Tuesday, May 10, 2005

If you’re a local Potomac River angler and you’ve noticed an unusual amount of bass boat traffic this spring and nearly all of last year, it should come as no big surprise. The Potomac is being hammered by a seemingly never-ending string of bass fishing tournaments. More than one resident in these parts has wondered how much more the river can take before a noticeable decline in fishing success can be noticed.

It’s not so much the small, local club tournaments with 10 or 15 boats that are being questioned. It’s the mega-contests that attract 200 or more boats, two anglers in each craft, beating the water to a froth in search of occasional fame and sometimes sizable money purses.

True, tournament fishermen pat themselves on the back and talk about how they never keep a bass, instead releasing all of them. That part is true. But you must also consider the fact that each boater and co-rider hopes to hook five keeper bass. They put them into a relatively small, aerated livewell, drive them around hither and yon — sometimes banging the bass against the narrow holding container in rough weather — stuff them into a bag and stand in line to weigh the catch.

When done, they’re released at the weigh-in station’s adjacent waters, and that’s where those who survive the often three-day-long affair will stay. In many cases, attempts to swim back to their home waters do not succeed. Hence, a case can be made that live-release tournaments result in the wholesale shift of bass populations.

Take the Nanjemoy Creek in Charles County. The Nanjemoy once was one of the better bass-producing Potomac feeders. No more. We believe so many bass have been removed from the creek and taken north on the river to the two biggest tournament launch sites, Smallwood State Park in Maryland and Leesylvania State Park in Virginia, that bass fishing in the Nanjemoy nowadays is marginal or nonexistent.

Last week, while working with the Southern Maryland chapter of the Coastal Conservation Association that seined parts of the Nanjemoy in hopes of finding young-of-the-year yellow perch for a special survey, not one of the seinings revealed the presence of bass. Carp, minnows, white perch, shiners and sunfish of every stripe but no bass — young or old.

As you read this, the Northeast Division of the $8.4 million Wal-Mart Bass Fishing League will visit the Potomac River near Marbury. It will happen Saturday at Smallwood State Park and will be the first of five regular-season events. As many as 200 boaters and 200 co-anglers are expected to compete in the tournament, which will award as much as $39,000.

Smallwood State Park in Charles County will play host to the takeoff at 6 a.m., followed by weigh-ins at 2 p.m.

This is only a little more than a week after the New Jersey State Bass Federation held its state championship, and every productive spot on the river had two or three New Jersey boats sitting on it for three days.

There are more to come and then more and then some more after that.

Record bass numbers at Anna — Biologists with the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries have completed spring 2005 electrofishing surveys of the largemouth bass population in Lake Anna, west of Fredericksburg. The surveys, conducted annually at locations in the upper, middle and lower portions of the reservoir, are designed to provide estimates of bass abundance and size structure. This latest survey suggests bass are getting more abundant and larger.

The catch rate of fingerling fish remained nearly unchanged but slightly above average, suggesting good and consistent recruitment (spawning and survival) within the population. Catch rates of most other size categories were at record levels including “preferred bass” (those more than 15 inches in length) at 26 an hour. VDGIF fisheries biologist John Odenkirk said, “In addition, catch rate of ‘memorable bass,’ those over 20 inches, tied the existing record of four bass per hour set in 2000.”

What we needed: more netting — The Maryland Department of Natural Resources has announced the extension of the commercial striped bass fishery for the Atlantic Ocean, its coastal bays and their tributaries. The season reopened Monday and will continue through May 31. The Atlantic Coast commercial striped bass fishery will reopen again Nov. 1.

The DNR has determined the Atlantic striped bass harvest is less than anticipated and that the available quota warrants the extension.

What I want to know is this: If a quota hasn’t been filled, does that mean you “have” to extend the season? Of course not. Little old Maryland has this commercial fishing thing so embedded in its head that it just can’t let it go.

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

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