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Gene Mueller’s Fishing Report

Head to rivers as days turn cool

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Can you feel the difference in the air and water? Both are cooler and because of the ever-so-welcome autumn temperatures the fishing for certain species will improve with every passing day. This is particularly true of largemouth bass, stripers and blue catfish in Maryland and Virginia.

It begins with the largemouth bass in the upper portions of the tidal rivers, especially the Potomac and Rappahannock, where these predators lie in ambush for unsuspecting baitfish. However, as cooler weather beckons, the massive submersed weed carpets that dot the Potomac, for example, will begin to die off slowly. It hasn't happened yet, but when it does the bass that have thrived in the erstwhile lush greenery will begin to migrate toward sunken wood, dock pilings and fallen trees along various river and creek shorelines. Remember that.

Currently, the largemouths can still be found in pockets of milfoil, hydrilla and spatterdock, as well as along the sharply dropping edges of marsh banks. But do not overlook flooded wood structure, either. Plastic worms and crawfish claw imitations will be looked at, as will shallow to medium crankbaits and flashy spinnerbaits.

In the mountain rivers, conditions are slowly, surely getting back to normal. Recent unpredictable rain storms changed water conditions in some quarters, but not in others. In the next four days, however, you can safely plan on fishing anywhere in the Shenandoah, upper Potomac, Rappahannock and James rivers.

The Chesapeake, in spite of recent steady rains, delivers surprising numbers of rockfish (striped bass). They're hooked by trollers, surface casters and jig bouncers over large areas of the Bay. In addition, ongoing catches of spotted sea trout are the delight of the week for many anglers who cast and retrieve bucktails, plastic curly-tailed grubs and small silvery spoons mostly in the river mouths of the Eastern Shore.

From the lowest parts of the tidal Potomac River, charter fishing captain Eddie Davis, whose boat comes out of Smith Creek, not far from Point Lookout, says he's locating massive schools of bluefish, many of which weigh up to 5 pounds. "They'll slam anything you throw at them when they surface," he says, but he also connects on the tooth-laden blues when they dive. If you're interested in a charter outing, Capt. Davis can be reached at 301-904-3897.

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, the water is discolored but conditions are expected to improve in the next several days. Either way, large catfish are available on bottom-fished cut baits and as the water clears more, the bass will cooperate. In the tidal water stretches below the District, the bass fishing can be outstanding. Our friend Dale Knupp had a fine outing in the Belle Haven area and other bass-boaters we've spoken with are getting strikes from bass (and a few snakeheads) from around Little Hunting Creek into the Piscataway, as well as downstream to Pohick Bay, and the general Occoquan area. Bass also are hooked in the feeder creeks and main-stem in Charles and Prince William counties on the Maryland and Virginia sides, respectively. If you can an open area inside the weed beds, try medium and shallow diving crankbaits, but Chigger Craws and Rage Tail crawfish claw imitations continue to be reliable, as will early morning topwater lures. The water is chilling down some and that will make the bass increasingly more active. Word has it that some rockfish are trolled up just past the Route 301 bridge and south toward Tall Timbers. But in the lowest parts of the river, once he leaves his Smith Creek home waters, charter fishing captain Eddie Davis finds massive schools of bluefish. "They're in the 2- to 5-pound class and they'll slam anything you throw at them when they surface," said Capt. Davis, who also catches them by the numbers with trolling gear.

WICOMICO RIVER: 55 miles – Don't expect a whole lot more than catfish and plenty of white perch. If anyone is hooking croakers we haven't heard about it. On top of that, the water is cooling down, something the tasty "hardheads" don't enjoy.

MATTAWOMAN CREEK: 40 miles – We fished the creek during a slightly windy morning during a high tide and the catches weren't the best, but what we did get into apparently liked the Chigger Craw baits and wacky-rigged fat worms in the creek portion near Slavin's boat ramp.

SO. MARYLAND LAKES: 40-50 miles – Gilbert Run Lake (Route 6, east of La Plata) has cooled down quite a bit and a small crankbait ought to draw the bass in mid-lake and lower portions of the lake. Bluegills are a given. At St. Mary's Lake (Route 5, south of Leonardtown to left turn on Camp Cosoma Road) you can find some decent largemouth bass right now. Water conditions are fine and within days the crappies will begin schooling, which makes it a lot easier to come home with a fish dinner. Hook one and chances are you'll hook a dozen of the speckled critters.

WSSC RESERVOIRS: 20-30 miles – The water temperatures in Triadelphia and Rocky Gorge lakes in the Prince George's/Montgomery/Howard counties area are steadily declining and chances for bass and crappies are seriously improving. Of course, catfish and bluegills are always available.

PATUXENT RIVER: 25-60 miles – You can bet the rent that the rockfish are biting over most parts of the lower river. Hurry up if you want to catch fat white perch because as the water cools they'll head out of the feeder creeks and enter deep river ledges where the catch rate won't be as good as in shallow creek waters.

OCCOQUAN RESERVOIR: 33 miles -- Weekend anglers will have a fine time catching bass, catfish and increasing numbers of crappies. The time of year has arrived when all species will want to fatten up for the coming lean months. Crappies should begin to school in and around fallen trees, sunken branches and creek points that offer good bottom structure.

BURKE LAKE: 29 miles – The lake's crappies will quickly be on your menu now that the water temperature is falling. Three cheers for that. Count on some decent bass to look at crankbaits, spinnerbaits and craw claw baits.

CENTRAL & WESTERN MD.

UPPER POTOMAC RIVER: 35-100 miles – The DNR biologists in western Maryland say the water is in fishable condition, although the flow is fairly strong. By the weekend, smallmouth bass fans will connect on the "brown fish" without any problems.

DEEP CREEK LAKE: 179 miles – In case you haven't heard, not far from the lake there was a snowfall -- the year's first. That's far western Maryland for you. It gets cold sooner than in the Washington area, but the fishing in the lake now is good for bass, yellow perch, fat walleyes and perhaps a northern pike if you drift along with large, live shiners. The bass are hanging around lake points and rocky drops, also creek mouths, where crankbaits, jerkbaits and soft plastics will do the job.

SUSQUEHANNA RIVER: 65-100 miles – Expect fairly decent bass chances in the Havre de Grace area's marinas and shoreline structure, sunken brush and fallen trees outside the Tydings Marina, especially near the Apartment Cove, as the locals call it. Spinnerbaits, shallow crankbaits and scented plastics worms will draw strikes. Inside the river, toward Conowingo Dam, the water will slowly clear, but the catfish are biting either way.

CHESAPEAKE BAY

MARYLAND: 45-75 miles – The DNR's Keith Lockwood said middle Bay salinity is lower than normal and you'll experience cloudy water conditions in some areas, but rockfish hunters will see action in the False Channel below the Choptank River mouth, as are just about all channel ledges and dropoffs. A mixed bag of stripers and bluefish is seen from Calvert and St. Mary's counties across to the Eastern Shore, from Hooper's Island Light south to the Middle Grounds. Continued catches of spotted sea trout are reported by anglers using surface poppers and jerkbaits in the shallows of the eastern side's rivers, especially, but some are taken on the western shore. In St. Mary's County, charter fishing captain Eddie Davis, who comes out of the lower Potomac's Smith Creek (not far from Point Lookout), says he's finding large schools of surfacing and submersed bluefish in the 2- to 5-pound range and these blues will strike just about anything you care to cast to them. "I've been getting them anywhere from the lower ends of the river on out into the Bay," he said. Interested in a booking? Capt. Davis can be reached at 301/904-3897.

VIRGINIA: 75-150 miles – If you fish the area from Smith Point down along the channel edges of the Northern Neck, clear to the mouth of the Rappahannock River, expect good striper and bluefish catches, but the croaker fishing has seen a lot of ups and downs. Virginia Beach's Dr. Julie Ball (www.drjball.com) said rainy weather kept many anglers off the water in recent days. "Cobias are still a possibility, but not for long," she said and added that red drum (channel bass) action can be good for lure slingers from Cape Henry to the Nautilus Shoals. Speckled trout fishing can be very good now for 16- to 23-inch specimens inside Lynnhaven Inlet, Little Creek, the Eastern Shore creeks and the Poquoson flats. Striped bass season is now open and there are plenty of schoolie fish looking at surface plugs around the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, especially after sunset, but even daytime catches will be good. It began on Tuesday of this week and anglers in the Bay now can keep two stripers measuring between 18 and 28 inches per person, but should you catch one striper that measures more than 34 inches, you can keep it as part of your 2-fish-per-day limit. By the way, snapper blues also are roaming about near the Bridge-Tunnel islands and pilings, but flounder catches were spotty this week. Scattered keeper-size fish are still taking drifted baits along deeper channels, drop-offs, and structures, said Ball. The Baltimore Channel and the first island at the Bridge-Tunnel has turned up some of the flatfish.

EASTERN SHORE/MD.

CHOPTANK RIVER: 120 miles – Stripers in the 18- to 22-inch class are taken in the river mouth, but recent winds and rains have not helped as far as boaters going out and reporting back. The next four days should be terrific for fishermen.

POCOMOKE RIVER: 140-170 miles -- Mann's Baby 1-Minus crankbaits cast to flooded tree roots or sunken brush in less than 5 feet of water will see strikes from largemouth bass. Just below Snow Hill there are hundreds of such super fishy-looking spots. They extend downriver to Shad Landing. Four-inch scented PowerWorms also do well in slow-moving pockets in coves and creek mouths.

NANTICOKE RIVER: 120 miles – It was bound to happen. The DNR has found some Chinese snakeheads in the river and the department is not happy with that news. They're alien imports that do not belong here. If you hook one, kill it, keep it, eat it, or dispose of it in a garbage bag. Do not release it back into the river whatever you do.

CENTRAL VIRGINIA

LAKE ANNA: 82 miles – The crappie bite is getting better every day, according to a near-lake resident who is a personal friend. "Small and medium size minnows certainly will work under a slip bobber, but so will little plastic grubs," he said. "Work around deep-water structures, such as bridge pilings and docks. If you don't get action in a few minutes, move to another place," he recommends. Meanwhile, the bass fishing is also pretty decent in the upper areas of the lake and in the backs of major creeks. "The lake is at full pool, so there is plenty of shoreline cover to target. Stripers are breaking throughout the lake but generally, that fishing has not been up to par yet for what fall usually has to offer," he added.

RAPPAHANNOCK RIVER: 47-100 miles – Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries biologist John Odenkirk says that the coming weekend ought to bring near-perfect fishing conditions for upper river smallmouth bass anglers. Topwater poppers, as well as tubes and grubs fished in and around shallow-to-deep rock beds will produce strikes. The tidal portions below Fredericksburg are murky, but by the weekend things should improve vastly what with no rain predicted for four or more days.

LAKE BRITTLE: 59 miles – The crappies are beginning to school, which means they'll be tightly bunched soon and a simple white or chartreuse 1/16- or 1/32-ounce shad dart, fished under a bobber some 3 or 4 feet up the line, will be sucked under the moment it touches the water and begins to sink. Bass have shown a preference for 1/4-ounce crankbaits and spinnerbaits.

LAKE ORANGE: 75 miles – Darrell Kennedy runs the Angler's Landing (540-672-3997) concession if you need information. Bass catches have been fair; catfish and walleye chances are good, but it's the crappies many people wait for. They'll begin to bunch up in tight schools any day now.

LAKE GASTON: 179 miles – Lakefront resident Marty Magone reports that the current cold front has moved the bass deeper, but they're still near the grass lines of the main channel above Hawtree Creek. Senkos and Chatterbaits seem to work well. Striper activity has slowed but should pickup once the weather calms down. Water temperature is around 66 degrees and the lake levels are low. Another bass outing in back of Holly Grove Creek turned up largemouths on a crankbait that was retrieved from around a rock pile. Crappies can be caught around bridge abutments.

KERR RESERVOIR: 200 miles -- Bobcat's Lake Country Store (434-374-8381) will help with information about water conditions. Catfish of size are practically guaranteed if you use generous slabs of cut herring or other fish and drop them to the bottom. Crappie mania is about to strike these waters when the speckled beauties begin to school in sunken branches and wood along shore or in special brush piles put into 8- to 15-foot water by local crappie specialists. The bass fishing has been fair.

JAMES RIVER: 115 miles – (Tidal Richmond and downstream) The blue catfish will inhale a juicy, bottom-fished herring fillet or whole sunfish anywhere between Dutch Gap and the mouth of the Appomattox River.

CHICKAHOMINY RIVER: 135 miles – River's Rest (804-829-2753) will provide the latest water conditions. Meanwhile, bass fishermen are doing quite well along marsh dropoffs and the upper river's partially submerged shoreline trees. Catfish are biting and a few fat crappies are taking live minnows near the lake dam.

WESTERN VIRGINIA

SHENANDOAH RIVER: 60-85 miles – From Front Royal, our steadfast river reporter, Dick Fox, said, "Even with all the rain the river is still in the normal range with a water temperature of 67 degrees. The smallmouth bass are starting to fatten up for winter and are getting aggressive. Crankbaits, spinnerbaits, tubes and Senko-type plastic worms will catch fish.

SMITH MOUNTAIN LAKE: 210 miles – Freshwater rockfish are schooling close to the mouths of the larger lake tributaries. You'll begin to see increasing surface action as the stripers chase bait to the top of the water and your poppers, jerkbaits and rattle baits will see action. The cooler weather has energized the largemouth bass population. Every lure in the tackle box, especially spinnerbaits, soft and hard jerkbaits and topwater lures will be looked at around creek points, but Texas-rigged plastics also do the job in the shade of docks and main-lake humps or points.

UPPER JAMES RIVER (at Scottsville): 130 miles -- Looking for a fishing guide up this way? L.E. Rhodes (434-286-3366) can do the job. He says the river good shape and "the fish continue to take topwater lures along the banks and bait fish patterns around the mid stream structure." As the water chills down more, the surface fishing will decline, but tubes, jigs, and crankbaits will find them in deep river holes and such.

ATLANTIC OCEAN

MARYLAND: 165 miles to Ocean City -- Sue Foster, of the Oyster Bay Tackle Shop (410-524-3433) in Ocean City, says surf anglers in the resort city are finding small sharks and snapper bluefish in the waves along with a few kingfish. The Assateague surf waters are giving up a small number of fine red drum (channel bass). Even though the water temperature has dropped, there are still flounder to be caught in Ocean City's back bay and the tautog bite is picking up steam. Whenever the wind allows offshore boats to leave their moorings, they find that the dolphin (fish) bite is good, along with some tunas and billfish hookups that are sure to slowly decline with the approaching colder weather.

VIRGINIA: 210 miles to Virginia Beach – Dr. Julie Ball (www.drjball.com) reported that scattered king mackerel were providing some action off Sandbridge just before the rains fell (again and again). A few Spanish mackerel are taking trolled baits right off Rudee Inlet this week, said Ball, and amberjack are still around the South Tower and the Chesapeake Light Tower this week. "Although the marlin bite seems to have cooled a little off of Virginia Beach, there are still plenty of opportunities for releasing both white and blue marlin," said Ball. "The best action is still to the north of us. Some nice 50-pound class yellowfin tuna and 70-pound class bigeye tuna are also making a showing. Wahoo are around, and plenty of [dolphin fish] are rounding out catches. Overnight trips continue to produce scattered swordfish, with most of them averaging under 80-pounds."

• For additional outdoors news, check out www.genemuellerfishing.com

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