By Steve Chaconas
No Fishing on the Potomac River
Catch and Return or no fishing areas were defeated in last month’s Maryland Department of Natural Resources (MDDNR) Black Bass Advisory Subcommittee (BBAS). On the table were possible open-ended closures of entire creeks like Piscataway and portions of other Potomac and Upper Chesapeake Bay creeks. Closures could have been year round or only during spawn. However the BBAS said NO to all options with an 8-4 vote, as MD DNR was unable to demonstrate the effectiveness of area closures or how to reasonably measure results.
BASS and FLW voiced solid opposition. The meeting was well attended by local tournament anglers concerned with possible closures, but also with the decision reached by the BBAS in August to impose a 4 fish 12-15 inches and only one fish over 15 from June 16 to March. Many saw the waivers as unreasonable and the slot limit unfishable. MD, DC and VA fishing organizations presented letters voicing their concerns and sense of urgency to set 2017 schedules. Many indicated they’d fish elsewhere.
Anglers have been told this was only a recommendation to the Sport Fish Advisory Committee. While literally true, this downplays the path to approval being a step closer. Of concern to many anglers including BASS Conservation Director Gene Gilliland was Subcommittee membership composition. Of 13 members, 6 are guides, giving the appearance tournament anglers are not fairly represented. Guides recounted their impartiality and split over the closure vote. ASA Director of Keep America Fishing Liz Ogilvie also appeared in support of preserving fishing opportunities.
An electrifying performance in August’s Bassmaster Elite Series tournament, the winner bringing in an astounding 18 pounds a day with many 20+ pound bags brought in, confirmed what pros and locals have experienced, the Potomac River is producing a lot of fish. Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF) biologist John Odenkirk maintains, that in a fishery with a high voluntary release rate (over 99%), and a low total annual mortality rate, restrictive regulations would only inconvenience anglers. He also took exception to being misquoted at the August BBAS meeting, corrected at the September meeting. Bottom line he says, “…black bass populations in the southeast US are driven by variable recruitment based on environmental variables, much, much more than social factors including angler behavior.” MD and VA surveys show completely different results. Recent VA surveys look very good.
Often cited as further evidence of the demise of the Potomac was the absence for several years on the Bassmaster Top 100 fisheries list. However, at the meeting it was exposed as an informal popularity contest among fisheries managers, writers on fishing junkets, and BASS Nation officials. Enabling Bassmasters to promote appearances and generate web site clicks, this list carries very little weight.
If the slot limit and waiver make it through the MD General Assembly, Potomac tournaments must follow weigh-in requirements with tubs and release tubs and returning bass to designated release areas. Losing local small events, unable to comply with the waivers, will impact area economies. Charles County reports tournament generated revenues range from $75,000 to $900,000. The Potomac River’s premier fishing reputation continues to bring events for 2017. However, Charles County had not been made aware of the possibility of tournament deterring restrictions. Also overlooked was the impact of closures. Not contacted for input regarding potential loss of business, Piscataway’s Fort Washington Marina small boat and kayak anglers would not be able to fish there.
Worst yet is the real impact on local charity tournaments. The Real American Heroes Foundation (RAHF) has afforded military members a day on the water and supplies for our overseas troops. Many of the after-tournament requirements are beyond their capacity and budget. With uncertainly of whether they would qualify for a waiver, as the BBAS slot limit recommendation moves forward, RAHF is pursuing alternative fisheries, at the risk of losing anglers and sponsors. Another charity mainstay unable to qualify for a waiver is the St. Jude Children’s Hospital tournament, raising over $250,000 in 21 years. Anglers surveyed revealed 70% would not fish a slot limit event.
Last month the BBAS modestly modified the waivers. The requirement to carry fish over 5 pounds in separate bags has been deleted. For VA anglers, MD DNR will approve nearby sites to make fish release more accommodating. A slight loophole has been created. “Additional (and alternative) Special Conditions may be (arranged) by Regional Fisheries staff as deemed necessary.” Contact MD Tidal Bass Manager Joe Love to start a conversation.
Love admits things look better now with better SAV growth and fish reproduction, but also feels better fish care makes sense. Possible plans might lead to MD sitting down with VA to discuss the management of the river with a focus on tournament management. Commercial haul seine fishing, considered to be destructive to SAVs and bass spawning, will be discussed by the BBAS.
Bassing in OCTOBER
Cooler water has the fish moving! Mann’s spinnerbaits with white skirts on 12 pound test GAMMA Edge fluorocarbon line can cover water and snapped out of scattered grass remnants. Also Mann’s Baby 1-Minus will hook up with fall bass. Change the hooks to Mustad KVD Short Shank Triple Grip trebles. Also on 12 pound Edge.
Topwater fish are eating! Look for the warmest part of the day and keep baits moving as baitfish are scattering. Lucky Craft G-Splash Poppers and fast walking Gunfish can cover water on 10-pound test GAMMA Copoly.
Finding small clumps of grass or leftover edges, use Mizmo tubes on 3/0 Mustad Mega Bite hooks on 12-14 pound Edge. A good soaking in garlic Jack’s Juice Bait Spray.
Wood comes into play. Docks and laydowns are good Mann’s Stone Jig targets. Seeing the cover this time of the year is tough. Top polarized sunglasses like Maui Jim HT lenses allow the fish targets to be seen.
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.