Gone Fishin' - Oct. 30, 1995
October 30, 1995 By Charlie Taylor
Amid reports of stripers breaking water all over the lower Potomac River, two friends and I decided to head downriver for a little rockfish action. We started out at 5:00 a.m., as the projected launch site was located over 100 miles from my home. This would put us at the launch ramp at approximately daylight.
Dawn was just breaking on a cloudy, overcast morning when we arrived at the launch ramp on a small creek, off the lower tidal Potomac River. Bundling up with lots of warm clothing, we put the boat on plane and headed for a bridge crossing the creek. These bridge pilings normally hold a good number of striped bass, feeding on the schools of shad in the creek. The tide was running hard on it's way out of the creek, leaving only about 4-6 feet of water in the channel. This is an ideal time to catch these fish feeding, however, as a hard running tide will frequently disorient the schools of shad, making it easy for the big linesided fish to catch them.
This day was no different, as we began to see stripers chasing shad on the shallow points around the bridge. Casting to the point, we immediately hooked up with stripers. The first fish was taken by Bob Linn, who cast a Rebel Pop-R to a grassy point, and proceeded to work it out into the channel. On the second chug of the bait, it disappeared, and the line started surging out toward the channel. Bob set the hook and held on, as the fish stripped 14 pound line against the drag. The look on Bob's face was pure delight as he fought the fish. Getting the net ready, he told me to continue fishing, as it would be a while before the net was necessary. I concluded that the fish was larger than we normally catch in this area and picked up my rod to continue casting.
At the same time, Fran was casting a Rebel Fastrak minnow, retrieving it across the channel with the tide. Suddenly, his rod bent double, he set the hook and his line started singing off the reel. Then, without warning, the rod straightened and the line was slack. Fran retrieved the line and noted with some pleasure, a white scale about the size of a nickel impaled on one of the hooks. He definitely had hold of a good striper.
By this time Bob had his fish next to the boat where it was netted, the hook removed and the fish released. The fish would have weighed 6-7 pounds, but gave a good account of itself.
We continued fishing the Fastrak minnows, Pop-R's and Rat-L-Traps on the points surrounding the bridge, and as the action slowed, moved to the bridge pilings and began casting around them. We continued to catch fish on the minnow imitations as long as the tide was moving out. After the tide turned, however, the fish stopped hitting the minnows.
It was time for a new strategy. We switched lures so that each was using a different lure. One was using a Sassy Shad, another a bucktail and the third a Rat-L-Trap. We cast to the uptide side of the bridge pilings and allowed the baits to fall. As the tide swept the baits past the pilings, we maintained just enough tension on the line to keep in contact with the lure. Occasionally, we would let the lure fall to the bottom and lie there with no movement. After a short period of time, we would lift the lure and a fish would have the lure in it's mouth. This technique began to produce fish as we caught fish after fish.
Bob learned what was inside a Rat-L-Trap, as an errant cast allowed the lure to smack one of the pilings. The lure came apart, spilling 40 BBs in the water. As Bob retrieved what was left of the lure, he decided that he had learned more than he needed to know. The most consistent action was had by 3/4 ounce, white/red head or chrome/black back Rat-L-Traps. The Rebel Fastrak minnows were jointed, had a Guanine finish, with green backs and a pink stripe down the side. Bucktails were 1/2 ounce and trimmed with 5 inch, white, twister tail grubs and pearl white Sassy Shads were rigged on 1/2 ounce jig heads. The better action on Pop-R's, came on a "G" finish, blue/white color.
When the tide slowed down, the action also slowed, and as time was marching on, we decided to call it a day. We had consistent action all day long, with the fish running 6-9 pounds and loaded with fight.
Striped bass may be found throughout the tidal Potomac River, with the best areas being places where points, shoals, wing dams, channel markers, bridge pilings, etc. break the current. Fish these shallow areas tight to the cover with Rat-L-Traps, Pop-R's, Zara Spooks, Sassy Shads, Bucktails tipped with white twister tail grubs, or minnow imitating crankbaits. The best time is when the tide is running at it's hardest, preferably at dawn or dusk.