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The River Runs Through It

The River Runs Through It

By Steve Chaconas

The Tidal Potomac River largemouth bass fishery is the most popular in the Mid-Atlantic region and the United States. In its 63 mile run from Washington, DC to the Chesapeake Bay, the Potomac runs through 3 jurisdictions, 4 including the Potomac River Fisheries Commission. Over several decades of fisheries management, each state and DC have run their own programs. Recently, they’ve come to the conclusion that fish swim, without notice, through each. Independent studies, analysis, and management have been done with little or no cooperation. This began to change with the invasion of the Northern Snakehead.

When snakeheads were discovered in the Potomac in 2004, there was a scramble to figure out how they got there, their impact, and how to manage their population. The Federal Government got into the act and, for a while, all worked together on a plan of action. During this period, Virginia took a closer look at the largemouth bass population as an overlap study. Until then, Maryland ran regular bass studies. DC also concurrently obtained their own data. Many factors influence fish populations. But there are even more influences on data outcomes. Everything from weather, amounts of submerged aquatic vegetation and time of year and frequency of the data collection contribute to the results. In 2014 the Potomac River Fisheries Commission brought all three together to consider sharing information.

Largemouth Bass were introduced to Potomac River in late 1800’s to help feed people of DC and Baltimore after the Civil War. Since the 1970s the population and popularity of largemouth bass as a game fish led to the Potomac becoming a major stop for professional bass tournament tours. Regional and local bass organizations put at least one Potomac stop a year on their tournament schedules. Fishing enthusiasts from all over the country crowded local anglers who were unhappy with the new-found fame and fishing pressure.

By the late 1990s, anglers reported tougher fishing conditions. Some blamed incessant tournament fishing events lined up from March into October with several events throughout the winter months as well.  Substantiating the perceived decline for local anglers,  Maryland DNR fish surveys showed a sharp drop in fish populations. However, for the same period, VA and DC showed stable populations. This was the beginning of the issue as Maryland considered fishing restrictions, which DC and VA felt unnecessary.

Data collection procedures of MD, VA and DC varied as to time of year, and collection and analysis methodology. Each jurisdiction was content with their procedures, but management and regulation, dependent on data results, created friction not only among the jurisdictions but also with anglers. This dilemma sent into motion a 2-year debate that the three jurisdictions should coordinate their efforts and conduct collective analysis of the state of the river. They met a few times toward the end of 2019 to establish data needs and guidelines.

To monitor the fishery, the jurisdictions agreed to generate a combined assessment. The strategy is to better estimate stock, quality, and preferred sizes of largemouth bass. Anglers can participate with creel surveys and by reporting recapture of tagged fish. Agencies will cooperatively monitor the population and size of largemouth bass. The Potomac River Fisheries Commission and the general public will receive the unified assessment every three years.

Specifically each jurisdiction will report their population and size surveys by identifying the numbers of bass over 200mm (about 8 inches), quality bass over 305mm (12 inches) and preferred length of 381mm (15 inches). Surveys include electro-shocking March to mid-April, creel and tournament surveys and angler tagged fish recapture reports. Fish greater than 200mm will be tagged with orange tags placed near their dorsal fins. They will be measured, weighed, tagged and released in the area they were collected. Signs and press releases will inform the general public about the project to help increase reporting rates. Anglers can report tag numbers, date of capture, size of fish, and other details of interest throughout the year to tournament organizers and the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries 1-804-367-2925.

Regardless of jurisdiction or management philosophy or methodology, the goals of MD, VA and DC are the same. Each is interested in maintaining and improving the largemouth bass fishery and to base decisions on the best possible science and data.

This cooperative, proposed by the MD DNR Black Bass Advisory Subcommittee, will share data and create a collaborative methodology over the next 20 years.  The shared data will provide answers to fisheries management questions. Rather than basing Tidal Potomac management decisions on separate pieces of the puzzle, it will be managed by a complete image to see the big picture.

Potomac River Bassing in March

Water is warming to 50 degrees. Warm water discharge areas like Blue Plains and Four Mile Run are easier to fish.

Time to use suspending jerkbaits tied to 10 pound test Gamma Edge fluorocarbon line. Finding the clearest water, make long casts and make slight twitches and allow the baits to pause. Vary the length of pauses.

Lipless crankbaits in red, chartreuse, and chrome patterns on 10 pound test Gamma Edge fluorocarbon line, on Quantum Smoke baitcasting reels, can be slowly retrieved along the bottom. Use a Quantum Medium action cranking rod for best results.  Cover rocky bottom area on flats close to creek mouths and points.

Drop shot remains a mainstay this time of the year as well. Use 15 pound test Gamma Torque braid with 10 pound test edge leaders. A 3/16 Water Gremlin BullShot weight will anchor this rig. Also use split shot rigs in the same areas and around cover. Mustad 2/0 Mega Bite hooks are perfect for 4-5 inch soft plastics.

Other finesse rigs are still effective. Mustad 1/8 ounce mushroom heads with small worms also work once fish are found. Cast and gently pop off the bottom and allow them to sit while shaking.   

Author Capt. Steve Chaconas is Potomac River bass fishing guide. Potomac fishing reports: nationalbass.com. Book trips/purchase gift certificates: info@NationalBass.com.

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