- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 19, 2006

“Lordamighty,” said Potomac River bass fishing guide Andy Andrzejewski, “look at the boats.”

A string of bass boats charged down the broad waterway between the Maryland and Virginia shorelines, while another was heading north toward the District. Only a couple of days later, on a Saturday morning, Andrzejewski’s friend and fellow guide, Dale Knupp, rolled into the parking lot at the Marshall Hall boat launch facility and shook his head. It wasn’t even 8 a.m. and all but one parking spot had been taken by tow vehicles and boat trailers.

Knupp looked at me and said, “Well, there you go. Bass tournament fishing has begun.”

He said it as if that were my fault, yet I’ve never conducted a bass tournament in my life.

Forget the sight of the first robin, the jonquils and the cherry blossoms. In these parts, it’s the fishing boats that signal the arrival of spring even if the meteorological season doesn’t officially begin until tomorrow.

The river’s water temperature hovered between 47 and 50 degrees, which is ideal for the spawning of the yellow perch, as well as some early arrivals of white perch and stripers, but most of all it awakened the appetites in the largemouth bass. Although they’ll eat enough to survive during winter, now is the time when they fatten up, gain strength, and slowly prepare for their annual ritual of reproduction.

The reason the two guides and I were so surprised at the plethora of boats is because we never stop fishing, even if it’s the middle of January or February. There’s no winterization, no special treatment of the boat motors (other than leaving the lower units down to allow water to drain while sitting on land) and also very little competition on the water. The sudden sight of a covey of bass anglers takes a while to get used to.

It didn’t require any special skills to join the throng and do a little running of our own. Only this time we ignored the Spoils Cove and the waters above Woodrow Wilson Bridge. We knew it would look like weekday rush hour on New York Avenue, only this crowd was made up of boats. Instead we opted for several gravel and stump-filled coves on the Virginia side of the Potomac.

Andrzejewski and Knupp enjoy the fishing there because even when it blows, there’s ample opportunity to hide and get out of the breezes.

Andrzejewski picked up a baitcasting rod and reel, its 12-pound monofilament line attached to a 1/4-ounce round-headed jig hook that was pushed through the body of a 3-inch Mann’s Sting Ray grub. He dabbed the avocado-color plastic “food” with a bit of crawfish-flavored cream to help entice one of the fish that live in the cove’s 4- to 9-foot-deep waters.

After only two casts toward a marshy point whose water dropped sharply from shallow to deep, I heard him say, “There he is.” The guide leaned forward and quickly removed a bit of slack line, then ripped the rod upward in one swift motion. A fish was on — and then it wasn’t. Whatever it was had broken free of a hook point that was so sharp if a fly sat on it, it would instantly commit suicide.

A few casts later, Andrzejewski and I both had bass on, but the guide’s bass easily could have eaten mine — it was big enough to do it. He followed that with several more largemouths, looked at his watch and said, “Let’s check to see if the crappies are biting.”

Off we went downriver and into Swan Creek, where the La Plata resident had caught the speckled fish before. With smaller plastic grubs or some white hair jigs in the 1/8-ounce size, we did indeed hook some of the speckled delicacies. All we had to do was cast the little lures toward boat pilings, let them fall, then gently hop and reel them back. The fish would do the rest.

When Knupp went out a few days later, he had no trouble catching four nice bass along a marshy cove that showed deep, adjacent water before he remembered that he had a date with his wife. He promptly left the fishy area lest he be banned to sleep on the couch.

Yes, spring has sprung. From now until early November, there won’t be a quiet moment on the big river unless it’s around midnight.

• Look for Gene Mueller’s Outdoors column Sunday, Wednesday and Thursday, only in The Washington Times. E-mail: [email protected]

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