Potomac River Fished Out?
By Steve Chaconas
Potomac River Fished Out?
In light of last month’s Dominion Power oil spill, sewage discharges in DC and Maryland, and Dominion Power dumping water from coal ash ponds into the Potomac, it’s no wonder the areas anglers are concerned. Fishing has been declining over the last 5 years. Last month there were two meetings to discuss the health of the Potomac River bass fishery and to consider relentless demands to drop the creel limit to 3 fish and to make the year round size limit 15 inches.
Persistent and often rude emails were sent to Maryland, Virginia, and Potomac River Fishing Commission officials for the past two years at least. Insults and accusations of incompetence and even being on the take to ruin the Potomac River were made in these rants, copied to multiple recipients, which found their way to social media. To separate fact from fantasy these meetings entertained these ideas.
All jurisdictions announced what many anglers already knew, fish count levels for the Potomac River were down, but would be considered close to normal for most other fisheries with lower established expectations. Fishing was tough on the Potomac. Keeper bass, greater than 12 inches, were hard to come by. Once hydrilla filled in, getting a bite was a reward for a full day on the water. The good news is there are record numbers of bass smaller than 12 inches.
Other than restricting all fishing, there isn’t much else the 4 jurisdictions can do. No one suggested that’s necessary nor that it would even be effective. First, the number 99.6% is key. VDGIF biologist John Odenkirk started the PRFC presentations by himself, Dan Ryan DC Fisheries Branch Manager, and Joe Love MD Potomac River Manager. Odenkirk estimated nearly all largemouth bass caught on the Potomac are released. This set the stage to preclude any adjustment of creel or size limits, as they are only needed when fish are being removed at a significant rate. Also, delayed tournament mortality was mentioned as a possible cause, but would have to be very high before restrictions are recommended.
Many factors affect tidal fisheries; water clarity, flow and concentration of nutrients dictate bait availability and growth of bass fry. But the biggest influence is the Potomac’s subaquatic vegetation coverage. Take DC for example. At the peak coverage with dense SAV’s, DC reported over 700 acres in 2002. The following year, only 25 sparse acres had grass cover. Not only is grass important for fish spawn and cover, it is also where biologists focus their fish count surveys. Nothing is in sync with only about 400 acres of SAV reported in 2015. DC is planting grass on the formerly abundant flats.
Each agency uses electro fishing surveys to count fish populations, but they conduct them differently. Virginia in the spring, Maryland in the fall and DC spring into fall. Their collective data shows a decline in larger bass in 2015. For MD and DC, it’s part of a gradual trend. VA saw a downturn in 2015, attributed to a spring fish kill. However, all jurisdictions show a marked increase and even record counts for bass less than 12 inches. That is the good news.
Unable to pinpoint a reason for these lower fish counts, certainly the lack of SAVs is a factor including the complete loss of milfoil grass in DC and most of the river above Pohick Bay, there are several factors. Continuous raw sewage spills out of Broad Creek and commercial seine net fishing occurs during the bass spawn and dredges up emerging SAVs. To rule out Largemouth Bass Virus, DC will be starting baseline studies.
MD DNR will be establishing 3 Catch & Return areas located in Piscataway, Mattawoman and Chicamuxen Creeks. These areas will be off limits to tournaments or anglers wanting to keep largemouth bass. In addition, a structure-planting project will take place in National Harbor. MD is also considering requesting tournaments during hot weather use a 3 or 4 fish limit to subject fewer fish to tournament stress. This will be a voluntary action. However, if best fish management practices are not followed, a tournament permit would be rejected. All tournaments will be required to obtain a MD DNR permit. MD’s website will continue to promote best fish handling procedures. http://dnr2.maryland.gov/fisheries/Pages/bass/ta.aspx
By all accounts, tournaments are not the issue. However better fish handling, especially during summer months, can only help. Information continues to be gathered and actions to provide more habitat and preserve spawning areas are being implemented. Three regional biologists, and a dozen other resource specialists provided information during the PRFC meeting. Sadly, only 6 anglers participated. Even sadder, those responsible for much of the complaining and consternation chose not to attend.
Potomac River Bassing in March
Time to get serious. Mann’s Classic spinnerbaits crawled along the bottom on flats close to drops will produce jarring strikes. Carolina rigs with ¾ ounce Round Valley Tungsten weights work in the same areas. Use HardNose lizards on 3/0 Mustad Ultra Point Mega Bite hooks. Use 12-Pound test GAMMA EDGE fluorocarbon line. Drag slowly and pause frequently. Soak soft plastics in garlic Jack’s Juice Bait Spray.
When water warms to 50, suspending Lucky Craft Pointer 100 or 78 jerkbaits on 12 pound test GAMMA Edge fluorocarbon line work best in fairly clear water. Tap and pause. Try clown and baby bass colors.
As water warms a bit, try crankbaits like Mann’s Baby 1-Minus around hard cover or dredge the bottom with Lucky Craft LV-500 lipless crankbaits. Use craw or red patterns for both. Change hooks to Mustad KVD short shank triple grips.
Jigs like Punisher 3/8-ounce hair jigs with plastic chunks are also a good choice. Also tie on Mizmo tubes with an insert head. Try these on Torque braid with Edge leaders. Start with 6-8 pound test.
Author Capt. Steve Chaconas is Potomac bass fishing guide & contributing writer for BoatU.S. (BoatUS.com) Potomac River reports: nationalbass.com. Book trips/purchase gift certificates: info@NationalBass.com.