By Steve Chaconas
When Maryland Governor Hogan banned fishing and boating last spring and social distancing and limited gatherings stopped bass tournament anglers in their tracks, many thought that would be the end of anti-fishing pressure. Now two areas are extending Government control of navigable Virginia and DC waters.
Just over a decade ago Quantico Marine Base set a precedent, laying claim to a sizable portion of the Virginia shoreline adjacent to its base and navigable Chopawamsic Creek entering the base. In the name of national security, the off limits extends over 300 yards into the Potomac River.
In DC’s Washington Channel, Fort McNair is in the process of closing off its perimeter out to 300 yards, citing security measures specifically due to the 2001 9/11 terrorist attacks and 2013 Navy Yard shootings. McNair’s Officer housing, Officers club and golf course are among the sensitive targets. Surrounded by water, the perimeter is monitored with security cameras, lighting, and a road frequently patrolled by Military Police. A restricted area (RA) would provide a false sense of security or at least be ineffective should an attack be launched. In the past, there’s been an unofficial off-limits area, arbitrarily enforced.
Congress passed DC Cong. Eleanor Holmes Norton’s bill to redevelop the Southwest Waterfront and the Wharf, the sites most affected by the proposed rule. A reinvigorated Wharf has brought the DC community together and generated tax revenue. She says the rule is unnecessarily restrictive. “…and even when given the opportunity, military officials have not addressed the question of whether less restrictive measures could provide the same security.”
Echoing the call for security common sense is DC Mayor Muriel Bowser. “Residents and visitors alike are discovering for the first time the bounty that our Anacostia and Potomac Rivers offer in terms of recreation and relief from the stresses of city life.” The Mayor was concerned that fishing would not be permitted during periods of increased security. “The District continues to be concerned about the inclusion of the phrase ‘other periods of increased security’ since the ambiguity of the phrase could result in extended closures in the RA.”
Fishing was hardly mentioned in the proposal or during Cong. Norton’s public meeting. The proposal states “All persons, vessels, or other craft would be prohibited from anchoring, mooring or loitering within the Restricted Zone without the permission of the Commander, Joint Base Myer Henderson Hall/Fort McNair or his/her designated representatives.” These are fishing activities. When specifically asked about fishing, General Jones referred to paragraph D, “Fishing is permitted within the RA”.
Cong. Norton asked Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III to direct the Army Corps of Engineers to withdraw the proposed rule restricting public access to the Washington Channel, saying the rule is “…arbitrary, capricious and unnecessarily restricts recreational and commercial access to the Channel without providing any benefits to Fort McNair.” According to the Army, there have been “credible and specific threats” to Army personnel. Major General Omar Jones said the Washington Channel was the weakest security point. District of Columbia Ward 6 Councilmember Allen and others suggested a physical barrier would be more secure and less obtrusive than the proposed channel closure and said, “Let’s call it what it is. This is a taking of public water, our water, our river, and that ultimately won’t make the Fort any safer.”
In early March, Cong. Norton received a response from Secretary of Defense Austin referencing a memorandum from President Biden’s office regarding a “Regulatory Freeze Pending Review.” To comply, the Fort McNair restricted area action will not be finalized until a department or agency head appointed by President Biden reviews the rule when the freeze status changes. The Army will consider all public comments in their RA decision. There’s no timeline and this could take months.
While fishermen have been voicing concerns on social media, not a single comment was registered by any angler to oppose this proposed restriction. Only Potomac riverkeeper Dean Naujoks commented at Cong. Norton’s meeting. “It really needs to be understood that the Potomac River and the Washington Channel belong to the public, not the Army.” Naujoks was concerned about setting precedents with every military base along the river closing off access.
Meanwhile, in Virginia, the military dock at Fort Belvoir in Pohick Bay is creating issues for anglers. The dock has signs “RESTRICTED AREA STAY BACK 500 FEET”. This is being enforced by personnel on the dock, loudspeakers warning boaters and a military boat to chase down violators. The area to the upstream and downstream sides of the docks don’t fall into the posted 500 foot restricted zone nor are they marked; however the Army is enforcing a 500 foot restriction.
Potomac River Bassing in April
Water is reaching the mid 50s and fish are moving and staying shallow on wood cover and submerged grasses.
Use red lipless crankbaits or squarebill crankbaits on 12 pound test Gamma Edge fluorocarbon line and drag along gravel bottoms. Also dragging a Carolina rig with 50 pound Gamma Torque braid, a ¾ ounce weight, and a 12 pound test Edge leader can locate grass patches.
Once grass is found, follow up with soft plastics. Drop shots with 15 pound Torque braid and 10 pound test Edge leader and a 3/16 ounce Water Gremlin BullShot weight will find grass and remain to get fish in highly pressured grass beds.
If water is a bit stained, try ¼ ounce spinnerbaits with gold Colorado/Indiana blades and a white skirt on 12 pound test Edge. Slowly retrieve and bump cover or snap out of grass.
Pitch Mizmo tubes with ¼ ounce Mud Puppy Custom Baits insert heads. Skipping under docks and near cover will also produce along with Neko and Ned rigs. Faster Quantum Smoke spinning reels make it easier to take up slack for hooksets with 15 pound Gamma Torque braid with 8 pound Edge leader.
Author Capt. Steve Chaconas is Potomac bass fishing guide. Potomac River reports: nationalbass.com. Book trips/purchase gift certificates: info@NationalBass.com.