Thursday, April 28, 2011

Springtime crappie fishing --- a joy for the entire family

With the end of April here and May knocking on the door, many of our upper tidal river and freshwater fishermen concentrate more on largemouth bass than anything else. What a shame. They're missing out on one of the most satisfying types of recreational angling a human being can ever enjoy: The searching for and finding of  tasty crappies.

Gene Mueller and a Potomac River crappie
Back in the late 1960s when my family was just beginning to get serious about bugging dad to take everybody along on fishing trips, the answer was easy. We'd head to Maryland's Eastern Shore and find the speckled wonders in profusion at Wye Mills, Williston, Leonard, Johnson, and Urieveille lakes.

My daughter, Sheri, enjoyed our outings because, occcasionally, we'd stay in a motel and turn our day trip into a 2-day outing. Sheri, who'd rather go swimming than eat chocolate candy, had a motel pool to jump in -- and she would jump until her skin turned wrinkly and took on a shade of light blue, which is kind of odd for a gorgeous kid with bright-blond  hair.

Now, she's all grown up, has her own family, and I have to listen to her complaints about grandpa not taking his grandsons fishing often enough. I ought to be ashamed of myself. I really should.

Bobbers, shad darts and jigs are all that's needed
We'll rectify that soon enough. With a little luck, plenty of shad darts, 1/16-oz. curly-tailed jigs, maybe a few dozen 2-inch-long minnows, and six or seven thumb tip-sized bobbers, we'll go after a fish that is variously known as calico bass, croppy, speck, paper mouth, and some names not suited for young ears whenever a big specimen breaks off just before you swing it into the boat or onto land. Either way, the proper name is crappie.

One of the best places on the tidal Potomac River can be the Spoils Cove, near Wilson Bridge, or Swan Creek, Piscataway Creek, Mt. Vernon on the main river, Occoquan River, Powell Creek, Potomac Creek, Aquia Creek, and in days gone by, also the Nanjemoy Creek and the Mattawoman Creek. The Nanjemoy and Mattawoman are running a real risk of being overfished by crappie hunters who arrive with 4 and 5 minnow-baited rigs -- and nary a fish is ever returned by unthinking individuals who believe that a crappie is so prolific it can't be overfished. That's pure hokum. Any species has to be watched over and not be fished to death.

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My all-time Virginia crappie hangouts include the Occoquan Reservoir and Burke Lake in the Washington suburbs, as well as the much larger Lake Anna west of Fredericksburg. If you want to fish one of the best crappie lakes anywhere in the country, especially if it's trophy specimens you're after, go to the huge Buggs Island Lake (Kerr Reservoir) in south-central Virginia where 3-pounders are not unheard of.

In Maryland's Washington suburbs, don't overlook the Triadelphia and Duckett (Rocky Gorge) reservoirs, also St. Mary's Lake. All three are producers if you fish them properly.

I start with a light spinning rod and 6-pound test monofilament line (sometimes 14-pound FireLine, which has a diameter of 4-pound monofilament and can help you pull a lure free without losing the whole rig). A 1/16-oz. white/red, or red/chartreuse shad dart, or a 1/16-oz. white plastic, curly-tailed grub, held from bottom snags with a bobber, is a good way to start. You can smear a little crawfish Smelly Jelly on the heads of the lures, or even add a smidgeon of garden worm to provide an attractive flavor. Some people prefer to use a lip-hooked minnow either on a plain snelled hook or simply added to a shad dart. The bobber needs to be moved up or down the line until you find the proper depth that the crappies are living and feeding in.

Cast toward a flooded tree's branches, a boat dock, a brush pile that someone has dropped into the water, even along wooden sea walls. When the lure and bobber land, jiggle the rod tip from time to time to give the lure some life-like action. If a crappie is in the vicinity, it will strike almost immediately. Set the hook, but not too hard because crappies have tender mouths, then reel it in.

Some think there is nothing better than fried crappie fillets
This time of year, some of us look for spawning crappies. We simply use very light line that is tied to a scented 2-inch Berkley Power Minnow in grey/black. I get away with a 1/16-oz. jig hook that is pushed through the body with the hook point emerging from the lure's back. With a little added Smelly Jelly, a quick flick of the wrist will send it into gravelly, sandy or semi-mud laden shallow banks where the speckled fish might be spawning and they'll smack the lure instantly -- if they're hanging out in these waters. It happens every April/May in the Piscataway, Swan and Little Hunting creeks, as well as Lake Anna, also in the Eastern Shore's Marshyhope Creek and others.

I usually keep a half dozen crappies, fillet and wash them,  salt and pepper is added, then roll the fillets  in an egg wash, followed by either a commercial fish breading mix or Italian bread crumbs. The fillets are fried in a black-iron or  regular skillet in bottom-covering vegetable oil at medium-to-hot heat until golden brown. 

Some Southerners swear that a crappie is the best eating fish there is. I simply think it's very tasty, but the best eating fish for me is a young cobia or a black drum. Either way, have a ball and enjoy one of the better fish in our waters.

Monday, April 25, 2011

What a week it has been for anglers all over

The following pictures are of people who went after stripers in the Chesapeake Bay or the lower Potomac River, youngsters who hooked crappies in a local lake, or even one fisherman who found flounder action in Ocean City, Md. The images were sent by the proprietor of the Tackle Box in Lexington Park, Ken Lamb, and Christy Henderson of Buzz's Marina on St. Jerome's Creek (both businesses are in St. Mary's County). We thank Ken and Christy and anyone else who bothers to take the time to send  a good fishing photo to channelbass@gmail.com ----- Gene Mueller

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Here we go:



Dave Ellison, of Lake Ridge, Va., brought this beautiful rockfish back to Buzz's Marina. It is clear that he was delighted with his catch.









Frank Redding leads the monthly croaker contest among Tackle Box visitors with this beauty he caught at Hog Point in the mouth of the Patuxent River.
Here's hoping that this will be a great year for hardheads.

















Nate, Tim and Rob Wheeler of Lexington Park didn't appear to have much trouble bringing home enough rockfish to provide dinners for everybody on the block (if they wanted to).














James Temple, Mike Wolston, Ronnie Hill, Daryl Jordan and Dennis Hill show off six rockfish caught while trolling during the trophy season. A sixth angler wasn't available for the photo.









How about this fine 18-1/2-inch-long flounder hooked by Chris Poole, of Port Republic, Md., during a fishing trip to Ocean City, the state's favorite vacation resort town. Chris is holding up some excellent table fare here.












Daryl Caldwell caught this whopping rockfish that measured 44 inches and weighed 38 pounds while trolling around Buoy 9 inside the Potomac River last week.



And the monster stripers keep right on jumping on trolled umbrella rigs and parachute bucktails, and heaven only knows what else. Here is Jeff Long with a fantastic 46-inch-long specimen that weighed 34 pounds.













Local freshwater fans John Shotwell, Matt Rog and Brandon Gardiner went after the crappies in St. Mary's Lake (south of Leonardtown, Md.) and as you can see, they caught them. Their lures included small plastic grubs, and they also used live minnows.








Marilyn and Tom Crosby fished with charter boat captain Jeff Pharis and as you can see the captain delivered the goods. A third angler apparently is not in the picture.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Does the White House have a clue about us boaters?

I keep hearing that the currently outrageous gasoline costs are the fault of any one of the following: Speculators, oil companies, Arabs, OPEC, China or India buying all the oil available, etc., etc.

The fact of the matter is that our leadership either has no clue about what to do, or -- even worse -- intentionally stays silent about any possible salvation for millions of Americans.

A personal opinion from Gene Mueller
I watched President Obama on the news a few nights ago and his only solution to us being undoubtedly gouged, cheated, robbed and taken to the cleaners, was that he will order the Justice Department to look into whether consumers are being treated unfairly. All I can say to that is "Big Whoop!" You said nothing, Mr. President.

Mr. Obama, you're not fooling me even a little bit. You know what the solution is, yet you refuse to rescue us Americans from whoever it is that is sticking it to us.

All you need to do is go on the public airwaves and say: "Listen up, world. Everybody! Hear me good! I am ordering federal oil drilling rigs to drill new wells in half a dozen American states, including the Arctic, offshore and inshore, if necessary. We are sitting on top of more oil reserves than Saudi Arabia ever had or ever hoped to have. So we're going to pump 24 hours a day, and all the oil will be refined here in the U.S. 

"The gasoline and diesel fuel we produce will stay in the United States. It will not be sold to any other nation with the exception perhaps of our neighbor, Canada. We will build new federal refineries. Shell, BP, Exxon, Chevron, Texaco, and other oil companies will have no say in this matter. They are busily touting their wares all over the world, so let them. However, no foreign oil company from here on will be allowed to drill on U.S. soil."

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If the President actually went on the air and said that, by next morning the price of gasoline will have fallen by a dollar or more. And if we keep our own oil here and sell the fuel only here, the government can do something I normally do not like, but in this case it might be necessary. It's called price control. Using our plentiful oil, we could sell gasoline to North Americans only and the cost could be as little as $1.50 per gallon.

Of course the President doesn't have the necessary intestinal fortitude to do this. He'll waffle and wiggle, and play politics as usual, blaming George Bush and heaven only knows who else for all our problems.

But I wish he'd ask us pickup truck owners who tow fishing boats how they feel about listening to his almost idiotic babble about buying electric cars. You couldn't tow a baby buggy with an electric car. Try doing it with a 2-ton boat sitting on a half-ton trailer. There are millions of us, Mr. Obama. Millions.

Does the White House even begin to realize what will happen to the recreational industry in this land if people can't run their boats, trucks, campers, etc.? Does he think about what the current fuel costs are doing to commercial truckers, the food industry, the building industry and every other facet of our economy?

Could it be that the President, as has been suggested by some detractors, actually wants this country to go completely bankrupt, broke, kaput, going down a slippery slope?

Friday, April 22, 2011

Can there be more joy than a youngster catching fish?

I don't believe there is anything quite as satisfying for an adult who loves to be on the water than seeing a child's face when it reels in a fish.

Zach Wesolowski, 11, of La Plata, Md., and a crappie
While it is true that I spend the majority of my fishing trips with like-minded (often grumpy) grown-ups, there is something special about observing the face of a kid when the cork goes down and a fish eventually strains  against the line. For example, a few days ago I spent a morning with my neighbor and friend, Wes Harris, who wanted his 11-year-old grandson, Zach Wesolowski, catch a fish -- anything, as long as it had fins. That's all that mattered.

We loaded my 18-footer with rods, reels, a box filled with small shad darts and plastic grubs, a dozen bobbers, a cooler with sandwiches (Zach likes grape jelly on white bread) and off we went to Mallows Bay, a part of the tidal Potomac River in western Charles County. You've heard about Mallows Bay. It's a ships graveyeard and pieces of the hulls of various old vessels that were scuttled there can still be seen.

You should have seen Zach's face when his bobber went down alongside an old piling that sat in 5 to 6 feet of water. Sadly, Zach was a bit late in setting the hook, but he eventually got the hang of it and the next time something sampled his "bait," the boy was ready. He reeled in a fat crappie that weighed well over a pound.

Evan Snyder and a fat rockfish
Even as the wind howled and the three of us had a time keeping boat in one place, by noon we had enough crappies to provide Zach and his grand-parents with a delicious supper. The speckled wonders were filleted and later seasoned and fried.

Now enter 12-year-old Evan Snyder who, with his father, John, went out on the Chesapeake Bay on April 19 to troll for rockfish. Captain Chuck Dowling found action fairly quick. The Haymarket, Va., residents did fine and Evan brought in a fat striper that I'm certain made for more than one great dinner.

My friend Mike Guy, of the Guy Brothers Marine store in Clements, Md., has two youngsters who love to visit Grandpa Al's farm pond, which is practically within walking distance from Mike's home.

Mike Guy with Michael, and Mikaela
Mike's little girl, Mikaela, 3, and her brother, Michael, 8, are quickly becoming old hands at catching fish. They have no trouble at all baiting hooks under the watchful eye of their father, and when a bass, sunfish or crappie samples the offerings, they waste little time setting hooks and reeling in their catches.

Then there are my grandsons, Lane, 8, and Jake, 13. Those two love to fish, as does their big sister, Lindsey, and their mother -- my daughter Sheri.

Little Mikaela Guy isn't afraid of a bass
I never forget the day when Lane executed a mighty cast at the Guys' farm pond, slipped from the rock he was standing on and instantly stood in water up to his knees. He got back to land faster than I could spell his name. But instead of whining about being wet, he simply shook his head, picked up his rod and sailed his lure back into the pond. He was rewarded with a big crappie.



My grandson, Jake (who now is 13)
Brother, Jake, worried about his sibling, constantly asked, "Are you okay, Lane?" And Lane nodded his head, never taking his eye off the fishing line that penetrated the water.

That's what is so good about young anglers. All who participate are members of a brother- and sisterhood that learns and grows. In the end everybody will be the better for it, which is good for all of us, especially we grumpy old men.

The photos of the two are a year old. Both of the boys are bigger and even smarter than they were a year ago.


My grandson, Lane Jewell, and a good crappie
















Wednesday, April 20, 2011

When are you planning to go fishing? It's high time.


Jeff and Glenn Harris (left) and Matt Greenstreet fished with charter  captain Jeff Popp (410/790-2015), who left Solomons, Md., to try for the Chesapeake Bay's trophy stripers. The three scored nicely.





Dick Fox came all the way from Front Royal, Va., to fish the upper tidal Potomac. Using a soft, plastic swim bait he nailed this fine bass in a Charles County feeder creek. But he would not divulge exactly where it was. His answer to my questions: "Can't tell you, but we had over 20 bass and some snakeheads on the swim bait and on Mann's Baby 1-Minus lures.




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Virginia Beach fishermen are heading over to the Eastern Shore to catch whopping-size channel bass, also known as redfish or red drum. Here, Keith Blackburn (left) shows off a fine specimen.







Wes Blow (right), a well-known Virginia saltwater specialist, apparently had no trouble hooking a fine red drum around Fisherman's Island on the Eastern Shore.




Sunday, April 17, 2011

Opening day for trophy stripers was a blowout, but then came Sunday!

Rods with parachute bucktails sat waiting atop land-bound boats.
Who would have guessed that April 16, the opening day for the trophy striped bass season, would deliver everything except fish. Although last year's opener was far too windy, it couldn't compare to the 2011 version. This year, it howled! Even the toughest rockfish hunters we know called it a day early on. Whitecaps and high water could be seen everywhere.

At Buzz's Marina, the owners, Christy and Mike Henderson, saw their usual marina visitors with their boats still on the trailers. No one was willing to risk going out into the Chesapeake Bay when winds up to 40 mph threatened. The Hendersons took it in stride. "What can you do?" asked Mike. "Things like that happen. We just hope that the rest of the season won't be like this."

Boat owners waited under a tent, wishing the wind would stop.
It won't. Things are bound to get better. But what really hurts is the awesome presence of trophy (28-inch-and-over) stripers in the Chesapeake -- many of them not far from the mouth of St. Jerome's Creek, in deeper channel ledges east of the creek.

Even Charlie Stewart, a stalwart regular at Buzz's Marina, said he wouldn't go out when it blows like it did through all of Saturday. Stewart is a fishing phenom and if anybody can bring in the goodies from the Bay's waters, it will be him. But on this Saturday, Charlie took a "wind check," so to speak. The moment the gale lays down to a lesser roar, he'll be heading out of the creek. You can bet your last dime on that.

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Then came the second day of trophy season 

Charles County's Ralph Acquaviva scored quickly
Sunday presented a different story. Although weather conditions improved greatly, there still was a stiff breeze to contend with. Nonetheless, the fishing gang from Buzz's Marina went out, as did boaters up and down the Chesapeake.

Charles County's Ralph Acquaviva started later than most, but was the first to return with a keeper striped bass -- a fine specimen that easily met the minimum 28-inch limit and then some.

Barb Winters, of Ridge, Md., and her fine striper





Add also Barb Winters, of Ridge, Md., who managed to bring a wonderful rockfish to the boat. That fish, Barb, will feed quite a few if you have a mind to invite guests to a striper dinner.

Along comes Ken Lamb, of Lexington Park's Tackle Box, who was kind enough to forward photos of half a dozen folks who stopped at the shop to have their photo taken with well-fed, healthy striped bass.

John Walton caught this one on the beach


John Walton, of Pasadena, Md., was the first to show up with a trophy rockfish -- a 43-incher that was caught not from a boat, but from the beach at the Patuxent Naval Air Station. Let's not forget local angler Joe Tippett, who trolled around the Buoy 77 area and came up with a quality striper.

A post-script is called for when we think of charter boat captain Greg Buckner (call 301/873-1327), who decided to brave the super-rough waves on opening day, Saturday, and actually connected on rockfish. Capt. Greg is as tough as they come and he proved it once again.



Joe Tippett and a Buoy 77 beauty

If you want to visit Buzz's Marina, or simply chat with Christy or Mike Henderson, check out their ad on this page.

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Thursday, April 14, 2011

The spring wild turkey hunting season is here

Virginia turkey hunters Scott Seale and his son, Jacob, 7, 
show off their fine gobblers. Photo by Jorj Head

Virginia bag limits and dates

You’ll be allowed to shoot one bearded turkey per day. Depending on how many turkeys you shot during last fall’s season, you may take one, two or three bearded turkeys.

The statewide season runs April 9-April 30, 2011: One-half hour before sunrise until 12 noon each day. May 2-May 14, 2011: One-half hour before sunrise to sunset.

Special restrictions apply to specific firearms use during this season. See Legal Use of Firearms and Archery Equipment and Local Firearms Ordinances for details.
  • Modern firearms
  • Archery tackle (including crossbows)
  • Muzzleloading firearms
  • Decoys and blinds may be used
  • Unlawful to use electronic calls
  • Unlawful to use dogs during spring turkey season
  • When using a shotgun it is unlawful to use or have in possession any shot larger than number 2 fine shot during spring turkey season.
Successful spring hunters must check their birds by telephone (1-866-GOT-GAME [468-4263]) or online. Spring turkeys are no longer being checked at Game Check Stations.

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Maryland bag limits, dates and new rules

   New in 2010/11: The hunting hours have been extended until sunset for the last two weeks of the spring turkey season and on the wild turkey Junior Hunt for the entire state.
   The new separate bag limits for the fall and spring turkey seasons are: one either sex bird in the fall and two bearded birds during the spring season.
   Shot size restrictions for turkey hunting have been changed. Shot sizes No. 4 or smaller are now permitted.
   Crossbows may be used to hunt forest game during the open season for these species.
  
Turkey hunting will be permitted on Sunday, May 1, 2011, in Allegany and Garrett counties only.

Hunting Hours

Spring Bearded Turkey Season: April 18 through May 9 -- one half hour before sunrise to noon. Junior Hunt Day and May 10 through May 23 -- one half hour before sunrise to sunset.

Licensing Requirements

A Regular Hunting License, Junior Hunting License, Senior Hunting License or Nonresident Hunting License is required to hunt forest game. Additional permit requirements for black bear are listed below. See Licenses, Stamps & Permits for descriptions, prices, and availability of licenses, stamps, and permits.
Yorktown, Va., teacher Jorj Head and a big gobbler

Wild turkey hunting restrictions

It is illegal to bait for spring and fall turkey hunting, use recorded or electronically amplified calls, or use motorized or electronic turkey decoys. An area is considered by law to be baited for 10 days after removal of the bait. Dogs and organized drives may not be used for hunting turkeys in the spring.
Spring turkey hunters are permitted to use shotguns loaded with #4 shot or smaller, crossbows and vertical bows.

Turkey Tagging and Checking Requirements

Before moving a harvested turkey from the place of kill, a hunter must: Fill out a Field Tag and attach it to the animal AND Fill out a Big Game Harvest Record block.

Then, the hunter has 24 hours to check in their game using the Internet check-in website (http://www.gamecheck.dnr.state.md.us) or the Maryland Big Game Registration Phone Line (1-888-800-0121) and a confirmation number will be issued. The Confirmation Number must be recorded on the Big Game Harvest Record.
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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Fish catches prove that spring has sprung


 
The Tackle Box store in Lexington Park, Maryland, offers a gift certificate to the angler catching the first croaker every year.

Local fisherman, Daniel Stock, was the first who brought in a hardhead, as it's known in many parts of Southern Maryland. The croaker was caught from the Point Lookout State Park fishing pier and was checked in on April 10, 2011.



And what about this whopping 51-pound blue catfish caught by Claude Hill in the tidal Potomac River? Claude dropped in at the Tackle Box to check in the huge "cat" on March 21.

What some people do not realize is that the Potomac's tidal waters are home to large numbers of these bearded invaders. They are not native to the river, but have taken a firm hold now and produce tackle-busting, exciting outings. The river even has professional catfish guides. 



 
Everyone who lives in Chesapeake Bay Country prizes the delicate taste of a white perch. There are legions of white perch fanatics who care for little else but this species.

A typical white perch normally measures 7 to 9 inches, but fisherman Carl Hamilton landed this 13-inch, 1.6-pound white perch at Charles County's Allen's Fresh (Wicomico River) during the spawning run on March 14, 2011.

Ken Lamb photos, Tackle Box, Lexington Park

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Thursday, April 7, 2011

Could it be that these two lures are all you need to catch bass?

NEW PRODUCT TEST

3-inch Baby Craws from the Strike King Lure Company
When my friend Tommy Akin, a public relations guru who lives in Tennessee, arranged to have a few packets of  Rage Tail Baby Craw (RGBC) baits from the Strike King Lure Company shipped to my office, I looked at the soft plastic beauties that reeked of coffee flavor -- a new attraction scent for bass -- and my long-time fishing pal, Dale Knupp, said, "Just you wait and see. These baits will slay the fish." Knupp is a huge fan of the scented plastics that kind of  imitate crawfish claws and have enough body to insert a worm hook into after you feed the reel's line through a slip sinker.

Why is he so crazy about lures that resemble crawfish? Well, you might have heard that our upper tidal Potomac River's largemouth bass population (among the finest in the land) feed heavily on crawdads. They have a hankerin' for  the
crawfish and if they see anything that resembles the clawed wonders, it seems like a dinner bell is ringing for the bucketmouths.

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I used a 3-inch green pumpkin color Baby Craw RGBC, which is a member of the Rage Tail soft bait family, and during an initial outing, casting it to sunken tree branches or marsh bank dropoffs, caught bass without any trouble. The Baby Craw worked like a charm and from here on I wouldn't leave home without them being a part of my tackle bag's inventory.

Kevin VanDam's winning Classic lure, the KVD 1.5
The story is just beginning. If you remember how Michigan's super angler Kevin VanDam won this years Bass Master Classic, you'll also recall that he credited Strike King's KVD 1.5 crankbait for delivering enough of a bass catch to stay ahead of the other professionals. The KVD 1.5 became an instant hit. (Do I need to explain what the lure's initials stand for? I don't think so.)

Since I couldn't find any of the magical crankbaits in local stores, my friend Akin managed to secure a few of the lures for me to test.

During an outing on the Potomac near Marshall Hall, as pro bass guide Andy Andrzejewski gave me a wuppin' because I wasn't yet ready to tie on the 3/8-ounce multi-color KVD 1.5, I finally pulled one from a tackle tray while the tide dropped rapidly. However, we had things to do and were almost ready to call it a day. The lure was tied to 12-pound-test monofilament.

Gene Mueller caught a limit on the KVD 1.5 crankbait
In an area of gently sloping shoreline, with hydrilla and milfoil emerging everywhere, I cast the KVD 1.5 toward the shallows, slowly cranked it back, picking up a little speed when the water depth increased, and within the first 5 casts hooked a fat largemouth. Within another hour of casting and cranking, four more bass jumped on the super-sharp hooks of the square-lipped, wobbling KVD 1.5.

Could it be that Strike King's KVD 1.5 and the Baby Craw are the only lures you'll ever need to catch bass with? I'm beginning to believe it.

Take a look at the Strike King web page: www.StrikeKing.com

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The fishing is improving all over


Germantown, Maryland, anglers Ben Chatterson and Mark Herrgott show off a 32-pound striped bass caught on the Susquehanna Flats during an exploratory outing with Capt. Jeff Popp (call 410/790-2015). This rockfish and many others will continue to be caught and released in the weeks to come.

Then there is my nephew, Christian Mueller, who latched onto this fine largemouth bass in a lake in East Berlin, Penna., a week ago. Christian is an avid bass angler who'll go anywhere the fish are biting. Like his uncle, weather doesn't matter. He'll go whether it rains, blows, or the sun boils down.The bass was put back into the water.
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And how about this 50-pound snowy grouper caught by Roger Burnley in Virginia's offshore waters reccently. Burnley and his friends spend a lot of time out in the Atlantic, sitting over sunken wrecks, fishing for tautogs, grouper and tilefish. The photo was taken by the fishing dentist and well-known saltwater angler, Dr. Ken Neill.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Sporting Clays Shoot Benefits Brian's Hunt for the Cure

Back in 2008, when Brian Wathen was just six years old he was found to have a debilitating type of brain cancer known to the medical profession as medulloblastoma. Hospital visits mounted, mom and dad worried themselves sick, but neighbors and friends rallied around little Brian and his family. Happily, the boy displayed unusual toughness for someone that young. With the help of skillful physicians and available treatment procedures, Brian fought back and today, at age 9, has been cancer-free for two years.

Larry Bowling generously provided the land
Also two years ago, family and friends put together an awareness- and fund-raising team they called Brian's Hunt for the Cure -- Race for Hope - DC. It would raise money for the National Brain Tumor Society and Accelerate Brain Cancer Cure. Last year, a special 5K walk raised $20,000. This past Saturday (April 2, 2011) the Brian's Hunt for the Cure team asked people to pay a reasonable sum to participate in a special Sporting Clays Tournament. 104 shooters showed up.

A helpful Charles County landowner, Larry Bowling, provided a safe portion of his bottomland property for the shoot. Business owners in St. Mary's and Charles counties donated door prizes. Volunteers turned out by the dozen to drive participants from a hill-top parking area down to the shooting stations, man the clay-throwing machinery, or deliver boxes of shotshells wherever they were needed. Everybody pitched in.

Francis Guy, Jonathan Hill, Brandy Guy await their turn
If you're not familiar with sporting clays, I believe it's easiest to explain that this shotgun sport is like a happy mixture of skeet, trap, overhead bird and ground-hugging rabbit shooting. At one of the seven stations you'll use the first of your 50 rounds by trying to hit a standard right-to-left or left-to-right flying target, then follow up with double clays, eventually also try to strike straight-out-front, going away "birds," then high overhead clay targets and one of the more challenging shoots, one and two clay birds that seem to be rolling across the grass at break-neck speed. I actually saw some of the ladies and gentlemen hitting those "rabbits."

Jimmy Cooksey and our young hero, Brian
The top male shooter turned out to be Jimmy Cooksey when he busted 44 of his 50 clays. Danielle Wathen was the best lady shotgunner who broke 23 out of 50. The top kid shooter was 14-year-old Michael Nutter with 29 out of 50; and the best team score was produced by Greg Adams, Brian Stine, Jack Racey and Eddie Armsworthy. The foursome had 200 clays to shoot at and broke 156 of them.

By the end of the day, the piece de resistance, however, was delivered by the Wathen family where relatives and friends helped the Wathens dish up a delectable sit-down meal under a tent and in a heated garage that was worthy of getting seconds, even thirds. There was ham, meatballs, fried chicken, macaroni salad, pickled beets, bread pudding, beans, rolls, butter, fruit salad, tea, coffee, canned drinks, pies, cakes and cookies of every description. No one drove home afterward and stopped at a McDonald's to get a hamburger, I can assure you.

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Friday, April 1, 2011

Bass eat even when the water temperature drops

Question: "If human beings have to purchase a license if they want to fish, why is it that ospreys and bald eagles can do it for free?"
                     Andy Andrzejewski, occasional comedian and ace bass fishing guide 


A Chatterbait nailed this bass for Andy
MARBURY, MD. -- When we launched a boat recently to check if our tidal Mattawoman Creek bass were willing to pick up a bait even though the water temperature had dropped alarmingly, it wasn't long before the tidal largemouths taught me a lesson. It's an easy enough reminder that applies even to humans: You have to eat whether it's cold, warm or somewhere in between.

So it was that blustery day when the tide ebbed steadily and Andy had to use his considerable skills to keep a 22-foot bass boat in line with a soon-to-emerge field of spatterdock and the adjacent 7- to 9-foot dropoff.

With the wind actually slowing down a bit and me thinking that if the fish were at least a little interested, they'd surely be down in the deeper layers of the creek water, I cranked a long-lipped Norman Deep Little "N" crankbait into the drop and time after time,

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nothing happened. Then I switched to the one lure I wouldn't leave home without: A Mann's avocado-color Sting Ray grub. If it reeks of crawfish or baitfish Smelly Jelly, it usually produces bites. However, this day that didn't happen.

Gene's Chatterbait attracted this largemouth
Andy already had switched to a 4-inch red plastic worm and, indeed, a bass snatched it up, leaving us to believe that the deeper water was the place to cast to. But in one of the rod keepers in the boat, I saw a Chatterbait, rigged with a small Shadalicious plastic that was partially covered by the lure's skirt. I cast it into the shallow tips of the spatterdock, cranked it back a few feet toward the edge of the drop, the lure vibrating strongly, but it never made it to the deeper water. "Slooosh!" A bass inhaled the lure. It happened in fairly shallow water where temperatures were stuck somewhere in the upper 40s, not around 60 degrees where they should have been if life were fair.

Andy's red worm found this creek bass
To top it off, Andy said, "Let's see if these fish will look at a wacky-rigged worm." In case you're wondering, wacky-rigged plastic worms, a hook inserted through the mid section of the "bait" and the entire deal looking like some crazy two-armed creature, normally are thought of as warm weather baits, the kind we like to use in summer shade spots when the bass are near or on the shore's edge. So I thought, but the professional guide only smiled.

Within a few casts toward fairly shallow greenery, later even in some shoreline wood, he and I both connected on bass, and Andy also hooked a young snakehead that broke free near the boat. The wacky worm, the Chatterbait, and a plastic worm turned out to be the producers on a cold morning when rain threatened and the tide dropped about as low as it can go on an average day.

Andrzejewski is booking trips. If you're interested in spending a half or full day with this skillful fisherman, call 301/932-1509.