catfish on our beloved Mann’s Sting Ray grubs in avocado color. Farther downriver, beyond St. Clements Island, trollers are scoring on a few rockfish, with increasing numbers seen close to the mouth of the river. There are still some bluefish around the lower river’s Virginia side, but don’t expect them to put up with 40-degree nights much longer.

WICOMICO RIVER: 55 miles – Mostly white perch around shallow-to-deep drops along shore. Small Beetlespins lures will get them, but they won’t turn down bottom-fished bloodworm, even gardenworm, bait. Small pieces of crab body or claw meat will also attract bites. Keep a piece of thin shell on the flesh and push your hook through it to keep the bait from falling off. Bait also draws chunky catfish from Bushwood up to Chaptico Wharf.

MATTAWOMAN CREEK: 40 miles – Bass are taking bottom-fished grubs and craws in water up to 12 feet deep, close to a shoreline drop, such as those found around creek points and some of the creeks marsh banks. If the grass will allow it, try 1/4-ounce crankbaits. In the big spatterdock and milfoil/hydrilla fields, a weedless topwater lure can do the job, especially on overcast days.

SO. MARYLAND LAKES: 40-50 miles – Gilbert Run Lake (Route 6, east of La Plata) has chilled down and not many anglers are seen. However, well-fed bluegills can be yours on small worm baits, fished under a bobber. At St. Mary’s Lake (Route 5, south of Leonardtown to left turn on Camp Cosoma Road) the chances for bass and crappies are fairly good. Don’t believe any stories about the bass jumping on your lures without effort. They’re not that easy to find and catch, but the lake is indeed blessed with good numbers of largemouths.

WSSC RESERVOIRS: 20-30 miles – Triadelphia and Rocky Gorge lakes in the Prince George’s/Montgomery/Howard counties corridor are sure to deliver sunfish, catfish, crappies and catfish — in that order. Cooler weather has helped, although the fish are still trying to adjust to lower water temperatures in some of the coves. Bass will look at a deep crankbait or plastic, scented grub now.

PATUXENT RIVER: 25-60 miles – If you can’t find the white perch easily in the lower feeder creeks, simply look at your depth sounder and pick a deep hole in the creek or river. That’s where they’re moving to as nights get colder. The Tackle Box in Lexington Park reports that the river is home to rockfish from Captain’s Point to Sheridan Point. “Troll, jig and live-line (any last Norfolk spot you can find,” said the Tackle Box’s Ken Lamb, who passed along word of charter fishing captain Greg Buckner finding some of the juicy spot and going to a rock pile in the river mouthnwhere he caught limits of stripers, including one heavyweight. Expect surface breaking fish daily in thedays, but when the sun is up during a high pressure weather system, the fish get deep and sulk, according to Lamb.

OCCOQUAN RESERVOIR: 33 miles — Johnboaters find bass and crappies around creek mouths, especially where waterlogged branches and tree trunks are found. Shoreline fishermen at Fountainhead connect on occasional crappies and well-fed catfish. The catfish show a preference for clam snouts, but nightcrawlers or cut fish pieces also work.

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