- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 30, 2009

Some Chesapeake Bay boaters have had to work overtime to find willing rockfish, yet others hook them quickly, including trollers who drag their lures through the lower Potomac River. There is reason to be optimistic even if the trophy fishery hasn’t settled into a predictable pattern just yet. Some of the stripers have finished spawning and now are beginning to roam about in search of food. Signs of improvement are being seen.

Among notable rockfish catches over the past week was a 55-pounder checked in at JJ’s Tackle Shop in Solomons, Md. It was hooked in the Buoy 77 area of the Bay by Scott Bruther, of Odenton, Md. The whopper rock measured 55 1/2 inches long. Bruther was aboard the Rock Hall-based charter boat Bayside Girls with Capt. Chuck Clark.

As concerns the much-awaited croakers, a few anglers score nicely while others can’t catch even a cold — never mind a hardhead. But in St. Mary’s County croakers are here, as they are on the Wicomico River.

The tidal Potomac River’s largemouth bass aren’t the least bit bashful if you concentrate on the many submersed grass beds in the main stem and feeder creeks. River guide Dale Knupp reported a catch of around 40 bass of mixed sizes going after a white Chatterbait lure with a plastic trailer. Shallow-running crankbaits and soft plastic finesse worms also worked. Other bass hounds echo such success rates, with the best producing creeks pointing to the Aquia, Potomac, Chicamuxen, Mattawoman, Dogue and Piscataway.

If you want some real fast action, get to the District’s part of the Potomac, up around Fletcher’s Cove, where hickory and white shad are on a rampage.

“There are plenty of shad here and all our boats are rented out,” Ray Fletcher said. In addition, the catfish and white perch bite can be fairly good also. The shad also cooperate in the Rappahannock River in downtown Fredericksburg.

(Ratings key: **** excellent fishing; *** good; ** fair; * poor)

AREA 1: D.C. AND VICINITY

TIDAL POTOMAC RIVER: 35 miles (***) — At Fletcher’s Cove (Georgetown, off Canal Road; call 202/244-0461) Ray Fletcher said: “There are plenty of shad here and all our boats are rented out.”

The hickory shad and much larger white shad are in the river big-time; anglers are having a ball. Catfish and white perch also oblige. Rockfish season (one keeper a day for licensed anglers) will not start until May 16. Elsewhere on the river, find some submersed aquatic vegetation and roll a Chatterbait with a plastic trailer over top of the grass, as well as a Baby 1-Minus or a soft 4-inch plastic worm, and you’ll score on the main stem and in practically all of the feeder creeks. The blue catfish bite is good along channel edges from Wilson Bridge down to Greenway Flats. White perch have been hooked with bloodworm pieces in dropoffs, especially between marshall Hall and Greenway. Rockfish should start taking trolled lures south of the Route 301 Nice Bridge, but it might require a bit of a run before you find willing stripers, such as the Piney Point, St. George’s Island, and Ragged Point sector of the river where keepers were caught this week. We do know that the waters near the mouth have turned up some beautiful rockfish also.

WICOMICO RIVER: 55 miles (***) — In St. Mary’s County the word is out that waterman Tommy Courtney’s nets are loaded with huge croakers, which means they are here. George Quade, of Quade’s Store in Bushwood, said croaker catches have been good off the pier and from boats. Bloodworms, squid and shrimp baits will bring strikes from the hardheads.

MATTAWOMAN CREEK: 40 miles (***) — Submerged grass, growing spatterdock and shoreline wood — all hold bass and now the females are on their beds, so please release a spawner very carefully. If you do, the fish will swim right back to the nest and continue the process. Shoreline walkers around the Sweden Point Marina continue to find crappies using live minnows or simply fishing a small jig under a bobber.

SOUTHERN MARYLAND LAKES: 40-50 miles (***) — Gilbert Run Park’s Wheatley Lake (Route 6, east of La Plata) is good for a few catch-and-release bass, plenty of bluegills that will sit on their nests within the next several days where flyrodders can hook them on size 10 poppers or slowly-sinking Black Gnats and Bumblebees. The same thing is true of St. Mary’s Lake (south on Route 5, past Leonardtown, to Camp Cosoma Road) where bedding bluegills and bass are seen in the upper lake shallows. Crappies are busy inside brushy spots and flooded stumps.

LITTLE SENECA LAKE: 30 miles (***) — Black Hill Regional Park (off Route 117 near Boyds, 301/972-9396) and the nearby Seneca Creek Lake (Clopper Road, Gaithersburg, 301/924-2127) You can bet your last dime that bass and sunfish spawning is taking place in the shallows and backs of coves. A “wacky-rigged” Senko or Zero worm cast across a bass nest will get a hard look from the largemouths, but please release them gently. The keeper season won’t start until June 15.

WSSC RESERVOIRS: 20-30 miles (***) — (Triadelphia, off Route 97, or Route 650, in Montgomery County; Rocky Gorge, off Route 29 in Montgomery County) Good crappie fishing opportunities are now in both lakes with bobber-and-jig rigs or live minnows. Bass are in the shallow end of coves spawning. Be gentle with the spawning fish that must be released.

BALTIMORE AREA RESERVOIRS: 50-75 miles (***) — A boating and fishing guide is available by calling the Baltimore City’s Reservoir office at 410/795-6151. A $50 annual permit is required from the Baltimore City Department of Public Works. Prettyboy Lake is on Route 137; Liberty is on Oakland Road in Eldersburg in Carroll County. The deepwater coves and brushy areas of both reservoirs now hold spawning largemouth bass, while lake points and stony dropoffs have delivered smallmouth bass. Various sizes of shallow to medium depth crankbaits in red, small and large plastic “craws” and finesse worms will draw hits.

PATUXENT RIVER: 25-60 miles (***) — The Tackle Box’s Ken Lamb said a good catch of croakers was made by Suitland’s Mary Snellman who last weekend fished off Fishing Point in river at the Naval Air Station.

Lamb said, “Her 13 hardheads were the first we’ve seen from the Patuxent this season.” Some rockfish will be in the mouth around the old Cedar Point lighthouse base, but the larger fish will be in deeper waters outside the river.

OCCOQUAN RESERVOIR: 25-30 miles (***) — In the Fountainhead Park (Route 123, Fairfax County) portion of the reservoir, ranger Smokey Davis said: “The reservoir is at full pool, clearing rapidly, with water temperatures in the mid to high 60s. The bass are on the spawning beds and nice 5-fish limits were caught this past weekend. Soft plastics such as lizards, Senkos, Brush Hogs or Creature Baits accounted for most of the bass. Some big crappies (up to 14 inches) were caught off the pier and boardwalk by anglers using medium-size minnows under a bobber, while mealworms produced fine bluegills and yellow perch. The catfish bite is strong with chicken livers, shrimp or cut bait producing fish up to five pounds.”

BURKE LAKE: 29 miles (***) — (Ox Road, Route 123, Fairfax County) Spawning bass, crappies in the brushy spots, bluegills getting ready for spawning and occasional walleye catches make this a popular destination for Fairfax and Prince William county anglers.

AREA 2: CENTRAL, WESTERN MARYLAND

UPPER POTOMAC RIVER: 35-100 miles (*) — From the Department of National Resources’ Keith Lockwood comes the following: “Fisheries biologist John Mullican [reported] the upper Potomac is still running high and slightly cloudy. With the recent summer-like weather, water temperatures have shot into the low 60s. Walleyes and smallmouth bass can be found along current breaks behind islands, shoreline points and log jambs.”

DEEP CREEK LAKE: 179 miles (***) — Lake guide Brent Nelson (240/460-8839) says warmer water has turned on smallmouth and largemouth bass. He recommends jerk baits, red crankbaits, and soft plastics, such a Paca Craw. One of the Maryland DNR biologists caught bass on topwater lures while fishing in rocky waters at the state park.

SUSQUEHANNA RIVER: 65-100 miles (***) — The shad are in the river and especially inside Deer Creek big-time, striking darts and small flyfishing streamers in green and yellow. The stripers have been active on the Flats and white perch along with largemouth and smallmouth bass are available from the mouth of the river up to the Port Deposit and Conowingo Dam area.

AREA 3: CHESAPEAKE BAY

MARYLAND: 45-75 miles (***) — Even though the first week of the striped bass trophy season had its ups and downs, Ken Lamb, the Tackle Box’s proprietor in Lexington Park, said: “Rockfish began acting right on Monday and most everyone [was] getting limits. The early morning bite is very good with experienced captains landing about eight fish an hour up until about 9 a.m. We had fish reported all up and down the ship channel, with no particular area claiming bigger numbers of fish. Meanwhile, no matter whom you talk to, the stories are the same. Some of the trollers catch big rockfish as far up as the Bay Bridges, near Annapolis, and as far down as the Maryland/Virginia state line — some of them without hardly trying — while others come home skunked and disappointed. But things are picking up now. That much is sure. On the croaker front, commercial pound netters are finding large numbers of adult croakers inside their mesh and if they don’t catch them all, there should be some bottom fishing taking place this weekend.

VIRGINIA: 75-150 miles (***) — Northern Neck charter fishing captain Billy Pipkin ([email protected]) reminds us that the Virginia trophy season for striped bass begins tomorrow.

“There are currently good numbers of these fish migrating down the rivers and southward out of upper Maryland waters,” he said. “Scattered schools are heading out from the Potomac river, [but] Maryland waters continue to hold the main rockfish population deep in their grasp. With huge numbers of fish still lingering as far north as Annapolis, we should find that our spring trolling season will last well into June.”

The Virginia rockfish season allows one fish a person a day, with a 32-inch minimum size limit. Pipkin recommends to start fishing between Smith Point and the Cut Channel. Smith Point offers a unique bottle neck that forces the fish into a relatively narrow channel area during their southward travels. As far as the black drum in the lower Bay are concerned, they’ll bite this weekend between the mouth of the Bay and Cape Charles.

“The bite on the bayside of the Eastern Shore is due to turn on now,” Ken Neill of the Peninsula Saltwater Sport Fisherman’s Association said.

AREA 4: EASTERN SHORE/MARYLAND

CHOPTANK RIVER: 120 miles (***) — (Route 50 east to Cambridge) Rockfish are inside the river, but getting one of them to strike a trolled lure is another story. However, it can be done. Upper river bass from Denton to Greensboro can be caught on shallow crankbaits and soft finesse worms.

POCOMOKE RIVER: 140-170 miles (***) — (From Snow Hill down to Shad Landing) Bass fishing can be quite productive. Cast your crankbaits, such as the Baby 1-Minus to flooded tree roots and hang on. Worms also do well.

NANTICOKE RIVER: 120 miles (***) — (Sharptown ramp off Route 313, or use the Marshyhope Creek ramp outside Federalsburg) From Roaring Point at the mouth on up toward Vienna there’s a chance of finding rockfish. The bass fishing has slowed somewhat, but enough are taken in main stem blowdowns and inside the Marshyhope Creek to make an outing worthwhile.

AREA 5: CENTRAL VIRGINIA

LAKE ANNA: 82 miles (***) — (Route 208, Spotsylvania County) Reader Carl D. Brown fished for striped bass with guide Jim Hemby and said: “Jim threw a cast net and caught gizzard shad. We trolled on the [front side of the lake] using 12-inch-long shad. By mid-morning the bite was on, and we had our limit. No really big fish but all were between 24 and 32 inches and weighed 6 to 10 pounds. Also caught a couple of fat catfish that were released.”

Bass hunters can score, but remember that many of the bass are on the beds, so be nice and release your bigger fish so they can finish their spawning chores.

RAPPAHANNOCK RIVER: 47-100 miles (***) — Shad are active in the Route 1 area of Fredericksburg. Pray that heavy rains stay away so the water will be suitable for easy wading and casting of your shad darts. Croakers should start biting at the mouth of the river.

LAKE BRITTLE: 59 miles (***) — (Route 793, off Route 29) Bass and bluegills are on the beds or are about to. Flyrodders can have a ball with small topwater or sinking bugs if it’s sunfish they’re after.

LAKE ORANGE: 75 miles (***) — (Concessionaire: 540/672-3997; look for left turn sign on Route 20 before entering town of Orange) Crappie catches can be good if you use a bobber 3 or 4 feet above a fresh minnow or even just a small white jig or shad dart. Bass can be caught, but many are guarding their nests now.

LAKE GASTON: 179 miles (***) — (Route 46, Gasburg) Marty Magone says a large percentage of the lake’s bass already are in the post-spawn mode. “Point and blowdowns are good. Use jig worms and topwater lures,” he said. Uplake areas toward I-85 have been turning up stripers that jump on chug baits.

KERR RESERVOIR: 185 miles (***) — (Route 58, Clarksville) Bass are either off the beds or are about to leave. Some are cruising looking for a meal and a spinnerbait will do the job in flooded willows and around creek points. Crappies are in sunken brush piles, and the speckled fish can grow large here.

JAMES RIVER: 115 miles (***) — (Tidal Richmond area and downstream) Blue catfish in the channel waters from Dutch Gap to beyond the Appomattox like cut slabs of fish on bottom rigs. Stripers are possible in the channel waters below the Chippokes down to the mouth where some fat croakers are showing up.

CHICKAHOMINY RIVER: 135 miles (***) — (Williamsburg area) Crappies, perch and bass are possible, not to mention some really nice blue catfish and regular channel cats.

AREA 6: WESTERN VIRGINIA

SHENANDOAH RIVER: 75-85 miles (**) — (Route 340, Front Royal, Luray and Bentonville areas) Front Royal’s Dick Fox said, “We’re doing well with crankbaits and various soft plastics.” If heavy rains arrive, it’ll change conditions quickly.

SMITH MOUNTAIN LAKE: 210 miles (***) — (Route 122, east of Roanoke) The bass catches have been outstanding for some. Just ask Michigan’s Kevin Van Dam who just won the big B.A.S.S. tournament down here with impressive poundage.

UPPER JAMES RIVER: 130 miles (**) — (Route 6, south of Charlottesville, Scottsville) Expect good smallmouth bass catches, including some that can go as high as 5 pounds. A variety of jerkbaits, jigs, tubes and spinners will score.

AREA 7: ATLANTIC OCEAN

MARYLAND: 153-175 miles (***) — (Route 50 to Ocean City) The backwaters in back of the resort town are giving up some decent flounder and a few tautogs if you happen to drop baits at the inlet. Surf fishermen mostly hook skates and small sharks. Tautogs are taken over offshore wrecks.

VIRGINIA: 210 miles to Virginia Beach (***) — Flounder of size are hooked on the fishing flats of Chincoteague, Wachapreague, Oyster and Quinby. Ken Neill said big black and red drum are now being caught.

“The best spot for reds has been the surf of the [lower] Eastern Shore, especially the inlet between Fisherman’s and Smith Islands. The black drum have been caught inside the seaside inlets,” he said.

Puppy drum are hooked inside Rudee and Lynnhaven Inlets. Offshore, the first dolphins have been caught out of Virginia with some citation-sized fish being brought back to the docks, said Neill. “These fish came for the Triple 0s area,” he added. For charters, call the Virginia Beach Fishing Center, 757/491-8000.

Look for Gene Mueller’s Outdoors column Sunday and Wednesday, and his Fishing Report on Thursday, only in The Washington Times. E-mail: gmueller[Bullet]washingtontimes.com. Also check out Inside Outside, Gene Mueller’s blogs about outdoors happenings here and elsewhere. Go to www.washingtontimes.com/sports and click on Inside Outside.

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