The Independence Day weekend promises a mixture of good and bad news. This much is guaranteed: July 4th will be the busiest fishing holiday of the year -- and that can be bad for the solitary angler. But if hurricanes, cloudbursts and other unwanted visitors stay away the lake, bay and ocean waters of the mid-Atlantic should turn up a variety of catches.
On the saltwater, tuna hordes are cruising the offshore waters and charter boat skippers are finding 20- to 30-pound yellowfin and bluefin schoolies over the bluewater canyons east of Virginia Beach, Wachapreague and Ocean City. Chances for billfish also are increased by the warming seas.
In Chesapeake Bay the gray sea trout continues to reign supreme. Large weakfish have been scored from Smith Point, Virginia, on over to Maryland buoys 50, 52 and 54. Bluefish, of course, make up the bulk of the upper-Bay take but how long that will last is anybody's guess. Maryland charter captains are worried about a number of Virginia commercial netting operations. That's what happens when a "lowly" blue commands almost $2 per pound in local markets.
MARYLAND RIVERS AND LAKES
DEEP CREEK LAKE -- Crappies of note are taken on live minnows or small white jigs. The bass aren't worldbeaters, but try a surface buzzer early in the day around landpoints or shady coves and see if a two-pounder won't inhale it.
WSSC LAKES -- Plastic worms, fished deep at the edges of points or rockwalls, will draw keeper bass at Triadelphia or Rocky Gorge. The kids will find all the sunfish or small crappies they want around sunken brush near shore. Give them a gardenworm wrapped tightly onto a small hook. Clip a plastic float a few feet above and watch the smiles on their faces when the bobber disappears.
POTOMAC RIVER -- Catfish and carp are almost guaranteed from above Hancock in Washington County down to our own Hains Point here in town. Chicken livers are deadly on catfish when fished tightly over the river bottom. Bass would just as soon see a brown or firetail plastic worm now around Columbia Island Yacht Basin and Roosevelt Island, as well as the islands in Montgomery County. Let's hope rain doesn't mess things up.
SOUTHERN MARYLAND LAKES AND CREEKS -- St. Mary's Lake (Camp Cosoma Road, off Route 5 below Leonardtown) is great during cool hours. Bass will gobble short plastic worms of any color. Bluegills go ape over worm bait or flyrod bugs. Gilbert Run Lake (Route 6, east of LaPlata) gives up catfish on livers; fat sunfish fight fiercely on light lines attached to small hooks dressed with worms. Fish on the bottom, without floats. Nanjemoy Creek (Route 425, at Friendship Landing Road) shows a smattering of bass and pickerel during tide changes in river bends. Mattawoman Creek (Route 225, west of LaPlata) has been very slow.
EASTERN SHORE PONDS -- Slow going for bass in most of the public impoundments, but sunfish can make up for lack of largemouths at Unicorn (northern Queen Anne's County, Route 313), Urieville (Kent County, Route 213), Tuckahoe (Caroline County, Route 480), and Wye Mills (Queen Anne's County, Route 213). Bass hunters should stick to early-morning buzz lures or plastic worms.
NANTICOKE RIVER -- If you're not afraid to mix it up in holiday traffic, the Route 313 Sharptown ramp at the river is a fine starting point very early in the day. Lunker buzz lures and plastic worms have worked well very early or late in the day around shore brush or lily patches.
POCOMOKE RIVER -- Shad Landing and Milburn Landing will be holiday madhouses over the next three days, but all the same the bass and sunfish will cooperate away from busy launching ramps. We've done exceptionally well on bass with black/firetail plastic worms along shore dropoffs. Flyrod bugs will get sunfish.
Bluefish of all sizes can sometimes be seen tearing up baitfish from above Route 50 Bay Bridges down to the Maryland-Virginia line. Trolled hose, spoons or bucktails will get them. Menhaden chum -- maybe only a wire-leadered surface plug -- is popular in Southern Maryland. It doesn't matter. But the big sea trout are more particular. Slow- trolled white or yellow "Ruby Lip" bucktails dressed with a sliver of red or yellow porkrind will get them as long as you vary leader lengths and inline trolling weights from Smith Point, Virginia, over to Tangier Sound; from Point Lookout on out to buoys 50, 52, 54; from Point No Point up to the Patuxent's Cedar Point, or across the Bay at Hooper's Island Light or Sharps Island and Stone Rock. Bottom-fished peeler crab pieces can also turn the trick. Meanwhile, spot and white perch are plentiful around Bushwood in the lower Potomac. Quade's Store rental boaters do well with bloodworm tidbits on double-hook bottom rigs. Surf or pier action varies in the lower Patuxent. Bluefish and lunker gray trout are taken at night from the fee pier at Town Creek Marina alongside Patuxent Beach Road. White perch are available in the deep holes of South, West, Magothy and Chester rivers, as well as Eastern Bay.
VIRGINIA RIVERS AND LAKES
SHENANDOAH RIVER -- Catfish, carp, sunfish and smallmouth bass in both forks -- if it doesn't rain heavily. Spinners or live minnows are the bass bet.
RAPPAHANNOCK RIVER -- The upper river, around the Rapidan junction, gives up smallmouth bass to a variety of lures. Try a loud surface buzzer during the early hours. Whopper catfish can be hooked on cut fish or chicken livers around Fredericksburg. Bass hunters are complaining about lack of fish in tidal waters near Leedstown.
LAKE ANNA -- Lower-lake fishermen aren't using just plastic worms or surface plugs to charm the bass. Jig 'n Pig combinations are working well, just as they did during the cold spring weather. A black porkchunk in deep water may be the winner.
OCCOQUAN RESERVOIR -- Fountainhead Park rental boaters can do nicely on crappies, sunfish, perhaps a bass or two. Remember that bass hate bright sunlight: Shady brush and deep water are their sanctuaries.
BACK BAY -- Local Virginia Beach basshounds are using live shiners to find lunkers around weedy islands and duck blinds, but surface plugs and swimming plastic worms also turn the trick. Crappies and perch are available and don't let dingy water scare you off.
CHICKAHOMINY LAKE AND RIVER -- Bass catches have dropped in the lake, but don't overlook the many fat sunfish and crappies. The Walker's Dam area of the river has been fairly good to bass and catfish hunters. Evening hours are recommended.
LAKE GASTON -- Delbridge Marina has had a number of trophy bass checked in, most caught on deep-running crankbaits. Topwater lures will work very early or late.
KERR RESERVOIR -- Stick to 10 feet of water around large brushpiles, and fish a live minnow or jig a white Dollfly under a bobber: Presto! Crappies up to two pounds. Bass catches have been poor.
SMITH MOUNTAIN LAKE -- A few stripers, mostly during evening hours on bucktails. Not much else. Bass are there, but have lockjaw.
OCEAN AND INLETS
MARYLAND -- Last weekend was good to local angler Herman Swank as his group fished with Captain Bunting out of Ocean City. By 11:30 a.m. they called it quits with 75 bluefish averaging 10 pounds apiece. Tuna are farther out, but some skippers say it's worth the run. Headboaters do very well now and then on seabass, tautog, and dogfish. The Route 50 bridge is the center of the flounder fishing, but don't believe those tales of big catches of flatties by the Ocean City PR department. There are plenty of anglers buying their fish in restaurants. A few sea trout can be caught from the inlet jetty on jigged bucktails with a piece of peeler crab.
VIRGINIA -- Offshore schools of bluefin tuna are drawing charter and private craft to the 26-mile Hill, northeast of Cape Henry. Rudee Inlet boats also return with tuna caught on fast-trolled spoons or plugs, but remember that four bluefins per angler is the federal limit. Bluefish, of course, are everywhere. They've hooked close to shore and inside the Chesapeake mouth. Night anglers using live spot will get huge sea trout around the Chesapeake Bay-Bridge Tunnel. Daytime fishing has slowed. Eastern Shore flounder catches are only fair from Chincoteague to Oyster.
FISHING ON TV -- Those of you lucky enough to get cable TV's ESPN-All Sports network should set aside 30 minutes for the July 10 noon airing of the Bass Masters Classic, the world championship of bass fishing. It's an eye-opener. The half-hour wrap-up of last autumn's Classic from Montgomery, Alabama, shows 21-year-old Georgian Stan Mitchell win $43,000 for three days of hectic competition fishing in which all the fish are released. The program will be repeated July 11 (midnight-12:30 a.m.); and July 15 (5-5:30 p.m.).