- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 12, 2001

Just as the dawn reddened the rooftops of this busy little Eastern Shore town, pro bass guide Dale Knupp fired a loudly popping, splashing topwater lure into a narrow opening between a tangle of Choptank River spatterdock lilies and a largemouth bass slammed into it, wanting to kill it. The fish was fooled by something that resembles absolutely nothing in nature a testament to the size of a bass's brain (and what does it say for ours when we return home without getting even a nibble?).

Knupp, who normally works the tidal waters of the Potomac River in Charles County, reeled the bass to the side of his boat, carefully removed the rear hook of the surface lure and allowed the bewildered fish to swim off.

The guide who lives in La Plata came to the Choptank to practice for a small club tournament. "If I can find five bass for a total weight of 10 to 12 pounds, I'll be in good shape," he said, quietly maneuvering along the edges of the big spatterdock field, talking softly, executing one cast after another.

"The trouble with the Choptank in this area is its tidal stage," Knupp said. "If it's high or still rising, you might as well park your boat, go into town and eat breakfast. This river's bass population loves sharply ebbing water. The stronger and lower, the better."

As we chatted, the tide still was not quite to his liking, but I was fortunate to have a largemouth suck in one of those odd-looking, multi-legged Power Hawg plastic baits. Then Knupp landed another bass on a small crankbait when he reeled it through a maze of branches belonging to a tree that apparently was blown into the water during a storm.

Even though my stubbornness in refusing to use the precisely identical lures the guide was catching fish with cost me dearly, it was plain to see that Knupp would have no trouble finding enough willing fish to be a contender whenever a contest would be conducted.

He caught a five-bass limit and some of the fish were of a respectable size, good enough to be compared to those that live in the nationally renowned tidal Potomac between the District and western Charles County. Knupp and I said so, and we started laughing.

"There we go again," Knupp said. "Every river along the East Coast is being held to the Potomac's high standards. It ought to stop. Look at these fish here in the Choptank. What's wrong with them?" Then he answered his own question: "Nothing whatsoever."

There is a dilemma with the rivers on Maryland's Eastern Shore: the Pocomoke, Wicomico, Chester, Nanticoke and Choptank, to name only five. Like Rodney Dangerfield, they seem to be incapable of getting any respect. Blame the monstrously huge success the Potomac River has had with visiting bass hounds from every part of the United States whenever national bass tournaments are held there.

There was a time, especially in the 1960s and 1970s as the popularity of bass fishing grew like wildfire thanks to the PR job done by the founder of the then-fledgling Bass Anglers Sportsman Society, Ray Scott, when Maryland's Eastern Shore rivers drew anglers from all over. The "Shore" was the place to go if you wanted a decent largemouth.

There was an annual bass fishing rodeo on the Pocomoke River out of Pocomoke City. Or fellows would tow their johnboats and newfangled "plastic" bass boats to the Nanticoke in Sharptown, Md., and its nearby feeder creek, the Marshyhope Creek, to catch bass in short order.

The Chester River on the upper Shore held fine numbers of bass in such tributaries as the Southeast Creek and others. The Choptank was home to bass, pickerel and fat crappies. Baltimore and Washington area anglers flocked to it.

But a then terribly polluted Potomac awoke, good water quality returned and marine grasses started growing. Let us bless President Lyndon Johnson forever and ever because he saw to it the river was healed. The Eastern Shore suddenly, quickly, took a back seat to the massive Potomac that dwarfs most shore rivers.

But guess what? There's nothing wrong with those winding waterways that a few thorough searches for bass couldn't cure. You ought to go and turn it into a fishing adventure, rediscovering old friends that provided thousands of hours and days of recreational delight. Currently, only some of the bass clubbers who conduct mini-tournaments on the Shore know about the fishing and come visiting.

Let's change that.

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