- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 22, 2009

MARBURY, Md.

Yes, technically it’s spring, but when a boat rounds the southern corner of the Mattawoman Creek at 8 in the morning and enters the broad tidal Potomac River at more than 40 mph, the sinuses begin to drain and hands get numb.

There’s still a hint of winter in the air, and along the river’s shore I could have sworn I saw two blue herons showing goose bumps, probably wishing it was May or June.

None of that mattered to two professional bass guides, Andy Andrzejewski and Dale Knupp, whose boats headed in opposite directions. Knupp aimed his craft to the Mattawoman’s headwaters; Andrzejewski pointed the bow of his 22-footer toward the nearby Chicamuxen Creek.

It was time to look for largemouth bass, the recent catches of yellow and white perch in local waters notwithstanding.

Along a gravel-laden Chicamuxen shoreline, the fishing guide looked at the temperature readout in the upper left corner of an electronic depth sounder.

“Hey, the water temperature is 52 - no, 53 degrees. Good enough for the bass to look at a crankbait,” he said, then quickly tied on an time-worn Rattlin’ Thin Fin lure that works well in waters that are less than 5 feet deep.

When retrieved steadily, the lure wobbles enticingly and does a good job of imitating a crippled baitfish trying to get away from wherever it is cast to.

“It’s still too cold for crankbaits,” I opined. “I’ll stick with dragging a plastic bait across the bottom.”

A soft-bodied Sting Ray grub on a 1/4-ounce jig hook was sent through the morning mist. It promptly snagged a handful of surprisingly green vegetation while Andrzejewski’s rod suddenly bent sharply. With a big smile, he said, “I don’t think this is grass; I believe it’s a large-lipped, green fish.” The wacky description of his catch meant he had a bass, and now he was rubbing it in.

The guide brought the spunky largemouth alongside, removed it from the water, held it up, carefully removed the treble hook, then turned it loose.

Moments later, the scene repeated itself. No more than 15 feet down the shore, the “Fishing Pole” hooked another bass, and after executing 10 more casts, busily cranking the lure back to the boat - bang! - a third bass attacked the Thin Fin lure.

“You must pay attention to the water temperature and the various stages of the tide,” Andrzejewski said. “I don’t mean to imply that soft plastics or jigs with a strip of porkrind or a fake crawfish won’t work. They often do well, but when the water begins to warm a bit, chances are the bass start thinking of chasing a baitfish that happens to swim by.”

I was impressed with the guide’s ability to read the water - and he did agree that slow-moving lures can do the job when properly fished, which was a good thing because his colleague Knupp had just finished a cell phone call to tell us he, too, had boated bass in a relatively short time using much slower moving baits. His reason? The water temperature in the upper Mattawoman remained in the 40s. He didn’t think it was warm enough for crankbaits.

Then along comes Bill Crutchfield Sr., who likes to fish the Mattawoman this time of year. He hooked a 6-pound-plus bass on a black/blue jig’n’craw a week or so ago, followed by Rick Roselle, no slouch in the bass fishing department either, who latched onto more than a five-bass state limit in a feeder creek that also showed warmer water. He used crankbaits.

Isn’t it nice to know that you can begin slinging lures and cranking them back close to the rod tip again and again? That now includes not only the shallow-lipped Thin Fins, but also the famous Baby 1-Minus, lipless Rat-L-Traps and Red Eyes - and just about every other hard bait.

Look for Gene Mueller’s Outdoors column Sunday and Wednesday and his Fishing Report on Thursday, only in The Washington Times. E-mail: [email protected] Mueller’s Inside Outside blog can be found at washingtontimes.com/sports.

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