The Washington area’s rivers are slowly returning to fishable conditions, especially the tidal portions of the Potomac River where, in Charles and Prince William counties particularly, the largemouth bass, blue catfish and snakeheads are holding court. The lower, tidal sector of the river (downstream of the Route 301 bridge) is great for trophy rockfish. The season is open now through May 15, as it is in most of the Maryland body of the Chesapeake Bay.
On the subject of the Chesapeake, few boaters are complaining; most are finding 28-inch-and-over stripers and with the arrival of several summer-like days, increasing catches of Atlantic croakers are noted in the waters of Southern Maryland and the Northern Neck of Virginia. Craokers and rockfish have even been hooked from the beaches and public pier at Point Lookout State Park in St. Mary’s County.
The question that needs to be answered is whether the mountain rivers in Virginia and Maryland can be fished. If further heavy rains stay away, by Saturday-Sunday the casting for smallmouth bass in the upper Potomac River will resume. The same is true of the freshwater portions of the Rappahannock and James rivers, and all of the Shenandoah where smallmouth bass have been chasing artificial baits.
On the ocean front, each day sees increasing numbers of flounder that are willing to pick up a drifted minnow or squid strip. From Ocean City, Md., south to Chincoteague, Wachapreague and Oyster, Va., the tasty flatfish are beginning to cooperate, while the lower Eastern Shore of Virginia, inside the Bay and along the ocean front, has anglers hooking up with red drum (channel bass) as well as some black drum. The lower Chesapeake near Cape Charles will be best for the powerful black drum that can easily reach weights of 80 pounds and more.
D.C. AND VICINITY
POTOMAC RIVER: 0-35 miles - For river conditions above Chain Bridge, call Fletcher’s at 202-244-0461 (or go to www.Fletcherscove.com). The main stem of the Potomac is fishable. To be sure, there still are precautions that must be taken when running a boat because of remnant pieces of floating wood and other debris. It’s all part of the recent flooding in the upper river, which brought down all manner of junk. Meanwhile, main stem and river coves that maintain a fair layer of water even during ebb tides will have bass sitting on their spawning beds. However, not all bass spawn at the same time. If you fish sunken wood, spatterdock edges, and milfoil patches close to shore - especially in the feeder creeks - you’ll come up with bass. Baby 1-Minus lures, also the KVD 1.5 crankbait, Rage Tail Baby Craws, spinnerbaits or Chatterbaits are the kinds of lures you’ll want to throw. White perch are caught on bloodworm baits or chunks of peeler crab alongside river ledges near Marshall Hall, Greenway Flats and Fenwick on the Maryland side, and across on the Virginia shore where water drops from 9 and 10 feet to 25 feet or more. Blue catfish are hooked on slabs of gizzard shad or alewife outside the mouth of the Piscataway, also near Wilson Bridge, and down near Quantico Creek, but in the Potomac’s main stem.
WICOMICO RIVER: 55 miles - A few rockfish are trolled up outside the river mouth, but the trolling really improves if you head south on the river. Inside the Wicomico, growing weed edges on either side of the river, including those in Chaptico Bay, hold white perch. Look for croakers to arrive soon in better numbers. Some are here now, but the catches are nothing to write home about. Catfish are plentiful throughout.
MATTAWOMAN CREEK: 40 miles - Bass guide Andy Andrzejewski (301-932-1509) says the largemouths are spawning big-time. Look for coves, wooded edges and marsh banks up and down the creek where bass can be yours, especially if you fish shallow-running crankbaits, Paca craws or Rage Tail Baby Craws’ll - all will score. With the recent warm weather, don’t shy away from casting a topwater popper into likely looking terrain. Bedding bass don’t want anything in or over their nests. They’ll attack intruders.
SO. MARYLAND LAKES: 40-50 miles - Gilbert Run Lake (aka Wheatley Lake) on Route 6, west of La Plata, shows spawning bass in its upper ends where a small jerkbait or scented PowerWorm will be looked at. But you must be super quiet and not bang oars against the boat when coming into the lake shallows. Some fat sunfish and average crappies are also hooked. At St. Mary’s Lake (Route 5 south of Leonardtown to a left turn at Camp Cosoma Road) you can have a ball with the crappies in standing timber, along weed edges and around land points. A few fair bass are hooked and sunfish are everywhere.
WSSC RESERVOIRS: 20-30 miles - The largemouth bass at Rocky Gorge and Triadelphia reservoirs in the Prince George’s/Montgomery/Howard counties area are spawning, and if you want to do a little catch-and-release fishing with a Baby 1-Minus lure or a plastic worm, stick to coves in either lake that offer shallow-to-deep drops of water. Crappie fishermen are happy if they use small minnows under a bobber or a 1/16-ounce shad dart under a float. I like to tip a shad dart with a tiny piece of gardenworm or nightcrawler.
PATUXENT RIVER: 25-60 miles - Croakers are caught on bloodworm, shrimp or squid baits at Hog Point, Drum Point, even from the Solomons Pier we hear, but the hardheads will spread out wide and far clear up to Benedict eventually. The Tackle Box reported that good catches of crabs were seen in crab pots inside the feeder creeks.
OCCOQUAN RESERVOIR: 25-30 miles - Ranger Smokey Davis said, “The bass fishing has been excellent for those who know what they are doing. The fish want to spawn, but the weather hasn’t cooperated. Several bass over 7 pounds were caught last week, with the biggest weighing 8 1/2 pounds. The big females are found in 6 to 7 feet of water, close to cover and their spawning beds.” Smokey said Brush Hogs and jigs’n’pigs have worked well on the bass and also mentioned that the channel catfish and crappie fishing has improved. Some of these catfish have struck crawfish color crankbaits. “The reservoir is at full pool, slightly stained, with surface temperatures in the mid to high 60s,” said Smokey.”
BURKE LAKE: 29 miles - Bass are spawning and fall for jerkbaits, soft plastics (especially lizard and crawfish fakes), but also worms and small spinnerbaits. Sunfish and crappies are available in fine numbers.
CENTRAL & WESTERN MD.
UPPER POTOMAC RIVER: 35-100 miles - If all goes right, weekenders will find smallmouth bass from Washington County down to Montgomery County, but sudden heavy rain can ruin it all quickly. Occasional walleyes will be taken on the same tubes and crankbaits that we use on the “brown” fish.
DEEP CREEK LAKE: 179 miles - Look for good weekend bass, walleye and perch fishing. The deeper coves have done well for visitors. Since this lake is not easy to figure out, first-timers might want to hire a guide. There’s none better than Brent Nelson (firstname.lastname@example.org).
SUSQUEHANNA RIVER: 65-100 miles - The river below Conowingo Dam has been a discolored mess, but things are getting back to normal, with a chance for catch-and-release shad fishing in Octararo and Deer creeks, and perhaps a bass or two caught with soft plastics or crankbaits around dock pilings or shoreline blowdowns in and near Havre deGrace.
MARYLAND: 45-75 miles - Ken Lamb, of the Tackle Box in Lexington Park, puts it best when he says, “A great week of fishing; a goofy week for weather.” There are plenty of rockfish in the Bay and in the lower Potomac, and Lamb proved it to me by sending photo after photo of people who stopped by his tackle shop to show off their wonderful catches of trophy stripers. “Private and charter boat captains coming in all week,” said Lamb, “who said there were plenty of fish. Lamb reminds us that trollers up and down the Bay now use standard umbrella rigs and the popular tandem rigs (two lures rigged close to each other). Green and white combinations have been best, but purple and silver fleck also do well.
VIRGINIA: 75-150 miles - Weekend boaters will find black drum around the Cape Charles area, while flounder and croakers are more plentiful now. Some big flounder are hanging out on the eastern side of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel. Look also for incursions by snapper bluefish that are chasing bait from the ocean into the Chesapeake. Tautogs continue to be found on lower Bay wrecks.
CHOPTANK RIVER: 120 miles - Above Denton, toward Greensboro, there’ll be a few largemouth bass caught, but this river simply isn’t the bass factory that the tidal Potomac River is. The Red Bridges area should hold some catch-and-release shad.
POCOMOKE RIVER: 140-170 miles - Snow Hill portions will give up chunky bass if you catch an ebb tide and cast Baby 1-Minus crankbaits into flooded tree roots and spatterdock edges in river side pockets where the tidal flow is not as pronounced. That’s where the spawning bass will be.
NANTICOKE RIVER: 120 miles - (Sharptown ramp off Route 313 , or use the Federalsburg ramp on Marshyhope Creek) The Marshyhope gives up a few bass, as does the main stem of the river clear up to the Seaford, Del., portions. Crankbaits, soft plastics and small spinnerbaits can do the job. Don’t be surprised if you don’t rustle up a good rockfish when you cast Rat-L-Trap lures in chrome-with-blue-back toward the Vienna area’s river points early in the day.
LAKE ANNA: 82 miles - Our lakeside contact says late April/early May is traditionally “big crappie” time here at this popular Virginia impoundment. This year seems to be no exception. Many citations are being brought into High Point Marina in the 16-inch (2-pound) range. Stripers are scattered throughout the lake, but most fishermen targeting them are working above the area where the two rivers merge. A major spawn is continuing for the largemouth bass, and that’s especially true in the mid-lake region. Weekends are getting busy. You’re far better off visiting here during the week.
RAPPAHANNOCK RIVER: 47-100 miles - Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries biologist John Odenkirk says the river is in fine shape, and you’ll find plenty of shad in the Fredericksburg sector. “I can’t remember when we’ve had more white shad in this river,” said Odenkirk. Meanwhile, the downstream Green Bay area of the river below Port Royal has given up some quality bass that liked jig’n’craws and Strike King’s Baby Craw.
LAKE BRITTLE: 59 miles - Bass, crappies, catfish and sunfish are willing if you are. Many of the bass are firmly on their spawning beds in shallow coves and main-lake shorelines.
LAKE ORANGE: 75 miles - (Concession stand, 540-672-3997 ) A fine lake for crappie and catfish, not to mention occasional good-size largemouth bass. Here, too, the bass are spawning and can be drawn from their beds with broken-back Rebel lures and other shallow runners. But fish them slowly, erratically.
LAKE GASTON: 179 miles - Marty Magone, who lives at the lake, says Poplar Creek and other similar feeders have small pockets along the shoreline where bass are spawning by the numbers. Throw a plastic worm or spinnerbait into the nest and see what happens. But, friends, be kind to the hooked bass; let them go. They need to finish their reproduction cycles.
KERR RESERVOIR: 185 miles - Bass and crappies are in the feeder creeks, with many of the bigger largemouths busy with spawning chores. Main-lake bait dunkers find blue catfish, while uplake trollers might score on a striper.
JAMES RIVER: 115 miles - (Tidal Richmond and downstream) The old boat graveyard south of town gives up a bass now and then, but let’s face it, this river is better known for its blue catfish. The fishing for them is superbly productive.
CHICKAHOMINY RIVER : 135 miles - (Williamsburg area) This river and the adjacent Chippokes have been good to bass boaters who cast and retrieve Chatterbaits, Mann’s Baby 1-Minus lures, and small spinnerbaits. The upper “Chick” with its myriad brush and fallen tree branches, offers crappie chances.
SHENANDOAH RIVER: 60 to 85 miles - Front Royal’s Dick Fox says the Shenandoah is fishable. It has a good stain and runs about a foot-and-a-half higher than normal. The launch ramp in Front Royal had a lot of mud on it as did other boat ramps, said Fox. Please use caution when launching. Things can get slippery.
SMITH MOUNTAIN LAKE: 210 miles - Stripers, catfish, bass and crappies can make this a fine lake to visit, but you’ll be better off if you can secure a map and learn about the various feeder creeks where the bass are about to spawn. Crappies are in the brush along various creek shorelines.
UPPER JAMES RIVER: 130 miles - (Route 6 south of Charlottesville to Scottsville) Unless more heavy rain arrives, the river will be super-fine for smallmouth bass, red-breasted sunfish and channel catfish. The bass like 1/8-ounce tube jigs in chartreuse, dark green or bright red. Small crankbaits in red have done well on the smallmouths.
MARYLAND: 153-175 miles - Increasing numbers of flounder are seen arriving in the backwater of Ocean City, while croakers and a few tautogs are possible in the resort city’s inlet. The beaches at Assateague Island must begin to turn up red drum (also known as channel bass or redfish). It’s time for the surf action.
VIRGINIA: 210 miles to Virginia Beach - The Fisherman Island shallows and cuts have been home to red drum, with the deeper water also giving up an odd rockfish now and then. The island sits at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay, with the ocean close by. Offshore boaters find tautogs, some codfish and occasional tilefish over the various wrecks. The fishing dentist, Dr. Ken Neill, says, “Striped bass season opens back up on May 1. The first half of May is the ‘trophy’ season where you can keep one fish of at least 32 inches long. The second half of May and the first half of June is the ‘spring’ season when you can keep two fish 18 to 28 inches long. One of your two fish can be a trophy, at least 32 inches long. All ‘trophy’ stripers kept must be reported.”
* All listed distances begin in Washington