Thursday, May 12, 2005

The Chesapeake Bay’s striped bass trophy season will end Sunday, but starting Monday, two 18-to-28-inch rockfish per day will be permitted (or one 18-inch-and-up fish and one larger than 28 inches). As this is written, not a complaint is heard from Southern Maryland and Northern Neck Virginia boaters.

A few gripes are heard in the more northern sectors of the Chesapeake as the big breeder females are finished with their spawning chores and now are heading down the bay and toward the ocean. Not to worry: Plenty of smaller but legal specimens will be around well into autumn.

You croaker fishermen finally should be able to connect with some measure of predictability. For example, Quade’s Store in Bushwood on the Potomac’s Wicomico River tributary reports that rental boaters are getting good quantities of croakers. The bad news is that the pound-netters in the Potomac are seeing their nets filled to the brim with the hardheads, as locals call them. That’s not helping the recreational anglers.

Bass fishermen in the Potomac and Maryland’s Eastern Shore rivers can do well if they learn that ebb tides along marsh banks can be a winning combination. Cast plastic worms or lizards, and also crank a lipped lure or spinnerbait in your search for fish. A few Potomac feeder creeks have delivered bass for topwater popper and buzzbait slingers.

There’s a big bass tournament coming out of the Potomac’s Mattawoman Creek (Smallwood State Park) this weekend, followed by the Shenandoah Division of the Wal-Mart Bass Fishing League on May 21. As many as 200 boaters and 200 co-anglers are expected to compete in this weekend’s affair. Leesylvania State Park on the Virginia side of the river will be the takeoff and weigh-in site.

(Ratings key: ****=Excellent fishing; ***=Good; **=Fair; *=Poor.)


POTOMAC RIVER: 0-35 miles (***) - In the Fletcher’s Boat House area (Georgetown, off Canal Road; 202/244-0461) you’ll hook some fine shad and rockfish, maybe a feisty catfish and bass. You may keep two 18-inch-and-over rockfish a day if you have a D.C. fishing license. Local bass guides Andy Andrzejewski (301/932-1509) and Dale Knupp (301/934-9062) find action in a number of feeder creeks and along the main stem’s points and gravel bars. Inside the creeks, the marsh edges and their ever-growing coontail, hydrilla and milfoil grasses are good for bass that like Senko, Zero, or Power worms. Shallow-running crankbaits in crawfish or chrome/blue finishes do well, as can a [1/4]-ounce chartreuse/white spinnerbait. Try a noisy popper or buzzbaits in some of the grassy parts. Downstream, past the Route 301 bridge in Charles County, the Wicomico River around Bushwood turns up nice-sized croakers. Quade’s Store in Bushwood (301/769-3903) sees rental boaters scoring on the hardheads. Croakers and rockfish are caught below the Wicomico, from St. George’s Island down to the mouth.

MATTAWOMAN CREEK: 40 miles (***) - Bass catches can be fine one day, terrible the next, but try working soft plastics and crankbaits or spinnerbaits around marsh edges and through grassy pockets, some of which are near the mouth. Crappies are found in sunken brush and fallen trees here and there, but a thorough search with small curly-tailed jigs fished under a bobber is required.

SOUTHERN MARYLAND LAKES: 40-50 miles (**) - Gilbert Run Park’s Wheatley Lake (Route 6, east of La Plata) is sure to give up sunfish and normally small bass, although some trophy bass hang out here. Either way, all bass must be let go. St. Mary’s Lake (Route 5 south of Leonardtown, on Camp Cosoma Road) is still not usable because of repairs being made to the dam. The lake is not suitable for boat launching.

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) has willing catch-and-release bass that are looking at a variety of soft plastic baits, but don’t forget to work a soft or hard jerkbait around grass edges and sunken brush. Sunfish and catfish are in good supply.

WSSC RESERVOIRS: 20-30 miles (***) - (Triadelphia, off Route 97 or Route 650 in Montgomery County; Rocky Gorge off Route 29 in Montgomery County) Catch-and-release bass fishing is doing well as soft plastics and crankbaits of varying running depths attract strikes from largemouths around points, fallen trees, and deep-water coves where some brush spots provide hiding places. Crappies, catfish, bluegills are available.

PATUXENT RIVER: 25-60 miles (***) - Croakers have been biting better during the dark hours, says Ken Lamb, of the Tackle Box in Lexington Park. They’ve been biting really well around Cedar Point, but we haven’t heard any success stories from the public Solomons fishing pier. Rockfish are not as plentiful along the shallow beaches as they were last week, but white perch can make for some fun fishing along rip-raps, rock piles, duck blinds and so on. The upper river hasn’t been good for bass lately.

OCCOQUAN RESERVOIR: 25-30 miles (***) - From the Fountainhead Park (Route 123, Fairfax County) area, ranger Smokey Davis reports, “The fishing for all species is excellent. Bass are either on the beds or they hang out nearby. Brush Hogs, Senkos and plastic lizards work best. Nice bluegills are moving shallow to spawn. The crappie bite remains strong, and catfish are on the prowl in shallower water. Water temperature is around 70 degrees.”

BURKE LAKE: 29 miles (***) - (Ox Road, Route 123, Fairfax County) Bass are looking at crankbaits and soft plastic worms along drops near their recent spawning sites. They also hang out in waterlogged brush and around sharply declining points. Crappies and sunfish are biting.


UPPER POTOMAC RIVER: 35-100 miles (***) - From Knoxville to Brunswick and on to Point of Rocks and downstream, the smallmouth bite can be quite good some days. Fringed tubes in brown or red have been doing well, as have [1/4]-ounce crankbaits and plain inline spinners. Big sunfish are possible in eddys and side pockets.

DEEP CREEK LAKE: 210 miles (***) -Lake guide Brent Nelson (301/596-5712, evenings) finds bass under any of the many floating docks, occasionally both species, smallmouth and largemouth. Some fine yellow perch and crappies are hooked.

SUSQUEHANNA RIVER: 65-100 miles (***) - The DNR’s Keith Lockwood says the shad are stacked against the base of the Conowingo Dam. More than 19,000 shad made it over the fish ladders by May[ThSp]5. Deer Creek shad fishing is slowing down now, but white perch fishing is great all over the Susky. Some decent bass are hooked in the docks and around pilings in Havre de Grace.


MARYLAND: 45-75 miles (***) - One of our readers sent an e-mail, saying, “I was out on Bernie Shea’s Shea-D-Lady Sunday morning with five friends. We had our limit of nice rockfish by 10:30 a.m. Three-foot waves and blustery rain squalls didn’t seem to slow the fish down but made reeling and staying on your feet tricky. All the rockfish were between 30 and 44 inches. We came straight out of the mouth of the Patuxent and pretty much stayed there the whole time, trolling back and forth, using umbrella rigs.” Check out Bernie at Ken Lamb of the Tackle Box shop in Lexington Park said one lower Potomac captain “put out his lines near Point Lookout and set his course on a slow 2-mile circle. When he returned to his starting point in less than two hours, he had landed 27 stripers and released 21 of them. His party was happy.” The upper Bay’s trophy-sized rockfish are slowly departing, prompting some of the trollers around Thomas Point and Bloody Point to complain. They’re catching fish, but now they have to work a little harder. Croakers are showing up in some of the haunts like the Middlegrounds and around Point Lookout State Park pier.

VIRGINIA: 75-150 miles (***) - Captain Billy Pipkin (Ingram Bay Marina, Heathsville, Va., 804/580-7292) isn’t having a tough time catching fine keeper stripers for his parties anywhere between Smith Point and the mouth of the Rappahannock. Not only that, the croakers are showing up more frequently now. The lack of action should be blamed not on a lack of fish but on a lack of warm water, which these tasty fish absolutely need to get busy. The lower Rappahannock has been very good for croaker catches. This weekend might see the arrival of bluefish. They’re overdue in Virginia waters. Black drum catches have been disappointing down in the lower Bay.


CHOPTANK RIVER: 120 MILES (***) - (Route 50 east to Cambridge) White perch continue to be hooked from the Cambridge fishing bridge (which used to be the old Route 50 bridge). Upper river also shows white perch and some decent bass numbers along spatterdock and marsh bank drops.

POCOMOKE RIVER: 140-170 miles (***) - (From Snow Hill down to Shad Landing) Plenty of small bass but also some decent-sized specimens are seen anywhere between Snow Hill and Pocomoke City around fish blowdowns, flooded tree roots and spatterdock fields. Some topwater catches are now possible.

NANTICOKE RIVER: 120 miles (***) - (Sharptown ramp off Route 313) Bass can be caught along marsh banks and spatterdock patches when the tide drops but never overlook myriad sunken brush piles and fallen trees on this river. Feeder creeks and main stem produce some decent bass, crappies, sunfish and catfish.


LAKE ANNA: 82 miles (***) -(Route 208, Spotsylvania County) Bass are off the beds and now roam the shallow- to medium-depth waters looking for food. Crankbaits, spinnerbaits and soft plastics will see action from the Splits to upper lake parts. A few rockfish are hooked very early in the mornings. Crappie fishing has been excellent.

RAPPAHANNOCK RIVER: 47-100 miles (***) - (Fredericksburg to Leedstown) Upper river shows smallmouth bass in fair to good numbers. Try using fringed tubes in slow pools where rocks slow the water down. Spinners and small crankbaits work. River waters in Fredericksburg are good for some shad, white perch and catfish, but the bass fishing below town remains questionable. To be sure, some largemouths are taken on plastic worms in the tidal stretches, but the fishing should be much better.

LAKE BRITTLE: 59 miles (***) - (Route 793, off Route 29) Crappie, bass and sunfish are on the menu this weekend. All three species are biting nicely. Small curly-tailed grubs will take bass and crappies. Tiny poppers on a flyrod will do for the bluegills.

LAKE ORANGE: 75 miles (***) - (Concessionaire: 540/672-3997; look for left turn sign on Route 20 before entering town of Orange) Bass have jumped on hard jerkbaits or scented plastic worms around blowdowns and lake points. Crappies like small shad darts, with or without a minnow, under a bobber.

LAKE GASTON: 179 miles (***) - (Route 46, Gasburg) Peahill, Hubquarter and Jimmy’s creeks have seen fair to good bass catches on scented plastic baits and hard jerkbaits worked around boat dock pilings and rip-rap stones. Crappies are in the upper creek ends and will hop onto a white grub fished under a bobber.

KERR RESERVOIR: 185 miles (***) - (Route 58, Clarksville) Crappie and bass catches are holding up nicely. The Clarksville area brush piles are fine for cappies, with some of the lake points and creek blowdowns turning up quality bass. Rockfish provide some action during the dark hours.

CHICKAHOMINY RIVER: 160 miles (**) - (Williamsburg area) Slow going for bass, but catfish and crappie hookups are easy.

JAMES RIVER: 115 miles (**) - (Tidal Richmond area and downstream) Catfish are spawning, and the catches reflect it. Few are taken right now. Bass catches are fair down around the Appomattox River and some of the lower feeder creeks, with soft plastics the preferred lures.


SHENANDOAH RIVER: 75-85 miles (**) - The Route 340, Front Royal, Luray and Bentonville areas show a few nice bass, sunfish and catfish. No new word about the state investigation concerning a small fish kill and seeing bass with lesions. We’ll check on it and hope to have more news next week.

SMITH MOUNTAIN LAKE: 210 miles (***) -(Route 122, east of Roanoke) The bass are slowly coming off the nests, although some are still busily spawning. Striped bass have been fairly active down around the “S” curve, but the feeding window for these fish is of short duration every day. Some fat crappies are hooked in sunken brush.

UPPER JAMES RIVER: 130 miles (***) - (Route 6, south of Charlottesville, Scottsville) Much depends on the rain. If it stays away this weekend, there’ll be fine catches of smallmouth bass made with spinning or flyfishing gear. Catfish and sunnies also cooperate.


MARYLAND: 153-175 miles (***) - (Route 50 to Ocean City) Wind and greatly varying temperatures have made the fishing tough, but it is hoped that the bluefish return to the surf from Assateague to Ocean City. Continued catches of rockfish are made by boat drifters and some shoreliners in the Ocean City Inlet. If you’re really stubborn and don’t give up, you’ll hook a few flounder in the backwaters. They love drifted minnows. Tautogs are found from Ocean City’s bulkheads at Second Street to Sixth Street.

VIRGINIA: 210 miles to Virginia Beach (***) - The wind has made the life of flounder drifters miserable from Chincoteague to Metomkin and on to Wachapreague and Oyster - all of them on the Eastern Shore. However, some keeper flatties are hooked on squid/minnow combinations. Offshore boats could find tunas toward the Carolina border, but strong winds have made boating difficult. Bluefish are coming north toward the mouth of the Chesapeake. For charter boats, call Virginia Beach Fishing Center, 757/422-5700.

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