- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 8, 2007

“Isn’t it great that spring is here and we can finally get out on the water,” a stranger said after we parked our tow vehicles and then walked to our boats at the Smallwood State Park launching ramps. I didn’t bother to tell him that in our circle of friends the search for fishing action is a year-long task.

We never bother to put our outboard motors into hibernation. But as the fellow said, it was indeed great that spring was here.

In Potomac River country, be it in the mountainous freshwater stretches or the lower tidal portions, spring isn’t officially recognized because the cherry trees bloom around the Tidal Basin, or bluebirds begin to nest. No, it’s not official until the johnboats and kayaks show up in the hill country of western Maryland and the bass tournament boats descend on the tidal river like hungry locusts over a grain field.

For example, when I idled toward the appropriately named Trash Point in the Mattawoman Creek, two bass boats passed, turned sharply in front of me and their occupants began to cast lures in the same spot my bow was pointed to.

Both of the boats had Pennsylvania registration numbers. “We’re practicing for a tournament,” said one of the happy dolts who never figured he had committed a faux pas when he cut in front of my craft even after I pointed it out to him. I guess the fellows thought that their participation in a contest gave them the right to show a lack of proper boating etiquette and good manners. It’s not unheard of among competition anglers, but can also be found among regular recreational fishermen. Ignorance is kind of democratic that way.

I left Trash Point, aimed the boat toward the mouth of the creek and entered the main stem of the Potomac, toward the lower end of Stump Neck where the shoreline gravel bars often are sought by spawning bass.

Sure enough, a Sting Ray grub in one case and a Baby 1-Minus crankbait in another resulted in catching “buck” bass — small males that probably were surveying the river shore for suitable nesting sites. If the normally larger females find them to their liking, they’ll sweep aside the pebbles, leaves and gravel, create a bowl-like depression, and the spawning ritual begins.

Upriver, a fair distance from the Mattawoman, the fishing guides Andy Andrzejewski and Dale Knupp were checking out various watery areas for their bass. They had cash-carrying springtime clients coming to town and just like all the guides on the river they had to prepare. Fishing with 4-inch-long red plastic worms, or Sting Rays, even a few red medium-depth crankbaits, the men found action between Wilson Bridge and the Spoils Cove.

However, compared to years gone by when large aquatic weedbeds that held great numbers of bass were present just upstream of the bridge, but now things changed a little. During winter when the vegetation dies, the bass travel to the rubble and rock-filled dropoffs near the Spoils Cove and there have been years when 50 and 60 bass per angler from the rock-strewn shorelines was not unheard of. This year the numbers are down, which means the weeds weren’t as plentiful as they were during the last growing season, but some beautiful bass are hooked all the same.

The cove itself holds fish, but it becomes a boating zoo when folks discover that spring is here.

Not to worry. Right now, anywhere on the river and its tributaries where you find submersed vegetation, you will also have largemouth bass in good numbers. They’ll look at plastic worms, shallow to medium depth crankbaits, lipless rattle baits and spinnerbaits. Be patient and you’ll score eventually.

When I returned to the docks in Mattawoman Creek, my friend Bill Crutchfield was just about to climb aboard a boat to take advantage of the last stage of the outgoing tide when fish sometimes bite best.

“Good to see you, Billy,” I said and then was going to warn him about those annoying, aggravating tournament boaters out on the Potomac.

I had to stop myself because Crutchfield has been known to fish a tournament or two — and do very well at that. I let it rest until another time.

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

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