THE BEST PART of the freshwater fishing season is about to begin. That's because the falling temperatures soon will trigger winter feeding behavior in both large and smallmouth bass, according to Rob Gilford of The Rod Rack in Frederick.

And the main lure you will want to use is the same one that was so productive last spring -- the black jig and pig. That's the lead-headed jig with a pork-rind streamer attached to the hook.

The bass are going to be trying to fatten up to survive the lean winter months and they will be feeding almost exclusively on crayfish, Gilford says. They prefer crayfish because of their higher protein and nutritional content, he says. And that's what makes the jig and pig so effective -- it closely resembles the crayfish.

Fall is also the time to catch those large fish. "The most legal-sized fish are caught in the fall. Not the most fish, but the most large fish," Gilford says.

You can also hit it big in the winter months, Gilford says, but only a few diehard fishermen like him are likely to find out. While you won't catch many fish then, he says, the ones you do catch will be big.

"I'll be out there in my snowmobile suit, with my hat and my gloves on when it gets really cold," Gilford says. And even though crayfish burrow down in the mud when it gets cold, crayfish-patterned lures will still catch bass, he says.

"That's because the bass don't stop to think that that crayfish isn't supposed to be there. They just see a meal and go get it," he says.

So from now on, the key word is crayfish.

Unless, of course, you're on the Bay. Then the key word is bucks -- the kind that Nellie Boog of Vienna, Md., won 5,000 of this week. She caught a 20-inch trout that was tagged by the state of Maryland for its Chesapeake Bay fishing tournament. Her $5,000 catch, near Hooper Straits on the lower Eastern Shore, is the highest payoff so far in the tournament. There are more than a hundred tagged fish -- worth from $1,000 to $25,000 -- still out there somewhere.

WHAT'S THE CATCH?

WASHINGTON AND VICINITY

The catfish are still biting, but only a few bass and bluegills are hitting, says Ray Fletcher of Fletcher's Boat House. But Fletcher says things are going to improve dramatically with the advent of cooler weather.

MARYLAND

FARM PONDS -- "I know you're going to hate to hear this, but the farm ponds are red hot again," says Gilford.

Gilford knows that we hate to hear this because we don't have access to any farm ponds, and neither do most of our readers, if our mail is any indication.

Gilford says he and his dad fished a couple of farm ponds last week. "Each of us caught a couple of dozen fish and all but a few were of legal size (12 inches for bass). We caught most of them on electric blue plastic worms with a chartreuse tail, and a few on spinner baits. On the way home, my dad said, 'Boy, that could really spoil you!' "

You bet. But what a way to get spoiled.

UPPER POTOMAC -- The fishing here is very good, according to Gilford. "Largemouth and smallmouth bass, catfish and even bluegills were all hitting last week on the motor-oil-colored glitter worm with an orange tail. This was while the water was slightly off color because of the rain," Gilford says.

LOWER POTOMAC -- "Fishing is pretty good," says Jack Yates of Capt. John's Crab House and Marina on Cobb Island. "Nice perch, blues, and the crabbing is real good."

The rains that swamped other parts of the area were "just a sprinkle" by the time they reached Cobb Island, so the river didn't get muddied up, Yates says. "But it's nice and cool. That's one thing that's different -- and fishing should pick up quite a bit now," he says.

Where's the best place to go? "Right around Cobb Island is real good," he says.

VIRGINIA

LAKE ANNA -- "They're starting to catch a few fish," says Greg Meeks of Sturgeon Creek Marina -- and here's an example: A fishing party led by bass guide Bill Mathias caught 12 largemouth weighing 541/2 pounds, and five of the 12 bass were over five pounds, Meeks reports.

Meeks says most fishermen are catching "a lot of fish inside the slot limit," the lake's throwback size of between 12 and 15 inches. But he says the big ones are "starting to come up" now. Crankbaits are having the most luck, he says.

OCCOQUAN -- "From now to the next two weeks," the river will be in the process of "getting good" for bass and crappie, says Jeff Mahoney of The Lynn Co. in Occoquan.

Right now "a few 3- being caught in the river," he says, "but not a lot of them." Bomber Fire Tigers are having the most luck on the bass, he says, but "you really need a boat" to get to them.

A few catfish are being caught in the river, and "they're starting to pull in some one-half to three-quarter-pound crappie," Mahoney says.

In the reservoir, things are "a little slow" for bass, but "crappie action has been fairly decent," he says.

"This is really a fall river," Mahoney says. When things cool down, you can count on catching "10 to 20" bass a day here, he says. And that day is coming soon, he adds.

RAPPAHANNOCK -- The river is "lower and clearer" than last week, making it perfect for smallmouth, says Charlie Wingard of Chesley's Tackle Shop in Fredericksburg. But, like last week, no big smallmouth are being brought into the shop for weighing, Wingard reports.

"But they're catching a lot," he says. "They're doing very well. The cool snap should help a lot."

The bait "that sticks out the most" right now is the tiny torpedo, Wingard says. "It's always excellent" on the Rappahannock's smallmouth. It usually doesn't matter which color you use, he says, but make it black if you're fishing in the late evenings or nights.

CHESAPEAKE BAY

ANNAPOLIS -- Bluefish are all over the upper Bay, reports a spokesman for Angler's bait and tackle shop. "They're breaking on top like crazy. It's the best we've seen in years. There are baitfish everywhere," the spokesman says.

CAPE CHARLES, Va. -- "We're still catching channel bass (red drum), and even one black drum yesterday," says Emmett Bailey of Bailey's Tackle Shop.

"Every boat is catching two or three channel bass a day. They are averaging between 30 and 45 pounds. I weighed in four citations Monday," Bailey says. (Forty pounds and up is citation size for red drum.)

The fish are along the ledge near buoys C10 and C12 and are hitting spot and mullet, he says.

In addition to the red drum, large croaker, running from 2 to 21/2 pounds, some spot, trout and a few flounder are being caught off Cape Charles, Bailey says.

CHESAPEAKE BAY-BRIDGE TUNNEL -- It was zilch here last week, but this week fishermen are catching some spot, croaker and bluefish off the Sea Gull Fishing Pier, acccording to Tara Robert.

POINT LOOKOUT -- Even in the unbearable heat earlier this week, surfcasters off the causeway were still bringing in the bluefish, according to Pat Raley of Sister's Place.

In addition to the "pan-sized" bluefish, she says, the surfcasters also are catching some flounder, spot and trout.

The charter and head boats are bringing in some larger bluefish, ranging up to 5 pounds, according to Eva Bishop of The Lucky Lady.

SOLOMONS ISLAND -- There are still plenty of bluefish in this part of the bay, according to Jack Johnson of H.M. Woodburn's Fishing Parties. The bluefish are running between two to four pounds. There are also some medium-sized spot being caught, but no trout, Johnson says. (By the way, Jack, our apologies for making a Thompson out of you last week.)

ATLANTIC OCEAN

OCEAN CITY -- After a summer of awful fishing, "we had a night . . . that you wouldn't believe," says Tom Detig of the Boardwalk Fishing Pier, speaking of this past Tuesday. "It was terrific. We were catching bluefish left and right. We must have caught 300 or 400 of them. There were plenty of baitfish all around the pier. It was a bluefish blitz. That's exactly what it was."

Detig thinks that the blitz was an omen of good things to come. On Wednesday the weather was cold, Detig says. "You know, the fish are up north, and once the water temperature starts dropping, the fishing picks up," he says.

Detig says he'll keep the pier open until October 15 -- and he expects the fishing to stay good up to then.

VIRGINIA BEACH -- The fishing offshore out to about 15 miles is excellent, according to Karen Feller of the Virginia Beach Fishing Center. "They are catching tons of albacore, spanish mackerel, king mackerel and a few bluefish," she says.

"They are also catching quite a few cobia this year, more than I have ever seen. We had about 15 citations (over 45 pounds) this weekend," she says. "The charter boats have all come in (from out near the Gulf Stream) and are fishing about 15 miles out, trying to catch anything they can.

"Off the beach, they are catching some spot and croaker, but the fishing isn't too good."

WACHAPREAGUE -- The main catch this week is small trout and croaker in the ocean about four miles off the beach, according to Bob Fate of the Wachapreague Marina.

The charter boats are catching about 100 to 500 trout and croaker per boat, he says. "They are pretty small, from one-half to two pounds. And a few small channel bass, from eight to 10 pounds have been caught," Fate says. "Offshore, they are still catching large numbers of false albacore and dolphin in 15 to 30 or 40 fathoms of water.

"The trout fishing will keep getting better on up through Thanksgiving. As the season goes on, the fish will get larger. There will be fewer of them, but they will be larger, five pounds or better," Fate says.

NORTH CAROLINA

NAGS HEAD -- The hot weather is blamed for slow fishing at the Nags Head Fishing Pier, according to the pier's Tom Ferguson. A few spot, a few mackerel and a few bluefish are about all that's being caught off the pier, he says.

Offshore, there are some good-size spanish mackerel and bluefish, and also some tuna and dolphin, Ferguson says.

When the wind changes to the northeast and the temperatures drop, the big blues and big mackerel will come in closer and the pier fishermen should have better luck, Ferguson says.

OREGON INLET -- The charter bhave resorted to fishing for king mackerel closer to shore because things have been so slow offshore, according to Terre Page at the Oregon Inlet Fishing Center.