Whenever fishermen gather this time of year the talk is of small ponds. The theory goes that small waters heat up faster than large and therefore they are the first places where fish get active.
Unfortunately, Washington doesn't have any small ponds.
Or does it?
There's this place called the Tidal Basin where the tourists flock to see the cherry trees and paddle around in pedal boats. It's smack in the middle of downtown.
Could there be fish in the Tidal Basin?
You bet your blossoms.
By certified personal count the following species of fish were being caught in the Tidal Basin last week; Largemouth bass (the biggest landed over the weekend was 2 1/2 pounds); big winter shad (one caught in two days); crappies (up to one pound and available by the hundreds); catfish (big and plentiful); and, believe it or not, striped bass.
At least two anglers took stripers, or rockfish as they are known locally, from the murky waters of the Tidal Basin last weekend. A 1 1/2-pounder struck a crappie lure near the bridge that divides the Basin from the main stem of the Potomac. Another came up in a big net Aubrey Waters was dunking near the same bridge.
Said waters, who lives in Anacostia, "I couldn't catch them on a lure, I couldn't catch them on bait, I couldn't catch them with my line so I got out my net."
He had a five-gallon bucket full of fish, including the solitary shad and a mess of fat crappies and bass.
The fellows on the other bank were not impressed. "Takes all the sport out of it," said George Gilbert, who had a stringer of catfish. "I wouldn't use no net."
The Tidal Basin is hot as a firecracker for fishing this week, particularly if you're partial to crappies. Ben Pittman of Q Street SW dropped down to the pond last Sunday at 2 p.m. and by the time he was ready to leave at 6 he had a dozen of the fat speckled perch, and not one was laughably small.
Pittman was catching them on minnows, which he hooked through the back and dangled about two feet below a cork bobber. A small lead weight held the bait down. Pittman kept two fishing rods baited up and working. He left both on the sidewalk and watched the corks.
Every 15 minutes or so one of the corks began swimming off, then did a series of tiny bobs as the fish yanked at the bait. Pittman waited patiently until the cork went under for good, then he grabbed the rod and gently jerked cork, weight, hook and trashing fish out of the water and onto the bank.
The he put the fish in a bucket, covered it with a lid, baited up, put line and bait back in the water, sat down on the bucket and waited for the next strike.
Pittman had a portable radio and was listening to WOL, soul music. A lot of people around him weren't catching fish with anything like the regularity he was.
I believe thos fish like that music," commented one.
Practically all the anglers who fish the Tidal Basin take their catch home and eat it. The National Park Service has no restrictions against taking fish for consumption, according to George Berklacy, assistant to the director of the National Capital Parks, the agency that oversees the Tidal Basin.
Berklacy says fishing is the biggest single attraction of East Potomac Park, both in the Tidal Basin and off the banks in the main Potomac. "We call our weekend crowds the bass'n'barbecue bunch," he said.
Early in the year the best concentrations of fish are in the shallow of the Basin, and that's where the fishermen congregated last weekend. There's ample parking near the bridge at the Potomac end of the Basin, and anglers can walk down a few yards from there and be on the walled bank of the pond.
Aside from being a good place to catch fish, this particular site is a delightful place to spend an April day. The Jefferson Memorial, probably Washington's prettiest monument, is framed against scudding spring clouds. Farther away the Washington Monument stands out in the sunlight. Joggers and bicyclists prance along the paths through emerald spring grass.
And it's a fine place to meet and chat with some representatives of a rare species - native Washingtonians.
One older fellow that stopped down last weekend said he'd been fishing in the Tidal Basin for 40 years. He remembered the days when the Park Service stocked the Basin with black bass and sponsored annual bass tournaments. He said once years ago a special tagged bass was planted in the Basin and it was worth a money price to the angler that caught it.
The Park Service no longer stocks fish, but nature appears to be taking care of that. serious area anglers know that there is good bass and striper fishing elsewhere in Washington waters of the Potomac, but most of that water is accessible almost exlusively by boat.
For dyed-in-the-wool bank fishermen no banks are more easily worked than the paved banks of the Tidal Basin. No licenses or permits are required to fish any D.C. waters.
And if you're squeamish about eating Tidal Basin fish, there will always be plenty of folks around you who'd love to relieve you of your catch at the end of the day.