By Steve Chaconas
Major Expansion at National Harbor
Already serving thousands of tourists and convention travelers, National Harbor is adding housing for tens of thousands more residents. These residents will hopefully use the accommodations for reproduction.
National Harbor and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources have teamed up to increase and restore habitat for largemouth bass in National Harbor. Since 1985, when Subaquatic Vegetation (SAV) peaked, MD Tidal Bass Manager Joe Love says, “The submerged grasses in this largemouth bass nursery have virtually disappeared over the past decade and the spawning success of these fish has consequently declined.” This 10-year cycle of grass loss has put reproductive activities of largemouth bass in National Harbor on hold. Catch rates were less than half of what they were before when grass was established. Today, while the Potomac River bass population is in pretty good shape, the loss of these spawning grounds is of concern. When fish move into shallow flats, SAVs offer cover for spawning beds and for hatched fry to grow to juvenile size. Without grass, nests and fry are exposed to predators. The Potomac River axiom, “No grass, no bass” rings true for future largemouth generations.
Sheltered from North winds, National Harbor (formerly known as Smoot Bay) has been an important area for largemouth bass reproduction. The sand and gravel bottom combined with generally clear water made this former quarried land ideal for spawning. Nearly all of the SAVs in the National Harbor and that section of the Potomac are gone. Options to address the loss of SAVs included a creel limit, no possession, fishing closures or stocking. Enhancing or protecting existing grass habitat wasn’t practical or achievable.
Enter bass matchmakers Civil Engineer Dick Berich and retired MD State Trooper Scott Sewell. Avid anglers, they saw the need for replacing the lost cover. Over lunch they began laying plans for adding other sources of habitat. They brought the idea, over 5 years ago, to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources Black Bass Roundtable meeting. Even after this group disbanded, Dick and Scott kept the concept alive. A two-stage project was hatched.
But housing doesn’t come cheap. The Maryland Artificial Reef Initiative, Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, Wetland Studies and Solutions Inc., Fish America Foundation, Pro-Formance Fishing, and the Maryland Bass Nation were supporting partners in this project. Funding from National Harbor ($10,000), MDDNR Fisheries ($5,000), and an additional $5,000 was obtained through a grant from Fish America and social media.
The Chesapeake Bay Foundation has been successful in creating habitat for the Bay’s bounties, including crabs, oysters, and fish. Reef balls were constructed by volunteers. CBF supplied fiberglass molds that were bolted together to a piece of plywood. Large rubber balls were inserted and inflated to create hollow caverns. The balls were deflated and removed to leave various hollow spots in the concrete structures. Cranes and barges planted 80 2.5 ft. wide, 1.75 ft. high, 200-pound reef balls. Love said. “These reef balls will provide important protective habitat for juvenile fish.” Some of the reef balls were adorned with driftwood, but was often soft or rotting. Next phase, larger fresh oak timbers were brought in, 14-foot lengths with 10-inch diameters, to enhance the reef ball zones. These logs, which will last longer and provide better fish cover, were bolted together and then lashed to 200 pound concrete weights to secure them through tides and storms. MD DNR secured permits from the Army Corps of Engineers and others. Roger Tregaser’s MD Bass Nation took the organizational lead. Located on the north bank of National Harbor, there are two areas with the submerged fish houses marked by large white buoys. Anglers and boaters can easily locate these areas.
These habitat enhanced areas will be monitored to measure water quality, grass availability, and fish abundance. If all goes as planned, the MD DNR is looking for an increase in bass relative abundance which dropped to low levels and remained low, even at a time when elsewhere in the Potomac River the fishery was great (2007 – 2009). Project success will also include greater grass growth and diversity of fishes and macro invertebrates. Aerial images from Virginia Institute of Marine Science will assess submerged grass growth. Recorded grass data during bass surveys will also be factored.
Prior structure plantings have not been all that successful, however Love says this project could be different. “This project at the National Harbor is larger in scope and uses materials that are used by bass (concrete, wood). I’m hopeful that project will create a diversity of habitat that brings back the fish.” This project is a win for National Harbor, MD Bass Nation, conservation restoration, and bass anglers who remember how the good the area used to fish. The next project being tossed around is improving access on MDs upper Bay with more launch facilities, which will also address tournament stockpiling.
Potomac River Bassing in JANUARY
Very cold water now, around 35-40. Days are slowly getting longer. Dress appropriately; wear a PFD, Hanz Extremity wear socks and gloves keep hands and feet warm. A few warm water spots around Blue Plains and Four Mile Run have more active fish. Using Lucky Craft Pointer 78 suspending jerkbaits, make long casts on 10 pound Gamma Edge fluorocarbon line.
Otherwise, get some ½ ounce Silver Buddy lures, silver for sunny days and gold for cloudy. Tie to 10-pound Edge on casting reels. Cast to 3-foot depths and slowly burp and allow to flutter to the bottom. Fish in areas with deep water close to the shore. Also try Mizmo tubes with insert heads, Mann’s Stingray grubs on ¼ ounce ball head jigs, and drop shot with a 1/8 ounce Water Gremlin BullShot weight and 2/0 Mustad Mega Bite hook. Use 15-pound Torque braid with 6-pound Edge leader. Soak all soft plastics in garlic Jack’s Juice Bait Spray.
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.