- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 1, 2006

There is good and bad news for Virginia’s tidal river bass fans.

Bob Greenlee, district fisheries biologist for the Virginia Department of Game & Inland Fisheries, says tidal largemouth bass populations in the state were severely affected by droughts that didn’t end until 2002. Because of that, largemouth bass in the tidal Chickahominy and James rivers experienced reproduction failures in 1999 and 2000.

In addition, poor reproduction occurred in the tidal Rappahannock River, to which we can attest. We haven’t had a really good bass outing in the “Rap” in some time. Even in some lower tidal creeks of the Potomac — the Port Tobacco and Nanjemoy creeks, to mention two — it is thought that not enough rain and too much salinity might have affected the presence and/or reproduction of bass.

However, Greenlee says there’s good news, too. Since the drought broke in late 2002, consistent recruitment has occurred in tidal river bass populations. In fact, young-of-year and age 1 fish dominated the largemouth catch during his most recent electrofishing efforts in the fall.

Greenlee says tidal bass fisheries are dynamic and are influenced by unpredictable freshwater flows that recently ranged from next to nothing — as happened in late 2002 — to instant increases that occurred as a result of recent tropical storms and hurricanes. Of course, habitat also can be affected, particularly when storm surges and strong winds arrive.

Greenlee reaffirms strong bass population classes in 2004 and 2005 for the tidal Chickahominy and James rivers. That should come as good news because a private group, Concerned Bass Anglers of Virginia, worried so much about a lack of bass in the Chickahominy that it used its own money to put hundreds of thousands of bass fingerlings into the tidal “Chick” near Williamsburg. Combined with the current good reproduction, it eventually should result in a great fishery.

What is more than a little worrisome about Greenlee’s report is that the tidal Rappahannock showed slower growth and lower electrofishing catch rates for largemouth bass than did the Chickahominy or James rivers. However, even the Rappahannock showed strong 2004 and 2005 classes that will show up in angler success rates in the next two or three years.

What was more bothersome was Greenlee saying the best chances for finding bass came above the Route 301 sector of the river. Historically, the opposite was true. The best bass catches and bass numbers were found downstream of the Route 301 bridge in Port Royal. Perhaps salinity had something to do with that, but Greenlee also says the lower Rappahannock mainstem below Portobago Bay has only limited areas of suitable largemouth habitat.

For the near future, Greenlee ranks the James River and its tributaries as the best in the state for tidal bass anglers, followed by the Chickahominy, Pamunkey, Rappahannock, Lower Dragon Run/Piankatank and the Mattaponi just above Aylett to Walkerton. Remember, the Potomac River couldn’t be mentioned. Even though it touches Virginia, it belongs to Maryland, and its bass fishery continues to be superb, especially in the upper tidal portions.

Maryland fishing guidebooks — The Maryland Department of Natural Resources says its annual Freshwater and Chesapeake Bay Sportfishing Guidebook now will be published every March. That ought to answer some of the questions (and complaints) about why there weren’t any of the booklets in stores when people bought their licenses.

In the past, the guidebook was published in November and provided to our licensing agents beginning in January of each year. But the DNR says various interstate fishing commissions meet in January and February to determine and analyze new seasons, catch limits, etc., sometimes rendering the booklets inaccurate.

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

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