- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 8, 2002

"We can make it in 10 minutes, but in this cold weather we ought to take it easy," Dale Knupp said as we climbed into his boat sometime around 8 a.m. The man should be given a humanitarian award because the run in a bass boat from the Potomac River's Marshall Hall launch ramp up to the Wilson Bridge can be relatively brief given the tremendous power that 200 horses can deliver. On this particular day, however, excessive speed might have turned our extremities into icicles.
Instead, the three of us enjoyed a smooth, easy ride. We wore plastic face shields and snug, hooded jackets to ward off the onrushing, icy air. Our hands were covered with gloves, our bodies with insulated bib overalls over long underwear. Only an unexpected rainstorm could have ruined the day, and that never happened.
As we rounded the turn at Fort Washington and passed G. Gordon Liddy's home on the Maryland shoreline, there loomed the Wilson Bridge along with a batch of adjacent, new pilings that some day will support a sorely needed new span.
Just a half-mile upstream of the bridge, near Fox Ferry Point, the boat slowed to a crawl, and Knupp studied the screen of an electronic depth sounder. Amid a spectacle of three bald eagles flying about aimlessly one moment and landing in trees the next, with one of the adults seriously bullying a young, still-mottled eagle from its perch, Knupp suddenly said, "There they are," and he wasn't talking about eagles.
Within seconds, a quiet, bow-mounted electric motor was lowered into the Potomac, and three fishing pals followed a routine they could execute with their eyes closed. They pulled strong monofilament line from the reels, fed it through the rod guides and quickly tied -ounce ball-head jigs to the nylon. That was followed with pushing each of the jig hooks through the tops of 3-inch-long Mann's Sting Ray grubs, letting the hook points come out about halfway down the grub bodies, then smearing a dab of herring- or crawdad-flavored Smelly Jelly fish attractant onto the avocado-color lures.
The Sting Rays that do a marvelous job of imitating a tidal bull minnow the fake bait being roughly the same shape and having the precise coloring of the fat-head minnow landed side by side in less than 10 feet of water.
"Fish on," one of the guys said almost instantly. A largemouth bass saw or smelled the Sting Ray and sucked it in. It was a young bass, maybe a 1-pounder that was released as soon as the hook was removed. Three more bass snatched up the beaver-tailed, soft lures, and one of them was a good 3-pounder.
By 10:30 a.m., with the tide ebbing hard and great blue herons strutting their stuff at the water's edge, we must have had well over 25 bass all of them set free. But we weren't after bass. We hoped to catch crappies that happen to hang out with the big-mouthed critters in a Potomac River area that starts just south of the Oxon Cove's entrance and ranges well beyond Fox Ferry Point and into the Spoils Cove. The reason the crappies aren't worried about one of the toughest predators in the river, the largemouth bass, is that the crappies frequently are bigger than the bass.
We're talking about what anglers in the Deep South call "slabsides," broad, silver-and-black-speckled beauties that find to their liking the smorgasbord of minnows, shiners, herring fry, crawfish and baby crabs that the tidal Potomac provides in abundance.
The crappies began to cooperate the moment the water fell enough to expose the famous Fox Ferry rock line, old pier footings and a breakwater that has claimed the lower units of hundreds of outboard motors over the years. The silvery fish began to inhale the Sting Rays, as well as 2-inch-long chartreuse, curly-tailed grubs on ⅛-ounce jig hooks or a rust-colored fringed tube that surrounded a lead-headed jig hook.
All we did was cast the lures out, let them sink, hope they didn't snag in myriad underwater obstacles found in this area of the river and began a slow, occasionally hopping retrieve of the grubs and tubes. The fish would do the rest, leaving no doubt that they intended to eat the fake food.
It was one terrific outing, and as Knupp a licensed fishing guide from La Plata noticed, "Look at some of the other boats here, on a weekday, yet."
There were three other craft around us, one of them a fish hog who used live bait minnows and then put every bass, crappie or catfish he hooked into a cooler. For heaven sake, fellow, let some of them go so you can have more productive days in the months to come.
There's nothing wrong with eating a fish or two, but this guy crammed his cooler full with his catch. Reports from anglers around the bridge indicate that he does this every time he's out on the river.
Meanwhile, a boat is a must in the spots we fished, but shoreline anglers can also do well all around the Spoils Cove, which is located between Oxon Cove and Wilson Bridge. Park the car along I-295 on the river side, then hike through the woods. Live minnows, small crappie jigs fished under a bobber or the tough Sting Ray grub all of them can do well on bass, crappies and even yellow and white perch.
Look for Gene Mueller's Outdoors column every Sunday and Wednesday and his Fishing Report every Thursday, only in The Washington Times. E-mail: gmueller@washingtontimes.com.

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