"Somebody told me there was a good fishing hole right across from the ramp," said Andy Lynn, pointing a long arm toward the far side of Occoquan Reservoir. "Now I see why."
Every cloud has a silver lining, and now it turns out some droughts do, too. Occoquan's petticoats and a lot more are showing with the water level down to levels the county regards as dangerously low.
That spells trouble for Fairfax gardeners and car-wash addicts. A lot of fishermen think it's bad, too, but the few who are still plying the reservoir's shrunken coves and channels say it's great.
Lynn, for example, and he should know. He runs Lynn's General Store in the town of Occoquan, a byzantine jumble of bait, tackle, guns and hard goods left over from its days as a hardware store.
"Look, there's half as much water out there but just as many fish. It stands to reason they're going to be easier to find."
That's drought Benefit No. 1 Benefit No. 2 is the exposure of all the mysteries of Occoquan's shoreline, all the brush piles, logs, dropoffs, stickups, tree stumps, humps and hillocks that serve as heavens for game fish. Anglers normally have to find them by instinct, map-reading and plain old guesswork.
Lynn has lived in Occoquan all his life; he marks the fourth generation of Lynns to run the general store and he's fished the reservoir since the dam went up nearly two decades ago. But he's never before seen the things he can see today.
The fishing hole he was pointing to across from the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority's Fountain-head Nature Center turns out to be a massive brush pile, its top poking up through the still water. It's a perfect hidey hole for bass and crappie and now it's imbedded in the personal structure map Lynn keeps in his head.
He'll be back there in the spring when the water is high and chances are he'll find fish.
The tragedy is that more people aren't taking advantage of this shot at amateur cartograph. NVRPA ranger Bill McKendree said Fountainhead did about one-fourth its normal business over the Labor Day weekend. It was even worse upstream at NVRPA's Bull Run Marina.
Bull Run will close for the season after today because nobody comes around to rent john boats anymore. The water upstream on the run is down so far a boat would barely float.
Fountainhead will stay open, even though rentals were down to about 60 boats a day last weekend. McKendree figures many anglers were scared off when the water started to drop earlier this summer.
"For awhile it was pretty bad. They had to wade out in the mud to get the boats afloat and a lot of guys went in up to their knees or worse," he said. NVPRA solved that problem by laying an immense drop cloth down by the water's edge and covering it with wood chips.
The footing at the launch site, which is about 50 yards out from the old boat ramp, is firm now.
The water has been down for so long vegetation is taking over in the vast flats leading down to the shore.
As for the fishing, McKendree and Lynn both reckon the place to look is deep, particularly for largemouth bass. The water is 20 to 25 feet deep in the channel off Fountainhead and there are spots where it drops down to 50 and even 60 feet farther downstream toward the dam. A structure map for sale at the nature center shows where the deep holes are.
"No reason why you shouldn't be able to find the bass if you're willing to work a plastic worm in the channels all day," said Lynn.
And early and late in the day anglers have been having success using crank baits, along the shoreline, according to McKendree. "A week and a half ago they were catching bass like crazy along the old rock beds just downstream from the nature center," he said.
Late last month Rod Ivy of Arlington and Roy Saylor of Woodbridge boated a total of 45 1/2 pounds of largemouth on crank baits.
Lately, McKendree said anglers have been closemouthed about where they're having their luck. "They're all out finding new holes," he said.
For those who can't get excited about bass. Lynn said the season is just starting on northern pike. He recommends fishing large minnows under a bobber. Last years the biggest of these voracious terrors to succumb to an angler weighed in at 22 pounds 9 ounces, and Lynn has the picture to prove it.
Now there's a fish.