- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 20, 2008

I’m sure you’ve had days when you wished you’d stayed in bed instead of going to work. The thought crossed my mind a few days ago when my friend Smokey Davis, who is the ranger at Occoquan Reservoir’s Fountainhead Regional Park in Fairfax County, invited me to come and catch a mess of crappies.

Davis, a delightful septuagenarian who has fished all his adult life and knows how to find and hook crappies without the benefit of using live bait minnows (he proved as much in a past outing) waited for me at the johnboat launch ramps of the beautiful Fountainhead facility. We loaded a boat with rods, reels, crappie jigs, bobbers and assorted other tackle, added a bagful of sandwiches, sodas, coffee, and off we went.

We pushed away from the sandy shore and turned to the left of the marina to fish a stump- and branch-filled area known as No-Name Cove. I tied a 1/16-ounce yellow/red shad dart to light monofilament line, snapped a thumb tip-sized float to the line 3 feet above the lure and cast the tiny dart into the midst of a sunken tree top.

Bang! The bobber went down and I set the hook — to a bass, certainly not a crappie.

What gives? A tiny 1/16-ounce shad dart isn’t intended for a largemouth. My host, Smokey, grinned from ear to ear. He then wanted to briefly check if more bass were around and cast a good-sized plastic grub about, hoping for a bite and promptly got it — from a bluegill.

Now it was my turn to smile. A couple of mallard ducks sounded off, probably laughing at both of us.

We turned the boat around, and Smokey promised productive crappie hangouts along the shore as we traveled uplake, our boat powered by a quiet electric trolling motor and a regular outboard if needed. At Ryan’s Dam, we cast our bobber-and-jig rigs in hopes of interesting a few crappies that Smokey said often hung around the area.

Boom! Down went the bobber; a fish was definitely on and, yes, it was another bass. To be sure, it wasn’t one of a size you’d carry to a taxidermist, but it was a bass.

Onward to Wolf Run, where the remnants of an old grist mill still can be seen in the form of submerged boulders and assorted stone blocks. It was an ideal hangout for the slab-sided, tasty crappies.

This time I cast a 1/8-ounce white marabou-feathered Roadrunner lure into the midst of a jumble of rocks and almost instantly felt the tug of a fish.

“Smokey, I think this is what we’ve been looking for,” I said, but my friend once again chuckled and said, “I can see it. Sorry, it’s another bass.”

You’d think we’d have been happy with catching the big-mouthed lake inhabitants, but, no, we were after crappies and we could not give up.

Next we traveled to Turtle Cove, where we found large, well-fed crappies without effort last year. This time around, we couldn’t catch a cold, it was that unproductive.

Smokey said we’d go to a place known as the Splits, an area where the Occoquan River comes in to the left of the lake and the Bull Run arm is off to the right. In the middle is an acre-sized stand of waterlogged timber. The depth of this particular part of the reservoir was less than 4 feet.

With the day wearing on, Smokey had an epiphany. “To heck with the crappies!” he fairly shouted. “I’m fishing for bass.”

He cast a lipless rattle lure into a maze of water-surrounded tree trunks and quickly hooked — no, not a crappie — a bass, which the lure really was intended for.

Two nearby Canada geese honked their disapproval. They must have known we were here for the speckled fish, but on this day that wasn’t going to happen.

Imagine, two grown men griping about catching only bass.

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

Occoquan’s a fine place THE WASHINGTON TIMES The Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority’s 1,700-acre Occoquan Reservoir serves as the boundary between Fairfax and Prince William counties. It supplies roughly 40 percent of the clean drinking water for 1.2 million people and is considered the best public access impoundment in the region by many Northern Virginia sport anglers. When you visit the reservoir’s Fountainhead Regional Park, located on Route 123 (Ox Road) in Fairfax County, remember there are johnboat rentals available with or without motors. You may bring your own boat, but the outboard motor cannot exceed 10 horsepower. The lake is home to bass, sunfish, crappies, northern pike, channel catfish, flathead catfish, carp and perhaps remnant stripers that once were stocked in the reservoir. - Gene Mueller

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