From Go Fish to Don’t Fish – This Virus Bites!
By Steve Chaconas
Round the clock news coverage, toilet paper hoarding, just about every business closed, March came in like prespawn and went out with social distancing. Worse than muddy spring waters, Coronavirus put a halt to tournament fishing across the country.
At a time when anglers should have been taking fish photos, the CDC presented a bleak picture. With no vaccine to treat the virus, they suggested avoiding exposure as it was spread person to person within 6 feet. Unfortunately even social distancing didn’t put any distance between the US and Coronavirus.
A few days after introducing social distancing and group limits, the next shoe dropped. Early in March, the Northern Virginia Regional Parks closed their facilities, including the Potomac Pohick boat ramp. Not a good explanation as they operate well with limited manpower. Within a few days, the tournament picture appeared cloudy. MD wasn’t rescinding any tournament permits, however, the primary MD Potomac boat ramp, Smallwood, was clamping down on groups. Leeslyvania was more abrupt, cancelling all park permits, including tournaments. That left small privately owned ramps. In Maryland, it was Marshall Hall. In Virginia, Hope Springs fielded an event. Local fisheries departments were closing, however still sold fishing licenses on line. Public restrooms were closed and replaced with porta pottys or nothing at all.
Calls to area guides turned into cancellations as events bringing tourists were being shut down. While guide services easily comply with the group of ten restriction, clients didn’t want to risk exposure via the lack of social distancing.
Fishing offered a distraction from grocery shelves depleted of milk, bread, eggs and toilet paper. Businesses closed and people hunkered down during some super early spring weather. Employees, either working from home or laid off, looked at this as an opportunity to do yard work, spring cleaning or to get out on the water.
Costco inspired anglers, minimizing the virus spread: carts sanitized, customer flow regulated, and taped off social distancing lines with constant reminders to keep your distance. Cashier areas were buffered to spread people out and glass screens separated employees from customers. If COSTCO could stay in business and be safe, then so could fishing.
In late March, a couple of tournament organizers conducted 30-40 boat events. Many on social media pages were upset with the thought of having a tournament during the pandemic. Undaunted, events were carefully executed including social distancing, groups of 10 or less, gloves, masks and hand sanitizer. These events looked like M.A.S.H. units. This brought enthusiasm to area anglers who saw a light at the end of the corona.
As virus stats scrolled across the screen, anglers escaped by taking their boats and a buddy to the water. Some went solo. Fishing was in full swing. But March dealt a final blow as area Governors issued Stay at Home Orders. In Maryland, recreational fishing and boating were prohibited. Only kayaks (because they are considered a form of exercise, an insult to all who bass fish competitively) and charter boats could fish. One exception, fishing for consumption was allowed, however, the 6 foot social distance was to be adhered. This meant no bass tournaments and no bass fishing, unless anglers could claim to be eating their catch. Maryland cancelled tournament permits through April. Virginia was more forgiving, social distancing and groups of less than 10, but people were encouraged to get outdoors. Technically there are enough Virginia creeks to keep anglers satisfied during this supersized dose of corona cabin fever. But many anglers were convinced they could circumvent the order, claiming they were fishing for food, navigating into Maryland waters.
Fishing was prohibited as being non-essential. Convenience stores continued to sell coffee. Customers handling stacks of cups and lids, sifting through sugar packets and grabbing creamer to finally taking the coffee pot handle to pour a cup, fresh with whatever the hundreds of previous customers were serving. But no fishing?
Acknowledging the risk of catching this virus, many felt tournament fishing wasn’t a priority. While some were willing to accept the risk, not many wanted the burden of passing it to family or friends. If the My Pillow guy can make masks and Ford can make ventilators, anglers wanted to conduct fundraisers for local healthcare providers.
At a time when the outdoors can relieve viral fatigue, Virginia prescribed fishing and boating with reasonable restrictions. But in his Stay at Home Order, MD’s Governor banned fishing and boating, unless fishing for food, while declaring liquor stores as essential businesses. Someone needs to let the Governor know that stress relief doesn’t always come in a bottle.
Potomac River Bassing in MAY
Water is warming to 65 degrees. Bass are in the mood for love. They are moving shallow seeking out nesting areas.
Submerged grass and along pad edges are where you’ll find most bass. Lots of moving lures work, like red lipless crankbaits. These can cover spawning flats, crawled along the bottom on 10 pound test Gamma Edge fluorocarbon line.
Another technique is the Carolina rig. Use 30 pound test Gamma Torque braid with a 10 pound Edge leader. A 2/0 Mustad Mega Bite hook will hold most plastics. Try green pumpkin lizards and small creature baits. Drag slowly with frequent stops.
Look for grass and stay in those spots. If you can see clumps, pitch Texas rigged Mizmo tubes into the center of the clumps. Rig on 3/0 Mustad Ultra Point Tube hooks with a 3/16 ounce Water Gremlin bullet weight with 10 pound test Edge fluorocarbon line. Use green pumpkin patterns.
If the water is clear, try clown colored suspending jerkbaits. Twitch and pause on 10 pound test Edge. Red squarebill cranks also work when deflected off cover or snapped from grass.
For all treble hooked baits, consider upgrading to Mustad Ultra Point Short Shank Triple Grip trebles. Move up a size when replacing.
Author Capt. Steve Chaconas is Potomac River bass fishing guide. Potomac fishing reports: nationalbass.com. Book trips/purchase gift certificates: info@NationalBass.com.