October 19, 1992 By Charlie Taylor
Being the last day of the Potomac River striped bass season, John Jenkins and I just had to get in another day of catching these hard fighting fish. We elected to take his bass boat and head for the lower Potomac River. We intended to fish the small creeks emptying into the tidal Potomac and a small, maneuverable boat would allow us to probe the smaller, shallow areas of the creeks.
We put in at Monroe Bay at Colonial Beach and headed South. The weatherman, who had predicted that the winds of Saturday would cease during the night, was once again wrong, and he was roundly cursed as the spray from the breaking waves soaked us and the boat. With the temperature in the high 30's, we were sure happy that we had donned skimobile suits before departing.
We launched prior to 6 a.m. in order to catch at least an hour of the incoming tide, as stripers love to feed on the high incoming tide around dawn. Conditions were ideal for the big fish, as we headed into the first of many creeks. This creek has a shoal protecting the mouth and it was necessary to run 150 yards below the creek and come back to the mouth along the shoreline. With water depths of one foot and waves exceeding two feet, this was an interesting trip.
Heading into the creek, we checked for areas that had the swiftest running tide. We found such a place in a narrow gut off the main channel. This gut was the principal drainage for a huge shallow flat to the side of the channel. As the tide moved through the gut, it had, over time, cut a deep hole on the point. This hole should hold shad and stripers should be there feeding. We anchored the boat and began casting to the hole.
Our principal baits were 3/4 ounce chrome/black back Rat-L-Traps. As we cast the baits into the rushing tide, we ripped them back to the boat. Occasionally, there was the arm wrenching strike of a good striped bass. These fish tried to rip the rod out of your hand and almost succeeded on a number of occasions. The fish were feeding voraciously and took the baits all the way to the back of their mouths. Longnosed pliers were a necessity in order to get the hooks out and enable the fish to return to the water unharmed.
On one cast, John managed to get a backlash. When he had completed picking it out and started to retrieve the lure, he noted that a fish was on. The fish had picked the bait up, where the tide was moving it along the bottom. This experience was to prove valuable later in the day in another creek.
When the tide slowed and the catching stopped, we once again headed south and entered another creek. This creek was a long creek, shallow and wide. We headed back until we found a bridge. Stopping to cast the pilings a time or two, we ended up staying the rest of the day. These bridge pilings were harboring feeding stripers throughout the day, regardless of tide.
Normal bridge piling fishing techniques involve casting a bucktail upstream to the head of the piling, and allowing the tide to sweep it along the bottom of the pilings, where an active fish would find it. After a 15 minute period of this method, during which time John was catching fish after fish, I abandoned it in favor of the tried and true Rat-L-Trap.
Off and on throughout the day, we experimented with other baits, from Sassy Shads to topwaters to other crankbaits, without success. These fish wanted Rat-L-Traps, and only in the 3/4 ounce size and only in chrome black/back. The much heralded chrome/blue back remained fishless much of the day. The most successful method was to cast the Rat-L-Trap to the uptide side of the bridge piling and allow it to fall. As the tide sweeps the bait, pick it up just off the bottom, activating the rattling, then allow it to fall again. The fish normally hit it on the fall. Should a fish not hit by the time the bait sweeps beyond the pilings, rip it back beside the pilings.
Above all, carry along a number of spare baits, as the fish will eat the chrome off the baits. Although the baits still catch fish with the plating missing, they are not quite as effective as when they are new.