Warmwater gamefish. What does that mean? The label covers a lot:
It can mean pumping a red-and-white spoon past the blunt snout of a northern pike at dawn, on a mountain lake still edged with snow. It can mean lazing back like an egg sizzling on a skillet as you bounce bobbers for sunfish on a summer lake.
It can mean wet wading a small mountain stream for redbreasts with a pocketful of 50-cent poppers; it includes plunking smoked grubs from the bow of a $6,000 bass rig purring under power of a foot-driven electric motor.
It can mean the somnolent moonlight sport of sipping coffee and swapping lies about lunkers while catfish lines lie propped over forked sticks along a sluggish river. It can mean a hard day spent fast-retrieving big plugs to taunt irascible muskies.
If there is any theme, then, that we can cling to to unite such a disparate group, it is this very diversity.
For the beginner, warmwater fish include the prolific and easily caught bluegill, crappie, and redbrest. For the expert there are muskies that may demand weeks of dedicated effort to catch a single specimen and wily smallmouth in the mountain rivers.
Broadly speaking, warmwater fishing spots can be divided into two varieties - those that flow and those that don't; or rivers and streams, lakes and ponds. Seven lakes, a group of ponds, and four rivers stand out as perennial favorites among local sportsmen. Here are brief rundowns on what you'll find at each of them.
TRIADELPHIA AND ROCKY GORGE - twin 800-acre resevoirs run by the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission - are Maryland's top big lakes within easy access of the District. They are fished hard, so it's usually the angler who concentrates almost exclusively on these water that takes the bass ranging to seven pounds or more and husky northern pike.
Try the marked hurdles in mid-lake and brushy cover along shorelines for bluegill and crappie. They aren't at all bashful about jumping on minnows, worms, spinners and jigs when the bass and pike go on the sulk.
A daily or season permit is required to fish these reservoirs. They may be obtained at Brighton Dam, Patuxent Filtration Plant, Room 261, 4017 Hamilton Street, in Hyattsville, or 10700 Columbia Pike in Silver Spring.
Only electric motors are allowed on the lakes, which makes them tough to cover thoroughly, but also very relaxing places to fish. The lakes are located on Maryland Route 650 and U.S. 29, north of Washington.
The Eastern Shore ponds consists of a number of small lakes sprinkled throughout Maryland east of the Chesapeake Bay that are open to public fishing. Bass are the main attraction, and a weedless Johnson Silver Minnow with trailing pork rind often works wonders, as do plastic worms. Pickerel also grow plump in the darkwater ponds; bluegill and crappie are plentiful. A listing of ponds open to fishing and their location is contained in the Maryland Sportfishing Guide, available where licenses are sold.
Virginia has a number of medium-size lakes clustered around Manassas that offer very good fishing, considering their proximity to such large number of people and the heavy angling pressure they receive. As with most close-in waters, large fish are scarce, but numbers often make up for the dearth of biggies.
LAKE BRITTLE (77 acres) and BURKE (218 acres) are fun by the Virginia Game Commission and are restricted to electric motors only. Boats may be rented and bait and snacks are available.
Burke has the dubious distinction of being one of the hardest-fished lakes in the nation. Still, there are surprising numbers of bass in the 10- to 14-inch class, plus a few four- and five-pounders. The muskies that once regularly produce gasps from startled anglers are now caught infrequently, but they are still there and with a bit of perseverence you may latch onto one with an oversize, deep-trolled plug. Bluegill are mostly small here, crappie fair-sized. Burke is located on Route 123, between I-95 and U.S. 50 in fairfax.
Brittle gets less pressure than Burke, probably because it's a bit farther out. Take Route 600 east off U.S. 29 near New Baltimore and then bear right on 793 to reach the lake.It's smaller than Burke, but plenty of hefty channel catfish, plus bass and panfish are present.
OCCOQUAN is the patriarch of the Manassas lakes. Though it doesn't offer the quality of bass angling it did 15 years ago, fishing's still quite good for crappie and bluegill. The state record for northern pike - an incredible 22 pounds - also came from Occoquan, in August 1977. Route 612 crosser this reservoir at Bull Run Marina, where boats can be rented and bait purchased.
LAKE MANASSAS opened for public fishing in the summer of 1976 after heated debate among local lakeside residents. As the Manassas water supply, this lake is clean and translucent. It's also full of fish. Bass of five and six pounds are occasionally caught, and 10- to 14-inchers are available by the dozens for the plastic worm or minnow fisherman. Bluegill are suckers for a daintily presented rubber spider.
To reach the lake, take Route 28 west to 215, turn right and go six miles to Burwell Road. Make a right here and go another half-mile and you'll see a sign on the left leading to the only marina on the lake.
LAKE ANNA receives a tremendous amount of fishing pressure, but with 13,000 acres it can stand it. The impoundment filled a long-felt need for big bass-boat water close to Washington when it was constructed less than a decade ago, but you can also fish it with a johnboat or even a canoe.
Bass are the top quarry, with a number of fish over eight pounds taken to date. Stripers are coming on strong, and could well overtake bass as the most sought-after gamefish as anglers learn the different methods required to take them. Crappies can be caught by the bushelful around bridge pilings and sunken brushpiles near shore.
Route 208 and U.S. 522 lead to the lake, 28 miles southwest of Fredericksburg. There are a number of marinas that rent boats, sell bait and give out current fishing information.
There's something alive and pulsating about the constant movement of a river that brings some fishermen back time and again for that vaguely felt quality they never find on a lake or pond, no matter how good the fishing.
You'll cross dozens of these rivers and streams in traveling throughout Virginia and Maryland. They hold a collection of panfish and bass, perhaps a pickerel, carp or trout. Most are worth wetting a line in, but four rivers - two in Virginia, two in Maryland - deserve special mention.
The SHENANDOAH has become almost legendary as a smallmouth river. It deserves it. Its North, South and Main folks - about two hours from D.C. - regularly yield 40 to 50 bass a day to waders and float fishermen from April to October.
Dozens of access points provide put-in and take-out points for float trips. Outfitters offer canoe rentals, guides and complete trip packages with food and camping gear provided. And the bass, redbreasts and rockbass are very obliging - even to fishers of modest skills.
The South Fork's bass have minute amounts of mercuty in their flesh, and eating them is prohibited. But the catching isn't, and many bass in the 2- and 3-pound class are now being caught and released by delighted South Fork anglers.
The RAPPAHANNOCK between Remington and Fredericksburg ranks as the second most popular smallmouth river for local anglers. Its bass are not prolific, but the fish often run bigger than Shenandoah bronzebacks and the river itself is in many ways wilder and more remote. Long float trips can be taken here without crossing roads or coming upon second-home developments.
The Rappahannock also offers some of the best hickory shad fishing on the East Coast, and it's at its peak right now. This fishing centers around the Falmouth U.S. 1 Bridge, just north of Fredericksburg. Action can be good for half a mile upstream or downstream from here with darts or small marabou streamers. Catches of 30 fish per morning are not unusual for skilled anglers.
Still another gamester found in the Rappahanock is the largemouth bass. Caught occassionally in the upper waters, the largemouth is the dominant species in the Leedstown-Port Royal area.
Maryland's CHOPTANK is another tidal river favored by local fishermen. The stretch between Goldsboro and Denton is good for bass, pickerel and panfish. To reach Choptank, take U.S. 50 across Bay Bridge to Route 404, which leads to the river. Route 313 will take you to the upper waters from here.
It's fitting to conclude this brief survey with our own POTOMAC. Maligned by some as filthy and stagnant, the Potomac is actually a mecca for the sportfisherman.
The upper few hunred miles of rifflestrewn water in West Virginia and Maryland provide excellent smallmouth angling. Washington's sector offers spring crappie jigging in the backwaters, striper fishing during early summer, channel catfish big enough to steak, and quality largemouth bass fishing. Herring and white perch clog the river, and the annual appearance of white shad is merely a week or so away.
That's seven species of gamefish within the District. It's a fine symbol for the broad diversity of warmwater fishing available to the local angler. Coupled with the side variety of lakes and ponds within easy driving range, makes it for a true smorgasbord of angling delights. CAPTION: Picture, CRAPPIE AND BASS, JUST TWO OF THE TREASURES THAT LURK BENEATH THE WATERS.