Gene Mueller’s Fishing Report

Early-morning anglers have inside track on stripers

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During the current open season for trophy striped bass in the lower portions of the Potomac River and Maryland’s part of the Chesapeake Bay, conflicting reports are heard from boaters who are out by the hundreds looking for big rockfish.

Many bucktail and umbrella rig draggers are scoring readily; some even return to port after being in the Bay or Potomac for only a half-hour - that’s how quickly they find a 28-inch-and-over striper.

But there are others, many of them quite capable of hooking fish, who troll around between Point Lookout and Chesapeake Beach and can’t even catch a cold. That’s how poorly the fishing has been for a number of boaters.

What gives?

One of the insiders to this kind of springtime fishing, Ken Lamb, of Lexington Park’s Tackle Box store, says you need to be out there at break of day. He has noticed that many anglers who come into the store to have a photo snapped with their catches also say that the best “bite” came before 8 a.m. A lot of trollers eagerly await May 16 when two stripers of 18 to 28 inches in length can be kept.

• Locally, it’s good to see that Ray Fletcher of Fletcher’s Cove on the upper tidal Potomac in Georgetown has returned from a brief stay in the hospital. “I feel fine; all went well,” said Fletcher, who then proceeded to fill us in about the hickory and American shad that still are in his portion of the river. “Not only that,” he said, “we’re still seeing plenty of white perch caught. This has been one of the best years ever for the perch.”

A few rockfish are making their way up the river to spawn, and Fletcher passed along news that the District of Columbia’s striped bass season will open May 16. From that day on, you’ll be able to keep two rockfish per day, and they must measure from 18 to 36 inches long; nothing smaller or larger is permitted.

• In the tidal Potomac between the District and western Charles County, plenty of bass can be caught if a body were willing to put up with a sudden rash of tournaments, some of which are local events, with others being organized by profit-making, out-of-town organizations.

For example, a large FLW tournament will come to National Harbor from May 17-20 that will see hundreds of participant boaters. On the same date, a BFL All American tournament will be conducted out of the same place. Oddly, National Harbor does not have a boat launching facility so the for-profit FLW and BFL group has told participants, who pay as much as $4,000 to enter the contest, to launch boats pretty much anywhere they want. That means all the public boat ramps in Charles and Prince George’s counties and the airport ramp on the Virginia side of the river, will be choked with tournament boats. The Marshall Hall boat ramp area will be home to FLW service trailers beginning May 14, in addition to being a launch facility for the contestants. Good luck to local residents finding a place where they can slip a boat off their trailers and then find a place to fish.

• The Shenandoah Riverkeeper, Jeff Kelble, of Boyce, Va., has lodged a number of complaints with Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) asking that the Shenandoah River be listed as impaired due to excessive algae blooms. Kelble said algae blooms occur year-round on all segments of the river system, and they violate Virginia’s nuisance aquatic plant-life standard, not to mention that they interfere with the public’s recreational use of the river. However, Front Royal sport fisherman, Dick Fox, while agreeing that there is some evidence of algae blooms, says they eventually diminish and have not hurt his chances of good smallmouth bass fishing.

• In the lowest parts of the Chesapeake Bay, Virginia fishermen are beginning to see more cooperative black drum, the huge bottom-feeding fish that come into the Bay this time of year to spawn. The fishing with clam or soft crab baits has been slow, but water-warming weather will trigger feeding responses.

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 said, “We still have plenty of American and hickory shad in the river, not to mention white perch. This definitely has been one of the best white perch seasons ever.” Fletcher also says that some large catfish are possible and rockfish are moving into his sector. He said that the District of Columbia’s striped bass season will begin May 16 and then you may catch and keep two stripers between 18 and 36 inches per day. Down-river, the local bass guide Andy Andrzejewski (301/932-1509) joins many other local fishermen in lamenting the current rash of bass tournaments held by small clubs or state federations, as well as large for-profit tournament organizations such as the FLW and B.A.S.S. Good luck to the fishing citizens of Charles County and/or Prince William County who want to take their kids out in hopes of hooking a fish. All the launch ramps will be choked with cast-for-cash boaters, not leaving much for the people who paid for the facilities.

In the saltwater, a good number of trophy stripers has been caught on umbrella rigs loaded with Sassy Shads, but also simple single or double parachute bucktails without the umbrella setups. Areas of striper catches include a long river stretch starting south of St. Clements down to Piney Point and St. George’s Island, also the channel waters past Smith Creek and the entire deeper layers of water around Point Lookout State Park. Far warning: Don’t get too close to Point Lookout’s shores. It gets mighty shallow there.

WICOMICO RIVER: 55 miles – If you check with the Quade’s Store in Bushwood and ask about the croakers, you’re likely to hear that four consecutive days of 80-degree temperatures (with night temperatures staying well above 50 degrees) are needed and the croakers will arrive. Mrs. Quade knows a lot about the “hardheads,” as locals here call them. The advice about the warm weather is legitimate.

MATTAWOMAN CREEK: 40 miles – Be prepared for sparse parking and busy launch ramps due to the many bass tournaments that are scheduled to come out of the Sweden Point Marina in Smallwood State Park. It’s enough to pull your hair out what with out-of-towners acting as if they owned the very facility that local boaters and fishermen paid for with their taxes and registration fees. Meanwhile, there are bass, crappies and catfish in the creek. The bass can often be found on grassy flats where shallow crankbaits or Rat-L-Traps do well, but soft plastics, including craws, also do very well there as well as in sunken wood.

SO. MARYLAND LAKES: 40-50 miles – Gilbert Run Lake (Route 6, east of La Plata) delivers hits from fat sunfish, even a bass now and then. At St. Mary’s Lake (Route 5, south of Leonardtown to left turn on Camp Cosoma Road) the crappie and bass catches have been very good. Check it out, although windy weather has been a problem.

WSSC RESERVOIRS: 20-30 miles – Triadelphia and Rocky Gorge lakes in the Prince George’s/Montgomery/Howard counties have been wind-blown in the past week and that kept johnboaters from taking risks. Deep-water coves that show sunken brush or stickups will deliver crappies and bass.

PATUXENT RIVER: 25-60 miles – Catfish are biting very well in the upper river areas. Try clam snouts on your bottom rigs. And with the arrival of much warmer weather, don’t be surprised if white or chartreuse Beetlespin lures will draw strikes from fat white perch in the feeder creeks. The warmer weather might also bring a few croakers into the mouth. Catch-and-release stripers are always a possibility inside the river.

OCCOQUAN RESERVOIR: 33 miles – Weekend boaters will find better crappie fishing in flooded brush, often in side pockets and coves. The bass are either spawning, have spawned, or haven’t even begun to do their thing. Take your pick, then start casting shallow crankbaits, small spinnerbaits and short plastic worms (or Paca, Rage Tail, and other craws) around and into sunken trees and lake points.

BURKE LAKE: 31 MILES – Crappie chances are better for some johnboaters who concentrate on certain shoreline flats where the speckled fish are sweeping out their spawning redds, but never ignore a sunken brushpile with your jigs or live minnows. Bass fishing can be quite good if you use shallow to medium crankbaits or 4-inch finesse worms in junebug or watermelon colors.

CENTRAL & WESTERN MD.

UPPER POTOMAC RIVER: 35-100 miles – Water levels have been fine for smallmouth bass and walleye fishermen. In fact, the smallmouth bass fishing in Washington, Frederick and Montgomery counties can be quite good if you use small crankbaits, tubes and small, brown or black jigs trimmed with pork strips that are the same color.

DEEP CREEK LAKE: 179 miles – Lake guide Brent Nelson said that largemouth and smallmouth bass will be in the spawning coves, with the bass moving to shallow areas during warm afternoons. If you fish for a spawning large- or smallmouth bass, please release the fish immediately. Actually, it would be best if you didn’t fish for them at all since bass season is closed until June 15. Instead, go after the crappies that are under the docks and in the lake’s brush piles. The walleyes now are in shallow water near rocks and such. Brent says to use small 1/16-oz. fuzzy grubs tipped with a minnow. “They are lethal,” he said. By the way, a utility lure is the chrome Rat-L-Trap. It will attract both, walleyes and bass.

SUSQUEHANNA RIVER: 65-100 miles – More stripers arrive daily on the Susquehanna Flats and various soft jerkbaits can result in vicious strikes. The shad inside the river’s Deer Creek are still around, but it shouldn’t last much longer.

CHESAPEAKE BAY

MARYLAND: 25-65 miles – Among the many successful rockfish trollers, our friend Carl D. Brown wrote, “I launched out of Deale and headed towards the Eastern Bay. Water temperature was 59 degrees. Stayed in the channel trolling at 40 foot depth; caught a 33-incher on a white tandem bucktail rig 150 feet out from the transom.” Down in the Southern Maryland parts of the Chesapeake, Tackle Box owner Ken Lamb said, “The fishing for stripers is great as long as you catch them before 8 a.m. [It was true] at least during the past week, as sunlight and tides were triggering the fish to bite early.” Lamb added that trollers have done well all over the Bay, but the middle Bay parts between St. Jerome’s Creek, Point No Point and Buoy 72A have been particularly productive. What bothers me are the several complaints from what I know to be good fishermen who say they haven’t had even the first strike from a rockfish. Perhaps Lamb is right when he says you should be on the water before 8 a.m. It appears the umbrella rigs and tandem bucktail setups do best before the sun rises too high.

VIRGINIA: 75-150 miles – Northern Neck trollers are doing what their neighbors to the north are doing. They’re dragging striper rigs through lower Potomac and/or Maryland bay waters in hopes of connecting on a trophy rockfish. They do very well, by the way. Meanwhile, in the lower Chesapeake’s waters some cut bait drifters score on flounder around the first and second islands of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, also the concrete ships on the eastern side of the Bay. All the lower Bay’s rivers now deliver croakers for bait fishermen who prefer crab pieces, shrimp or squid strips.

EASTERN SHORE/MD.

CHOPTANK RIVER: 120 miles – Primary catches are stripers and they are in the wide open mouth of the river now. Not much else is happening in this river.

POCOMOKE RIVER: 140-170 miles – Snow Hill to Shad Landing stretches finds a number of bass that have finished spawning, but also some that are still at it. Be kind and let a spawner go the moment you land it. A female that is quickly released will return to her bed; so will a male bass who usually guards the nest from predators.

NANTICOKE RIVER: 120 miles – Nothing doing right now with the exception of the Marshyhope and Broad creeks crappies. They’re willing if you are willing to pay the outrageous Bay Bridge toll to get here. Bas catches have been meager in the river.

CENTRAL VIRGINIA

LAKE ANNA: 82 miles – Our lake expert says live bait is working well on the stripers, but a few are starting to be caught early and late in the day on surface lures. Shore anglers are catching stripers off the Dike 3 fishing bridge. Bridge pilings in 15 to 20 feet of water are the best places to start your crappie searches now because most of the fish have completed spawning and are starting to move deep. Catfish have been very active and they’re being caught all over the lake on chicken liver baits while many of the largemouths are in a post-spawn pattern and bites have been slow.

RAPPAHANNOCK RIVER: 47-100 miles – Virginia Department of Game & Inland Fisheries biologist John Odenkirk said water levels are still way down, but upper river smallmouth bass catches are holding up for waders who use 3-inch flukes and small crankbaits in the few stretches that contain fairly good water depths. In Fredericksburg, there are shad to be caught, but it takes a bit of hunting to find a pod of them hiding in a hole here and there. Catfish are taking clam neck or liver baits. The tidal water bass catches are normally confined to an area a mile or so below Fredericksburg downstream to Port Royal and maybe a little beyond that. Fish shoreline structure and creek mouths with soft plastics and rattle baits.

LAKE BRITTLE: 59 miles – The concession stand’s Lori can be reached best during weekends at 540/219-1673. Water levels are still way down during construction, but those who manage to make it to whatever water they can reach are scoring on bass, crappies and bluegills, as well as fat channel catfish.

LAKE ORANGE: 75 miles – Darrell Kennedy of the Angler’s Landing concession (540/672-3997) will provide water condition reports and other information. Decent numbers of bass, crappies, sunfish and catfish are reported. There’s even a chance of hooking a walleye in the upper lake’s channel waters.

LAKE GASTON: 179 miles – Holly Grove Marina (434/636-3455) will help with water condition reports. Quite a few bass have finished spawning, but some are still on the beds. The fishing here can be outstanding. Crappie fans can score around bridge abutments and rip-rap. Haven’t heard much about stripers, but they’re in this lake.

KERR RESERVOIR: 200 miles – Bobcat’s Lake Country Store (434-374-8381) can provide a water condition report. Great crappie fishing in the many brush piles of Buggs Island Lake, as its known locally. Don’t be surprised if you hook a crappie, using minnows, that approach the 3-pound mark. It happens down here. The bass are busy in the coves and creek mouths where Rat-L-Traps, spinnerbaits and soft plastics will draw strikes.

JAMES RIVER: 115 miles – (Tidal Richmond and downstream) Bring your toughest rods and reels. The big blue catfish are hungry at Dutch Gap and other channel waters. Bass catches are only fair in the feeder creeks and side pockets of the river.

CHICKAHOMINY RIVER: 135 miles – River’s Rest (804-829-2753) will provide the latest water conditions. The bass hookups are better here than in the adjacent James River. Upper “Chick” is good for crappies and perch. Catfish are found throughout the river.

WESTERN VIRGINIA

SHENANDOAH RIVER: 60-85 miles – Front Royal fisherman, Dick Fox, said, “The river is at normal height with good color and a water temperature of 62 degrees. The smallmouth bass bite has been good with tubes, crankbaits and flukes catching most of the fish.”

SMITH MOUNTAIN LAKE: 210 miles – Stripers go on occasional feeding rampages here and if you’re there, hang on to your rods. Soft and hard jerkbaits and Rat-L-Traps will be attacked when a feeding school surfaces. The feeder creeks have been fine for crappie and bass catches, although quite a few bass are either on beds or thinking about doing it. The bass are on a later schedule up here in the mountains.

UPPER JAMES RIVER (at Scottsville): 130 miles – There’ll be plenty of smallmouth bass action this weekend. The water was fine as we wrote this report and word has it that flukes, small crankbaits and various color spinners and tubes can do a fine job on the smallies.

ATLANTIC OCEAN

MARYLAND: 165 miles to Ocean City – Sue Foster of Oyster Bay Tackle in Ocean City reports that flounder fishing has been slow because of the strong wind that kept anglers indoors. Whenever the breezes subsided the fishing was fair. Some striper action was seen in the surf and, of course, a lot of skates and dogfish are hooked by surf fishermen. Tautogs are still biting in the inlet waters and for offshore fans, the first mako shark and bluefin tuna of the season was reported.

VIRGINIA: 210 miles to Virginia Beach – Dr. Julie Ball (drjball.com) says most anglers continue to hunt for large red drum (channel bass) among the breakers and turbulent shallows of the Eastern Shore’s barrier islands, especially Smith and Fisherman’s islands. Some of the red drum are caught in as little as three feet of water and it is not impossible to hook a redfish that can weigh as much as 60 pounds. The various seaside inlets also are showing a few heavy black drum that are inhaling sea clam baits. The flounder bite is hit and miss, says Ball, but enough are caught in the Eastern Shore inlets and small bays to keep the flounder hunters trying. The Ocean View Fishing Pier in Virginia Beach delivers croakers, most of them are of medium size, in the 14-inch range. Offshore boaters find blueline tilefish.

• For additional outdoors news, go to www.genemuellerfishing.com

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