Keepin’ it Legal…
By Steve Chaconas
On a warmer than usual January day, a Virginia bass tournament angler was checking out a few Potomac River spots. A Maryland Natural Resource Police officer pulled up and checked the angler’s registration and safety gear. When asked for his license, the angler presented his Virginia Freshwater license. The officer informed the angler he was required to have a Virginia Saltwater License, but gave a verbal warning followed by the promise of a ticket should the angler show up again without the “correct” credentials. This was incorrect as the angler did indeed possess the proper license. The DNR realized this and is passing the correct information to all officers. For now, this situation has been resolved.
But the fact remains the Tidal Potomac persists as a licensing quagmire. Just a few years ago, anglers fishing the Tidal Potomac River only needed 2 of three licenses. MD residents purchased a MD Tidal Fishing license and Virginia anglers purchased a VA Freshwater License. These MD and VA licenses were reciprocal. To fish in the waters of the District of Columbia, a DC Fishing License was required. Even fishing from the Alexandria waterfront, a DC fishing license is required. The DC border starts at Jones Point and runs diagonally to the northeast. The Potomac River Fisheries Commission has an easy to read chart to answer most licensing questions. http://prfc.us/reciprocity_guidelines.html
Boating isn’t easy either. Boating in DC waters requires a unique Coast Guard Approved Safe Boating Course. A different course is needed in Virginia (required for vessels over 10hp) and another for Maryland (required if born after 1972). VA and MD reciprocate; however, courses must be equivalent. (Thankfully, BoatUS.org has free online safety courses.)
In 2010, Potomac River anglers were required by the Federal Government to sign up (at no cost) with the National Saltwater Registry. In a span of only a few years, a lot has changed and has confused anglers.
In addition, for 2011, states were given the option to participate in registry data collection for the National Saltwater Registry…or the Federal Government would create their own database and charge anglers a $15 fee on top of local licenses.
Both Virginia and Maryland legislatures had a year to scramble to enact legislation and develop a data collection process that would exempt their license holders from having to “personally” register with the National Saltwater Registry, avoiding a $15 Federal fee. MD and VA still reciprocate fishing licenses and have complied with the new law…but for Potomac River anglers there’s more!
In Virginia, to fish in the upstream Potomac River and tributaries, anglers must purchase a VA Freshwater License just as before, but now they must additionally register with VA’s Fisherman Identification Program (FIP) every year. It’s free and to keep costs down, VA prefers anglers register online(www.mrc.virginia.gov/FIP), but no longer accepts phone call registrations. After providing name, phone number, address, email address, date of birth, and where, in general, you fish, you’ll be given an identification number. VA State Law requires carrying this number to prove registration. If you provide an email address, VA will send an automatic reminder every year to register again.
Likewise, good news from Maryland’s General Assembly. Lawmakers drafted legislation to come into compliance. Maryland’s Legislature, working with the MD Department of Natural Resources completed the process making the registry a seamless part of the MD Tidal Fishing License system. Through the purchase of a Maryland Tidal Fishing License, Maryland will automatically enroll purchasers in the National Registry at no extra cost. Purchasers of a Maryland or DC license will not be required to register with NOAA.
However, both MD and VA Potomac River anglers must register with the other state to fish across state lines. Holders of a VA fishing license must also register online at no cost with MD, https://compass.dnr.maryland.gov/dnrcompassportal. MD anglers must register with VA, http://www.mrc.virginia.gov/FIP.
To fish in DC…everyone needs a DC license, except those over 65 or under 16, to fish in DC waters…DC is in compliance, and you DO NOT need to register elsewhere.
In the course of a fishing day, Potomac River bass anglers can pass through three jurisdictions. VA and MD were challenged to comply, and they have. No increased cost to anglers, and it’s fairly painless to register. DC is in compliance, no need to purchase a Federal NOAA license or to register.
To be sure, USCG approved PFDs, a throwable, working fire extinguisher, whistle, and current boat registration are required for everyone.
Potomac River Bassing in MARCH
Days are getting warmer, and water is staying above 45 and getting to 55 during the warmest days in the last days of March.
In early March, target bass on steep drops with Silver Buddy lures. This will allow you to cover water and depths. Tie on a ½ ounce Silver Buddy on sunny days and gold when it’s cloudy or water is stained. Use small burps on 10 pound test GAMMA Edge fluorocarbon line on fast casting reels. A medium action rod is best.
Once fish are located, try Ned rigs. Open hook presentations are still effective when bite is light. As fish get more active, try split shot, and drop shot rigs.
As water gets closer to 50, fish creek mouth points with suspending jerkbaits on 10 pound GAMMA EDGE line to get shallow fish to commit. Slight taps and long pauses will work. If fish are more active, break out lipless cranks in red patterns. Slowly retrieve along the bottom.
Finding shallow fish where there is wood, a ¼ ounce spinnerbait with white skirts and gold blades will produce by coming in contact with the cover.
Also break out hair jigs with matching chunks. Use slow horizontal presentations. Soak soft plastics and jigs in bait spray.
Flat-sided cranks on 10-pound test EDGE work along warmed surfaces. Shad patterns in clearer water or sunny days, craw otherwise.
Author Capt. Steve Chaconas is a Potomac bass fishing guide & freelance writer. Potomac River reports: nationalbass.com. YouTube channel NationalBassGuide.