ALEXANDRIA, Va. -- Hydrilla, originally feared as the scourge of the Potomac, hasn't lived up to its ugly reputation. Let the sailboaters and pleasure cruisers gripe, but bass chasers are finding this exotic growth a boon for largemouths.
There's a half-mile-long patch of the matted vegetation just below the Woodrow Wilson Bridge that is lovingly referred to as "Bass Hotel," and it lives up to its name. It just may be the hottest bass spot in Maryland.
Located off Belle Haven Marina where Scott Sewell and I boarded bass outfitter Ken Penrod's bassboat, Bass Hotel is hammered hard daily, but there are always more fish to bust through the thick dark brownish weeds to grab the next bait.
Currently, hydrilla is breaking up after its summer growth, which rules out many lures. As it breaks down, pieces drift away to snag hooks, but that can be solved with weedless baits.
Best of all, this fishing is ideal for surface lures. What a thrill to see fish push through the thickest of the patches to snatch a topwater bait. When no bass call it's amusing to watch the sprinkles of tiny baitfish scatter on the surface, frightened by the lure. It's a fisherman's dream.
We released 30 or more largemouths, the biggest of which was Penrod's 5-pounder, and several others approached that size. Many topped 2 pounds, and others were still biting when we left.
A low tide is good, but don't discount the high, or in-between. Hydrilla gives tiny baitfish a place to hide, and that's where predatory bass hang out. They like an easy meal.
Other fish are there also. Guide Bob Denyer was fishing near us, and his party landed a nice rockfish on a large white buzzbait, much bigger than the 15-incher I caught and released when we tried smaller hydrilla patches closer to the marina.
Plastic worms, grubs and other weedless plastics catch fish among the hydrilla, but for excitement nothing beats a noisy buzzbait. For the best catching, it has to be a white buzzer. Denyer told of a fellow fishing near him trying one with a big bronze blade. He didn't do anything until he switched.
And perhaps the buzzbait should be fished plain; no soft plastic worm or twister behind it. I started with that combination and got nothing, then switched to another with no plastic and started to catch fish.
Penrod favors the hard hook variety, which is a buzzer with a second trailer hook built into the lure to get fish that strike short. The technique is to cast atop the weed beds, then retrieve fast -- and wait for a strike. The second hook gets the bass that strike short, which they are apt to do in thick vegetation.
Belle Haven Marina, located just east of the Virginia side of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge (Route 95), has a fine launching ramp. Call Penrod at 1-301-937-0010.
In yesterday's Outdoor Journal, three digits were missing for phone information concerning the Coast Guard user fee that goes into effect Tuesday.
For information on the fee, phone 1-800-231-BOAT. To order the required sticker by Visa or Mastercard, call 1-800-848-2100. Outdoor Journal regrets the omission.