AT THE PRESENT rate of cooling in the Chesapeake Bay, we should have at least two weeks of good fishing left before the blues, trout and flounder depart to warmer climes. However, that timetable is not carved in stone. If there's a slight warming trend, the fish could remain longer. On the other hand, a large cold front could cause a rapid exodus.
Sixty-two degrees is the temperature at which most species will leave the Bay.
Conditions are so unpredictable that many charter captains are asking their customers to call before coming out.
For now, though, the salt and freshwater fishing throughout the Delmarva region remains excellent.
WHAT'S THE CATCH?
WASHINGTON AND VICINITY
POTOMAC RIVER -- Ray Fletcher at Fletcher's Boat House reports that the water is clearing and bass fishing should improve dramatically. Crappies and catfish are still plentiful throughout the river and taking live minnows fished close to shore.
TRIADELPHIA & ROCKY GORGE RESERVOIRS -- Bass fishing has really improved over the past week, reports Bob Griffin at Fishing and Archery Outfitters in Laurel. Good catches of largemouths are now being made by anglers with live minnows under a float and lip-hooked to small jigs. These are school-sized bass, averaging about a pound.
A few larger crappies are starting to show up in both reservoirs. Carl Ledger of Laurel managed to hook up with a one-pound, one- ounce crappie this past week using a live minnow. A few smallmouths are taking crayfish fished on the bottom, but the water is still a bit warm for good smallmouth action.
LAKE ANNA -- Bass fishing is improving every day, says Pete Sprague at Lake Anna Sport Goods. Although the water temperature is still in the lower 70s, a few larger bass are showing up in the shallows. The majority, however, have been school-sized largemouths averaging a couple of pounds. These are mostly males cruising near the surface. Most small surface plugs and action-tailed plastic worms are productive. Crappie fishing isn't as good as many think it should be this time of year. This is due to the unusually warm water temperatures. As the water cools, the slabsides will move into the shallows and feed on the tiny gizzard shad.
KERR RESERVOIR & BUGS ISLAND LAKE -- The fishing has been outstanding, says Jim Abers at Jim's Guide Service in Boydon. Stripers are congregated on the lumps at depths of 24 to 28 feet. Live shad on a 4/0 hook are producing stripers weighing up to ten pounds. Bass fishing is red-hot in some of the coves. Small topwater plugs cast among the stumps and rocks have devastated largemouths weighing up to four pounds, he says.
SMITH MOUNTAIN LAKE -- Stripers are finally taking surface plugs and can be seen cruising the surface during the late afternoon, reports Sonny Davis at All's Hunting and Fishing in Salem. The most productive lures have been Red Fins and Torpedos worked through the schools. Bucktails cast to the breaking fish are also productive -- especially those trimmed with a strip of white pork rind. Bass fishing has picked up dramatically, with some excellent catches of school-sized largmouths on live minnows or tiny surface plugs.
RAPPAHANNOCK RIVER -- "The river will be back to normal by the weekend," says Carl Gentry at Chesley's Sporting Goods in Fredericksburg. The Rappahannock rose nearly three feet in the upper reaches due to last week's rains, but is now subsiding quickly. The bass fishing promises to remain excellent until much colder weather arrives. Live hellgramites and minnows are the most productive live baits, Tiny Torpedos and light- colored grubs the preferred lures.
CHESAPEAKE, WESTERN SHORE
SUSQUEHANNA RIVER -- The few anglers who fished the Susquehanna over the weekend said most of the action came from the mouth of Deer Creek and just out from Lapidum landing. According to Conowingo Bait in Darlington, good catches of catfish are still being made throughout the river, but the bass fishing has dropped off since the cooler weather hit. However, if you're looking for some good bottom fishing, breathtaking scenery and solitude, the Susquehanna is the place. The foliage is crimson and gold, the geese are winging south and the catfish are very cooperative -- and that's tough to beat.
SUSQUEHANNA FLATS -- "Lots of catfish, but very few anglers," reports Herb Benjamin at Herb's Tackle Shop in North East. This time of year catfish are larger than usual and easier to catch. Most cut baits fished on the bottom have been extremely productive.
GUNPOWDER & DUNDEE RIVERS -- Yellow and white perch are still hitting live minnows at the mouths of the Dundee and Gunpowder, according to Sue Demaf at Gunpowder Bait and Tackle in Essex. Anglers are fishing the edges of the grass beds with light tackle. Fair catches of bass are still being made at the back end of Dundee Creek. Plastic worms and small spinnerbaits are producing largemouths up to two pounds on the outgoing tide.
UPPER BAY -- There are still loads of blues in the Upper Bay, according to Bill Blamberg at Clyde's Sport Shop in Baltimore. The blues range up to six pounds and will hit most any lure -- especially when they're breaking. Small surface plugs such as the Huntington Drone Popper, Atom Popper and Creek Chub Striper Strike have produced lots of action for light-tackle anglers. Trollers continue to hit blues using surgical-hose eels and medium- sized spoons. The trick to trolling this time of year is to use a lightweight in-line sinker. Depending on your line, one to three ounces is usually sufficient to put your lure at the correct depth.
BAY BRIDGE AREA -- The fishing here continues to hold up well, according to the Angler's Sport Center on U.S. 50 in Annapolis. Good catches of blues weighing up to six pounds are being made by trollers and plug casters. Nearly every afternoon, the blues are surfacing to feed on the hordes of menhaden and churning the water to a foam. Topwater plugs work best when the fish are breaking. However, trollers seem to score well with small, red surgical-hose eels run along the edge of the dropoffs when the topwater action dies off.
White perch catches have decreased in the Magothy and Severn rivers since the cooler weather hit, but when the marauding blues leave the Bay, the perch fishing usually improves.
CHESAPEAKE BEACH -- The blues are still plentiful, according to Captain "Shaker" Black, dockmaster at the Rod and Reel Dock. Although the headboat "Optimist" is no longer running, a few charter boats are still available, and they're loading up on the blues. Many captains are returning to the docks early with their coolers bulging. Sea trout are getting scarce.
PATUXENT RIVER -- The white perch fishing is continuing to hold up well, reports Ken Lamb at The Tackle Box in Lexington Park. They're taking clam snouts, bloodworms and spinners fished in relatively shallow water. Bluefish still dominate the fishing at the mouth of the river and a few fair-sized sea trout continue to be caught by surf fishermen at night. Although the larger spot have migrated south, small- sized ones are continuing to linger in some of the coves where there is some protection from the blues.
SOLOMONS ISLAND -- Expectations are that the sea trout will peak out by this weekend. A few small-boat fishermen worked the area near Buoy 54 and had limited success on the trout -- but this was because of the scarcity of bait. Peeler crabs are tough to find this time of year and a few anglers have resorted to using hard crabs, difficult to work with when bottom fishing. Frozen peelers are considered a poor substitute, but apparenly, this is the only bait available.
POINT LOOKOUT -- The fishing is still excellent at the mouth of the Potomac, says Captain Bruce Scheible at Scheible's Fishing Center. Blues are being caught in huge numbers by chummers; bottom fishing for sea bass is holding up well; and the trout should peak out soon if the weather holds. A a few flounder continue to hit cut bait fished on the bottom in Cornfield Harbor.
The Middle Grounds, an area just east of the Point Lookout, is alive with three- pound blues with lots of big chopper blues mixed in, In fact, some boats report catching several from 15 to 18 pounds, a good indication that the fall migration has started.
I talked with one angler recently who trolled surgical hose in this area and he said his luck was less than outstanding. The secret to catching blues when trolling late in the season is to use as little weight as possible. This will put your lure where the fish are feeding -- in the top ten feet of water. Trolling with a bottom bouncing rig will produce a few stragglers in the deep water of the Middle Grounds, but the majority of the fish will be taken closer to the surface.
CHESAPEAKE, EASTERN SHORE
Many areas of the Eastern Shore have seen outstanding fishing during the past several weeks, but there are obvious indications that winter's on the way. Thousands of Canada geese wing overhead, and sea ducks are becoming prevalent near Poplar Island. Most of the Eastern Shore rivers are still producing fair catches of blues, but otherwise just about the only activity is watermen out oyster tonging.
NORTHEAST RIVER -- Catfish are still abundant in the Northeast River, but most anglers are now turning to goose hunting in that area, according to the folks at Herb's Tackle Shop in North East. In fact, only a few local youngsters are still fishing the river on the weekends. Bass fishing should improve with the coming of cooler weather. The best areas are traditionally among the marina piers in the upper end of the river. Crappies remain scarce, but they too will show up in larger numbers as the water cools.
ROCK HALL -- Fishing for white perch has been fairly successful just inside the mouth of Swan Creek, says George Hall at E&H Sales in Aberdeen. The majority of the perch have been running up to 12 inches, and catches of two dozen for a few hours' effort are not unusual. Clam snouts and live minnows, fished slow near the bottom have worked best.
KENT ISLAND -- Flounder up to two pounds are still lingering near Gum Thickets. Live minnows and squid strips fished on the bottom will take them. Breaking blues still dominate the picture here, and anglers are continuing to load their coolers with three- pounders. The action could last another two weeks here, depending on the weather. Perch fishing has been hit-or-miss in Kent Narrows, but should improve within the next few weeks.
TILGHMAN ISLAND -- Although the season may seem to be winding down, the charter fleet running out of Captain Buddy Harrison's Chesapeake House is still hitting loads of blues at the mouth of the Choptank River. These fish are averaging about five pounds and a few up to 15 pounds are being caught daily. Sea trout are reported south of the area and difficult to locate.
CHOPTANK RIVER -- The blues have migrated to an area near the mouth of the river just below Castle Haven, according to Tommy's Sporting Goods in Cambridge. The blues are still breaking daily and can be taken on most lures. Surface plugs in the smaller sizes are productive when the fish are on top, but when they sound, try using a Hopkins of about one ounce and working it slowly across the bottom -- it's deadly.
NANTICOKE RIVER -- Perch fishing has picked up in most of the tributaries, reports Dave's Sport Shop in Royal Oak. The perch are hitting clam snouts and bloodworms fished on the bottom. A few sea trout and flounder are lingerin at the mouth of the river, but few anglers have been out there fishing since goose season opened on the shore.
CRISFIELD -- It looks like the season is winding down in Tangier and Pocomoke sounds. Captain Leroy Yingling on the "Doris K III" reports fishing has been on the slow side for nearly two weeks. Captain Bryan Yingling says he's sure there are a few trout left in the sounds, but peeler crabs have been impossible to obtain and they are the best bait this time of year. Captain Curtis Johns on the "Lady-A" managed to hook up with some small black sea bass this past week.
CAPE CHARLES -- Winter comes somewhat later to the lower end of the Virginia peninsula and the fishing here should remain good for at least another month. Captain Otis Asa on "The Bucaneer" reports tautog weighing up to 14 pounds are being caught at the ODU wreck by anglers using chunks of hard crab for bait. Captain Don Stiles at Kings Creek Marina has been using the same baits and working a few rockpiles south of that area with similar results. In addition, sea trout and a few red drum are continuing to show up at the airplane wreck just west of the harbor entrance. The drum are hitting on live spot rigged on a fish finder rig.
OYSTER -- The first of the red drum have invaded the surf along the barrier islands, which means it won't be long until winter arrives. These tasty fish migrate along the coast in huge schools and willingly take cut bait or whole spot fished in the surf. A 50- pound red hooked on any kind of tackle is a tough battle -- especially when the water's just four feet deep.
OCEAN CITY -- The sea trout are migrating down the coast along with the some huge blues. These fish are ranging about a mile or two from the beach and taking a variety of lures. Yellow bucktails trimmed with a squid strip work well on the trout, while the blues are taking cut bait drifted across the bottom. Surf fishing is continuing to improve at Assateague Island, and several large blues have been taken by the long casters.
WACHAPREAGUE -- Sea trout are schooled just outside the inlet, and several charter boats running out of the Wachapreague Motel report catches of up to a hundred trout per day. These are smaller fish than those in the Chesapeake and average only about two pounds.