While Washington-area saltwater anglers are not doing very well close to home, the same cannot be said of those who launch their boats at Virginia Beach's Rudee Inlet and begin fishing the moment they're outside in open water.
The January weather has been kind. Sport fishermen who troll bucktails and umbrella rigs loaded with Sassy Shads, hoping to latch onto trophy-sized striped bass for nearly two weeks now, suddenly found their rods doubling over, sometimes reaching the breaking point. Or they've seen hundreds of yards of line being stripped off the reels. The strikes didn't come from the stripers. The fish that continue to thunder into the rockfish gear are bluefin tunas weighing hundreds of pounds.
"There is a lot of busted-up striped bass tackle out there," said well-known Virginia dentist and sportfishing activist Dr. Ken Neill, in reference to the sudden tuna strikes.
"The best area has been from Cape Henry to Rudee Inlet," he added. "That may just be because with the fish there, boats have not bothered to run anywhere else." Neill pointed out that it is normal for bluefin tunas to inhabit Virginia's coastal waters in the fall and winter. The big tunas come through on their way to North Carolina, where they tend to stay for a while. "These are not little specimens," said Neill. "They run in the 125- to 400-pound range."
Some of the more skilled offshore anglers who look for even bigger tunas find them outside the three-mile zone in the Atlantic as the boats troll baits known as Ballyhoo. However, most of the recent catches have occurred inside the zone. By the way, offshore wrecks give up jumbo sea bass along with tilefish. The tilefish can be kept, but the sea bass season is closed.
Incidentally, boats running out of Oregon Inlet, on North Carolina's Outer Banks, have found schools of yellowfin tuna in more distant offshore waters. The yellowfins should begin to show up all along the 100-fathom curve up to and past Virginia's Norfolk Canyon.
Tidal Potomac bass and crappie provide action — Even though it's winter, the run of recent warm temperatures have helped to keep some of the not-so-salty tidal Potomac's largemouth bass in shallower water than they might normally be when temperatures drop to the freezing mark. We've found largemouths as heavy as 5 pounds, although most are smaller. Look for them in various dropoffs near the shorelines of feeder creeks and large coves, such as Virginia's Gunston and Occoquan. Among the creeks, the Aquia and Quantico have been productive, but for some reason, Maryland's Mattawoman has been stingy. As usual this time of year, scent-laden Sting Ray grubs in avocado color have been our best producers.
Virginia's Aquia Creek, by the way, has been giving up good numbers of crappies in the Aquia Harbor area. The speckled delicacies prefer live minnows, fished under a bobber among docks and sunken brush. However, 2-inch white or chartreuse plastic grubs also work.
Shenandoah River and Lake Anna deliver — Front Royal, Va., river specialist Dick Fox said, "The Shenandoah is in great shape. It has nice color and levels are slightly above normal." Fox fished with a friend, Fred Drury, and they saw action. Fox said the downside of fishing the 'Doah,' as locals often call this historic waterway, was the water temperature, which stayed at 34 degrees. "However, we did manage to catch several smallmouth bass, with the afternoon being the better time to fish," he said. The two men used small green tubes, wiped down with a bit of Smelly Jelly fish attractant. A few days later, Fox went to Lake Anna, west of Fredericksburg, and he managed to coax four bass, two white perch and a jumbo yellow perch into striking the plastic grubs he was using.
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