A number of “ifs” confront weekend anglers hereabouts. What if Hurricane Frances turns just enough northward to affect the North Carolina and Virginia shores by way of heavy rains and/or strong winds? It would put a complete stop to weekend offshore fishing, which this time of year can be fantastic. What if Frances picks up enough speed and the outer edges of the storm let themselves be known even in the lowest portions of the Chesapeake? That would put an end to flounder, spadefish and bluefish adventures.
However, if Frances stays down in the Florida/Georgia area, we will have outstanding fishing — for a couple of days anyway.
The local outlook begins with our friend Ken Lamb of the Tackle Box in Lexington Park, Md., who says, “The flounder fishing is exceptional. Chesapeake Bay minnow drifters who worked the edges from Buoy 74 to above Buoy 76 have made great catches all week.” Lamb is not exaggerating. We tried it and caught quite a few, including legal 16-inchers.
Add also the huge schools of snapper bluefish and medium-size stripers, along with the Spanish mackerel that suddenly showed up, and you could do a lot worse than to fish the middle to lower Chesapeake.
Close to home, the Potomac and Rappahannock rivers can deliver largemouth bass and plenty of catfish, but you can forget the James River down in the Richmond area for a while. It’s a muddy mess from the 10-plus inches of rain it received thanks to the remnants of tropical storm Gaston.
(RATINGS KEY: ****=EXCELLENT FISHING; ***=GOOD; **=FAIR; *=POOR.)
AREA 1: D.C. AND VICINITY
POTOMAC RIVER: 0-35 miles (***) — In the District, Ray Fletcher of Fletcher’s Boat House (off Canal Road, 202/244-0461, fletchersboathouse.com) promises catfish, some bass and maybe even a walleye here and there. River guides Andy Andrzejewski (301/932-1509) and Dale Knupp (301/934-9062) say there have been better days to fish, especially up toward the District. However, bass can be caught on finesse worms and drop-shot rigs around the Fox Ferry rocks and parts of Smoot Bay. The grassy spots near the Wilson Bridge, and for that matter any submersed vegetation, will turn up bass that like buzzbaits or poppers. Some of the bass hounds who work open ledges and drops have scored with deep crankbaits, while Mann’s Baby 1-Minus lures and such can draw bass from their hiding spots in downed, waterlogged trees. Catfish and white perch generally round out the fishing in the waters between the District and western Charles County. Down in the saltier portions, from the mouth of the Wicomico down to Smith Creek and near Point Lookout, expect a mixed bag of spot, white perch, small rockfish and even some snapper blues and occasional croakers. Yes, croakers, but they are on the way down to the lower Chesapeake Bay in ever-increasing numbers.
40 miles (***) — Some fat bass are hooked around the Deep Point and Burn Point portions of the creek near the mouth, but most of the bass boaters are heading up into the slow zone of the creek, finding some smaller specimens with worms and 1/8-ounce spinnerbaits along fallen brush and trees or marsh banks. Catfish like cut baits or clam snouts.
SOUTHERN MARYLAND LAKES: 40-50 miles (***) — Gilbert Run Park’s Wheatley Lake (Route 6, east of La Plata) is always good for some sunfish and a few small bass. Things are getting quiet again now, with children back in school. St. Mary’s Lake (Route 5 south of Leonardtown, on Camp Cosoma Road) has been giving up a steady number of fair to good-sized bass. Plastic worms, shallow crankbaits and hard jerkbaits do the job if you can keep the lures from snagging pond scum and weeds.
LITTLE SENECA LAKE: 30 miles (***) — Black Hill Regional Park (off Route 117, near Boyds, 301/972-9396) and nearby Seneca Creek Lake (Clopper Road, Gaithersburg, 301/924-2127). Little Seneca turned up a 381/2-inch tiger muskie for Baltimore’s Dustin Crane. The hybrid muskellunge weighed 15 pounds. Both lakes show some bass activity. Small lures, such as 4-inch plastic worms and 1/8-ounce spinnerbaits, will be noticed. Sunfish and catfish are plentiful.
WSSC RESERVOIRS: 20-30 miles (***) — (Triadelphia, off Route 97 or Route 650 in Montgomery County; Rocky Gorge, off Route 29 in Montgomery County) Largemouth bass will smack spinnerbaits and broken-back Rebels and Rapalas around rocky points and edges of grass. Soft plastic worms also do well. Sunfish and catfish are in good supply, and within the next month there will be some schooling by the crappies.
PATUXENT RIVER: 25-60 miles (***) — The Tackle Box in Lexington Park reports spot, some croakers, perch and a few juvenile trout biting in the mouth of the river. The rest of the Patuxent, from Greenwell State Park clear up to Chalk Point and above, is full of white perch. Catch them with tiny spinnerbaits, inline spinners, shad darts, grubs, or crab and shrimp baits. You also will run into thousands of juvenile rockfish no bigger than 10 inches.
OCCOQUAN RESERVOIR: 25-30 miles (***) — From the Fountainhead Park (Route 123, Fairfax County) area toward Bull Run, the catfish are the best bet, although some decent bass are seen now and then. The lake’s points and deepwater brush will hold bass that like plastic worms, grubs and even jigs’n’ pigs.
BURKE LAKE: 29 miles (***) — (Ox Road, Route 123, Fairfax County) Sunfish and catfish are guaranteed, but the bass can play tough to get.
AREA 2: CENTRAL, WESTERN MD.
UPPER POTOMAC RIVER: 35-100 miles (**) — The DNR says smallmouth bass have been striking small surface lures and tube lures in riffles and rock pools. Even some well-fed walleyes have been hooked in the waters from Dam No.4 in Washington County down to Frederick County’s Monocacy River. The Point of Rocks to Edwards Ferry stretch is good for a few fair-sized smallies and some young channel catfish, especially in the Virginia shore’s deeper waters. Redbreasted sunfish also bite.
DEEP CREEK LAKE: 210 miles (***) — Good largemouth and some smallmouth chances if you skip plastic worms or tubes under docks. Labor Day boat traffic will be horrendous when water skiers and jet skiers come visiting.
SUSQUEHANNA RIVER: 65-100 miles (***) — Largemouth bass and stripers have been striking jerkbaits, plastic worms and spinnerbaits inside the river, while the Flats continue to give up topwater bass and rockfish. The stripers definitely prefer early and late hours.
AREA 3: CHESAPEAKE BAY
MARYLAND: 45-75 miles (****) — Starting with the lower Maryland portions of the Bay, the fishing couldn’t be better. Minnow and flounder belly bait drifters are catching flounder from 14 to 21 inches long. You will catch your three legal 16-inchers if you work the 25- to 35-foot ledges along a line that connects buoys 74 and 76 on the eastern side of the ship channel, a fairly straight shot across from the mouth of the Patuxent River. Flounder also have cooperated from Hooper’s Island Light to Buoy 72, with some flatties also coming from the lower Potomac’s Cornfield Harbor and the Point Lookout Bar. Scads of young bluefish and stripers are also in the Southern Maryland and lower Eastern Shore waters, with Spanish mackerel adding to trollers’ excitement. Meanwhile, the general Gooses sector keeps turning up rockfish and blues for chummers. Trollers find strikes from Spanish mackerel and bluefish up to 4 pounds. Much of the same action is seen in the upper Bay, where the shorelines and creeks are filled with white perch and the open waters of the northern Chesapeake turn up snapper blues and medium rockfish.
VIRGINIA: 75-150 miles (***) — Northern Neck captain Billy Pipkin (804/580-7292) says, “The great mack attack has arrived. Spanish mackerel have become available throughout the western shore from the Rappahannock’s Windmill Point to Bluff Point, also just outside the Great Wicomico River, the Smith Point Bar, the area between buoys 68 and 70, even the inside of the lower Potomac River.” Trollers using small silver spoons with very little inline sinker weights and long leaders score on the mackerel, bluefish and rockfish. Chummers, however, seem to be landing the bigger blues.
AREA 4: EASTERN SHORE/MD.
CHOPTANK RIVER: 120 MILES (**) — (Route 50 east to Cambridge) Only a week after we touted how good the bass fishing had been, it took a nose dive. However, white perch, spot and some roving bands of snapper bluefish make things interesting in the mouth of the river.
POCOMOKE RIVER: 140-170 miles (***) — (From Snow Hill down to Shad Landing) Bass hounds score with 4-inch rib worms and shallow- to medium-depth crankbaits. There’s an awful lot of flooded timber to fish, as well as spatterdock pockets.
NANTICOKE RIVER: 120 miles (***) — (Sharptown ramp off Route 313) Bass fishing has improved, especially in the Marshyhope but also in the upper river pockets, where soft plastics, crankbaits and spinnerbaits can score during receding tides.
AREA 5: CENTRAL VIRGINIA
LAKE ANNA: 82 miles (***) — (Route 208, Spotsylvania County) Surface lures are the best way to start a morning of fishing here. Work them around lake points, brush piles, rock formations or boat docks — and hang on. Of course, low-light hours are best for this. Crawdad-finish crankbaits also score, as will soft plastics.
RAPPAHANNOCK RIVER: 47-100 miles (***) — (Fredericksburg to Leedstown) Here’s a big “if”: If the rain stays away and the weather continues as it has, you will score on smallmouth bass in the upper river anywhere above Fredericksburg and also around I-95, the Rapidan and even as far up as Remington. Down in the tidal parts below Fredericksburg, there are many largemouth bass in the 1- and 2-pound range that strike worms and rattle baits. Cut herring or clam snouts will get you catfish.
LAKE BRITTLE: 59 miles (***) — (Route 793, off Route 29) Good numbers of sunfish, channel cats and even largemouth bass are possible.
LAKE ORANGE: 75 miles (**) — (Concessionaire: 540/672-3997; look for left turn sign on Route 20 before entering town of Orange) Catfish up to 8 and 9 pounds inhale cut chunks of herring, saltwater spot or clam snouts. The bass catches aren’t great, but a few largemouths are taken on soft plastic worms or hard jerkbaits.
LAKE GASTON: 179 miles (*) — (Route 46, Gasburg) Scuttlebutt has it that weedkillers that have been sprayed around various parts of the lake, and that means the fishing has dropped off severely. Weekend jet skiers and water skiers will be a nuisance.
KERR RESERVOIR: 185 miles (***) — (Route 58, Clarksville) Crappie fishing is looking up. Bridge abutments in the creeks and sunken brush piles hold plenty of fish. Live minnows are best, but shad darts or small hair jigs work very well. Bass fishing could be better, but some are caught. Big catfish are biting really well.
CHICKAHOMINY RIVER: 160 miles () — (Williamsburg area) Heavy rains have slowed down the fishing and made the water murky.
JAMES RIVER: 115 miles (*) — (Tidal Richmond area and downstream) After nearly 11 inches of rain fell this week, forget the fishing for a while. The James is a sea of mud.
AREA 6: WESTERN VIRGINIA
SHENANDOAH RIVER: 75-85 miles (***) — The Route 340, Front Royal, Luray and Bentonville areas show lots of weed-filled water, but smallmouth bass are available on Zoom Flukes and other fairly weedless lures.
SMITH MOUNTAIN LAKE: 210 miles (**) — (Route 122, east of Roanoke) Slow going for all species. A few bass are taken.
UPPER JAMES RIVER: 130 miles (…) — (Route 6, south of Charlottesville, Scottsville) Smallmouth bass are available, and the upper river is said to have been spared the horrendous rains that fell on Richmond.
AREA 7: ATLANTIC OCEAN
MARYLAND: 153-175 miles (***) — (Route 50 to Ocean City) Offshore canyon waters are turning up yellowfin and bluefin tunas to bait chunkers. Hundred-pound bluefins are the order of the day. White marlin bites are more frequent, too, but nothing compared to those of 20 and 30 years ago. Recreational seabass season is closed from Wednesday to Sept.21. Inshore anglers score on flounder, but few are legal.
VIRGINIA: 210 miles to Virginia Beach (***) — Offshore billfish and tuna are biting, but who knows what Hurricane Frances’ winds will do by the weekend? They could reach up this way and cancel a bunch of fishing trips. Eastern Shore flounder fishing is poor. Bluefish and Spanish mackerel are close in toward Virginia Beach. For charter boats, call the Virginia Beach Fishing Center, 757/422-5700.
Trout Unlimited chapter meets — Tonight, 7:30, at Vienna Volunteer Fire Department. Tom Guffain will talk about his fishing trip to New York’s Salmon River.Information: nvatu.org
Surf fishing school — Sept.9-12, Oct.21-24, Outer Banks in Nags Head, N.C. Contact Joe Malat, 252/441-4767; firstname.lastname@example.org.
CCA fall striper seminar — Sept.10, 6:30p.m., at Vienna Volunteer Fire Department. Information: Tom Welch, 703/201-6100 or OnTheFly@cox.net
Trout Unlimited chapter meets — Sept.15, 7:30p.m., at Schweinhaut Senior Center in Silver Spring. This meeting of the Potomac-Patuxent chapter of Trout Unlimited is open to the public. Watch an underwater video by Ozzie Ozefovich on what trout see, including movement and color above and below the water surface, how they see artificial flies and how white shirts, watches and even bright rod finishes can spook the fish. Information: pptu.org or 301/652-3848.
Save a Fish, Eat A Pig BBQ — Sept.25, 5p.m., at Vienna Volunteer Fire Department. Held by the Northern Virginia Chapter of the Coastal Conservation Association. Fine Food, door prizes, fly-casting clinic and great auction items. Information: Rob Allen, 703/626-2668.
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