Watergate, Kennedy center. Fourteenth Street Bridge. Roosevelt Island. National Airport. The Pentagon. Hains Point.
What's this? Itinerary for a touristing trip around Washington?
Not quite. What these places consist of are bass "honey holes" - angler's jargon for super productive spots to catch the lordly largemouth, Micropterus salmoides.
In case you haven't noticed, the Potomac River has gotten itself quite clean over the last decade or two, particularly in the last three or four years. Take the Tidal Basin. Not many people are ready to go skinny-dipping there yet, but the water is clean enough in this cove of the Potomac that a local youngster recently caught the first bass of his life there while jigging a spoon along shore. His fish weighed 5 pounds, 14 ounces.
In front of virtually all of the famous and infamous landmarks bordering the historic Potomac, fishermen are discovering a reborn river chock-full of plump, sassy bass-fish that are ready and willing to climb onto plastic worms, grubs, crankbaits and spinnerbaits pulled samrtly past their snouts. No longer is it necessary to tote those luxurious bass boats three to four hours to find quality largemouth fishing. We've got it right in our own backyards.
The fishing has proved so consistently good, in fact, that one intrepid soul, Pete Cissel, abandoned his full-time job to become the first professional bass guide on the Washington stretch of the Potomac. Does he worry about depending on the vagaries of this supposedly polluted river to keep his family fed?
"No. For one thing, my wife works. For another, this river has cleaned up remarkably in the last three years. I've fished here since I was a kid, and it's amazing the change that's come about lately. Look at that water in the live well: It's as clear as any river like it in this part of the East."
It was clear, all right. But the bass in that live well-deep-girthed, silvery and broad across the shoulders - didn't like being spied upon. They splashed the glassy water to a froth, soaking the viewer's spectacles. With a jerk of his wrist he slammed the door shut, lest the fish leap back into their tidewater home prematurely.
The immediate past history of these bass in Pete Cissel's live well might be of interest. One had tap-tap-tapped on a purple firetail Mr. Twister Sentipede worm where a lovely stone wall keeps the Potomac from invading the lobbies of the Kennedy Center and Watergate during floods. This catch was slightly unusual because it was a chunky smallmouth. Cissel and other Potomac regulars catch mostly largemouths. It also came on a slack high tide-very unfavaoable fishing conditions on the Potomac or any other tidal bass creek.
The hordes of scantily clad joggers bouncing by on the sidwalk next to Rock Creek and Potomac Parkway must have thought it odd to catch a bronzeback on a slack high tide at this particular section of the Watergate rockwall, too. They stared gape-jawed as the bundled-up angler muscled the fish in to the metallic blue bass boat and hoisted it abroad.
Another half-dozen or so of the bass splashing in Cissel's live well had come from a rockpile off Roosevelt Island. It's a favorite spot for shore fishermen, where bass up to eight pounds are taken. And sure enough, there was a shore fisherman - creel over shoulder, net dangling from elbow as he cranked a plastic worm across the bottom rubble.
The shore fisherman wasn't happy. He called out to the boat anglers as they purred into casting range under power of the electric motor: "I don't know about you guys, but I work for a living. And I think I miss a lot of good fishing because of it. If I wasn't married and didn't have three kids I think I'd get a part-time job and earn enough to buy tackle and a little bit of food and just fish, fish, fish at the time. All these responsibilities . . ." he moaned, voice trailing off in the drone of a helicopter buzzing upriver.
The anglers in the boat didn't have the heart to tell the disenchanted family man that they, too, had wives and kids, but that they more or less fished - one as a bass guide, the other as an outdoor writier - for a living. All the worse, the shore fisherman wasn't catching anything while the pair in the bass boat wrestled in good numbers of largemouths on smoke grubs and firetail worms.
Feeling guilty, perhaps, they slipped back into the main river and putt-putted down toward Columbia Island, next to the Pentagon, carefully observing the 6 mph speed limit. Steaming coffee from the dockside restaruant fortified the fishermen for yet another assualt on the cool Potomac waters.
They didn't have to go far. Within stone's throw of the dock and directly in fron of the Pentagon a small, sandy island was pelted with chartreuse crankbaits. Again bass climbed onto the lures. Without ceremony they were fought to the boat and plunked into the fish box with their brethren.
And that's the history of the bass in Cissel's live well. Now - having been fooled, fought, gloated over, photographed and carried around in the aerated tank for the better part of the day - they were ready for release. Probably they weren't as delighted with the events of the day as the anglers were, but physically they were none the worse for wear. Back in the water they went, and with a flick of their tails away they swam.
For one angler the day ended behind National Airport at the parking area off George Washington Parkway, as jets zoomed in overhead. For guide Cissel there was a boattide up the Anacostia to his put-in point as twilight settled over the District of Columbia.