A little more than a week ago, when water and air temperatures were unusually warm, there were fears that, like the largemouth bass, the striped bass of the Chesapeake Bay would arrive sooner than normal and begin their spawning run.
Indeed, the stripers, better known as rockfish in these parts, showed up in fair numbers around the Susquehanna Flats, also inside some of the Bay’s feeder rivers, including the Potomac, Choptank and Nanticoke. A few Maryland fisheries officials even feared that when the trophy rockfish season opens April 21 there might not be as many largespawning stripers around as in years past.
However, it appears that nature threw a monkey wrench into the warm-weather works. During the early days of this week, very important nighttime temperatures dipped to near freezing, which certainly does not encourage the local fish to spawn, including the two favorites, largemouth bass and rockfish. To be sure, there has been a mix of largemouths in spawn or pre-spawn mode, which made fishing a little easier, what with the pre-spawners willing to look at a variety of lures. Sadly, for days on end the wind would not stop, which frequently kept the Potomac River’s bass anglers, especially those who fish from small flat-bottom johnboats, from venturing out among the whitecaps.
If you pay heed to readers’ questions (and we always do), the top news this week belongs to the arrival of a fish known as a croaker (or hardhead if you’re a Marylander). Robert Clements, of Lexington Park, Md., caught four croakers while casting his bait from the beach at Hog Point in the mouth of the Patuxent River last week. He was smart enough to carry his catch to the Tackle Box in Lexington Park, and he received a $50 gift card for bringing in the first croakers of the season.
The news continues as Ken Lamb of the Tackle Box said the rumor mill had some beach anglers getting bites from croakers above Cove Point in the Chesapeake Bay. That is followed by word that croakers are moving up the Virginia side of the Potomac, then following baitfish across the river from Breton Bay to the mouth of the Wicomico River where croaker fans eagerly await their arrival in the Bushwood area of St. Mary’s County. We have not been able to confirm croaker catches inside the Wicomico, but there are catfish galore in this Potomac River tributary.
Elsewhere, crappies, largemouth bass, landlocked stripers and large catfish are being caught in big Virginia reservoirs, such as Anna, Kerr, Gaston and Smith Mountain. The high-country rivers, including the Shenandoah, upper Potomac, Rappahannock, James and Susquehanna provide decent chances for smallmouth bass, perhaps a walleye or two. If it’s shad you’re after, the ends of the tidal portions of the Potomac, Rappahannock and Susquehanna deliver the goods.
D.C. AND VICINITY
(All listed distances begin in Washington)
POTOMAC RIVER: 0-35 miles – In the District at Fletcher’s Cove (202-244-0461), off Canal Road, Ray Fletcher told me that his portion of the river is seeing the best white perch run in 20 years. In addition, plenty of catch-and-release hickory shad and increasing numbers of American (white) shad are available to shad dart casters. A few rockfish are in the river, but the big spawners have not yet arrived. The river above Chain Bridge is clear and low. Rain would help. Farther down, around Hains Point, one angler hooked a large Chinese snakehead as he was hoping to get a bite from a rockfish or largemouth bass. Snakeheads, bass, catfish and crappies provide decent chances of bringing home a dinner or two anywhere on the river and in its feeder creeks right now. The problem has been the wind. It put a serious crimp into fishing activities earlier this week. By the way, there’s a good chance of hooking a catch-and-release striper on the Greenway Flats south of Marshall Hall. The best lures for bass and stripers now are Rat-L-Traps, RedEyes, and other lipless rattling crankbait. Add also Pure Poison and Chatterbait lures, shallow-lipped crankbaits, and don’t forget a craw-type soft plastic that can work when nothing else will.
WICOMICO RIVER: 55 miles – The croakers are at the mouth of the river, near Bushwood. What we need now is a warm spell. No, a hot spell would even be better. The insides of the river offer plenty of catfish.
MATTAWOMAN CREEK: 40 miles – When tides begin to ebb, cast rattle or lipped crankbaits for the bass across areas near shore where milfoil and hydrilla is steadily growing. However, sunken wood and marsh edge dropoffs also provide bass opportunities, especially on soft lures, such as the Baby Rage Tail in green pumpkin or blue fleck colors.
SO. MARYLAND LAKES: 40-50 miles – Gilbert Run Lake (Route 6, east of La Plata) has been windblown, but sunfish and bass are willing. At St. Mary’s Lake (Route 5, south of Leonardtown to left turn on Camp Cosoma Road) johnboaters had a tough time earlier this week because of relentless winds. The crappies and bass are waiting. As soon as calm water returns, be sure to visit this place.
WSSC RESERVOIRS: 20-30 miles – Triadelphia and Rocky Gorge lakes in the Prince George’s/Montgomery/Howard also have had fewer johnboaters because of the wind, but catch-and-release-only bass are in a pre-spawn or spawning mode and pre-spawners can be found in the deep-water coves, chasing minnows. Crankbaits, Rat-L-Traps and short plastic worms can turn the trick. Small 1/16-oz. hair or feather jigs under a bobber, fished around sunken branches or brush will draw strikes from the crappies.
PATUXENT RIVER: 25-60 miles – Robert Clements, of Lexington Park, fished from the beach at Hog Point in the mouth of the river last week and caught four fair-sized croakers (also known as hardheads). The catch earned Clements a $50 gift card simply because he brought his fish into the Tackle Box store in Lexington Park. The store annually offers an award for the first croakers of the season seen by store personnel. There’ll be more croakers moving in now and also increasing numbers of rockfish.
OCCOQUAN RESERVOIR: 33 miles – The johnboaters have had a tough time during windy days this week, but some of them scored nicely on pre-spawn bass, using crankbaits and soft plastics. Some of the largemouths are sitting firmly on their beds. It would be nice if all of us would just leave them be until they’re finished spawning. Fountainhead Park’s phone number is 703/250-9124.
BURKE LAKE: 31 MILES – Much the same story as above in Occoquan Reservoir. Pre-spawn and spawning bass are the rule and the fishing can be good one moment, lousy the next. The wind hasn’t helped. That’s for sure. Crappies can be caught in the sunken brush on live minnows or small jig-and-bobber rigs. The park’s phone number is 703/323-6601.
CENTRAL & WESTERN MD.
UPPER POTOMAC RIVER: 35-100 miles – Smallmouth bass are a good possibility now, but the water is low and clear, which doesn’t help mountain boaters and it’s a bit too chilly for wading. Weather forecasts promise better conditions lie ahead. Walleye catches are slow in the Washington and Frederick counties area, but they’ll perk up in the days to come.
DEEP CREEK LAKE: 179 miles – Smallmouth and largemouth bass have been taken along the few available dock pilings, but also rocky points and deep-water coves where fat crappies and yellow perch also hang out. Wear your woolen longjohns; it gets cold up this way.
SUSQUEHANNA RIVER: 65-100 miles – Male rockfish have been noted on the Susquehanna Flats and they’re hammering 3- and 4-inch Sassy Shads, cast-and-retrieve Hopkins spoons and hard or soft jerk baits. Recent strong winds have been a problem for small-boaters. The big female stripers should be here by the weekend. Inside the river, the American and hickory shad (catch-and-release only) in Deer Creek are wild about shad darts and tiny gold spoons.
MARYLAND: 25-65 miles – Spring trophy rockfish season begins April 21. The Susquehanna Flats and adjacent catch-and-release area has seen plenty of male rockfish and the females will follow. The rockfish are also found in the Bay’s Choptank, Nanticoke and Potomac tributaries. If you plan to do some trolling to see where the fish might be right now, drag your parachute or umbrella rigs in waters up to 35 feet and hang on. The water temperatures have been hanging around 52 to 54 degrees. The state reminds all fishermen that the tidal spawning rivers are off limits to any kind of catch-and-release fishing for striped bass until June 1.
VIRGINIA: 75-150 miles – Northern Neck croaker fishermen find a few hardheads, but things have not busted wide open just yet. Give it a few sunny, warm days and — even more important — warm nights. The fishing dentist, Dr. Julie Ball (drjball.com) said flounder action in the lower Bay is improving in the usual spots, such as the curve near the third island of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, the Baltimore Channel and Buoy 36A. Ball said one boat came in with limits of flatties that measured up to 23 inches. Tautogs continue to bite around bridge abutments and wrecks.
CHOPTANK RIVER: 120 miles – Rockfish are running up and down the river, but those are males looking for spawning sites. It’s best to leave them be. Upper river beyond Greensboro sees some shad action, but bass anglers are not doing very well.
POCOMOKE RIVER: 140-170 miles — Snow Hill to Shad Landing boaters have not done very well this week, but in the remote side pockets of the river there’ll be some spawning bass.
NANTICOKE RIVER: 120 miles – The Marshyhope Creek has given up a little bass action, but things could and should be better. The river currently is home to a good number of rockfish that are looking for spawning flats. Do not actively fish for them.
LAKE ANNA: 82 miles – Many largemouths are on their spawning beds, my lake insider said. “If sight fishing isn’t your particular sporting style, try nearby staging areas with crankbaits and spinnerbaits and give the next bass generation a fair chance,” he added. A boat dock pattern will also produce. Crappie are holding on shallow structure and taken best with small minnows or little plastic curly-tail grubs. Look for stripers from The Splits up to the first bridges. Catfish are caught throughout the lake. Use chicken liver baits.
RAPPAHANNOCK RIVER: 47-100 miles – State fisheries biologist John Odenkirk says the water is too low and clear to provide super shad fishing, but the shad are around. Unfortunately, many of them are just outside of town in tidal water, waiting for things to improve so they can make a decent upriver run. Some are caught in town, but there have been better years. Tidal water bass hounds can score just as we reported last week: From Port Royal to above Hicks Landing. Upper river smallmouths are caught, but in the extremely shallow water the fishing can be taxing.
LAKE BRITTLE: 59 miles – The lake concession’s phone number is 540/219-1673. Not much is happening now during the lake drawdown.
LAKE ORANGE: 75 miles – Many of the bass are on their beds and the crappies are jumping on jigs, grubs and darts under a bobber. Live minnows actually are not needed. The catfish are hungry and you can catch them on cut baits or strips of beef liver from the pier next to the concession stand. Angler’s Landing concession phone is 540/672-3997.
LAKE GASTON: 179 miles – Bass are spawning and some fishermen are not doing very well. Stripers are possible and crappies are found on feeder creek bridge abutments.
KERR RESERVOIR: 200 miles – Bobcat’s Lake Country Store 434/374-8381 can provide a water condition report. Heavy bass spawning is the rule right now. Large catfish are waiting for your cut fish baits and the crappies will leap on small minnows and artificials over brush piles, sunken trees and dropoffs next to rip-rap.
JAMES RIVER: 115 miles – (Tidal Richmond and downstream) The guide Mike Ostrander, 804/938-2350, will put you on large catfish. We’re talking trophy blue “cats.” Of course, you can head downriver to Dutch Gap and give it a shot without a guide. Upriver, at the fall line in Richmond, there’s a chance for catch-and-release hickory shad.
CHICKAHOMINY RIVER: 135 miles – River’s Rest, 804/829-2753, will provide the latest water conditions. Fairly good bass fishing now even though a fair number of the largemouths are spawning. Upper river also turns up crappies, perch and catfish. The “Chick” is a good weekend pick.
SHENANDOAH RIVER: 60-85 miles – Front Royal’s Dick Fox, said, “The river is back to a normal level with the water temperature standing at degrees. The fishing is picking up. Its time to start looking in areas close to flowing water, then fishing the deep nearby eddys. The smallmouth bass now are more scattered. Tubes, flukes and crankbaits are working well.”
SMITH MOUNTAIN LAKE: 210 miles – Largemouth and smallmouth bass are available in the feeder creeks and along wooded shorelines in the main lake wherever cover and shallow-to-deep edges are found. Crankbaits and jig’n’craw lures can score. Some stripers are hooked now and then, but the wind has turned the fishing into a chore.
UPPER JAMES RIVER (at Scottsville): 130 miles – Look for deep pockets of water (which can be a tough assignment during these shallow water periods) and drop tube and grub lures into the holes. Smallmouth bass will be there, but also cast spinners and small crankbaits toward shore where the shallows turn into deeper layers.
MARYLAND: 165 miles to Ocean City – Sue Foster of Oyster Bay Tackle, 410/524-3433, said the Easter weekend saw lots of wind and cold temperatures. “It was not the greatest fishing weekend,” she added. However, when the wind settled down a fine 40-inch-long striper was caught in the surf. Before the strong winds kicked up a fuss, there were a few black drum and rockfish in the Assateague surf, but that ended when it began to blow. Foster said that local anglers are using clam, crab, or “Fishbites Crab” or combinations of the artificial “Fishbites” bait with clam, crab, or bunker to try and catch a drum. Bunker has been the most popular bait for stripers.
VIRGINIA: 210 miles to Virginia Beach – Large red drum (also known as channelbass or redfish) are possible along the barrier islands of the Eastern Shore. Thus far, it has been mostly surf casters or ocean kayakers who are serious about going after them. Dr. Ken Neill, however, reported that Eric Burnley caught four hefty red drum from a larger boat this week. Some of the surf casters, by the way, have hooked small black drum up to 20 pounds. Offshore waters turn up tilefish, black bellied rosefish and grouper in over 300 feet of water, according to Dr. Julie Ball (drjball.com). “On the Eastern Shore, the seaside inlets near Oyster and Wachapreague continue to produce flounder up to four pounds on bare hooks donned with strip bait,” she said. By the way, get ready for tuna action. It is already happening in North Carolina waters and the tunas are heading north.
For additional fishing information, check out www.genemuellerfishing.com