Gene Mueller’s Fishing Report

Rain a welcome sight for rivers around region

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In some parts of our region fishing could not be better, but biologists are concerned that the shortage of precipitation might affect spawning activities of certain fish, including smallmouth bass in such rivers as Virginia’s Rappahannock and Maryland’s Potomac.

A good rain will be a great relief to the rivers. Without a soaking, resulting in continued low water, there’s a chance that some of the fish might skip proper reproduction this year and wait until 2013 to do their thing.

Virginia biologist John Odenkirk believes that the Rappahannock River that is part of his beat particularly needs river-refreshing rain. The same fears are voiced by the folks at Fletcher’s Cove in the far upper tidal reaches of the Potomac River in Georgetown. Dan Ward, of Fletcher’s Cove concession, asserted that a good rain is needed although current fish catches can be outstanding. “Shad, white perch and some catch-and-release stripers are here,” he said when we chatted with him.

In the tidal parts of the Potomac below the Wilson Bridge down into western Charles County feeder creeks, bass catches can be great. Local guide Andy Andrzejewski said that not nearly as many bass are sitting on their spawning beds as some believe.

“I continue to find pre-spawn bass that like a variety of lures, including soft plastic craw baits, crankbaits, Chatterbaits, occasionally even a topwater lure,” Andrzejewski said.

The main problem this time of year can be a rash of bass-fishing tournaments that has cast-for-cash competition fishermen clogging up state-owned boat ramps and parking lots, as well as the fishing waters preferred by local residents who paid for the boating facilities with their taxes, licenses and special fees.

The most frequent question we hear is, “Where are the croakers?” These tasty fish, also known as hardheads, have been playing hide and seek. Boaters and shoreline anglers patiently drop shrimp, squid, or crab chunk baits into the lower Patuxent, Potomac and Chesapeake Bay waters but often return home without so much as a nibble.

Croakers are in Southern Maryland waters, and they should bite this weekend. It often is a matter of warm sunshine that raises water temperatures, in turn driving the croakers into the rivers.

In the Atlantic Ocean from Maryland to Virginia, fishing is seeing plenty of ups and downs. Strong winds have curtailed activities for most boaters, but a few trollers east of Ocean City find scattered stripers. Virginians around the Eastern Shore’s barrier island occasionally tie into a fighting red drum that can measure 4 feet. Offshore wrecks in as much as 300 feet of water hold plenty of tilefish and sea bass. But where are the black drum that all of us enjoy fishing for in the Cape Charles area of the Chesapeake Bay?

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, Dan Ward says “We need rain.” There is less water coming down from up in the freshwater parts and it is affecting water depths and conditions. However, Dan, who works at the boat livery, also said that the fishing has been fine. Hickory shad are still there and more of the larger American shad are going to be seen. Also, fat white perch are hooked and a few catch-and-release stripers can be found. Down-river, the local bass guide Andy Andrzejewski (301-932-1509) says in spite of reports of many spawning largemouth bass, he is not seeing vigorous spawning activity. “The clients I take out on the river find fat female bass on the main stem’s rocky points,” he said. “These bass haven’t even begun to look as if they’re ready to spawn.” He’s referring to the bellies of the roe-bearing female bass and the fact that he still feels the eggs to be quite firm, not ready for spawning. Continued good catches of bass are made with Pure Poison and Chatterbait lures, as well as shallow to medium-depth crankbaits. The bigger catfish are looking for your cut fish pieces or a ball of clam snouts in deeper channel waters between Washington and Southern Maryland. The crappie fishing in many of the feeder creeks can be outstanding now. As far as the croaker fishing is concerned in the lower reaches of the river, it has been hit and miss, but local experts swear it will take off this weekend.

WICOMICO RIVER: 55 miles – No word on great croaker catches, but some of the “hardheads” are in the river. The insides of the river are home to many catfish that like just about any bait you throw into the water, from shrimp to crab, and from nightcrawler to bloodworm. White perch are possible around duck blinds and emerging shoreline grasses.

MATTAWOMAN CREEK: 40 miles – You can bet your last dollar that the creek will be overrun with tournament boats over the weekend. It’s a spring and summer ritual around Charles County’s Smallwood State Park and local residents are not delighted with all of the activities that frequently keep the very people who paid for the park from launching their own boats. Meanwhile, there are some decent-sized largemouths taken that like Chatterbaits or crankbaits as they pass over underwater weed beds.

SO. MARYLAND LAKES: 40-50 miles – Gilbert Run Lake (Route 6, east of La Plata) continues to offer bluegills, small bass, even the occasional crappie or stocked rainbow trout. At St. Mary’s Lake (Route 5, south of Leonardtown to left turn on Camp Cosoma Road) the majority of johnboaters and shoreline anglers looks for crappies, bass and catfish. They can score on all three species.

WSSC RESERVOIRS: 20-30 miles – Triadelphia and Rocky Gorge lakes in the Prince George’s/Montgomery/Howard counties has many of its sizable bass population still in a pre-spawn mode, although some female bass are sitting on their beds. If it’s crappies or sunfish you want, any sunken brush or fallen tree will deliver the goods if you use 1/16-ounce darts and grubs under a bobber.

PATUXENT RIVER: 25-60 miles – The far upper reaches of the river might turn up a few white perch, catfish and now and then a surprising rockfish that apparently is checking out the upper waters near Hill’s Bridge. The croaker fishing from Solomons on out to the river’s mouth will kick off more and more, especially this weekend.

OCCOQUAN RESERVOIR: 33 miles – You’ll find plenty of pre-spawn largemouths cruising the shallows inside coves. A smartly retrieved spinnerbait, Chatterbait or Mann’s Baby 1-Minus will draw attention and so will soft plastic craw-type baits. A few of the bass are on their spawning beds, but the majority of the fish are not. Crappies, sunfish and catfish round out the weekend outlook.

BURKE LAKE: 31 MILES – How many anglers even think about the fact that this fine lake has walleyes in it? They’re here and with a slow-trolled spinner that has a whole nightcrawler stuck on the hooks, you might find one willing to take the bait. Crappies are looking at live minnows or small darts and jigs under a bobber. Bass will go after 1/4-oz. spinnerbaits, soft plastics or small crankbaits.

CENTRAL & WESTERN MD.

UPPER POTOMAC RIVER: 35-100 miles – Low water prevails, but fair to good catches of smallmouth bass that like tubes, grubs and spinners can be expected from Washington County downstream to Montgomery County.

DEEP CREEK LAKE: 179 miles – The walleye season up this way is now open and the Maryland DNR says that this lake has an abundance of these tasty fish. By the way, smallmouth bass are available around rocky points and shoreline rock piles. Grubs, tubes and deep crankbaits will draw hits. Largemouth bass can be enticed into striking a jerkbait or medium depth crankbait in the deep-water coves..

SUSQUEHANNA RIVER: 65-100 miles – Many of the local boaters are disappointed because they had planned on fishing for stripers on the Susquehanna Flats, but the wind has been a fierce adversary to small-boaters. The rockfish are there. Inside the river, shad catches continue in portions of the main-stem and in the Deer Creek area.

CHESAPEAKE BAY

MARYLAND: 25-65 miles – With the state trophy rockfish season to open Saturday and fishermen being allowed to keep one 28-inch-and-over striper per day, many trollers already are catching and releasing trophy rockfish. The Buoy 72 area of the Bay has been hot for some boaters and others play the catch-and-release game near Calvert Cliffs, the Radar Towers, the Gooses and many other Bay areas that show varying water depths. The 25- to 40-foot-deep channel edges have been best for trollers using umbrella rigs and Sassy Shads in white or chartreuse. Others simply use parachute bucktails, maybe with a strip of pork rind on the hook.

VIRGINIA: 75-150 miles – In the waters of the Northern Neck, there’ll be croakers caught. We’re talking from the mouth of the Great Wicomico River up to Smith Point. The questions that begs for an answer is “How many croakers will show up this weekend?” We do know that the hardheads, as some call them, are biting in parts of the lower James and Rappahannock rivers. Virginia Beach area, Dr. Julie Ball (www.drjball.com) said croakers are available in the Willoughby, Ocean View, and the James River Bridge areas. By the way, shouldn’t there be a rash of black drum caught in the Cape Charles area?

EASTERN SHORE/MD.

CHOPTANK RIVER: 120 miles – Upper river will turn up a catch-and-release shad in the Red Bridges area and at the mouth of the river you’ll hook a catch-and-release striper. That’s pretty much it..

POCOMOKE RIVER: 140-170 miles – Snow Hill to Shad Landing stretches deliver some bass action on shallow crankbaits, such as the Mann’s Baby-1. The trouble here is that whenever the tide ebbs, the flow is strong and fishing in a relaxing fashion is going to be difficult in myriad main-stem brush piles and fallen trees and stickups.

NANTICOKE RIVER: 120 miles – Nothing much doing unless you want to count the appearance of 3- to 6-pound rockfish down around Vienna and farther downstream wherever sandy shallow water spits are seen where minnow schools congregate during low light hours. Rat-L-Trap lures in blue/chrome can do a fine job, as will 4-inch Sassy Shads, but the fish must be released.

CENTRAL VIRGINIA

LAKE ANNA: 82 miles – Lake Anna: Professional guide Jim Hemby (540-967-3313) said the striper fishing is outstanding. The rockfish are feeding all over the lake now on 5- to 15-foot flats, over humps and points. “Just about every shallow flat and primary point on the lake and near the mouths of creeks produces nice catches,” he said and added that the striped bass are feeding all the way up the rivers down to the dam and they are not selective about what they want to eat. Largemouth bass fishing can be good and Hemby wants you to remember that normally only a small percentage of bass spawn this month, but due to the warm weather and bedding activity the majority of bass will attempt to do it this month. The crappie fishing has been very good if you concentrate your efforts around shallow docks where baitfish are present. This is especially true if there is some kind of hiding cover available, such as brush or fallen logs. The catfish are hungry.

RAPPAHANNOCK RIVER: 47-100 miles – Virginia Department of Game & Inland Fisheries biologist John Odenkirk told me that he fears certain fish species’ spawning activities (such as smallmouth bass) could be impeded by the extremely low water in the upper river and even portions of the lower river. The Fredericksburg sector offers shad and catfish, but not nearly in the numbers that should be present. Some of the lower tidal sectors provide decent chances for largemouth bass.

LAKE BRITTLE: 59 miles – It’s still tough sledding for boaters since the dam repairs continue to be under way and the water is very low. Launching a car topper can be a chore.

LAKE ORANGE: 75 miles – Darrell Kennedy of the Angler’s Landing concession (540-672-3997) will provide water condition reports and other information. The water temperatures are steadily climbing and now are above 60 degrees. A few of the lake’s largemouth bass are on their spawning beds, but many others are still in a pre-spawn mode and they’ll look at soft plastics and slowly fished crankbaits. Crappies are found in any part of the lake waters that offer brush, stumps and sunken logs. Catfish like chicken livers of worm baits.

LAKE GASTON: 179 miles – Holly Grove Marina and guide Geg Karpinski (434-636-3455) says bass can be caught on Carolina-rigged plastic woms or small minnows. Minnows will also attract fat crappies. A recent crappie catch included a 2-pound, 8-ouncer. Catfish love clam snouts, cut pieces of fish or commercially produced “stink” baitCats are also being cooperative, going for clam snouts and stink bait. Four citation cats have been boated recently. Bluegill action is slow, but should pick up soon, try red wigglers. Perch are moving to the shallows, try small minnows and spinners. The water is clear and in the low 70s..

KERR RESERVOIR: 200 miles – Bobcat’s Lake Country Store (434-374-8381) can provide a water condition report. Meanwhile, bass fishing has not been easy because of the spawning activity in the lakes coves and flats. Bobby Whitlow says the crappie fishing is getting better with some of the speckled fish on their spawning beds, but others not even thinking about spawning yet. If you’re bottom fishing for catfish, remember that these lake “cats” love a bluegill, or any “fragrant” cut fish bait. The water temperature is in the 60s.

JAMES RIVER: 115 miles – (Tidal Richmond and downstream) Local guide Mike Hoke (804-357-8518) said the fishing is great. White shad and hickory shad fishing can be fine in the upper tidal portions. Some rockfish are caught and occasional 20-plus-pounders are possible. “The catfish are biting and I landed a 50-pound blue cat recently, but no flatheads last week,” said Hoke. “I’m thinking they may have started to spawn.” Water temperatures were in the mid 60s and the water is slightly stained. The white perch fishing is at its peak and if you fish with bloodworms or small jigs you can hook one on every cast. The bass fishing appears to be only fair.

CHICKAHOMINY RIVER: 135 miles – River’s Rest (804-829-2753) will provide the latest water conditions. Alton Williams says the bass fishing is hit or miss, but good crappie fishing is yours if you use live minnows or jigs and grubs under a bobber. Plenty of catfish are taken on cut eel or mud shad baits. The water temperatures stands at 67 degrees and it is slightly stained.

WESTERN VIRGINIA

SHENANDOAH RIVER: 60-85 miles – Front Royal fisherman, Dick Fox, said, “The river is in great shape, about normal height, clear with some algae bloom. The water temperature got up to 67 degrees yesterday. Smallmouth bass catches are picking up and the topwater bite is starting. Still, it’s hard to beat a tube bait. For best results, fish the shady side of the river when sun is bright.”

SMITH MOUNTAIN LAKE: 210 miles – Locals say the striper fishing can be awesome with the land-locked rockfish attacking just about every lure in your tackle box. The same goes for crappie catches that can be outstanding. In these mountains, the bass are in a pre-spawn mode so fairly good catches can be expected.

UPPER JAMES RIVER (at Scottsville): 130 miles – Low water in many parts, but smallmouth bass can be caught on smartly-fished flyfishing streamers or conventional tackle lures, such as tubes, grubs, Roadrunners, or Mepps Spinners, not to mention a 3-inch Zoom Fluke soft bait.

ATLANTIC OCEAN

MARYLAND: 165 miles to Ocean City – Sue Foster, of the Oyster Bay Tackle Shop (in Ocean City says the flounder have been biting. Oyster Bay Tackle had one angler bring one in that weighed 8-pounds, 4-ounces. A few stripers were reported being in the surf along with small bluefish and skates. The Route 50 Bridge waters saw striper action last week and the Oceanic Pier offers tautog, skates and snapper blues. Although the wind has been a problem, some offshore trollers find a few rockfish.

VIRGINIA: 210 miles to Virginia Beach – Fishing phenom Dr. Julie Ball (drjball.com) says everybody down her way is eager to go after red drum (a.k.a. channel bass, redfish) that are in shallow water along the shorelines and breakers of the Eastern Shore’s barrier islands. Surf anglers and shallow-water boaters can hook redfish up to 48 inches long, but this is not easy fishing. For example, it has been hit-and-miss at the popular Fisherman’s Island, yet anglers aren’t giving up. They use crab baits during incoming tides for best results. The flounder fishing also has seen ups and downs, but the Oyster and Quinby area on the Eastern Shore has seen squid and minnow drifters score. Some of the flounder have measured up to 24 inches long. Blueline tilefish and groupers are available off shore in 300 feet of water. Ball said that black seabass are also mixed in, but remember to throw them back since the season is still closed.

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

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