To get to the point of bass fishing Mattawoman Creek haven for anglers

OUTDOORS

April 18, 1993

INDIAN HEAD -- The traffic on Mattawoman Creek is heavy for a weekday morning -- a curious beaver and a white-tailed deer having made their way across the creek channel, causing us to slow below the 6-knot speed limit to let them pass -- but it matters little.

A balky trolling motor has sent us back toward the launch at Slavin's for repairs, and the pair of beautiful swimmers is a pleasant diversion.

The beaver dives and surfaces, takes a peek at the sleek bass boat Ken Penrod has borrowed while awaiting delivery of a new model, and dives again only to surface a few yards further across the channel.

The humorous game of peek-and-dive continues until we are well past, and then the beaver goes about its business.

The white-tail, perhaps chased into the creek by dogs on the far shore, swims determinedly until its feet hit bottom some 100 yards from shore.

"In another month or six weeks," Penrod says, as we watch the white-tail struggle through the shallow water and move onto the bank, "and all that thin water will be lily pads. But now it is just so much muck.

"Once the pads are in, there will be a lot of good fishing along the edges and in the pockets.

"Spinnerbait and topwater action that makes your pulse quicken."

But on Tuesday, the Mattawoman, a prime bass-fishing tributary of the tidal Potomac River, is still trying to shed its early spring garb. The surface temperature of the creek is slightly above 50 degrees, the submerged grasses little more than stubble, the wind northerly and gusting to 20 knots.

A short while earlier, we had been at the mouth of the Mattawoman, standing off an almost imperceptible point on the lee shore, the trolling motor straining against wind and tide.

"This is a good place for big fish at this time of year," said Penrod, president of Life Outdoors Unlimited, a fishing and hunting service that guides in Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania. "Although it is hard to figure why the fish are here, really."

The point is some distance from deep water, the bottom is flat, almost featureless and shallow. The water is roiled and muddy.

"But we found a week or so ago, that a thin line of [submerged] grass has been growing a little faster than it is in other areas," said Penrod, who has written three books on bass fishing, including two on habits of and methods for catching tidal bass.

"We think they have found this little bit of grass and are staging before they head into the creek, hanging out and waiting to go in and spawn."

Before we were able to work the area well with the fire-tiger crankbaits Penrod had picked out, the trolling motor decided to take some time off, and we headed in for repairs.

An hour later we were back at the mouth of the Mattawoman, along with two other boats from Penrod's service, and for 90 minutes eight anglers were taking largemouths of 1 to 5 pounds from 150 yards of thin grassbed along the innocuous point in less than 5 feet of water.

About noon, the fish shut down, and we headed back into the creek to fish points with crankbaits and wood cover with plastics.

"We have been checking the other point periodically, to see when the fish move there," Penrod said, waving toward the upriver side of the creek mouth as the boat slid onto a fast plane.

"When they do, we will go with them, and then follow them up the creek through the summer and then back down, but we will not fish the spawning beds."

Penrod makes his living largely from bass fishing, but he also is a conservationist and his guide service requests that all clients release their catch.

"If you take care of the resource," Penrod says, "the resource will take care of you. There are plenty of bass out there without taking the easy pickings on the beds."

At different times, other bass fishermen stop and ask how the fishing has been, where the big fish are, what the best baits are to use.

"How ya' catching them?" the questioner might ask and continue, "we have been catching some, but no big ones."

The answers would be direct -- "We have been catching a few, bubba, including some over 4.5 pounds."

The questioner might resume, "We've been using spinnerbaits and worms and doing OK. What are you using."

Again the response would be forthright -- "Too early for spinnerbaits, switch to crankbaits. Worms will do you best around wood."

Then, inevitably, comes the most important question, "Where ya' been fishing? Down around that point?"

And at times, one question is best answered with another -- "Well, what point would that be, bubba?"

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