- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Chesapeake Bay’s rockfish trollers and pier casters now are beginning to settle for smaller striped bass. The biggest stripers are heading south, and it won’t be long before all of us will be happy with even a few little 18-inchers, which are legal to keep. And to show you that summer can’t be far away, some boaters in the upper Bay have started chumming for their rockfish, albeit not very successfully thus far.

Scuttlebutt has it that some early bluefish were hooked by southern Maryland boaters, but massive arrivals have not yet been noted anywhere in the Bay.

What worries many of Maryland’s bottom fishermen in the Bay and its feeder rivers is the near absence of plenty of croakers. The “hardheads” should be here by now, but old-timers say the lack of consistently hot weather is to blame. All the same, Virginians find croakers in the lower Potomac’s Coan River, as well as the Rappahannock River. Reader Ed Pike said he and friends caught croakers over around Deal Island, and one report said that croakers were available inside Hooper’s Island Light and in Tangier Sound.

The fishing for largemouth bass couldn’t be much better if it’s the upper tidal Potomac River your boat is sitting in. Grass beds in the main stem from Marshall Hall down to Wade’s Bay hold a variety of bass, and every feeder creek that has marsh banks, milfoil beds and spatterdock fields, will give up largemouths, even a northern snakehead here and there. Might as well face it, the snakeheads have taken hold, and they will attack a shallow crankbait or a plastic worm.

If you like the upper Potomac River’s smallmouth bass, get going. The current fishing conditions are good, and young smallmouth bass are absolutely going bonkers over a jigs, grubs, tubes, spinners or small crankbaits from Knoxville down to Lander.

(Ratings key: ****=excellent fishing; ***Good; **Fair; *Poor)


TIDAL POTOMAC RIVER: 0-35 miles (***) — At Fletcher’s Cove (Georgetown, off Canal Road; call 202/244-0461) Mike Bailey said that some hickory shad continue to be caught, but white shad catches have been few and far between.

“The catfish are biting, and some nice striped bass are hooked,” said Bailey, who also pointed out that a 36-inch rockfish was taken from the Fletcher’s Cove area of the river a few days ago.

Downstream, from the Fox Ferry rockline down to Broad and Piscataway creeks, Marshall Hall, Dogue Creek, Gunston Cove, and on to Pomonkey, Mattawoman and Chicamuxen creeks, as well as the Occoquan River and Belmont Bay’s Massey and Kanes creeks, you will find largemouth bass during rising or falling tides hiding inside milfoil beds (haven’t seen much hydrilla this year). Weedless topwater lures, or Chatterbaits trimmed with a tail-flapping swimbait like the Shadalicious, will see action on mostly small bass, but there are some whoppers around as well. Try a Paca Craw, or a stubby fat worm in the open pockets between the greenery and watch what happens. Farther down the river, beyond the Route 301 bridge, not much is heard about catches of croakers or large concentrations of keeper rockfish. However, some very nice stripers are taken by trollers once you get past St. George’s Island and continue to troll toward the mouth of the river.

WICOMICO RIVER: 55 miles (**) — It has been a most confounding croaker fishery this spring. Several friends went out several days ago, and fishing from early morning until afternoon had not one nibble from the croakers that some of the guys who fish after sunset say are in the river, not far from Bushwood.

MATTAWOMAN CREEK: 40 miles (***) — Good bass fishing opportunities now. Start with weedless topwater rats and spoons in the morning, then switch to Chatterbaits trimmed with a plastic trailer of some kind, and don’t overlook Paca Craws or fat worms of all types (green pumpkin is a good color) and be sure to spend your time in and around the massive milfoil beds of the creek. Some decent bass are possible if you fish a worm along the marsh banks’ drop-offs. A few crappies and fat channel catfish are caught.

SOUTHERN MARYLAND LAKES: 40-50 miles (***) — Gilbert Run Park’s Wheatley Lake (Route 6, east of La Plata) is good for fat sunfish, average size bass, even a smattering of crappies and maybe a leftover trout from an earlier stocking. At St. Mary’s Lake (south on Route 5, past Leonardtown, to Camp Cosoma Road) use a light spinning rod, tie on a 1/16-ounce hair or feather jig in white; snap a bobber to the line some three feet above and cast it to flooded tree stumps and brush. The crappies will do the rest. Sunfish are going onto the beds in upper-lake shallows. Bass fishing is OK, but it should be better.

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) shows crappies, sunfish, bass and catfish. All of them are willing if you are.

WSSC RESERVOIRS: 20-30 miles (***) — (Triadelphia, off Route 97, or Route 650, in Montgomery County; Rocky Gorge, off Route 29 in Montgomery County) There are good chances to hook catch-and-release bass now — stubby plastic worms and crawfish imitations in soft plastics or at least crawfish colors for hard crankbaits. The lures will do well around lake points and in the deepwater coves where some brushy spots might also hold crappie schools.

BALTIMORE AREA RESERVOIRS: 50-75 miles (***) — (A lake 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, Carroll County.) Liberty Reservoir has been very good to bass fishermen looking for largemouths, with Prettyboy giving up smallmouth bass around rocky points. Red or crawfish color crankbaits can do the job on the smallies, while soft finesse worms and various hard jerkbaits are looked at by the largemouth bass. If you like sunfish fly rodding, the bluegills are beginning to sit on their beds.

PATUXENT RIVER: 25-60 miles (**) — The Tackle Box in Lexington Park reported that the rockpile at the old Cedar Point Lighthouse was the site of rockfish catches by lure casters in the early morning hours Saturday and Sunday. The rockfish were 20 to 22 inches long, and a few bigger fish up to 10 pounds were mixed in. There are some stripers inside the river up toward the Route 4 bridge, but catches are not consistent. If you’re finding croakers, you’re among the few lucky ones.

OCCOQUAN RESERVOIR: 25-30 miles (***) — In the Fountainhead Park (Route 123, Fairfax County) portion of the reservoir, ranger Smokey Davis said: “A Fountainhead Bass Club tournament was won with a six-fish limit that weighed 17 3/4 pounds. The biggest bass weighed 4.86 pounds. Most of the bass were up shallow in a spawning mode. Shakyhead jigs, tipped with a trick worm or a lizard and flipped directly on the bed was deadly. However, the majority of the fish were males, and the larger females have yet to move up. The crappies are spawning now, so this coming weekend would be an excellent time to go for a citation fish. The reservoir is at full pool, clear, with surface temperatures in the high 60s to low 70s.”

BURKE LAKE: 29 miles (***) — (Ox Road, Route 123, Fairfax County) Shoreline fly rodders can score on fat sunfish but also some bass and crappies. The bass fishing actually has been good, with soft plastics responsible for some nice catches.


UPPER POTOMAC RIVER: 35-100 miles (***) — What a difference a week can make. The DNR’s upper-river specialist John Mullican said: “In spite of the recent flood, the [river] currently is in great shape for fishing. During the flood, smallmouth spawning activities were disrupted and many bass are now spawning as flows return to normal. With water temperatures now in the upper 60s, smallmouth bass, walleye, muskie, and channel catfish activity is in high gear. Fishermen will really become aware of the record 2007 year class of smallmouth bass this year. These bass are now seven to ten inches long and are aggressively taking just about any small lure right now. Crankbaits, spinnerbaits, tubes, grubs and jerkbaits have been productive.” For Potomac River conditions, call the National Weather Service at 703/260-0305.

DEEP CREEK LAKE: 179 miles (***) — Lake guide Brent Nelson (240/460-8839) agrees with the state’s Keith Lockwood, whose report said that the smallmouth bass catches have been quite good and will continue to be good for several more weeks if you concentrate on rocky lake points and deepwater coves where crankbaits in crawfish patterns or soft plastics that imitate the crustaceans draw bites. Lockwood adds that walleye, crappies and yellow perch are also hungry, with some largemouth bass taken as well.

SUSQUEHANNA RIVER:/b 65-100 miles (***) — Bottom fishermen “slay” the white perch, using bloodworms, crab chunks or even plain nightcrawlers. The shad are pretty much gone, but some decent largemouth bass are scored among the Havre de Grace marina pilings and along main river shorelines. Spinnerbaits and plastic worms are favored.


MARYLAND: 45-75 miles (***) — From Lexington Park’s Tackle Box, Ken Lamb said, “Great fishing continues for trophy rockfish. As the weather allowed, there were good catches all week in both the Bay and the lower Potomac.” Lamb knows that the wind “blew a gale,” as they say in the country. Only a few hardy souls went out early in the week.

The keeping of two rockfish a day is now permitted, and Lamb is correct when to say that this puts a brand-new picture on fishing activities.

“Shore fishermen are using small Sassy Shads and other lures to catch 18- to 22-inch fish around the outlets at Cedar Point,” Lamb said. “The rockpile at the old Cedar Point lighthouse was the site of rockfish catches by lure casters in the early morning hours Saturday and Sunday. The rockfish were 20 to 22 inches long and some much bigger fish up to 10 pounds were mixed in. Rockfish in the 20 to 25 inch size have been breaking and rolling northwest of the Gas Docks just outside the crab pots.”

Elsewhere on the Chesapeake, trollers are realizing that the trophy rockfish have mostly departed the northern and upper middle parts of the Bay, which means they are downsizing their lures and settling for smaller, but legal, rockfish anywhere between Kent Island and the Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Plant. By the way, Lamb also wanted to pass along word that some small bluefish were caught by spoon trollers near Point No Point on Saturday afternoon and that flounder made a showing at the edge of the channel near Buoy 74 and in the mouth of St. Jeromes Creek.

VIRGINIA: 75-150 miles (***) — Northern Neck charter fishing captain Billy Pipkin ([email protected]) reports that the striper fishing now is in a transitional stage. Boaters will quickly choose between trolling or chumming.

“The larger specimens remain in southern Maryland locations and are funneling through the main shipping channel of Virginia waters,” Pipkin said. “These fish are generally farther along in their southern migration by this time [and] the smaller striped bass that are commonly found while chumming have not yet settled into their strong feeding patterns.”

Pipkin said trollers have found 30- to 38-inch rockfish along the channel edges between buoys 70 and 72, located west of the Northwest Middle Grounds. “There have been mixed catches in and around the Buoy 65 area just north of Smith Point this week as well as the eastern channel edges near buoys 66 and 68,” he said.

The charter fishing captain added that the western channel edges from Smith Point light down to Buoy No. 1 outside the Great Wicomico River is holding rockfish up to 30 inches long.

“Umbrella rigs continue to do a good job, with white being the primary color, and chartreuse being more effective when the water is churned up,” he added.

Down around the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, topwater lures have resulted in stripers up to 32 inches long. The fish seem to prefer the third and fourth island rock piles to search for food. Virginia Beach’s Ken Neill said, “Big black and red drum continue to be the main target at the mouth of the bay near buoys 16 and 13.”


CHOPTANK RIVER: 120 miles (***) — (Route 50 east to Cambridge) The DNR says that channel catfish and white perch are being caught at the old Route 50 bridge that has been turned into a fishing bridge now known as the Choptank Fishing Pier. Bottom rigs baited with overpriced bloodworms have done the job. Upriver, from Martinak State Park to above Denton, some of the bass boaters have done quite well in shoreline wood and spatterdock field edges. Mann’s Baby 1-Minus, plastic worms and spinnerbaits turn the trick.

POCOMOKE RIVER: 140-170 miles (***) — (From Snow Hill down to Shad Landing) The bass fishing has been on the upswing. Shallow crankbaits in firetiger colors and four-inch finesse worms will do the job in sunken wood and scattered patches of grass and spatterdock.

NANTICOKE RIVER: 120 miles (***) — (Sharptown ramp off Route 313, or use the Marshyhope Creek ramp outside Federalsburg) Marshyhope Creek on the Maryland side and Broad Creek on the Delaware side has been giving up some fine bass on crankbaits and crawfish-style soft plastics.


LAKE ANNA: 82 miles (***) — (Route 208, Spotsylvania County) Stripers are caught by casters and trollers, while largemouth bass seekers connect nicely in such places as Ware Creek and other creek hangouts. Jig’n’craw combos, crankbaits, soft plastics and spinnerbaits can deliver the goods. Crappies are in the brushy waters and around beaver huts. Small grubs under a bobber will get them.

RAPPAHANNOCK RIVER: 47-100 miles (***) — Tidal waters below Fredericksburg have been good to local bass club tournament participants. Fair to good catches come from the general Hicks Landing area but also from below Port Royal.

LAKE BRITTLE: 59 miles (***) — (Route 793, off Route 29) Recent rains messed up the water, but all is OK now. Small live minnows under a bobber will get the crappies, while fly rod poppers along shoreline bedding areas will be attacked by sunfish. Only fair numbers of bass are hooked. Catfish are hungry for bottom-rigged clam snouts, liver chunks or nightcrawlers.

LAKE ORANGE: 75 miles (***) — (Concessionaire: 540/672-3997; look for left turn sign on Route 20 before entering the town of Orange) Some fat bass are hooked on plastic Senko worms and the like, but small crankbaits also do the job around sunken wood and lake points. Crappies like white jigs under a bobber or live minnows. Catfish are willing.

LAKE GASTON: 179 miles (***) — (Route 46, Gasburg) Holly Grove Marina’s Craig Karpinski said the bass fishing has slowed, but enough can be caught on topwater lures. The same holds for striped bass, but if you fish with freshly cut bait or troll with bucktails, you could haul in a good-sized specimen.

KERR RESERVOIR: 185 miles (***) — (Route 58, Clarksville) Large shiners or plastic swimbaits can catch a striper, while fresh slabs of some kind of fish will find bottom-feeding flathead catfish. The famous crappies of Kerr Lake have decided to head into deeper water and deep-fished minnows or jigged grubs and spoons can get them. The bass are in the backs of creeks and lake coves and a loud, slowly-worked topwater chug bait will find them.

JAMES RIVER: 115 miles (***) — (Tidal Richmond area and downstream) Catfish and bass are possible below Richmond. Check for the bass in the barge graveyard where they’ve been bedding. The big blue catfish love a chunk or fillet of fresh herring anywhere from around Dutch Gap down to the mouth of the Appomattox.

CHICKAHOMINY RIVER: 135 miles (***) — (Williamsburg area) Good bass catches are seen in the middle to upper tidal waters — even some 3- to 5-pounders. Catfish are hungry.


SHENANDOAH RIVER: 75-85 miles (**) — (Route 340, Front Royal, Luray and Bentonville areas) Front Royal’s Dick Fox said that the Shenandoah has been super. “I fished by myself a few days ago and caught around 50 smallmouth bass, with two over 18 inches long. I used small jerkbaits in a minnow pattern, also tubes and spinnerbaits,” he said. The river is up a little and shows a slight stain, which is good for fishing.

SMITH MOUNTAIN LAKE: 210 miles (***) — (Route 122, east of Roanoke) The largemouth bass are spawning, and if fishing for such bass is your bag, any soft plastic worm or lizard will do the job. Crappies are in the brush, and they love a small live minnow under a bobber, while the stripers of this lake like jerkbaits and trolled long-lipped Rapalas. The water is warming nicely.

UPPER JAMES RIVER: 130 miles (**) — (Route 6, south of Charlottesville, Scottsville) The river should be fishable this weekend, and plenty of smallmouth bass will strike a broad variety of lures, including various spinners, small crankbaits and fringed tubes.


MARYLAND: 153-175 miles (***) — (Route 50 to Ocean City) The Ocean City waters are giving up flounder in the back bay and rockfish or tautogs in the ocean inlet. Even the surf fishermen find action, some of them hooking trophy stripers that are migrating northward. The offshore fishing was hampered by strong winds, but sea bass are available over the ocean wrecks.

VIRGINIA: 210 miles to Virginia Beach (***) — There’ll be flounder caught in all the backwaters, from Chincoteague Island’s flats down to Oyster. Meanwhile, Virginia Beach’s Ken Neill said: “Red drum are being caught along the seaside of Fisherman’s and Smith Islands and up on 9-Foot-Shoal, [and] there have been some sightings of spadefish at the Chesapeake Light Tower. There should be some catch reports soon. Cobia are being caught in great numbers [along] the Outer Banks.” Offshore boaters head down to North Carolina for yellowfin tuna, dolphin and wahoos. For charter bookings, check with 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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