- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 24, 2002

As the $250,000 Maryland CITGO Bassmaster Eastern Open fishing tournament begins tomorrow morning (it ends Saturday) on the tidal Potomac River and its fish-rich feeder creeks, more than a few local anglers question the wisdom of the contest-sanctioning Bass Anglers Sportsman Society to conduct such an event during the bass spawning season.
Chris Lehmann, who lives in Fairfax County, said, "Couldn't they have scheduled this thing during a time when the tournament might have been a bit more friendly to the bass population?"
Lehmann and a number of other bass fishing fanatics aren't very pleased with an out-of-town, money-making company that comes to the river, makes oodles on entry fees, maybe even gets some "cash sweetening" from tourism promotion offices, then leaves and that's the end of that.
What we pretty much know is that, unlike its cousin the striped bass, the largemouth bass in a tidal river is not the world's greatest traveler. Even while tournament anglers pat themselves on the back for being good conservationists as they let all their hooked fish go to fight another day, it should be remembered that if you catch a bass in location A and transport it to location B where it will be weighed, tallied, and eventually released there's a fair chance that this bass will never see its home water again. If the fish was shuttled by boat for more than 23 or 24 miles, it might survive the trip, but it sure as tootin' won't go back to its original living quarters.
That means if a female bass is moved from her nesting site and taken upstream to a weigh center and subsequently turned lose, it won't swim back downstream if there's a lot of distance involved. It won't finish its reproductive chores, resulting in a bass newcomer to a strange neighborhood. The fish will be sufficiently confused to forget this year's spawning. Its original bedding site in location A will go without any freshly hatched fry for the time being.
That's a fact, Jack.
However, to be perfectly honest, most biologists who have studied the tidal Potomac will tell you that the numbers of bass that might be caught and transplanted to a distant weigh center would not impact the overall bass population in the river that's how plentiful the fish are. On the other side of that argument is the fact that if you customarily fish from your boat dock in a tidal feeder creek and 20 bass are pulled from that immediate area, never to come back again, you probably won't be delighted.
The good news is that whenever a fisherman hooks a bass, takes it to be weighed, and sets it free, the fish might make it back to its bed if it isn't far away. We also know that recreational anglers who catch a spawning bass in a given area, then release it immediately after removing the hook will see that bass return to its bed within minutes and the spawning resumes.
As concerns tomorrow's Bassmaster event, there'll be 300 professional fishermen from all over competing for the $51,000 winner's share of the purse, but don't expect to see more than a couple of big-name fishing stars. The "name" angler in the tournament, which will be headquartered at Sweden Point Marina, in Smallwood State Park on the Mattawoman Creek, is former world champion Woo Daves of Virginia. After Daves, autograph hunters will have slim pickings.
Meanwhile, the Montgomery, Ala., tournament promoters provide odd tidbits of pre-competition information that aren't very accurate and we wonder why. One of them involves a tour angler's quote that includes such gems as him not expecting "the river's once-lush grassbeds (which have largely disappeared) to be a major factor" in the finding and/or catching of bass. Well, he might as well not even show up because the grass beds have not largely disappeared. They simply aren't growing in the same river sectors year-in, year-out. Secondly, one of the contestants said, "The tide isn't nearly as important on this river as other rivers, particularly in the spring."
That fellow will need a giant portion of luck if he truly believes that. The Potomac's tidal stage is as important to successful fishing as anywhere along the Atlantic Coast.

Look for Gene Mueller's Outdoors column every Sunday and Wednesday, and his Fishing Report every Friday, only in The Washington Times. E-mail: [email protected]washingtontimes.com.

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