April is a time of year when most fish species begin to think of reproducing. Piscatorial love is in the air, or rather in the water.
Largemouth bass are seriously checking out bedding sites in preparation of spawning. Some already have begun, especially in the southern Virginia reservoirs, such as Kerr and Gaston.
Spawning activity has been noted at Virginia's Lake Gaston, and any day now our tidal Potomac River will see female bass depositing their roe, followed by the fertilization of the males' milt.
The spawning efforts of crappies have started, although recent, sudden cold snaps may have delayed it a few days. Shad and herring are at it, and in saltwater, striped bass are about to begin their spawning runs. Bluegills, carp, lake walleyes and river muskies also are going to be answering the call to multiply.
For starters, hickory shad and lesser numbers of American (aka white) shad are in the upper tidal portions of rivers and creeks, including the Potomac around Fletcher's Cove in Georgetown; shad also will come into the fall line of the James River in Richmond, the Rappahannock in Fredericksburg, Va., the Susquehanna and its Deer Creek feeder at the head of the Chesapeake Bay.
Locally, anglers who are on the hunt for the Potomac's largemouth bass are doing well. Much of that has to do with many of these fish not yet guarding their nests. However, with the current warm-weather forecast, it will happen quickly. Meanwhile, all the feeder creeks are showing emerging submersed vegetation, and that can be the secret to finding bass. Cast and retrieve medium-diver crankbaits, spinnerbaits, Chatterbaits and soft craw claw baits over the weeds. You'll score in the feeder creeks and main stem from Wade's Bay north to the District — a mighty stretch of water.
If it's Chinese snakeheads you want, Virginia fisheries biologist John Odenkirk told me that the backwaters of the Occoquan River and the nearby Massey Creek showed many of the toothsome alien invaders while he and his crew electro-shocked the waters to check on the species' presence. Odenkirk said there were so many snakeheads in the Occoquan River around the water plant that one man, using a fishing bow and arrows, regularly shot snakeheads. Largemouth bass also were plentiful in the same waters, said Odenkirk.
In the Chesapeake Bay, Maryland boaters await the start of trophy season that runs from April 21 through May 15. One thing is sure, the big breeder "cow" stripers are heading our way. Farther down in the Chesapeake, the Bridge-Tunnel that connects the Virginia Beach area with the Eastern Shore's Cape Charles gives up tautogs and scattered flounder. There's even a chance of hooking small bluefish in that area. The blues also are in the oceanfront at Rudee Inlet.
Offshore Maryland and Virginia boats find tautog and tilefish action over deep-water wrecks, while along the Eastern Shore of Virginia the first red drum (aka channel bass or redfish) have made a showing in the various inlets.
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 says the shad, catfish and slowly increasing numbers of rockfish are noted. Some bass, even walleyes, show up in that section of the river. From the District down to the Piscataway Creek, the bass fishing is fine and much the same kind of success is enjoyed in every feeder creek, inlet, cove and bay clear down to Wade's Bay, but we hear complaints about a lack of crappies. There really is no shortage, but the speckled fish had started schooling in preparation for the spawn, then a cold spell lowered the water temperature in the shallows and they disappeared. It's a temporary move. They'll be back doing their thing this weekend. The big blue catfish take slabs of gizzard shad or whole white perch in the deep drops from outside Broad Creek south to Marshall Hall and outside Gunston Cove. Snakeheads are very active now, with the most success currently found in the far backwaters of the Occoquan River, around the water plant.
WICOMICO RIVER: 55 miles – Nothing doing yet, but the croakers hopefully will show up within a week or so.
MATTAWOMAN CREEK: 40 miles – Of all the feeder creeks of the Potomac, this is the most popular one for tournaments because of Smallwood State Park's six boat launching ramps. The bass and even crappie catches can be good, but weekends often serve as a time for tournaments of all sizes. That means be prepared for crowded conditions.
SO. MARYLAND LAKES: 40-50 miles – Gilbert Run Lake (Route 6, east of La Plata) is always good for panfish, such as bluegills, but also a few bass. In fact, during the spawning days, the upper end of the lake sees 5- and 6-pound largemouths sitting on their beds. At St. Mary's Lake (Route 5, south of Leonardtown to left turn on Camp Cosoma Road) you'll hook crappies, sunfish and increasing numbers of bass. Some of the bass will be on their beds. Be kind if you catch a bedding female and return her quickly in the same area so she can finish what she started.
WSSC RESERVOIRS: 20-30 miles – Triadelphia and Rocky Gorge lakes in the Prince George's/Montgomery/Howard deliver fair numbers of catch-and-release bass along with scattered crappies that should school up now that the warm weather has returned. Some catfish are found by shoreline anglers using nightcrawler or liver baits.
PATUXENT RIVER: 25-60 miles – Just outside the Chalk Point Power Plant you'll find catfish and a few fat white perch, but I've gotten very few optimistic reports from the upper river around Hill's Bridge. Locals are blaming the recent cold snap on lack of cooperative fish.
OCCOQUAN RESERVOIR: 33 miles -- From Fountainhead up to Bull Run, there'll be more than a few spawning bass in coves and quiet, shallow side pockets. However, spinnerbaits, crankbaits and soft plastics can do well on bass hiding in sunken brush and around lake points. The crappie fishing is good one day, lousy the next. Fountainhead Park's phone number is 703/250-9124.
BURKE LAKE: 31 MILES -- Virginia Department of Game & Inland Fisheries did a nighttime electro-shock study and found walleyes from two to five pounds in good numbers to the right side of the park's pier. Crappies and bass -- some of them spawning -- are available as well. The park's phone number is 703/323-6601.
CENTRAL & WESTERN MD.
UPPER POTOMAC RIVER: 35-100 miles – Upper river is very fishable and water levels are down. Some smallmouth bass are taken from Washington County down to Montgomery County, but if you're looking for walleyes and muskies, it will be slow going. The walleyes are hiding after their spawning and the muskellunge are about to spawn, which makes fishing for them less than promising.
DEEP CREEK LAKE: 179 miles – Slow overall fishing for bass, but some can be hooked now, especially smallmouth bass along rocky points. Walleyes are also possible, and fat yellow perch and crappies will take jigs and/or live minnows in the coves.
SUSQUEHANNA RIVER: 65-100 miles – The Deer Creek area shows hickory shad in good numbers, but there are times when they don't want to cooperate. The same goes for the rockfish that had been noticed on the Susquehanna Flats a few days ago, but now seemed to have disappeared. The way the striper fishing goes up this way, there could be an onslaught of freshly arriving rockfish by the time you read this.
MARYLAND: 25-65 miles – The water temperatures in the Bay run around 50 to 53 degrees. A number of boaters are trolling parachute bucktails and umbrella rigs along the deeper channel edges hoping to find a catch-and-release striper. In fact, some smaller rockfish are found by cast-and-retrieve anglers in the warmer water at the Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Plant. Spring trophy striper season starts April 21 and runs through May 15. They'll be here in fine numbers by the start of the season.
VIRGINIA: 75-150 miles – No solid news to pass along about hardheads (croakers) from the waters in the Northern Neck. However, it can happen any day now because watermen have found croakers in their nets. The black drum watch is on in the lower Bay. A few have been caught in seaside inlets on the Eastern Shore, which means they can make a showing inside the Bay within a week or so. Tautogs continue to be active on structures in the Bay until the season closes. Limits of these tasty fish are being caught at the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel and the Cape Henry Wreck.
CHOPTANK RIVER: 120 miles – Upper river around Red Bridges and Greensboro shows a few hickory shad and herring. Alas, you have to do the catch-and-release thing. Very little else is happening on this river right now. The bass fishing can't even remotely compare to the Potomac or even Virginia's Rappahannock.
POCOMOKE RIVER: 140-170 miles – Snow Hill to Shad Landing boaters connect on bass during outgoing tides, but more than one of the largemouths is moving into shallow areas to sweep out a bed for spawning.
NANTICOKE RIVER: 120 miles – The Marshyhope Creek's boat launch area near Federalsburg delivers hits from crappies if you cast small jigs under a bobber to the dock pilings. Bass haven't been easy to find in the creek, but they're there.
LAKE ANNA: 82 miles – Our lake contact sent the following, "Fishermen are expecting a big spawn for many species this weekend. Both largemouth bass and crappies are shallow right now and fishing around boat docks has been very successful. Look for stripers to be feeding heavily at first light every morning throughout the lake. Also, a surprising number of big catfish have been caught."
RAPPAHANNOCK RIVER: 47-100 miles – State fisheries biologist John Odenkirk said that the hickory and white shad are in the Fredericksburg sector, but he fears that the lack of rain and the extremely low water conditions aren't helping fishermen. "We need a good soaking," he said. In the tidal water, we begin to sound like a broken record. The Front Royal to Hicks Landing and stretches above sector of the river is fine for bass that like anything from a Rat-L-Trap to a soft plastic craw or worm.
LAKE BRITTLE: 59 miles – Don't expect great fishing during the current draw-down of lake water that was necessary to effect dam repairs. Johnboat launching will be tough. The lake concession's phone number is 540/219-1673.
LAKE ORANGE: 75 miles – Some bass are spawning; others are actively seeking food, so chances are quite good to catch some nice specimens. The same goes for the crappies and catfish. Angler's Landing concession phone is 540/672-3997.
LAKE GASTON: 179 miles – The bass are spawning or are preparing to spawn. A variety of soft and hard baits will attract the fish, but, please, if you drag a female largemouth from her nest, release her in the immediate vicinity so she can return to her bed and finish the job. A 74-pound blue catfish was caught last week, which says to me that there is no reason why you shouldn't be able to drop a cut fish bait to the bottom and see what size catfish responds. The crappie action is good in the backs of creeks. The water temperature is in the low 70s and somewhat stained.
KERR RESERVOIR: 200 miles – Bobcat's Lake Country Store 434/374-8381 can provide a water condition report. Bass catches have slowed down quite a bit, but you'll find some willing largemouths, to be sure. The crappies are spawning or are ready to start spawning. Jigs, darts, Dollflies, live minnows -- all of them catch crappies. Catfish inhale live sunfish, jumbo shiners, even goldfish (if that is legal, but some are doing it). The water is a bit stained and the water temperature can be as high as the low 70s.
JAMES RIVER: 115 miles – (Tidal Richmond and downstream) Local guide Mike Hoke of Life's Revenge Guide Service, 804/357-8518 says the big blue catfish are jumping on cut fish baits, even live white perch. The white perch are in good supply. They like small pieces of bloodworms throughout the river, but tiny spinners, shad darts or even 1/8-ounce spinnerbaits will be attacked. The guide Mike Ostrander, 804/938-2350. finds flathead catfish on pieces of gizzard shad and he reminds us that herring can be caught, but are not legal to keep. The water temperature stands at 68 degrees.
CHICKAHOMINY RIVER: 135 miles – River's Rest, 804/829-2753, will provide the latest water conditions. Bass catches are steadily increasing and some of the local anglers say they've caught 6- and 7-pounders. Mum's the word about the types of lures that they're using, but it's a good bet to say crankbaits, Chatterbaits and Pure Poison lures, spinnerbaits, as well as soft plastics probably were in the mix to get hookups. By the way, the crappie fishing has been fine, especially for those who use small live minnows. Ditto for catfish. The "cats" love eels and cut bait on the bottom, and before we forget, white perch and spawned-out yellow perch are always a possibility.
SHENANDOAH RIVER: 60-85 miles – Front Royal's Dick Fox, said, "The river is still up — about a foot over normal — but its very fishable with a moderate stain. The smallmouth bass fishing was tough last week with water temperatures dropping 12 degrees. A few warm days should bring the action back." However, the catfish bite has been good, Fox told me a few days ago.
SMITH MOUNTAIN LAKE: 210 miles – Look for the bass to start seeking bedding locations, but this lake's water is usually cooler than low-country impoundments, such as Kerr and Gaston. In the feeder creeks, Rat-L-Traps, spinnerbaits and soft plastics do the job. Crappies are found in sunken brush and now and then a striper is caught by a troller using Sassy Shad lures.
UPPER JAMES RIVER (at Scottsville): 130 miles – Local smallmouth bass hunters are not complaining. The "brown" fish are hitting tubes, spinners, small crankbaits and fly fishermen's streamers.
MARYLAND: 165 miles to Ocean City -- Sue Foster of Oyster Bay Tackle, 410/524-3433, says more stripers are being reported inshore and in the surf. "The tautog bite was pretty good this week as long as you were on the right tide and fishing in the right place," she said. Lots of wind this week made fishing offshore difficult. Not many boats ventured out to fish the wrecks for tautogs.
VIRGINIA: 210 miles to Virginia Beach – Dr. Ken Neill, the president of the Peninsula Saltwater Sport Fisherman's Association, said, "A few large red drum (a.k.a. redfish or channelbass) have been caught in the surf of the Eastern Shore. Schools of large red drum have been encountered along the Virginia Beach oceanfront and some have been caught by sight-casting." Neill also mentioned that black drum have arrived on the ocean side of the Eastern Shore. "The bite should turn now. It is still early but the drum are here," he said. By the way, flounder are caught in all the Eastern Shore waters, but catches are not red-hot. Speckled trout are hooked in Virginia Beach's Rudee Inlet. Small bluefish are also showing up in the inlet and the oceanfront. Offshore boaters find tautogs on wrecks and other structures. Neill also reported that a couple of boats ran out to try the water east of the Cigar. They found it loaded with yellowfin and bluefin tuna and mako sharks. Offshore bottom fishing has been producing some good catches of blueline tilefish. Boats heading offshore out of Oregon Inlet, N.C., are having good catches of bluefin, yellowfin, and even some bigeye tuna. Boats out of Hatteras are catching wahoo, dolphin, and blackfin tuna.
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