Fish Headed For Cover

By Steve Chaconas

Fish Headed For Cover

For many, 2020 was a tough year. Anglers weren’t exempt. Maryland’s Governor Hogan banned fishing in March, April, and much of May. When local fishermen finally hit the water, the normally prolific Potomac River’s submerged aquatic vegetation was absent. Fish congregate in grasses and spawn, making it easier for anglers to find them. The lack of fish cover made this season very difficult.

This has been a trend over the past 12 years, since the simultaneous construction of the new Woodrow Wilson Bridge and National Harbor.  These projects kept the upper portion of the river stirred up, preventing essential sunlight from reaching emerging grasses. Without these grasses to filter river water, historic grassbeds heading south to the bay were also affected. This year, grass only grew from Pohick Bay south.

Lack of cover spreads fish out and raises questions on spawning success. This year, only Mother Nature and Commercial haul seine operations could be held accountable for the lack of fish cover. Nothing could be done about rain and lack of sun; however, haul seine operations dredge up emerging grasses and likely disrupt the spawn. Nothing could be done. However, MD Department of Natural Resources Black Bass Advisory Committee member Dick Berich has a plan.

With most “plans” there is doubt they will ever be completed, especially ones of the magnitude proposed by Berich. But those who have worked with him know there’s no project too big to plan, organize and execute. It was Berich who masterminded the 2016 planting of 100 fish habitat reef balls and other log structures to place in the grass-vacant National Harbor. Berich is a professional engineer with over 40 years experience not only in project design and management but also working with federal, state and local governments. In addition, Berich is immensely qualified with experience in water resources, environmental issues, and transportation projects. Oh, and he’s an avid bass angler.

Fast forward 4 years and Berich is back and plans to take advantage of the US 301 bridge renovation. Concrete pilings and road surface are perfect to create a dual purpose reef. First, Berich has precisely identified locations to create current breaks for better grass growth and provide year round cover for largemouth bass. In addition, lower Potomac sites in Wades Bay and Blue Banks will continue to accept demolition material from other sites.

Berich chose these bays for several reasons. They’re relatively small, about 1 square mile each, are shallow and have wooded shorelines.  Typically grasses were abundant, but not recently. Sandy and gravel bottoms allowed grasses to take root and provide cover and spawning areas for largemouth bass. A few freshwater inflows, relatively low salinity and depths ranging up to 9 feet make this area worth the effort to plant a reef to allow grasses to reestablish and be protected from waves, encouraging bass to take up residence.

While the Chesapeake Bay was the original destination for this concrete refuse, Berich sold the project managers on the proximity to his proposed sites. This means lower cost and less time involved for the construction of the new bridge around 2022. The reef would be constructed from up to 50,000 cubic yards of concrete rubble (about 80,000 tons), placed in 6 to 8 feet of water at low tide for three areas, 3 ft wide and 100 ft long. Warning signs will alert near-shore boaters. Berich has also proposed above water barriers to break storm wave action and barriers covered with riprap with planting areas for grasses and shrubs for protected bird habitat.

In typical Dick Berich fashion, costs of materials and labor are minimized as he finds volunteers and arranges a win-win for providers of materials. Debris reef material is available at no cost, and because Wades and Blue Banks are close to the US 301 project, the bridge rehabilitation contractor will have a very economical disposal location. Even material delivery will be free as the bridge contactor will provide barges and place materials at no cost. Additional funding, for rip-rap and plantings, will be arranged through environmental grants, State reef funding, and private donations.   

The BBAC is supporting this plan as is the MD DNR, as they should. This will likely be the biggest project of its kind on the river, surpassing the Spoils Cove above National Harbor, constructed from mid 1980s resurfacing Woodrow Wilson Bridge debris.  This could create a bass fishing mecca in the lower portion of the Potomac.  If history is a guide, just sit back and support Berich and let him do what he does best. He gets things done.

Potomac River Bassing in NOVEMBER

Water is cooling into the 50s. The beginning of the month is suitable for topwater lures, provided the water is calm, clear and with lower light. Buzzbaits are best with 2/0 Mustad Stinger hooks on 40 pound Gamma Torque braided line on Quantum casting reels.

Otherwise, try shallow crankbaits on Gamma 10 pound test Edge fluorocarbon line. Find wood cover near creek mouths and along the main river points of creeks. Spinnerbaits also on 10 pound Edge can work when water is a bit stained and with chop on the water. Deeper cranks on hard cover around the Spoils Cove, National Harbor and Belle Haven. Firetiger, shad and red patterns are best.

Plastics fishing is also a good shot. Use Texas rigged Mizmo tubes on Mustad 3/0 Mega Bite hooks and a pegged 3/16 ounce weight. Pitch to pad edges and dock pilings. Make a lot of presentations to find moving fish.  Use green pumpkin colors.

Drop shot makes it easier to find fish on drops as tides fall. Use 20 pound Gamma Torque braid with 10 pound Edge leader. A 3/16 ounce Water Gremlin BullShot weight will secure the rig with a 1/0 Mustad Mega Bite hook. Use 4.5 inch soft plastic worms.

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

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