If you're among the hundreds of boaters trying to troll up a 28-inch-or-longer striped bass during Maryland's current trophy rockfish season, don't be upset if you come back to port without the fish you're after.
Striper fishing is seeing plenty of skunk outings, although others who work virtually the same parts of the Chesapeake find action.
The lower Potomac River between St. George's Island and Point Lookout is thought to be the best producer of big rockfish, but there are Bay hangouts from Eastern Bay down to Virginia's Rappahannock River that give up striped bass by the numbers. On the subject of Virginia, don't forget that in its portion of the Chesapeake you now may keep one striper of at least 32 inches per day. Fishing has been particularly good between the James River and the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel's abutments and pilings. Meanwhile, many Marylanders are waiting for May 16, when two rockfish per day between 18 and 28 inches will be legal.
The legions of largemouth bass fanatics hereabouts find plenty of their favorite prey in the upper, tidal waters of the Potomac. Fishing for bass begins in Washington and doesn't slow until you're far down in western Charles County. However, the most frequent comment heard from bass anglers concerns the Northern Chinese snakehead, the infamous alien invader that has taken such firm roots in the Potomac that no one seriously believes the fish will ever be eradicated.
In fact, some of the bass boaters are beginning to enjoy catching the fierce, toothsome creatures. They hang out in almost identical waters that the largemouth bass enjoy, yet there is absolutely no evidence that the snakeheads threaten bass populations. The same cannot be said for other fish species. Snakeheads devour young carp, including freshly hatched fry. They also go after white perch and sunfish, but the most popular gamefish in the land, the largemouth bass, has nothing to worry about. What many do not know is that the largemouth bass, like the Chinese snakehead, also is an invader in the Potomac. It is not a native fish species.
By the way, whatever happened to the croakers that are supposed to be in the Maryland parts of the Chesapeake Bay and its rivers? While some are hooked by bait dunkers in Virginia, the Maryland rivers that normally see hordes of the tasty fish by this time have little to show thus far. However, given a few hot days, all that can quickly change.
Small-boaters, even sea kayakers, have been catching beautiful channel bass (aka redfish or red drum) in fairly shallow water around Smith and Fisherman's islands along the Eastern Shore of Virginia. When one successful channel bass angler was asked which kind of bait or lure he preferred, he simply answered, "RedEyes." The RedEye is a lipless rattling lure akin to the famous Rat-L-Trap. Finally, those of us who hope to hook a heavy black drum in the vicinity of Cape Charles, Va., are beginning to worry. Some of the big brutes are caught, but they are not present in the large numbers everybody was hoping for. Perhaps it will happen by the time you read this.
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, the shad contrinue to deliver decent fishing action. Add stripers and catfish, not to mention unusually late staying white perch and you can truly enjoy a day in the upper portions of the tidal Potomac. A reminder that the District of Columbia's striped bass season begins May 16 and then you may catch and keep two stripers between 18 and 36 inches per day. Downriver, the bass, crappie and snakehead fishing can be downright amazing. Although the majority of the bass we catch now on lizards, craws, Chatterbaits or 4-inch finesse worms are males, there are some naturally larger females taken in any of the tidal feeder creeks between the District and Charles County. Many of the river's crappies are spawning and that means they're often found on 3- to 4-foot-deep flats where a few stickups are seen. In some of the feeders, the Pomonkey, Piscataway and Chicamuxen, for example, shows the bass, snakeheads and crappies quite often hanging out in the same areas. Small, shallow-running crankbaits or 1/8-oz. tubes or curly-tail grubs will catch either species. The bass guide Andy Andrzejewski (301-932-1509) takes his clients into the general area between the Chicamuxen Creek and farther upstream on the main-stem toward the Pomonkey Creek. Four-inch Pulse worms, Paca Craws, spinnerbaits and shallow-to-medium depth crankbaits are his main lure choices. "My clients aren't complaining," said Andrzejewski, "because they're all catching fish." In the salty parts of the lower Potomac, some trollers believe they can do better on the river than the Chesapeake Bay when it comes to hooking trophy stripers.
WICOMICO RIVER: 55 miles – Lots of catfish and a few perch inside the river, but no meaningful catches of croakers.
MATTAWOMAN CREEK: 40 miles – What a great bass, crappie and catfish creek. Sadly, this is also the favorite creek to launch bass tournaments in. The Smallwood State Park usually serves as headquarters for these cast-for-cash events and local residents might as well stay home over any weekend because of the boat ramps being clogged with out-of-towners who act as if they owned the park and the adjacent Potomac River.
SO. MARYLAND LAKES: 40-50 miles – Gilbert Run Lake (Route 6, east of La Plata) delivers sunfish and bass; it all depends where you fish in this lake. The bass are either spawning in the upper end of the lake, or they're in a post-spawn mode, which can make the hunt for bass tough. In St. Mary's Lake (south of Leonardtown on Route 5 to left turn at St. Mary's State Park, Camp Cosoma Road).the crappie and bass fishing has been very good.
WSSC RESERVOIRS: 20-30 miles – Triadelphia and Rocky Gorge lakes in the Prince George's/Montgomery/Howard counties turned up several 6-pound bass last week that had to be returned. Howard County's Louf Sifford and his pal, Jack Schulberg, latched onto the big bass using soft plastic craw claws, such as the Rage Tail or the Paca Crawon the
PATUXENT RIVER: 25-60 miles – Upper river near Hills Bridge might turn up an errand yellow perch now and then, maybe a catfish or two, but not much of anything else. Lower river, especially between Solomons and the mouth can be home to a few croakers, maybe a throw-back rockfish. One river angler caught a 40-inch rockfish near Solomons. It was released, but it goes to show what can happen in this river.
OCCOQUAN RESERVOIR: 33 miles -- Weekend boaters and shoreline anglers will score on crappies, catfish and bass, although many of the largemouths will be a bit lethargic after finishing their spawning chores. Soft jerkbaits, 1/4-oz. crankbaits and soft plastics, such as a craw or worm, will be looked at.
BURKE LAKE: 31 MILES -- Come to this fine lake and enjoy crappie and bass fishing, but how many anglers know that this lake also has walleyes, many of them in the 3- to 5-pound range? It appears that not many are even trying for them. Try trolling from the upper lake down toward the concession stand, slowly dragging a long-lipped crankbait in bright reds and greens. Walleyes like colors.
CENTRAL & WESTERN MD.
UPPER POTOMAC RIVER: 35-100 miles – Mayfly hatches have activated the smallmouth bass throughout the rocky waterway. Upper river DNR biologist John Mullican says suspending jerkbaits have been good for drawing hits from the smallies. The water is very fishable. If a lot more rain falls, it may begin to hurt fishing chances.
DEEP CREEK LAKE: 179 miles – Look for walleyes now around rocky outcroppings and channel edges near shore. The same areas also deliver smallmouth bass, while the largemouths seem to hang out more in coves and the points coming into various lake coves.
SUSQUEHANNA RIVER: 65-100 miles – The catch and release season for stripers on the Susquehanna Flats has ended. Inside the river, surprising numbers of shad are still in the Deer Creek tributary. The Port Deposit rock walls have turned up some well-fed large-and smallmouth bass.
MARYLAND: 25-65 miles – When Tackle Box owner, Ken Lamb, of Lexington Park, bought bait from a local waterman, the commercial netter told Lamb that over a 2-day period last week he found 50 spot, 900 pounds of croakers, two bluefish and a bunch of throw-back spotted sea trout in his nets. That can only mean that the croakers are on their way. The striper fishing has seen plenty of ups and downs. Lamb says the Buoy 72A area (along with the lower Potomac River) is still the best producer in Southern Maryland, yet we continue being contacted by boaters who have not done well, while others send pictures of beautiful striped bass. A lot of fishermen are waiting for May 16 when two rockfish per day between 18 and 28 inches will be legal. Meanwhile, Lamb makes perfect sense when he reminds us that there has been a big shed of crabs and that moved a lot of the big rockfish into the shallows. Some of the successful trollers have said that the fish they were allowed to keep had bellies loaded with small soft crabs.
VIRGINIA: 75-150 miles – Northern Neck trollers now are enjoying the Virginia trophy striper fishing. They don't need to come into Maryland waters any longer. Anglers in Virginia waters can keep one striper of at least 32 inches per day. The fish are found from Smith Point down to the mouth of the Rappahannock River, but in the lowest parts of the Bay, especially around the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, an assortment of lures, including Storm shad models, are finding plenty of action around the bridge-tunnel pilings and abutments, says Julie Ball, the fishing dentist (www.drjball.com). In the Cabbage Patch area of the lower Bay, expect black drum to finally arrive in good enough numbers to make an outing worthwhile.
CHOPTANK RIVER: 120 miles – Maybe a rockfish or two in the broad waters of the mouth. Nothing much else is happening here.
POCOMOKE RIVER: 140-170 miles -- Snow Hill to Shad Landing portion has plenty of bass if you can locate them in a river that is deeper than most and makes fishing especially tough when the tide recedes. One angler caught a Maryland limit on Baby 1-Minus lures near the Snow Hill boat ramp. He fished the opposite shore in flooded brush and such.
NANTICOKE RIVER: 120 miles – Not the greatest bass river in the world, but the side pockets, creeks and bridge pilings in the shallows around the town of Seaford, Del., produce a largemouth bass now and then. Crappies have been caught in the little boat-holding area at the Marshyhope Creek boat ramp, near Federalsburg, Md.
LAKE ANNA: 82 miles – Our lake contact, who insists on anonymity, said, "Many bass are in a post-spawn mode. The new multi-hook Alabama rig that is illegal to fish with in Maryland waters and the main stem of the Potomac River is catching a surprising number of largemouths. The stripers are not yet schooling; but some can be found between the big Rt. 208 Bridge and the first uplake bridges you come to on both major lake branches. Crappies are found around bridge pilings and deep water docks."
RAPPAHANNOCK RIVER: 40-80 miles – Tubes, jigs, spinners or small crankbaits can draw strikes from the smallmouth bass above the city of Fredericksburg and clear up toward Remington. Waders are happy that the rain brought fresh water into the river. However, there have been rains off and on. If much more arrives it could change the water color. In Fredericksburg, the shad fishing is still possible, but it has not been a great shad year for many. The tidal river portions above Port Royal seem to deliver the best catches of largemouth bass, but some are taken farther downstream. Catfish numbers are very good.
LAKE BRITTLE: 59 miles – The concession stand's Lori can be reached best during weekends at 540/219-1673. Low water conditions continue during construction on the dam, but if you can make it to the water somehow, you'll catch bass, sunfish, catfish and crappies.
LAKE ORANGE: 75 miles – Darrell Kennedy of the Angler's Landing concession (540-672-3997) will provide water condition reports. According to Kennedy, bass and crappies are either spawning or have finished their reproductive chores. Live minnows will find crappies in mixed water, some of it very shallow, but there are some caught in up to 12 feet of water. Soft plastics and 1/4-oz. crankbaits will draw a strike from bass.
LAKE GASTON: 179 miles – Holly Grove Marina (434-636-3455) will help with water condition reports. Many bass are now in a post-spawn pattern which can make the fishing tough, but enough are caught to make the lake a good choice for weekenders. Crappies are hooked on flats adjacent to rip-rap walls and around bridge abutments. No word on striper catches.
KERR RESERVOIR: 200 miles – Bobcat's Lake Country Store (434-374-8381) can provide a water condition report. Blue catfish will inhale a whole sunfish on a weighted bottom rig, but if you use any kind of fish flesh, the "cats" will respond. Crappie catches are fine around brush piles and shallow shore spawning flats. Most of the bass have finished spawning and shorelines where the females were a week or more ago, now sees male bass guarding offspring.
JAMES RIVER: 115 miles – (Tidal Richmond and downstream) Blue catfish go after slabs of menhaden (if you can find a bait shop that carries the oily baitfish). Whole sunfish or perch also do well when used as bottom bait. The bass fishing has not been the best, but feeder creeks like the Chippokes, Walker and others turn up decent numbers now and then.
CHICKAHOMINY RIVER: 135 miles – River's Rest (804-829-2753) will provide the latest water conditions. Bass catches have been fair in some parts of the river and good catfish numbers are yours if you fish with baited bottom rigs. Upper river delivers crappies, especially if you bring a pail of small minnows with you.
SHENANDOAH RIVER: 60-85 miles – Front Royal fisherman, Dick Fox, said, "The Shenandoah stands at normal level, stained, with water temperatures in the 68-degree range. The smallmouth and largemouth bass fishing has been very good, although larger specimens are hard to find. We suspect they are resting after the spawn and the bite will pick up soon. Lures such as creature baits, tubes and flukes work well. Bluegills are everywhere and catfish are also biting, plus the carp spawn is in full swing."
SMITH MOUNTAIN LAKE: 210 miles – Stripers, largemouth and smallmouth bass, as well as flathead catfish are feeding close to shore since the scholling and spawning of small alewives is under way.
UPPER JAMES RIVER (at Scottsville): 130 miles – The local guide Guide L.E. Rhodes (434) 286-3366 says the rains have helped. The fishing for smallmouth bass has been good and in some cases it has been excellent what with a few 5-pounders being landed. Rhodes says the baits of choice have been pig'n'jigs, soft plastics and crankbaits. Fly anglers can connect with various streamers.
MARYLAND: 165 miles to Ocean City – Sue Foster of Oyster Bay Tackle in Ocean City said thatthe flounder fishing has been slow, but that was caused by strong winds and cooler than normal weather. "Some really nice stripers were caught in the surf and up at Indian River Inlet. We also had a couple days of good striper fishing from the Ocean City Inlet and the Route 50 Bridge," she said, then pointed out that the offshore tautogs are biting, as are a few bluefin tunas and mako sharks. Surf anglers looking for striped bass should know that it's a hit-and-miss affair, but now and then the southern end of Assateague Island gives up a whopper and one fellow fished the north Ocean City surf and caught a 44-inch and a 37-inch rockfish on slabs of alewive.
VIRGINIA: 210 miles to Virginia Beach – Dr. Julie Ball (drjball.com) reports that plenty of hard-core sport anglers are concentrating on the red drum (a.k.a. channel bass or redfish) among the shoals and breakers of the Smith and Fisherman's islands on the lower Eastern Shore. Julie says peelers crabs, blue crabs or menhaden will be looked at by the beautiful brutes. Finding a 50-pounder is not uncommon. The same baits in the same areas also bring strikes from heft striped bass. If it's black drum you're after, the seaside inlets deliver a few hits from the big bottom feeders. By the way, the Eastern Shore's inlets and backwaters also provide hit-and-miss flounder action. In Virginia Beach, the Ocean View fishing pier turns up bluefish and croakers for visitors. In the offshore waters, the reopening of sea bass season is eagerly awaited. It begins May 19.
For additional outdoors news, go to www.genemuellerfishing.com
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