Editor’s note: This is Gene Mueller’s final column for The Times. He’s taking his talents to South Carolina, to enjoy retirement and great fishing. He will continue work on his website, genemuellerfishing.com.
Atlantic croakers finally have decided to show up in Southern Maryland waters. The species is a warm-weather favorite for thousands of local saltwater anglers who use two-hook bottom rigs, baited with pieces of (very expensive) bloodworms, peeler crab, or more reasonably priced squid and small, uncooked grocery store shrimp.
Ken Lamb, owner of the Tackle Box in Lexington Park, Md., reports that croakers (also known as hardheads) are in the Potomac River and its tributaries, including the Wicomico, Breton Bay and the St. Mary’s River. Ditto for the Patuxent River. “Catches have been made at the mouth of Cuckold’s Creek as well as the fishing pier at the [Patuxent Naval Air Station’s] Recreation Center, the Three-Legged Marker, also off the O’Club and at Hog Point,” Lamb said. In addition, land-bound anglers at Point Lookout State Park have been hooking croakers from the public fishing pier and from the rock-lined shore on the park’s causeway.
There is some question regarding the weekend weather, which has been kind of unsettled from South Carolina up into the New England states. That means the word “if” comes into play. If it doesn’t blow a gale, chances are oceanside fishing for stripers and red drum from Maryland into Virginia’s barrier islands will continue to be fruitful. If the wind is strong, it will curtail most of the waterborne activities in the middle Atlantic and most of the lower Chesapeake Bay, if not all of it.
Meanwhile, the Maryland and Northern Neck, Va., parts of the Chesapeake have been good for roving schools of stripers in the 18- to 24-inch class, with occasional trophy-size rockfish jumping on the trollers’ lures. If Norfolk spot arrive within the next several days, the rockfish hunters will use small spot as bait during something they call live-lining. It works like the dickens on the rockfish around the Gas Docks in Calvert County and elsewhere.
If it’s largemouth bass you like, you couldn’t be in a better place than the tidal waters of the Potomac between Maryland and Virginia, especially south of the District and downstream toward western Charles County, Md., including all the feeder creeks on either side of the river. In spite of unusually plentiful fishing tournaments, fishing has been fine for local residents who apparently must give way to out-of-town, for-profit organizations that claim first dibs on boat launch ramps up and down the river.
Incidentally, Northern Chinese snakeheads are on a rampage. Every bass and crappie angler we’ve talked to mentions that they either caught snakeheads or lost a lure or bait rig to the toothsome critters. To show how these alien invaders have spread, Mike Henderson, the owner of Buzz’s Marina, along St. Jerome’s Creek in St. Mary’s County, caught an 8-pound snakehead a few days ago. He planned to put it on the grill and have it for dinner.
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 will continue to see large catfish and ever increasing numbers of striped bass. Some largemouth bass, even a few smallmouths, are taken by those who fish the Virginia shoreline in that portion of the river. After several large bass tournaments on the river last weekend, I jokingly told the fishing guide Andy Andrzejewski (301-932-1509) that there might not be any bass left in the river. He replied that the cast-for-cash crowd is restricted to weighing in only those bass that measure 15 inches or more. “Look at all those 12-inchers that are left in the river. The fishing is fine,” he said tongue-in-cheek. The fact is that the tournament pros believe the tidal Potomac to be one of the best — if not the best — bass waters in the land. No kidding. We’ve known that all along and we strongly feel that the mega contests being held here are not exactly a benefit to the fishery. Meanwhile, blue catfish are found in good numbers in the river’s dropoff ledges between the Piscataway and Quantico creeks — a long stretch of river, to be sure. By the way, the Chinese snakeheads are going bonkers. They’ll strike just about any lure they see if you happen to fish in 2- to 5-foot-deep water around obstructions, such as docks, weed bed pockets and edges and stony shorelines. We receive daily reports of snakeheads being caught in the Occoquan River, Powell, Quantico, Chicamuxen, Little Hunting, Piscataway and Broad creeks, to name just a few hot areas.
Downriver, where the water is more saline, croakers are found in varying numbers from St. Clements Island to the mouth of the Wicomico River, and south of there to Tall Timbers and Cornfield Harbor. The Point Lookout State Park pier and the rock-filled shoreline waters of the park’s causeway have also given up tasty “hardheads,” as many call them. The croakers like bloodworms and peeler crab pieces, of course, but squid, and shrimp also do well.
WICOMICO RIVER: 55 miles – The river from Bushwood up to Chaptico Bay will offer croakers, catfish, white perch and if you stay near the mouth there’s as fair chance for rockfish.
MATTAWOMAN CREEK: 40 miles – A lot of bass tournament traffic is seen, but soft plastic craw baits, topwater poppers and buzzbaits, as well as small spinnerbaits can do well anywhere from south shore of the creek up to Marsh Island, and on toward the Slavin’s Ramp area. Catfish are everywhere and, of course, don’t be surprised if a snakehead suddenly hammers your lures.
SO. MARYLAND LAKES: 40-50 miles – Gilbert Run Lake (Route 6, east of La Plata) delivers the usual bluegills, even some shellcrackers now and then, perhaps even a bass, although you can’t keep bass. In St. Mary’s Lake (south of Leonardtown on Route 5 to left turn at St. Mary’s State Park, Camp Cosoma Road) a variety of fish is available. One angler caught a 25-inch-long chain pickerel last weekend, another found a 4-pound bass. The bass and crappies are willing if you are. The lake is a fine choice for shoreline anglers and johnboaters.
WSSC RESERVOIRS: 20-30 miles – Triadelphia and Rocky Gorge lakes in the Prince George’s/Montgomery/Howard counties are good for largemouth bass and plenty of crappies if you pick the right spots. Sunken brush or visible stickups are sure to hold both species, but some of the lake points are ready for the picking. Cast medium-depth crankbaits around the edges of quickly dropping points and see if a largemouth won’t charge into it. The female bass are done with spawning and now are hungry.
PATUXENT RIVER: 25-60 miles – The upper river in the Hill’s Bridge area hasn’t seen much of anything as far as good fishing is concerned, but the lower Patuxent finally is turning on as it’s beginning to load up with croakers. The Lexington Park Tackle Box reports that catches are made at the mouth of Cuckold’s Creek, also the fishing pier at the Patuxent Naval Air Station’s Recreation Center. Now add the three-legged marker off the O’Club and the Hog Point area. Don’t be surprised if all those spots also have stripers roaming about. The feeder creeks show white perch in good numbers.
OCCOQUAN RESERVOIR: 33 miles – Bass are a sure bet if you work lake and cove points with crankbaits, spinnerbaits and soft plastics. My favorites include Paca Craws, also Baby Rage Tails because the bass are fooled by the lifelike action of the lures when fished nice and slow. Crappies, catfish and bluegills round out the reservoir’s fishing.
BURKE LAKE: 31 MILES – Brush piles hold crappies and more than one bass. Use plastic worms or craws, but also try quarter-ounce crankbaits wherever possible. The shorelines of the lake turn up spawning bluegills that go crazy over a tiny size 10 popper or Black Ant if you’re into fly-fishing. The worm-and-bobber crowd also scores very nicely.
CENTRAL & WESTERN MD.
UPPER POTOMAC RIVER: 35-100 miles – The upper river will give up smallmouth bass as long as heavy rains stay away. The fishing can be fine from Taylor’s Landing downstream to Lander and on toward Dickerson and Edwards Ferry. Small grubs, plastic worms, tubes, spinners and, occasionally, even a topwater popper can draw strikes. Walleyes are possible, but catches are infrequent.
DEEP CREEK LAKE: 179 miles – Bass, walleyes, yellow perch, crappies and a few pike are on the fisherman’s menu this weekend. This lake, if fished thoroughly, can be very good, although newcomers often complain about a lack of action. I guess it takes some serious fishing to get to know where the most productive coves and lake points are.
SUSQUEHANNA RIVER: 65-100 miles – The Flats show a number of catchand-release rockfish along with some fat catfish and a few bass. Inside the river, look for bass in the Havre de Grace marina and adjacent shorelines. Soft plastic worms in the 4-inch size, along with craw-style plastics will do the job.
MARYLAND: 25-65 miles – From the Tackle Box in Lexington Park, our friend Ken Lamb reports that striped bass are beginning to enter a kind of summertime routine. The minimum size now, of course, is 18 inches, with two fish per day legal, but only one can measure over 28 inches. To be sure, some trollers are still finding big rockfish in the 30- to 33-inch size. These fish are generally found in the middle Bay parts of Maryland and quite often more toward the Virginia state line, but the northern parts also see some of the action. A sure sign that summer is on its way will be the appearance of Norfolk spot, which live-liners want to use as bait around the edges of the Gas Docks in Calvert County. The arrival of the little fish will occur shortly.
VIRGINIA: 75-150 miles – Northern Neck trollers score on 18- to 30-inch rockfish, dragging umbrella rigs that are loaded with chartreuse or white Sassy Shads. Croakers are found from the mouth of the Rappahannock River up to the Great Wicomico River. Down the Bay, Julie Ball (www.drjball.com) is concerned about northeasterly winds this weekend which would make fishing less than enjoyable. However, if things turn out better than predicted, a sure sign of summer has arrived in the lower Chesapeake. “Sightings of cobia were confirmed last weekend as anglers began to catch [these] fish, with some pushing to over 50-inches,” she said and added, “The prospect of red and black drum continues to draw anglers to the Eastern Shore side of the Bay. Those who have dodged the thunder storms to try their luck have found the drum action a little slower this week.” For those looking for black drum, buoys 13 and 16 near Cape Charles seems to promise the best chances. If you want a rockfish, check out the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel where even surface lures see action from the striped fighters. The only down note comes from the flounder fishermen who complain that they’ve seen better days. Sheepshead are making their early season debut around Kptopeke, where fish to 11.5-pounds were caught recently
CHOPTANK RIVER: 120 miles – The stripers are in the mouth and inside the river almost close to Cambridge. White perch are possible up to and past the Route 50 bridge in Cambridge. However, the bass fishing around Martinak State Park and beyond is nothing to get excited about.
POCOMOKE RIVER: 140-170 miles – Snow Hill to Shad Landing boaters find a few bass and a mix of white perch and bluegills. The largemouths like slowly fished 1/4-ounce chartreuse and white spinnerbaits, as well as shallow-to-deep crankbaits in firetiger or shad colors..
NANTICOKE RIVER: 120 miles – Maybe a bass and crappie now and then in the Marshyhope feeder creek near Federalsburg, but in all, this river has turned into a disappointment for many bass boaters who pay high Bay Bridge tolls to come to the Eastern Shore. What a shame.
LAKE ANNA: 82 miles – Our lakeside friend said you should expect huge crowds on the water here this weekend; and the area around the Rt. 522 Harris Bridge is going to see the worst of it with the Memorial Day opening of a big, new lakeside crabhouse/seafood restaurant. The prime hours for any serious fishing anywhere on the lake are going to be from dawn to about 8 a.m. over the next few days. Surface temperatures are in the mid-70s and the largemouths are chasing spinnerbaits and crankbaits around many creek mouths. Some pretty fair striper action has been found in Sturgeon, Contrary and Pigeon creeks as well as the main lake up to Stubbs and Holiday Bridge. The crappies are on deep structure after their spawn; but bluegills are now moving onto their beds.
RAPPAHANNOCK RIVER: 40-80 miles – The upper river should deliver strikes from smallmouth bass if you cast tubes, grubs, jigs or small crankbaits anywhere between the Rapidan and waters within sight of Fredericksburg. In the tidal water portions, the better bass catches have come between Port Royal and Hicks Landing as crankbaits, Rat-L-Traps and 4-inch finesse worms attract the largemouths. Catfish are available throughout the river system.
LAKE BRITTLE: 59 miles – The concession stand’s Lori can be reached best during weekends at 540/219-1673. Low water continues to deliver good catches of bass, crappies, channel catfish and plenty of sunfish. In fact, try a flyrod popping bug now anywhere along the edges where water meets land and see if you won’t hook bedding bluegills.
LAKE ORANGE: 75 miles – Darrell Kennedy of the Angler’s Landing concession (540-672-3997) will provide water conditions. The bass and crappie catches are very good now; so is the bream fishing, as Southerners refer to sunfish. Channel catfish love chicken livers or clam necks in the deeper cuts of the la
LAKE GASTON: 179 miles – Holly Grove Marina (434-636-3455) can give you water condition reports. Either way, the bass and crappie fishing can be super right now. However, weekends will be busy and the jet skiers are out in force. Confine your fishing to the wee hours.
KERR RESERVOIR: 200 miles – Bobcat’s Lake Country Store (434-374-8381) has lake conditions. Crappies and largemouth bass are a sure bet, and the large blue catfish in this lake will certainly want to look at a cut slab of menhaden, whole bream or a large chunk of beef liver.
JAMES RIVER: 115 miles – (Tidal Richmond and downstream) It’s blue catfish time anytime you come to this river, but largemouth bass are possible in Walker, Chippokes, and other feeder creeks where spinnerbaits and soft plastics will turn the trick.
CHICKAHOMINY RIVER: 135 miles – The upper river, near the dam, has been a good choice for crappie anglers. The bass are well distributed up and down the “Chick,” as some locals call it. Paca Craws or Ragetail Baby Craws do well on the bass. The catfish like a strip of liver or a clam neck on the bottom.
SHENANDOAH RIVER: 60-85 miles – Front Royal’s Dick Fox said, “The river is up about 3 feet and has a heavy stain, with the water temperature at the 68-degree mark. Fox said the fishing will be good again as soon as it clears up a little. Smallmouth bass are hitting topwater lures early and late in the day. Inline spinners, such as the Roostertail, work well also. There are a lot of small ones but fish up to four pounds can be had.”
SMITH MOUNTAIN LAKE: 210 miles – Memorial Day weekend is coming up and this is one of the large impoundments that will draw jet skiers and water skiers like a fly coming to honey. Fish early and come back in before the fun crowd arrives. Stripers, bass and crappies have been biting.
UPPER JAMES RIVER (at Scottsville): 130 miles – There’s no reason why a body shouldn’t be able to catch a mass of smallmouth bass on tubes, plastic grubs and small crankbaits. Red-breasted sunfish abound here as well.
MARYLAND: 165 miles to Ocean City – Sue Foster of Oyster Bay Tackle in Ocean City said the fishing in the resort town was good till the Nor’easter struck. Sue said there had been stripers in the surf along with some black drum, while bluefish runs occurred at Indian River Inlet, Ocean City Inlet and the Route 50 Bridge. Boaters caught a few flounder, but not many. Some legal tautog were caught in Ocean City where the season is open and anglers are allowed to keep two per person.The sea bass fishing has reopened and if it doesn’t blow, the bite should be good over offshore wrecks.
VIRGINIA: 210 miles to Virginia Beach – Dr. Julie Ball (drjball.com) said if the weather allows you to go offshore, deep-dropping baits will result in a good catch of sea bass. The season for these tasty fish reopened last week. There are small bluefish and hefty croakers taken from piers and sand around Virginia Beach. Ball also passed along word that the North Carolina blue-water bite is still going on with yellowfin tunas, bull dolphins, and good numbers of wahoos getting all the attention. However, wind and rain might put a crimp dominating the scene.