Expect fishing fortunes to wax as the days wane

ON THE OUTDOORS

September 24, 1995|By PETER BAKER | PETER BAKER,SUN STAFF

Time warps somewhat on the way down Lander Road in Frederick County, over the railroad tracks, across the wooden bridge at Lift Lock 29 on the C&O Canal and down the rutted dirt road to the river.

The morning rush on the interstate is 30 minutes gone, and the day is as slow as it might have been when mules trod the canal towpath and barges filled the locks.

Early in the day, a doe bolts for cover, a woodchuck waddles into the brush and a great heron lifts from the shallows of the Potomac through the river mists, laconically voicing its displeasure.

Smallmouths and sunfish rise to the surface of the river to feed on aquatic insects, dimpling the water briefly before the current carries the ripples away.

Woodpeckers rattle the stillness of the morning, rapping sharply. A nice smallmouth breaks the surface 10 yards upstream and disappears quickly downstream of a partly submerged log that breaks the current.

A spinner cast upstream and worked lazily into the log's eddy draws a quick tap before the smallmouth changes its mind.

No matter. The day is new. The stretch of river is barren of other fishermen, and there are many current breaks, riffles and weed beds to investigate.

Over three hours or so, sunfish take lures willingly, and smallmouths hit on occasion, before sunlight covers all the river but the tree-shaded shallows along the shoreline.

Once the sun was up, the shallows provided a steady succession of sunfish, but the smallmouths apparently were holding in deeper holes, beyond the reach of a prudent wader.

In late summer, smallmouth fishing often is chancy, but over the next 60 days or more some of the best fishing of the year will occur as bass feed heavily in preparation for winter. But once the water temperature drops into the lower 40s, for the most part the season will be done.

Unlike spring fishing, water levels usually are low in the fall, and this year the Potomac has been lower than in most years.

When the water levels are low, fishing targets are fewer, too. The shoreline blowdown that held bass early in the spring is now high and dry.

And as shoreline targets diminish, current breaks such as rocks, ledges and riffles take on increased importance, not only because they offer cover and ambush points, but because they serve to oxygenate the water.

On the bright, bluebird days, as the other morning was, isolated cover with the potential to hold bass should be fished carefully because the quarry will hold tight to cover and is easily spooked by a clumsy presentation.

Early in the morning and late in the evening, the flats become good areas to fish as baitfish come into the shallows and the larger predators come in after them.

Later in the season, warm-water areas such as below the power plant at Dickerson will become prime areas because the water will have its temperature raised by a plant's discharge.

For those with boats suitable for the rocky bed of the Potomac, the river is an awesome fishery, with a trophy area extending from the Seneca Breaks to the mouth of the Monocacy River and up the Monocacy to the Buckeystown dam.

The Lander area, along with Brunswick, Shepherdstown and a stretch just below Taylor's Landing, all offer good wading opportunities.

Ken Penrod's Life Outdoors Unlimited (301-572-5688) is an excellent guide service for smallmouth fishing on the river, with special expertise on the Lander and Brunswick areas.

Regional guide March Kovach (301-588-8742) runs float trips through some of the best fishing areas on the upper Potomac.

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