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Gene Mueller’s Fishing Report

Rain may not dampen enthusiasm

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Local and distant fishing success will suffer from an overabundance of rain in every Middle Atlantic State. The next four days could keep some of our area's anglers indoors, but there also will be some who scoff at rain.

If the wind doesn't "blow a gale," as the guys in Chesapeake Bay country like to say, die-hard fishermen will at least be out on the tidal rivers, especially the lower Potomac and Patuxent. The tidal Potomac can handle large amounts of runoff water that is sure to arrive from Western Maryland. With a little luck, weekenders will enjoy hooking bluefish, some legal stripers, croakers, and plenty of white perch from below the Route 301 bridge in Charles County south to Point Lookout. The same is true of the lower ends of the Patuxent River.

It probably will be a different story in the mountains of Virginia and Maryland, where flood warnings have been issued. I'll stick my neck out and say that you should forget fishing plans for such stellar smallmouth bass rivers as the upper James, Rappahannock, Potomac and all of the Shenandoah. We might as well add the Susquehanna River upstream of the Conowingo Dam, which is near the town of Port Deposit. The Pennsylvania stretches of the river are sure to see levels rise and water colors change to the color of coffee with cream.

However, you can bet a fair sum of money that there will be bass boaters on the tidal Potomac somewhere between Wilson Bridge and the Wade's Bay area of the river, electric trolling motors over the bow, wearing pricey rain suits (some can cost as much as $400), and casting plastic worms or shallow-running crankbaits to the edges of massive weed beds in the main stem or in some of the river's tributaries. The bass in this river are used to changing water conditions. They'll bite if you put the lure in front of their noses.

The same holds true for the fishing fanatics down in the lowest portions of the Chesapeake Bay, only a slingshot's distance from the Atlantic Ocean. They are a hardy lot and as long as the wind doesn't push salty breakers over their boats, some will be working baits and artificial lures in a hunt for cobias and redfish. Others will drift with strip baits along the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel's pilings and stone-laden support islands, hoping to hook up with a sassy flounder or two, many of which are trophy specimens.

There also will be sheepshead and a few spadefish, not to mention schools of young and old bluefish that roam the open waters of the Bay. The wind will dictate activities more so than the tropical storm-generated rain, so please stay safe.

D.C. AND VICINITY

(All listed distances begin in Washington)

POTOMAC RIVER: 0-35 miles – In the District around Fletcher's Cove (202-244-0461), Ray Fletcher said, "So far the river has only risen a bit, but that can change if the rain continues." The Georgetown waterfront already has raised its flood gates. What does that tell us. A lot of water will be coming down from Frederick and Montgomery counties. However, the bass fishing guide Andy Andrzejewski (301-932-1509) knows that there will be spots on the river and in its tributaries that will deliver bass, snakeheads and catfish. The blue catfish, especially, don't mind changing water conditions. They seek their food mostly through their ability to scent objects from great distances away. Sight and sound are secondary. When it's muddy or at least murky, the bass use their schnozzolas just like a catfish, but they also respond to flashy and/or noisy lures. For the latest upper tidal water conditions call Fletcher. It may help you plan a fishing trip farther downriver.

WICOMICO RIVER: 55 miles – You'll most likely see a lot of muddy runoff from up above in the Allen's Fresh sector of the river, but near the mouth a few croakers and plenty of catfish and white perch will be available even if you get drenched in the process.

MATTAWOMAN CREEK: 40 miles – The upper creek areas will discharge muddy water, but by the time you reach the Smallwood State Park area, the weedbeds and spatterdock fields will hold bass even in discolored water. Shallow, noisy crankbaits or scented, soft plastics do the job.

SO. MARYLAND LAKES: 40-50 miles – Gilbert Run Lake (Route 6, east of La Plata) will be fine for fishing even if the water rises. But don't expect more than hungry bluegills that like worm baits under a bobber. At St. Mary's Lake (Route 5, south of Leonardtown to left turn on Camp Cosoma Road) the water usually stays reasonably clear even after strong rains. Go try for a bass or two. They've been biting.

WSSC RESERVOIRS: 20-30 miles – Triadelphia and Rocky Gorge lakes in the Prince George's/Montgomery/Howard counties will see plenty of murky, muddy water in their upper ends, but mid-lake and lower portions will be fishable, although high water can be a problem as far as launching a johnboat is concerned.

PATUXENT RIVER: 25-60 miles – The croakers, perch and mixed bags of snapper bluefish and rockfish are there and they're not about to leave. Wind will put a halt to a lot of boaters trying the river, but rain will not.

OCCOQUAN RESEROIR: 33 miles -- Beware of high water if the rains continue for two more days. The reservoir will be discolored and that will affect this body's fish population. All the same, catfish and a few bass can be hooked.

BURKE LAKE: 29 miles – This lake handles lots of rain pretty well, but you'll encounter standing water to make boat launches a little tougher. The bass always take a look at noisy, brightly-colored crankbaits, as well as scented plastics. Catfish and bluegills don't care if it rains.

CENTRAL & WESTERN MD.

UPPER POTOMAC RIVER: 35-100 miles – DNR biologist Mark Toms, in his western Maryland office, said there will definitely be a strong rise in the water levels and possible flooding all around. "That's if the weatherman is correct," he said. "So far, he's right. It's raining and more will be coming down." What all that means is that the fishing will be on hold for a while. Don't risk it.

DEEP CREEK LAKE: 179 miles – Lots of rain doesn't mean much here, but wind does. Bass can be caught around sunken rocks, submerged wood and boat docks. Tubes, jigs, grubs, crankbaits and spinnerbaits can turn the trick.

SUSQUEHANNA RIVER: 65-100 miles – Conowingo Dam will send many gallons of muddy water through its discharge sluices. The fishing will be very slow -- if not totally at a stand-still.

CHESAPEAKE BAY

MARYLAND: 45-75 miles – Depending on the wind, fish can be caught by the weekend. Some portions of the Bay will be discolored, but if it doesn't blow a mile a minute you'll hook rockfish and bluefish on freshly cut pieces of spot or, if you can find them, whole small spot. The fish are widely distributed, from as far north as the Chester River's Love Point to the most southern parts between Point Lookout and the Virginia state line. No one was out yesterday, so there's no use in passing along areas that produced, but I'll wager that the Gas Docks continue to turn up fish, as will the abutments of the Bay Bridge (Routes 50/301) and a host of other Bay stretches. The best news currently has been the presence of bluefish schools up and down the Bay. In our home, smoked bluefish is a staple during Redskins games.

VIRGINIA: 75-150 miles – Dr. Julie Ball (www.drjball.com) said that the flounder fishing was fine before Hurricane Irene blew through the lower Bay and it apparently is good as you read this -- even in the rain. The biggest problem will be strong winds. All the same, the fishing dentist, Ball, said, "Anglers using live bait and drifting with cut bait near the Third and Fourth islands of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel are finding keeper fish." She also added that the Thimble Shoal and Baltimore Channel, as well as most ledges and drop-offs in the same area will now deliver flounder bites. Although it is not officially autumn just yet, the cobias in the lower Bay are acting like it. They're schooling on the surface and are hanging around the pilings of the Bridge-Tunnel. In addition, there's some terrific croaker and spot fishing now along the southern shorelines and inlets of the Bay.

EASTERN SHORE/MD.

CHOPTANK RIVER: 120 miles – The mouth is home to Norfolk spot, but not nearly as many as live-liners hope to catch for a day's striper fishing. The middle and upper river will not deliver anything this weekend.

POCOMOKE RIVER: 140-170 miles -- A few bass are possible up around Shad Landing and Snow Hill, but don't expect great catches in wind and rain. Things will improve once we get over the coming weekend.

NANTICOKE RIVER: 120 miles – Nothing doing for bass hunters. To be sure, there are a few available in the Marshyhope and Broad creeks, but the bass situation has been on a downward slide for a while. Weekenders might want to rethink fishing here because of the current weather situation.

CENTRAL VIRGINIA

LAKE ANNA: 82 miles – My lake informant says, "A lot of pleasure boats finally surrendered the water to the fishermen after Labor Day. That's the good news. The bad news is that the current fishing action has been pretty slow. Some of the crappies are starting to school by the deep water bridge pilings, but getting bass or stripers to bite has been a chore. Hopefully, the full moon early next week turns the picture around." Meanwhile, a lot of rain is falling and the area continues to feel aftershocks from the recent earthquake.

RAPPAHANNOCK RIVER: 47-100 miles – Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries biologist John Odenkirk, who works out of Fredericksburg, figures the weekend is a goner for upper river and tidal water bass fishermen. The smallmouth bass must cope with high, fast, muddy water, so they won't be interested in striking a lure. Ditto for the tidal water largemouth bass. Muddy water from runoff will be the rule.

LAKE BRITTLE: 59 miles – Even in heavy rain conditions, this lake can turn up catfish, bluegills and bass, maybe a crappie or two.

LAKE ORANGE: 75 miles – Darrell Kennedy runs the Angler's Landing (540/672-3997) concession if you have questions. The lake will take on "color," as some fishermen describe murky conditions, but expect a catfish to take a cut bait, clam neck or strip of liver. The bass will play hard to get.

LAKE GASTON: 179 miles – Our fishing pal Marty Magone said that the lake's water levels have returned to normal pool and coupled with the many new emerging grass beds in Gaston's feeder creeks bass fishing is on the rise. "It's really a take your pick situation; run to the flats and uplake grass lines or motor to the back of any feeder creek looking for the visible grass beds," he said. Tie on a topwater popper or Chatterbait and work the edges. How the bad weather system that is passing through the mid-Atlantic states with all that rain will affect Gaston is not known yet, but Gaston can handle a lot of runoff.

KERR RESERVOIR: 200 miles -- Bobcat's Lake Country Store (434-374-8381) can tell you the latest water conditions. Rain generally doesn't bother this huge reservoir, but there'll be high water at the boat ramps. Catfish and bass are possible if you can get out.

JAMES RIVER: 115 miles – (Tidal Richmond and downstream) The fishing guide Mike Hoke (804-357-8518), can help with a blue catfish booking, but please don't ask him to simply supply water condition information. The man is trying to make a living. Catfish can be cut on cut baits, but there'll be a lot of muddy water coming down over the Richmond fall line. Don't expect great things to happen.

CHICKAHOMINY RIVER: 135 miles – Check with River's Rest (804-829-2753) for the latest conditions. Rain will discolor much of the river, but there are plenty of hiding spots in this waterway where boaters can fish in their rain suits. Bass and catfish are willing if you are.

WESTERN VIRGINIA

SHENANDOAH RIVER: 60-85 miles – Front Royal's Dick Fox said, "With the river on the rise and rain predicted all week, I would definitely call ahead before coming to the Shenandoah to do any fishing this weekend." That sounds like good advice because the steady rains will definitely change conditions.

SMITH MOUNTAIN LAKE: 210 miles – Rain will not affect this huge impoundment as badly as it might a river or creek. The lake can take a wet pounding, but if the wind blows, all bets are off for striper and bass fishermen that had been doing quite well over the past weekend.

UPPER JAMES RIVER (at Scottsville): 130 miles -- In two words: Forget it. The rain will raise water levels and speed up the flow. Flood warnings have been issued for the area.

ATLANTIC OCEAN

MARYLAND: 165 miles to Ocean City -- Sue Foster of Oyster Bay Tackle said that after Hurricane Irene passed by it wasn't long before lots of stripers were caught at Indian River Inlet in the wee hours of the morning and bluefish as well as stripers were hooked around the Route 50 bridge. In addition, small bluefish came into the surf and flounder reappeared in the backwaters. However, what the current rain and wind forecasts will do to the resort city visitors who bring their rods and reels is anyone's guess. If the wind slows down, offshore billfish and dolphin catches will be good.

VIRGINIA: 210 miles to Virginia Beach – A. Dr. Julie Ball (www.drjball.com) reports that schools of big red drum are off the Virginia Beach shorelines.If the wind allows it, they can be caught on bait or dragging large bucktails and other artificials. If the weather allows it, fishing phenom Dr. Ken Neill says the offshore billfish bite can be excellent. "Most of the catches are white marlin but there are blue marlin, sailfish, and spearfish also being caught." In addition, Dr. Neill said that a lot of dolphin (mahi-mahi) are in the mix. "Inshore hills like the Hot Dog and 26 Mile Hill are covered with false albacore and good numbers of dolphin. The coastal wrecks are holding good numbers of sea bass and flounder," he added.

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

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