The rains finally arrived, and even though we prayed for the wet stuff, a lot of anglers feared a lengthy downpour would raise and muddy water levels. It didn't happen.
Although rivers and lakes received a good dousing, the worst that occurred was a slight water discoloration, which actually helped fishermen looking for action.
Dan Ward, of the Fletcher's Cove boat rental and tackle concession along the Potomac River in Georgetown said, "The rain helped. We're not complaining. If you come down to fish, expect a mixed bag of shad [the American and hickory variety], also some perch. We're thinking that maybe another wave of perch will come up the river."
Ward also mentioned that one angler on the river caught 38 striped bass that he promptly released. Yes, many of them were the smaller males waiting for the females to arrive. Good things are going to happen here.
Along comes our favorite fisheries biologist, John Odenkirk, of the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, who has been working in one of the Potomac's feeder waters, the Occoquan River. "You would not believe the numbers of bass, snakeheads, shad, herring, crappies and perch we see in the area of the dam inside the river," he said.
Other fishing fans, especially the bass-boat crowd, may not have visited the Occoquan, but they're finding good catches in just about all the Potomac's tributary creeks. Quite a few are working the main stem's rocky points, rip-rap and sunken logs or brush. A variety of lures, from soft plastic baits such as the Paca Craw to hard jerkbaits, also the shallow-lipped Baby-1-Minus - all can draw strikes from bass.
On the sad side of things, Odenkirk told us about a fish kill in the upper portion of popular Lake Anna, Va. It happened in the Pamunkey arm of the lake in a fairly small area. Dead carp, stripers and perch were found, but Odenkirk believes no huge damage was done. No one knows what happened. Runoff of pesticides from farms can't be blamed because the fish kill occurred before the rain arrived. It might have been some unthinking dolt who thoughtlessly dumped a toxic substance into the water.
In the Chesapeake Bay, last Saturday's opening of the striped bass season for 28-inch-and-over trophy specimens kicked off splendidly. Our friends at Buzz's Marina along St. Jerome's Creek in St. Mary's County said it was the best opener for rockfish they've ever witnessed. The owners, Christy and Mike Henderson, had a steady stream of successful boaters return from the nearby Chesapeake Bay, many of them showing off 40- to 44-inch-long stripers. Much the same happy news came from Ken Lamb, of the Lexington Park Tackle Box, where a lot of fishermen stop to have pictures taken of their catches (to see some of them visit www.genemuellerfishing.com) or to file applications for state trophy catch citations.
Elsewhere, there's concern among some saltwater fanatics about the lack of black drum in the lower Chesapeake Bay's Cape Charles area. I believe there is nothing to worry about. In fact, a few have begun to show up this week. Most of the large bottom feeders are due in the early days of May and, yes, sometimes they arrive a little sooner, but the sudden change in the weather surely affected any decision by the large, tasty fish to arrive in familiar lower Bay waters.
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 "I think the rain has actually helped. The water is a little discolored, but not enough to hurt the fishing." Dan said he saw one man catch and release 38 stripers, most of them small. But there are white and hickory shad in the Fletcher's Cove portion, not to mention white perch and catfish. In fact, there may be new arrivals of white perch. "It happens every year," said Dan. "We'll see." Meanwhile, down-river, the local bass guide Andy Andrzejewski (301/932-1509) says hard jerkbaits, Baby 1-Minus crankbaits, soft plastics of every type and slowly retrieved spinnerbaits can do a fine job on largemouth bass and snakeheads of all sizes along main-stem points, gravel bars, sunken wood and, of course, freshly growing milfoil and hydrilla fields and patches. The same goes for all the feeder creeks. If you want to be in the presence of large numbers of snakeheads, bass, white perch, shad and herring, give the insides of the Occoquan River (close to the dam) a shot, said Virginia fisheries biologist John Odenkirk.
In the saltwater portions of the lower Potomac, trollers have done quite well dragging umbrella rigs loaded with Sassy Shad lures or simply using single parachute bucktails. One party of trollers near Smith Creek put out five rods for the five men looking for 28-inch-and-over rockfish. They limited out in less than two hours. Sadly, the croakers (a.k.a. hardheads) have been tough to find. From Lexington Park, the Tackle Box store's Ken Lamb said, "The cold snap last week made the fish move from the shallows to deeper holes. Some of the river. 's pound-netters got as many as 18 bushels of croakers overnight during this movement, but then they disappeared again."
WICOMICO RIVER: 55 miles – The news is not good if it's croakers you're after. The colder water temperatures over the past week has driven potential new arrivals back out into deep river depressions. They'll wait until things warm up. The river has plenty of catfish and increasing numbers of white perch that like the newly growing grass edges and dock pilings.
MATTAWOMAN CREEK: 40 miles – The rain has not affected the fishing. Expect good catches of largemouth bass. Use a variety of hard and soft lures. One of the better anglers told me that he's whacking the bass with a Baby 1-Minus crankbait and Paca Craw or Rage Tail Baby Craw in red fleck/water melon, also in junebug colors. Crappies can show up almost anywhere you see sunken wood and brush in at least three and four feet of water even when the tide is down.
SO. MARYLAND LAKES: 40-50 miles – Gilbert Run Lake (Route 6, east of La Plata) is fine for catching sunfish, maybe a bass now and then. Stocked trout have been hard to find. I guess most of them have been caught and eaten. At St. Mary's Lake (Route 5, south of Leonardtown to left turn on Camp Cosoma Road) johnboaters and shoreline anglers are pleased with bass, crappie and bluegill catches. The fishing has been fine.
WSSC RESERVOIRS: 20-30 miles – Triadelphia and Rocky Gorge lakes in the Prince George's/Montgomery/Howard counties corridor is turning up catch-and-release largemouth bass, plenty of crappies and sunfish, also a few hefty catfish that like bottom baits. Try clam necks just once and see if you won't like the results. Catfish love clam necks.
PATUXENT RIVER: 25-60 miles – Haven't heard much about decent catches of anything around Hill's Bridge, although crappies and remnant yellow perch have cooperated in Western Branch. However, as you get toward the mouth there actually are some anglers fishing from Hog Point's beach who catch a rockfish now and then. When the water warms again, the croakers will be there, as well. Word has it that the white perch have started coming into the feeder creeks where small spinners or Beetlespin lures will catch them around docks, piers and grass line edges.
OCCOQUAN RESERVOIR: 33 miles – Weekend johnboaters will do well on bass in the deep-water coves where secondary points jut out into the water and often are the ambush spots preferred by bass hoping an unsuspecting minnow or young sunfish comes along. Crankbaits, soft plastic worms and "craw" baits will do the job. Crappies have not been the most cooperative critters, but that will change when more settled weather arrives.
BURKE LAKE: 31 MILES – Have you tried a 1/16-ounce white Dollfly jig or a bucktail dart tied perpendicular to 8-pound-test monofilament, with a bobber snapped to the line some 3 or 4 feet above the lure? Cast the rig around sunken brush piles, tree branches in the water, or a shady shore where water drops from 2 and 3 feet to double that amount very quickly. Jiggle the rod tip to give the little lure some life-like action and see if a fat crappie won't inhale it. Bass are possible around points and shallow flats if you use short-lipped crankbaits, jerkbaits, or small "craw" baits and plastic worms.
CENTRAL & WESTERN MD.
UPPER POTOMAC RIVER: 35-100 miles – Water conditions are okay in spite of the rain. You will find willing smallmouth bass in the riffles and deep pockets on the downstream side of large boulders anywhere from Washington County down to the Darnestown and Edwards Ferry in Montgomery County. Tubes, jigs, inline spinners and such will do the job..
DEEP CREEK LAKE: 179 miles – The walleyes are biting if you slow-troll an Eerie-dearie lure with a minnow or a whole nightcrawler along channel edges and around rocky points. It has been way too cold up here to do any decent bass fishing. I mean, six inches of snow in late April? Are you kidding me?
SUSQUEHANNA RIVER: 65-100 miles – Many fishermen say catches of catfish and a few stripers are indeed possible when water is being released through Conowingo Dam, but things are not so good when there are no discharges. Meanwhile, shad continue to please flyrodders and users of spinning tackle in Deer Creek. The Susquehanna Flats are home to many rockfish although a large percentage now consists of males that are ready to spawn. Bigger females are on the way. Some are hooked as you read this.
MARYLAND: 25-65 miles – From St. Jerome's Creek, close to St. Mary's County portions of the Bay, Christy Henderson, of Buzz's Marina, said, "We had our best [trophy striped bass] opening day ever. Everyone was saying they caught the most fish in 15 years. No skunk trips, that's for sure. Many of the trophy rockfish came from around the Point No Point Light waters. We saw hundreds and hundreds of fish come in here. Lots of happy people." That feeling is echoed by Ken Lamb, of Lexington Park's Tackle Box, who said, "A steady stream of rockfish came into the The Tackle Box on opening day for photos and citations. Trollers found the fish in the lower and upper bay taking umbrella rigs, tandem rigs, daisy chains, big spoons and surgical eels. Many put their lines over and had their limit (one 28-inch-and-over fish per person) in a matter of minutes." Lamb said the area of the ships channel near buoy 72A was especially hot. Boats using planer boards had multiple fish on at the same time. Lamb said most of the stripers he is seeing measure from 32 to 37 inches. "Of the 50 or so rockfish we saw on Saturday, only two were in excess of 40 inches," he said. What is interesting is that very few of the trophy stripers had sea lice in their gill rakers, which leads many anglers to believe that the big stripers stayed in the warm waters of the Bay this winter and did not venture out into the Atlantic. "We may see a big run of larger ocean fish coming to spawn in the next two weeks," said a hopeful Lamb. On the other side of the coin, we've heard from a number of trollers who didn't catch anything. Go figure.
VIRGINIA: 75-150 miles – Northern Neck boaters are coming into Maryland for the trophy stripers and they're doing very well, but the croaker fishing has been poor. Down the Bay quite a ways, tThe Virginia Beach area's Dr. Julie Ball (www.drjball.com) said that the flounder action has been spotty in the Bay. The best chances are found at Back River, also the bend at the third island of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel and along the Baltimore Channel in water ranging up to 45-feet. Scattered flounder can also be found in the Lynnhaven Inlet. Although a few black drum have been hooked near Cape Charles and the Cabbage Patch, there is some concern about a lack of the fat bottom feeders in the lower Bay, but since the cold snap arrived the big brutes probably are holding back a little. They'll be here by the first days of May.
CHOPTANK RIVER: 120 miles – Lower river downstream of Cambridge might show some catch-and-release stripers, but don't expect much. The upper river also has not been a "go-to" place. As a fishing pal said who visited the Martinak State Park ramps to launch his boat and fish for bass, "If the bass are biting, they must be biting each other – certainly not anything I cast toward likely looking spots."
POCOMOKE RIVER: 140-170 miles – Snow Hill to Shad Landing shorelines that show flooded tree roots and small inlets with water-logged brush can deliver bass and crappies, even white perch.
NANTICOKE RIVER: 120 miles – Not much happening in the river, although there were reports once again of stripers hammering Rat-L-Traps around long jutting points south of Vienna just around sunrise or sunset when coupled to high tides. The Marshyhope Creek delivers a few crappies and bass, but it's not worth paying the outlandishly high bridge tolls to get across the Bay only to find mediocre fishing.
LAKE ANNA: 82 miles – "Only about an inch of rain fell here during all those storms, so the water color ins't bad at all," says my lake contact. Many of the largemouth bass in the lower lake around the three dikes and dam area have already spawned, but are still hanging around near the spawning coves. Carolina rigged lizards have been the hot ticket. Striper fishing in the mid-lake region is pretty good. Start hunting for them in the mouths of major creeks such as Contrary and Mitchell. Crappies are still in fairly shallow water at docks and now along the grass edges.
RAPPAHANNOCK RIVER: 47-100 miles – Virginia Department of Game & Inland Fisheries biologist John Odenkirk said the rain was very beneficial for fish and anglers alike. The shad fishing in the Fredericksburg stretch should perk up now and why no one is actually trying to hook a fat blue catfish is anybody's guess. The "cats' are in the river. Bass catches south of Fredericksburg are holding up well until you get to distant places like Leedstown. It's not very productive there. In the upper freshwater parts of the "Rap," as some locals call it, smallmouth bass should look ata spinner, tube, jig or 1/4-ounce crankbait.
LAKE BRITTLE: 59 miles – The concession stand's Lori can be reached best during weekends at 540/219-1673. It's still tough to launch a boat because of low water during the dam construction, but Lori said that the fishing is awesome right now. Crappies by the bucketsful are taken by anglers working the waters close to the concession. Bass are also hooked.
LAKE ORANGE: 75 miles – Darrell Kennedy of the Angler's Landing concession (540/672-3997) will provide water condition reports and other information. Crappie, catfish and largemouth bass are definitely interested in lures and baits now. Find a waterlogged brush pile or a sunken tree and chances are all three species are hiding there.
LAKE GASTON: 179 miles – Holly Grove Marina (434/636-3455) will help with water condition reports. One thing is certain, the crappies are biting and it is no great deal if you luck into a fat striper or a largemouth bass. It all depends where you fish. Crappies are in sunken brush and around the bridge abutments in feeder creeks. Stripers are uplake and the bass are liable to be anywhere where points just out between creek and main lake waters.
KERR RESERVOIR: 200 miles – Bobcat's Lake Country Store (434-374-8381) can provide a water condition report. Catfish galore and they like cut slabs of any kind of fish, which includes bluegills and such. The bass are either spawning or getting ready to spawn. Check out points and backwaters in the creeks. Cast jerkbaits, soft craw baits, or Chatterbaits for good results. Rockfish are in the uplake sections.
JAMES RIVER: 115 miles – (Tidal Richmond and downstream) Catfish and rockfish are possible from Dutch Gap downstream toward Walker Creek and the Chippokes. Some decent bass are possible in the feeder creeks. At the Richmond water line there'll be catch-and-release shad and herring.
CHICKAHOMINY RIVER: 135 miles – River's Rest (804-829-2753) will provide the latest water conditions. The bass fishing has been up and down, which is normal during the spawning season, but some nice ones are hooked on craw baits, such as the Baby Rage Tail or Paca Craw. Crappie chances are good up the river toward the dam area.
SHENANDOAH RIVER: 60-85 miles – Front Royal fisherman, Dick Fox, said, "The river is rising slowly with a water temperature of 60 degrees. Fishing for smallmouth bass will be slow until the weekend when the weather will settle down and a warm-up begins."
SMITH MOUNTAIN LAKE: 210 miles – Lots of crappies are hooked in flooded creek brush. Locals here prefer live minnows under a bobber. The bass are possible in the main lake's side pockets where shallow water meets deep layers and provides hiding spots. Rockfish catches are steady up and down the lake.
UPPER JAMES RIVER (at Scottsville): 130 miles – Look for the smallmouth bass to check out tube lures and inline spinners, maybe even a streamer fly. The rain has not done any damage other than help raise the water a little.
MARYLAND: 165 miles to Ocean City – The recent cold snap didn't help the resort city's fishermen, but things will be back in swing by the weekend and the chance for a few hefty striped bass and medium sized bluefish from the surf will improve. The flounder season is now open and the Thorofare is the place to start drifting strips of squid combined with a live bull minnow. Tautog catches are possible if the tide is right in the inlet. Tough anglers fish from bulkheads, the Route 50 Bridge and from small boats. In the offshore waters, those willing to brave the wind have been finding tautogs.
VIRGINIA: 210 miles to Virginia Beach – Dr. Julie Ball (drjball.com) says flounder are possible on the Eastern Shore. Keeper flatfish were taken in the seaside inlets at Oyster and Wachapreague, but that was before the weather chilled down. Chances are things will improve by Sunday. There are red drum (a.k.a. redfish or channelbass) in the barrier islands of the Eastern Shore. It's a hit-and-miss affair, but some fishermen score. The Virginia Beach Fishing Center says taylor blues are keeping surf casters throwing lures and baits from the jetties happy inside Rudee Inlet. The Ocean View Fishing Pier has seen croakers in the 16-inch range. They went after bloodworms. Snapper bluefish are all over the ocean front, says Ball, then added, "When boats can get out, deep-dropping species such as tilefish and grouper are still available in water over 30 fathoms near the Norfolk Canyon." A few black drum are hooked in the seaside inlets of the Eastern Shore.
For additional outdoors news, go to www.genemuellerfishing.com
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