A little more than a week ago, when water and air temperatures were unusually warm, there were fears that, like the largemouth bass, the striped bass of the Chesapeake Bay would arrive sooner than normal and begin their spawning run.
Indeed, the stripers, better known as rockfish in these parts, showed up in fair numbers around the Susquehanna Flats, also inside some of the Bay’s feeder rivers, including the Potomac, Choptank and Nanticoke. A few Maryland fisheries officials even feared that when the trophy rockfish season opens April 21 there might not be as many largespawning stripers around as in years past.
However, it appears that nature threw a monkey wrench into the warm-weather works. During the early days of this week, very important nighttime temperatures dipped to near freezing, which certainly does not encourage the local fish to spawn, including the two favorites, largemouth bass and rockfish. To be sure, there has been a mix of largemouths in spawn or pre-spawn mode, which made fishing a little easier, what with the pre-spawners willing to look at a variety of lures. Sadly, for days on end the wind would not stop, which frequently kept the Potomac River’s bass anglers, especially those who fish from small flat-bottom johnboats, from venturing out among the whitecaps.
If you pay heed to readers’ questions (and we always do), the top news this week belongs to the arrival of a fish known as a croaker (or hardhead if you’re a Marylander). Robert Clements, of Lexington Park, Md., caught four croakers while casting his bait from the beach at Hog Point in the mouth of the Patuxent River last week. He was smart enough to carry his catch to the Tackle Box in Lexington Park, and he received a $50 gift card for bringing in the first croakers of the season.
The news continues as Ken Lamb of the Tackle Box said the rumor mill had some beach anglers getting bites from croakers above Cove Point in the Chesapeake Bay. That is followed by word that croakers are moving up the Virginia side of the Potomac, then following baitfish across the river from Breton Bay to the mouth of the Wicomico River where croaker fans eagerly await their arrival in the Bushwood area of St. Mary’s County. We have not been able to confirm croaker catches inside the Wicomico, but there are catfish galore in this Potomac River tributary.
Elsewhere, crappies, largemouth bass, landlocked stripers and large catfish are being caught in big Virginia reservoirs, such as Anna, Kerr, Gaston and Smith Mountain. The high-country rivers, including the Shenandoah, upper Potomac, Rappahannock, James and Susquehanna provide decent chances for smallmouth bass, perhaps a walleye or two. If it’s shad you’re after, the ends of the tidal portions of the Potomac, Rappahannock and Susquehanna deliver the goods.
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, Ray Fletcher told me that his portion of the river is seeing the best white perch run in 20 years. In addition, plenty of catch-and-release hickory shad and increasing numbers of American (white) shad are available to shad dart casters. A few rockfish are in the river, but the big spawners have not yet arrived. The river above Chain Bridge is clear and low. Rain would help. Farther down, around Hains Point, one angler hooked a large Chinese snakehead as he was hoping to get a bite from a rockfish or largemouth bass. Snakeheads, bass, catfish and crappies provide decent chances of bringing home a dinner or two anywhere on the river and in its feeder creeks right now. The problem has been the wind. It put a serious crimp into fishing activities earlier this week. By the way, there’s a good chance of hooking a catch-and-release striper on the Greenway Flats south of Marshall Hall. The best lures for bass and stripers now are Rat-L-Traps, RedEyes, and other lipless rattling crankbait. Add also Pure Poison and Chatterbait lures, shallow-lipped crankbaits, and don’t forget a craw-type soft plastic that can work when nothing else will.
WICOMICO RIVER: 55 miles – The croakers are at the mouth of the river, near Bushwood. What we need now is a warm spell. No, a hot spell would even be better. The insides of the river offer plenty of catfish.
MATTAWOMAN CREEK: 40 miles – When tides begin to ebb, cast rattle or lipped crankbaits for the bass across areas near shore where milfoil and hydrilla is steadily growing. However, sunken wood and marsh edge dropoffs also provide bass opportunities, especially on soft lures, such as the Baby Rage Tail in green pumpkin or blue fleck colors.
SO. MARYLAND LAKES: 40-50 miles – Gilbert Run Lake (Route 6, east of La Plata) has been windblown, but sunfish and bass are willing. At St. Mary’s Lake (Route 5, south of Leonardtown to left turn on Camp Cosoma Road) johnboaters had a tough time earlier this week because of relentless winds. The crappies and bass are waiting. As soon as calm water returns, be sure to visit this place.
WSSC RESERVOIRS: 20-30 miles – Triadelphia and Rocky Gorge lakes in the Prince George’s/Montgomery/Howard also have had fewer johnboaters because of the wind, but catch-and-release-only bass are in a pre-spawn or spawning mode and pre-spawners can be found in the deep-water coves, chasing minnows. Crankbaits, Rat-L-Traps and short plastic worms can turn the trick. Small 1/16-oz. hair or feather jigs under a bobber, fished around sunken branches or brush will draw strikes from the crappies.
PATUXENT RIVER: 25-60 miles – Robert Clements, of Lexington Park, fished from the beach at Hog Point in the mouth of the river last week and caught four fair-sized croakers (also known as hardheads). The catch earned Clements a $50 gift card simply because he brought his fish into the Tackle Box store in Lexington Park. The store annually offers an award for the first croakers of the season seen by store personnel. There’ll be more croakers moving in now and also increasing numbers of rockfish.
OCCOQUAN RESERVOIR: 33 miles – The johnboaters have had a tough time during windy days this week, but some of them scored nicely on pre-spawn bass, using crankbaits and soft plastics. Some of the largemouths are sitting firmly on their beds. It would be nice if all of us would just leave them be until they’re finished spawning. Fountainhead Park’s phone number is 703/250-9124.