- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 2, 2006

MARBURY, Md.

The problem with the local Smallwood State Park is that it’s the second most visited boat launching area in the state. Only Sandy Point State Park on the Chesapeake Bay sees more boats. I was reminded of Smallwood’s popularity once again when I agreed to take a friend fishing on a Thursday, not on a weekend when heavy use is to be expected.

For goodness sake, I arrived at the Charles County park at 5:30 a.m. and had to wait nearly a half-hour before even getting close to one of the launching ramps because the Pennsylvania State Bass Federation was conducting yet another of its tournaments here. To rub salt in my wounds, when I lodged a mild complaint one of the Pennsylvania tournament participants told me I ought to be happy to have them here because my home county would be the recipient of “significant economic benefit.”

Economic benefit? My boat partner that day, Gil Dukes, and I really don’t care whether the Keystone State lads stay in a local motel, buy overpriced gasoline or devour KFC chicken. We would just as soon have that happy bunch that lives to the north of us improve their own economy back home. Let us fish in peace.

You see, Dukes was on a mission. He needed to learn how to properly entice a bass with a plastic worm. This was serious business. We couldn’t afford to have a bunch of tournament fishermen get in the way.

But in spite of my earlier fears, the day turned out to be a whopping success because most of the Pennsylvanians chose to run their boats upriver, far from our chosen waters.

Under a boiling sun, Gil and I fished in the Mattawoman and Chicamuxen creeks, both of them top-flight tributaries to the tidal Potomac River. To add a fitting spin to our outing, we used only two types of plastic baits: modern, state-of-the-art scented Zero worms, and 35-year-old Mann’s Jellyworms that I’d found hidden in a bag inside an old tackle box in the far recesses of my backyard shed.

We threaded 1/16-ounce slip-sinkers onto 20-pound-test FireLine, added 2/0 worm hooks, using Palomar knots because improved clinch knots don’t do well with high-tech thermal filament lines. We then pushed the hook point about a quarter inch into the artificial worm’s head, pulled it down to its eyelet, and turned the hook around enough so its point could be reinserted into the worm farther down, which made it snagless or, as bass hounds say, “weedless.” This is known as a Texas rig.

Whenever Gil and I weren’t snacking on sandwiches or slaking our thirst with a variety of cool libations, I’d show my boat partner the kind of territory in which this kind of “worming” ought to be done.

“Cast to that marsh bank,” I said to Gil, pointing to a swampy, grass-lined edge along the creek. “But remember, it’s not deep over there, so drag the worm from that shallow ledge and let it flutter down into the deeper, cooler water where the bass should be. It declines like a staircase, from one foot down to eight or nine feet. As it falls, slowly remove whatever slack line you have. Reel the line super slow, even stop and lift the rod tip to see if you can feel something. Be sure to watch for unusual signs, such as your line suddenly jumping, or oddly moving sideways, or feeling a hard pull that could be an underwater obstacle or a fat bass holding onto it. And remember, Gil, a bass doesn’t have hands or armpits, so when you feel it pull, it will be in the only place it can be: its mouth. Set the hook. Don’t waste another second.”

Dukes was with the program in an instant. After several practice casts, he got serious and put the worm exactly where it should have been. I was tickled when I saw him take up slack line and without a word suddenly stick the hook to a feisty largemouth.

“What about this one?” Dukes said with a laugh, and I applauded him.

The two of us consistently found willing bass when the tide receded in both creeks, which is preferred over high, rising water. Dukes ended our short day under a hot sun with six bass, losing a couple others, even hooking yellow perch. He was happy and looking like an old river pro.

Maybe some day he’ll be in a bass tournament in Pennsylvania, improving that state’s economy.

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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