- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 27, 2005

The core of a Charles County, Md., group of tidal-water fishing pals who favor the Potomac River, but also visit dozens of other spots in the region, consists of two veteran river guides, Andy Andrzejewski and Dale Knupp, and the fellow who writes this column. We fish throughout the year, have no earthly idea what winterizing an outboard motor is about because we run them any day, any month — cold, hot or in between — it doesn’t matter.

Keep all this in mind as we join Andrzejewski, who looked up and down the Potomac on a cold, windy Thursday morning and noticed only two boats in the distance. “If the weather turns and it really warms up, there’ll be bumper-to-bumper traffic out here, bass boaters by the dozen and every one of them would like the world to know that this is ‘his river,’ that only he knows where the bass are, and only he knows how to catch them,” said Andrzejewski with a laugh.

“But look around you. Where are they now?” he asked as a bone-chilling breeze skitted across the river’s surface.

While he talked, he flicked a plastic, 3-inch-long, avocado color Sting Ray grub toward a rocky shoreline that sat within a stone’s throw of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge. He felt the lure snag a bottom obstruction, but freed it when he tightened the line with his left hand, then suddenly released it. After he checked the sharpness of the jig hook, the guide again zipped the lure toward the rocks, then brought it back over an underwater ledge — a dropoff as anglers call it.

As the grub slid from shallow to deep water, a largemouth bass inhaled it. When Andy lifted his rod, he felt an odd resistance and instinctively set the hook. Once he reeled it close to the boat, Andy “lipped” the fish, which means he snatched it from the water by grabbing its lower lip between thumb and index finger, then brought it aboard for a quick photo. It was a 3-pounder who sported peculiar black spots along its tail and body section. The spots are harmless pigmentation oddities frequently seen on tidal-water bass. The fish was set free moments later.

We talked about the wondrously effective Sting Ray grub that we prefer to dab with a fish attractant known as Smelly Jelly. It seems someone else in town had been taking credit for introducing and popularizing the paddle-tailed “bait.” Yet, it was Andrzejewski who many years ago used the Sting Ray and the Smelly Jelly to such good advantage that the word spread far and wide. In fact, the manufacturer of the grubs, Mann’s Bait Company, once dropped us a note, asking, “What in the world is going on up there on the Potomac River? Everybody wants Sting Rays.”

Andrzejewski used them long before some current bass hounds even knew how to spell Eufaula, Alabama, where the lures are made.

Meanwhile, Andy and I enjoyed the aerobatics of three bald eagles who cavorted and soared with the wind. We appreciated brief interludes of solitude that quickly were torn asunder by the arrivals and departures of noisy jet planes at nearby Reagan National Airport.

Occasionally, we’d hook a bass — the number by now was in the double digits — but we also lost a few fish and more than one of the plastic lures. Still, we sang the praises of the Sting Ray, although a 4-inch-long red Culprit worm, made by a competitor of Mann’s, also produced bass.

The popularity of certain bass lures and the loyalty shown them by anglers always amazes me. Only two days before Andy and I did so well with Sting Rays and Culprits, the river guide Knupp and I visited Mattawoman Creek, one of the bigger Potomac tributaries. Dale is an experimenter. If the Sting Ray doesn’t see action quickly, he begins to downsize his lures, figuring that the bass would rather snack on smaller objects. In his case, a tiny plastic, fringed lure known as a Minnow Tube, which for some reason Dale calls a Bubble Belly, all sassy in red and green, is fed onto a 1/8-ounce, even a 1/4-ounce jig hook, dabbed with garlic flavor Smelly Jelly and slowly hopped along the edges of marsh dropoffs.

That day, Dale hooked 12 largemouth bass — some of them showing the peculiar black spots on their dark green bodies. Most of the largemouths would have met the 15-inch size requirement demanded by Maryland this time of year.

However, bass sizes didn’t matter because Dale and I let all of our largemouths go. However, we kept two five-fish limits of yellow perch. They also snatched up the Minnow Tube and Sting Ray, never showing a dislike for either one.

Look for Gene Mueller’s Outdoors column every Sunday, Wednesday and Thursday, only in The Washington Times. E-mail: gmueller@washingtontimes.com.

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