- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 28, 2003

Unlike thoroughly modern humans — most of whom wouldn’t know how to build a fire if they were up to their elbows in kindling wood — wildlife seems to have a definite inkling when bad times lie ahead. A case in point was the recent Hurricane Isabel.

Shortly before the storm that put much of the Washington area into a siege mentality and sent folks rushing to stores to empty the shelves of bottled water, toilet paper and milk, our family dog acted nervous and out of sorts. Did this typically brash and brave pooch know something was about to happen?

About 10 hours before the first strong wind and rain made a showing, the radio voice of the Redskins, WUSA’s Frank Herzog, mentioned on TV that he hadn’t seen any deer on his property, a place apparently where he watches the split-hooved ruminants on a regular basis. Did Herzog’s deer take cover?

Just before Isabel’s unwanted arrival, river fishing guide Andy Andrzejewski and I launched his boat and went bass hunting, ever mindful of lifelong truths (or are they rumors?) that when a terrific low-pressure system is about to invade certain waters, the fish will go on a feeding rampage.

Anecdotal evidence suggests it’s true.

In the 1970s, only a few days before Hurricane Agnes whipped the waters of Maryland’s Eastern Shore, I slipped a johnboat into Caroline County’s Smithville Lake and caught bass, pickerel and fat crappies with abandon. Was it total coincidence or did the threat of a major storm induce the fish to start feeding heavily, knowing that lean days lay ahead?

The day Andrzejewski and I fished for bass, the main stem of the tidal Potomac River already felt the beginnings of strong winds, so he wisely decided to remain in sheltered portions of the Mattawoman Creek in Charles County.

The guide — always ahead of the curve when it comes to studying the objects of his affection, the largemouth bass — was busily casting a plastic worm or a crawfish-patterned, shallow-lipped crankbait to the edges of a huge bed of hydrilla marine weeds while I alternately threw a white spinnerbait or a soft-bodied white Fluke jerkbait.

Circling the large weed “carpet,” the fellow whose hard-working Pennsylvania ancestors probably didn’t do much fishing knocked the daylights out of the local bass. Between the two of us, with Andrzejewski clearly ahead of me, we hooked and released 14 bass in little more than an hour.

We had to curtail our test outing when dense patches of weed clogged the fishing guide’s outboard motor water intake strainers, threatening possible damage from overheating if he persisted on running the powerful unit. The guide thought it prudent to slowly work his way back to the marina, put the boat back onto the trailer and return home. Once there, he would flush out the lower unit of the motor with fresh water, clearing it of any obstructions.

Did we prove that fish entered into a feeding fray just before a monstrous storm was about to knock the mercury through the bottoms of barometers? We just don’t know, but it was rather unusual to experience that much activity from a heavily fished species that normally is not given to repeated, quick attacks on artificial lures.

To be sure, it can happen, but it’s not the typical behavior of tidal water species who live, thrive and die by the actions of the tides. When it’s dead still, with no water moving, most tidewater anglers dread it and pray for a quick change.

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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