- 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.

BURKE LAKE: 31 MILES — The crappie fishing is getting better in the lake’s brush piles, especially if you use live minnows, although small darts or grubs do okay when fished under a bobber. Bass have gone after Chatterbaits, medium-diving crankbaits and plastic worms.

CENTRAL & WESTERN MD.

UPPER POTOMAC RIVER: 35-100 miles – Washington County smallmouth bass fishing is just dandy. The water is up, but fishable and the smallmouths, as well as some of the river’s walleyes, know that lean times lie ahead. Some fair fish are taken in Frederick and Montgomery counties as well. Fringed tubes in black and junebug colors will be looked at.

DEEP CREEK LAKE: 179 miles – Lake expert Brent Nelson said, “Colder nights have water temperatures dropping and the suspending jerkbait bite is kicking in. Aggressive topwater prop baits and Pop R’s will work on the bass now all day over grass beds, especially on overcast days. Burning [that means ‘fast retrieve’] a big white spinnerbait is another option. It’s getting cold up here and the leaves are down.”

SUSQUEHANNA RIVER: 65-100 miles – Most of the catches are made up toward Conowingo Dam among rocks and deep-water channels where fat catfish and sassy stripers frequently show up. The tidal bass fishing can’t compare to the Potomac, but some fish are caught on shallow-to-deep crankbaits and soft plastics near Havre de Grace.

CHESAPEAKE BAY

MARYLAND: 45-75 miles – Charter fishing captain Eddie Davis (301/904-3897) says that catching plenty of rockfish has been no problem in the Bay, northeast of Point Lookout. “There are also some 3- and 4-pound bluefish mixed in with the stripers,” he said, “but I expect them to leave any day now. The rockfish, however are just getting started.” Elsewhere in the Bay, Ken Lamb reports the big ocean stripers have not shown up just yet, but it should happen soon. Not to worry, there are plenty of 18- to 27-inch stripers running about. Meanwhile, small bluefish are breaking the surface over wide Bay areas. “Chummer are doing well on the Middle Grounds early in the day,” he said. The area gets crowded quickly, so if you’re a late arrival, forget it. The first three boats with chum in the water can score on blues and rockfish, but if you’re a late arrival, forget it.

VIRGINIA: 75-150 miles – In the Northern Neck between Smith Point and the Great Wicomico there’ll be striped bass and some bluefish for trollers, lure casters, even topwater plug users. In the lowest portions of the Bay, the fishing lady dentist, Dr. Julie Ball (www.drjball.com) said since the water temperatures continue to cool, striped bass are becoming more active. “Casters are scoring with schoolie-sized rockfish between 18 to 22 inches along the Monitor Merrimack, the James River Bridge, the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel and the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel,” she said and added that the bite is especially good during the nighttime hours along the edges where light breaks the darkness. “A few larger fish [measuring] over 34 inches are responding to live bait at the Bay Bridge-Tunnel. “Wire liners are also boating fish ranging up to about 21 inches from the tubes of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel this week [and] lots of snapper bluefish are rounding out catches,” Dr. Ball said. By the way, the Bridge-Tunnel’s third and fourth islands have given up some hefty red drum.

EASTERN SHORE/MD.

CHOPTANK RIVER: 120 miles – Don’t pass up chances of keeper rockfish in the mouth, which is very large, so a bit of scouting is required. Some days are very productive; others are stinkers.

POCOMOKE RIVER: 140-170 miles — Largemouth bass action between Snow Hill and Shad Landing State Park can be quite good for crankbait casters during outgoing tides, especially in flooded shoreline stumps and brush.

NANTICOKE RIVER: 120 miles – Rockfish are taken below Vienna clear down to the mouth, but upper river bass catches are anything but great.

CENTRAL VIRGINIA

LAKE ANNA: 82 miles – Lake Anna, Va., fishing guide, Chris Craft and his boat partner, Brian Oxendine, competed in a Virginia Outdoors (VAO) tournament recently. They ran into Anna’s Contrary Creek to see if the bass held on some rip-rap at the bridge. That’s when thunder struck! As Craft was retrieving a Rat-L-Trap lure he felt resistance – a lot of it. Craft had snagged a 54-pound, 10-ounce grass carp in the top of its tail and landed it on 10-pound testline. If you’re planning to come to the lake, my lake informant says the crappie fishing remains fairly solid around deep water docks and many bridge pilings. Bass are caught in the creeks’ shallows and the striper fishing continues to be below par.

RAPPAHANNOCK RIVER: 47-100 miles – Virginia Department of Game & Inland Fisheries biologist John Odenkirk talked to us while he was aboard an electro-shock boat above Fredericksburg. “The river is a little high, but clear, and very fishable,” he said. In fact, smallmouth bass anglers will find a higher quality of their favorite fish, but current numbers are slightly down. In the tidal stretches below Fredericksburg, small-club bass tournament anglers say they’re definitely doing better on the largemouths above Port Royal. Catch rates steadily decline as you head downriver. Why, no one knows, but it’s a fact, say the state fisheries biologists.

LAKE BRITTLE: 59 miles – Crappie, bass and catfish hookups are practically guarantee if you use live minnows or, in the case of catfish, bottom-fish with clam snouts. The crappies can also be fooled with a 1/16-ounce white hair jig, fished some 3 or 4 feet under a bobber.

LAKE ORANGE: 75 miles – Darrell Kennedy runs the Angler’s Landing (540/672-3997), but the concession has been shut down until spring 2012. Upper lake’s shoreline dropoffs and sunken brush holds bass that like dark color craw baits, while standing wood and brush piles near the boat launch can give up decent numbers of crappies, especially if you can buy some small minnows and fish them under a plastic float.

LAKE GASTON: 179 miles – Our inside reporter, Marty Magone, says the bass catches have declined this week. “It hasn’t been very good,” he said and he does not know why. One thing is certain, the lack of a bass bite will not last long. This lake will turn on again quickly.

KERR RESERVOIR: 200 miles — Bobcat’s Lake Country Store (434-374-8381) can provide a water condition report. The bass fishing has not been great and the water levels are very high right now. Your best bets are the crappies in flooded brush, or deep-water channels where the blue catfish hang out, hoping someone drops a large chunk of freshly-cut fish to the bottom.

JAMES RIVER: 115 miles – (Tidal Richmond and downstream) Bass catches are only so-so even the local tournament angler say, but blue catfish can make up for a lack of bass excitement.

CHICKAHOMINY RIVER: 135 miles – River’s Rest(804-829-2753) will provide the latest water conditions. This is where so many James River bass boaters come to when they hope to hook a largemouth — and they’re not leaving disappointed. The bass catches are good; crankbaits and soft plastics do the job. Upper river brush and log piles hold crappies.

WESTERN VIRGINIA

SHENANDOAH RIVER: 60-85 miles – Dick Fox, of Front Royal, says, “Fishing on the Shenandoah River has been great for both largemouth and smallmouth bass, although it is starting to slow down a little. Water is at normal level with a temperature of 54 degrees.We are still doing well with tubes, although other baits will work.Lots of leaves are in river and that will hamper those who operate jet drive boats.”

SMITH MOUNTAIN LAKE: 210 miles – Largemouth bass and stripers promise to keep you busy this weekend. Both species are in good supply and currently they are willing to look at lures and baits. The crappie fishing in the creeks is getting better every day.

UPPER JAMES RIVER (at Scottsville): 130 miles — The weekend will have johnboaters and scattered waders find smallmouth bass action in the rock beds and along shoreline ledges. Tubes, small crankbaits and such topwater lures as the Lucky 13 will be looked at by the fish.

ATLANTIC OCEAN

MARYLAND: 165 miles to Ocean City — Sue Foster, of the Oyster Bay Tackle Shop (410-524-3433) in Ocean City, said that the bluefish can still be caught in the surf and a few kingfish are possible. The tautog fishing has been outstanding, said Sue, while some striped bass hookups are noted in the Indian River and Ocean City inlets. Offshore boaters who brave the wind find scattered schools of large bluefish, but the tuna bite has pretty much disappeared. They’re heading south.

VIRGINIA: 210 miles to Virginia Beach – Dr. Ken Neill went offshore from Virginia Beach and reported, “We went back to the Triangle Wrecks and found the bluefish waiting. Capt. Rick Wineman was already there jigging them up. He said that everyone on his boat had caught multiple citation-sized fish and that they were off to the canyon. We caught all of the large bluefish that we could want [on both, trolling and jigging].” Dr. Neill said the biggest bluefish were caught while trolling. Most of the fish were released, but some were kept for the smoker. “Five [weighed] between 16 pounds and 17-1/2 pounds.”Meanwhile, the fishing dentist, Dr. Julie Ball (drjball.com) said, “Wahoo are around, along with a few yellowfin tuna, and scattered bailer dolphin. The tuna bite further south, out of North Carolina, is going strong this week. Once overnight trips resume with more regularity, swordfish are a possibility.

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