Here we go, out on a limb: Early in the week a smattering of hickory shad showed up in the Fredericksburg section of the Rappahannock River and our guess is that the "poor man's tarpon" will be plentiful this weekend, weather permitting.

The early birds also are out on Chesapeake Bay looking for the season's first stripers, despite the fact that the bigger spawner rockfish won't be legal until May 1. Good hunting is expected at the middle Bay's Gas Buoy, or Parker's Creek around the Gooses, as well as Punch Island, northeast of the Patuxent River mouth. Bass, crappie, sunfish and white perch will provide a wide variety of fresh- and tidewater fishing in and around Washington, while increased channel bass chances make North Carolina's Outer Banks attractive.

MARYLAND RIVERS AND LAKES WSSC LAKES -- Now is a great time to drop a jig or deep-running crankbait into the landpoint dropoffs of Triadelphia and Rocky Gorge reservoirs. Keeper bass, maybe a lunker, can be yours. Crappies are plentiful in upper lakes' waterlogged brush.

POTOMAC RIVER -- Fletcher's Boat House is a great starting place for a stringerful of white perch, catfish or crappies. Garden worms will get all three, but slowly-bounced white jigs may also draw perch, bass or crappie. Please be careful: The flow is up and too many anglers underestimate this treacherous water. The tidal portions from Washington down to Mattawoman Creek are ready for bass hunters. Use spinnerbaits and chartreuse crankbaits, as well as smoke grubs. Herring are there for dipnetters.

EASTERN SHORE PONDS -- Urieville Lake (Rt. 213) has given up crappies and bass; Wye Mills (Rt. 213) is better for crappie hunters using small Dollfly jigs under a bobber; Unicorn (Rt. 313) is a hotspot for sunfish and crappies, maybe a bass or two; Leonards and Johnson ponds near Salisbury are best for bass now.

SOUTHERN MARYLAND PONDS AND CREEKS -- The gospel truth: Gilbert Run Lake (Rt. 6) gave up a 9-pound largemouth last week; he fell for a yellow jig. St. Mary's Lake (Rt. 5) has been fair for bass, great for sunfish; Nanjemoy Creek (Rt. 425) at Friendship Landing Road is yielding catfish, some pickerel and keeper bass, scattered white perch and crappies. The Potomac around Morgantown Bridge has keeper rockfish for trollers or jig bouncers.

NANTICOKE RIVER -- The main river, as well as the Marshyhope Creek tributary, offers white perch, crappies and fine largemouth bass. All three have been crazy about small white or yellow jigs bounced slowly through flooded brush.

CHOPTANK RIVER -- The upper parts, above Greensboro, are good for white perch, maybe a keeper bass or two. Martinak State Park parts hold bass and crappie as well as perch.

POCOMOKE RIVER -- Crappies galore from Snow Hill to Shad Landing. Simply look for flooded brush and dabble a small 1/32-ounce white jig or a minnow. The speckled fish will do the rest. Remember also that shad must be put back, because the season is closed.

CHESAPEAKE BAY Boaters are starting to troll deep for lunker striped bass over the Gooses, Parker's Creek, the Gas Buoy and Punch Island -- with a smattering of success. Alas, the 32-inch-and-over stripers must be released until May 1. Don't be surprised if chopper bluefish start tearing into trolled rockfish spoons. There have been reports of early bluefish down around the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel. They'll move up the Bay quickly.

VIRGINIA RIVERS AND LAKES SHENANDOAH RIVER -- Smallmouth bass will be biting around Harpers Ferry if it stays warm. Be careful: The flow is strong.

RAPPAHANNOCK RIVER -- Hickory shad have started to in brushpiles for bass. Crappies would rather see a minnow or live gardenworm.

LAKE ANNA -- To the reader who couldn't reach us: Yes, there are boat rentals at Sturgeon Creek Marina (Rt. 208). Meanwhile, big bass are still available, but you'll have to work harder now, since they've started to scatter. Crappies are plentiful. Don't overlook the stripers where the backwaters funnel under the dikes.

OCCOQUAN RESERVOIR -- Crappies, catfish and some decent bass are being taken by rental boaters out of Fountainhead Park's marina.

LAKE GASTON -- Crankbaits and jigs have done well on bass at Jimmy's Creek, Peahill Creek and Hubquarter Creek.

BACK BAY -- Wind has been horrendous, but early morning calms will turn up bass on jigs or spoons.

ATLANTIC OCEAN MARYLAND -- Winds permitting, headboats leave daily at 7 a.m. for mackerel runs.

VIRGINIA -- Much the same as Maryland. If the wind doesn't blow the Wachapreague and Chincoteague boats connect on mackerel.

NORTH CAROLINA -- Increased channel bass opportunities at Ocracoke Island. Bluefish and croakers take baits from piers and surf on Hatteras Island, but call ahead for weather and water condition reports: 919/995-5224.