WINTER FISHING OPPORTUNITIES IN NORTHERN VA

There are many locations that are fishable during the winter months. Everything depends on the winter storms and weather. If we continue the recent trend of higher than historic winter temperatures, almost every body of water will be available for fishing. However, if we revert to the historic winter temperatures, we could easily see iced-in conditions on the Potomac River as well as most ponds and lakes.

LAKE ANNA:

Being a nuclear power plant lake, most of the water does not freeze. Even under the most severe conditions, the hot side is always open and the cold side below the 208 bridge is always open. This is due to the size of the body of water and the warming power of the warmwater discharge from the Power Plant cooling system.  The hot side is private and you will need permission of a landowner to launch there. The cold side, however, is where the larger fish are located and most trophies are caught during the months of January through March. I normally like to launch at Sturgeon Creek Marina. Campbell and Chris  are very cognizant of angler’s needs and keep the creek open at all times, even if they have to break ice with their specially equipped pontoon boat.

Hot Side:

When fishing the hot side of Anna, I like to target the main lake points and rocky dropoffs. A dropoff into 15+ feet of water with rocks and stumps will hold lots of fish. Patience will be needed to catch them. In Pond One, I like to fish the point opposite the warmwater discharge with ¼ oz. Rat-L-Traps. There are normally lots of fish here, feeding on baitfish. After fishing this point, I head for the left end of the riprap on Dyke One. I fish this with a large slow-rolled spinnerbait and a Rattling Rogue jerkbait, fished parallel to the riprap. I will then head for the Canal and fish the left side with small plastic worms and drop shot rigs. When I get to the bridge, I like to toss a Hopkins ¾ oz. Shorty Spoon to the base of the pilings. I pick up the spoon and if no weight is felt, let it fall again. I repeat this until I have either caught all the fish or determine there are no fish there. Leaving the canal, I head to the right and under the bridge into Elk Creek. I fish the points on the both sides, paying particular attention to rocky points. After fishing Elk Creek, I head back out and around to the right between Barkleys and Busbees Islands and into Millpond Creek. I generally stop at the first cove on the right before the bridge. This cove is the reason for the creek name. It contains a millpond that was inundated when the lake was filled. The dam goes across the cove about 2/3rds back. It comes up to about 6 feet and then plunges to 25+ feet on the outside and 15+ feet on the inside. This dam, combined with the riprap of the bridge, is good bass habitat. Bottom fishing plastics is the best method. Going under the bridge, I like to fish the points on the left side with Rat-L-Traps, spinnerbaits and jerk baits all the way back to the first cove beyond the last boat dock. Next, I head for the canal to Pond Three. This canal makes a dogleg to the left and the riprap drops into 20+ feet of water. I like to fish a Carolina rig, Shaky Head or split shot rig at the outside bend of this dogleg. Lots of fish here. Continuing, I like to fish the right side at the bridge pilings and down to the next inlet with docks. This point drops into 13 feet and has lots of rocks on it. Fish this, as well as the inlet with the docks. Coming out of the creek, I turn left and head for Rock Creek. You will recognize it by the gazebo on a point. Head for the left bank directly opposite the gazebo. This bank drops into 25+ feet of water and is loaded with stumps all the way down. I like casting drop shot rigs and Shaky Heads up in the shallows on this bank and fishing them all the way down to 27 feet. Most of my fish come from 20+ feet of water. Heading into Rock Creek, you will see a number of downed trees in the water on the right side. Fish these. They always hold fish.

Cold Side:

I launch at Sturgeon Creek Marina and head downlake. My first stop is always Dyke Two. I start at the right end and parallel the riprap with a deep diving, suspending, Rattling Rogue. I work this bait the entire length of the dyke. Once I reach the other end, I turn around and cast a Sonic Blade jig. Allowing it to sink to the bottom, I pick it up. If I feel vibration, I drop the jig and let it sit a minute. I continue to pick it up and drop it. If I pick it up and feel no vibration, I set the hook. Fish pick this bait up off the bottom while you are fishing it. Fish it like a jig and you will do well. Always keep a rod on the deck with a topwater bait or a Rat-L-Trap as stripers will surface on this dyke chasing baitfish. The only other place I fish during the winter on the cold side is the outside point of the island inside Duke’s Creek. This point drops into the river channel in 60 feet of water. I like to fish a Shaky Head down the drop of either side of the point. Once again, keep a rod on the deck with a small swimbait or Rat-L-Trap on it. Schools of bass frequently are breaking here as they chase baitfish up onto the point. There is an old Mill under water on the lip of the drop that is marked on the map. Fish this with slow-moving or motionless plastic baits. There are some lunker fish taken from this point and mill every winter.

POTOMAC RIVER:

Blue Plains Sewage Treatment Plant:

Accessed via Gravelly Point public boat ramp, Blue Plains is probably the most consistent producer of fish for the Northern Virginia angler. If you are interested in having a fish pull your line, you can rest assured that it will happen here. It may not be the trophy you are looking for, but you will always find action. I have seen 7-8 pound bass and 15 pound stripers come from this area, but not frequently. Bass are caught along the rock wall along the shoreline and around the pilings of the DC Municipal Dock. Best lures are normally soft plastics; worms, grubs and creature baits. Try tossing a Silver Buddy alongside the dock pilings as well. I have caught many bass that way. Gizzard shad in the 1-3 pound class are a guaranteed catch and fight exceptionally well on ultra light tackle with 4-6 pound line. Lures are ¼ oz. Silver Buddies. Toss these lures out into the discharge from the treatment plant and allow them to fall. Close the bail and pick up the rod tip. If no contact, drop the rod tip and pick it up again. Continue this action all the way back to the boat. Sometimes the fish get snagged and sometimes they take the hook in their mouth. Either way, you have a fight on your hands. These fish have a very slimy body. I generally recommend making a dehooker to take with you. I use a piece of ¾ inch parting bead molding and attach a 3”x4” piece of hardware cloth with staples. When you get the fish next to the boat, just reach down with the dehooker and catch one of the hooks with the hardware cloth. Jerk slightly and the hook will come out of the fish.

The Spoils:

The Spoils is a pit which resulted from Smoot Sand & Gravel excavations many years ago. When the Woodrow Wilson Bridge was redecked in the 1980s, the old decking was dumped in here to create fish habitat. The depth of the pit varies from one foot to as much as 25 feet, depending on where you are located. As you enter the Spoils, the right bank is a fairly steep dropoff with lots of wood cover. As you follow the bank around to the right, it shallows up with lots of brush. Continuing along the shoreline, you will be over a shallow sandy shoal that continues out into the main pit. The next point will lead you into a shallow wooded cove dropping off into 10 feet of water at it’s mouth. There is a rocky island at the mouth of the cove which holds good numbers of yellow perch in the winter as well as a few good bass. The bass are normally found on the West point. Continuing around the shoreline, there is a shallow flat with lots of wood cover. It drops off as you move west into about 14 feet of water. The shoreline drops off into 10-25 feet of water with numerous downed trees. As you move West, you will see a point. This point comes up to within 5 feet of the surface and then drops to 20+ feet on the West side. Turning left you will head back to the mouth of the Spoils alongside some of the decking from the bridge, lying in shallow water. There are two stacks of decking in the middle of the cove with varying depths of water around them. These islands hold both bass and crappie. During the winter months, I generally like to fish wide wobbling shallow-running crankbaits along the shoreline, retrieving them as slowly as possible. On the left shoreline, I will use a Silver Buddy or a 1/8th oz. jighead with a 3” black curlytail grub. I fish the grub on UL with 6# line and the Silver Buddy on 12# line with a baitcaster. I know of 6 bass over the 8# mark caught in this cove in the winter.

Four Mile Run:

This small flood control stream runs behind Reagan National Airport and dumps into the lagoon beside Washington Sailing Marina. The stream is bordered by riprap on both sides with chicken wire holding the rocks in place. The water is generally about 2-4 feet deep and has much debris in it. It is particularly good in the winter as Arlington County maintains a water treatment plant in the back end of the stream. This means warm water and GIN CLEAR water. The only lures I use in here are small spinnerbaits, small crankbaits and Senkos. All must be cast long distances in order to get the fish to look at the bait. I have seen over 50 quality bass many times in here without getting a bite. As you come back toward the mouth, fish the runoff gutters with a small spinnerbait. There is usually a bass at the base of each of these gutters. Remember the chicken wire. A crankbait will hang up every time, while the spinnerbait will crawl over it. A trip into the mouth of the run will normally produce about 7-10 quality bass on each trip.

Pohick Bay:

After launching at Pohick Bay Regional Park, turn left and watch the depth finder. Kick the outboard all the way up and idle back toward the creek mouth. It will be difficult to find, but persevere. It will be worth it. If you get stuck, BACK OUT and try another route. Once in the creek, you veer right and follow the creek channel. Once the channel straightens out, cut the outboard and drop the trolling motor. Start fishing with small spinnerbaits, small crankbaits, Senkos and small jerkbaits. As you move forward, you will see a junction on the left where the two channels meet. Just above this junction, you will see where the channels divide again. Fish the entire area around the junctions and on into the right channel. As you notice, the water is much warmer here and that’s why the fish are there. Turning right at the ramp will take you toward the Potomac River. Stay to the left heading out and you will see the Coast Guard dock on the left. This dock was built to tether the first American Nuclear powered Aircraft Carrier. The white building up on the hill to the left of the dock was the site of the first American nuclear reactor. A channel was dredged from the dock to the Potomac River to allow the carrier access to the dock. If you mentally draw a line from the outside pilings on the dock to a white ranch house on the hill on the Maryland side of the river, you will have the outline of the channel.  From the shore, the bottom drops into 10 feet of water. It then drops again into 17 feet of water. I like to put the boat over the 17 foot drop and cast a 3” black grub on a 1/8th oz. jig head parallel to the drop. I use ultra light spinning tackle with 6# line. I have been very successful in catching may 5# bass from this channel in the winter.

Mattawoman Creek:

Launch at Slavin’s Ramp in the back of the creek or at Smallwood or Leesylvania State Parks. Mattawoman has enough tidal movement that it does not freeze during the winter. If the temperature is too bad, I will drive around and launch at Slavin’s. Otherwise, I will run across the river. Starting at the beginning of the no-wake zone, the left bank drops off sharply into 15 feet of water with lots of downed wood. There is good tidal action and lots of good fish. I like to throw a small, wide wobbling crankbait such as the Bagley DKB1. I fish this on an UL rig with 6# line and retrieve just as slow as I can and still feel a vibration in the rod tip. This will generally produce about 10 quality fish during an outgoing tide cycle. I will fish this bank all the way to Slavin’s Ramp and then turn around and do it again. Although I am sure that there are other places in this creek where fish hold in the winter, I am perfectly satisfied with this stretch. The good part is that it is protected from the winter winds and you can be perfectly comfortable in below freezing temperatures. When the tide is not ideal, I will occasionally throw a ¾ oz. single Colorado bladed spinnerbait with an Uncle Josh Big Daddy Pork Frog attached. I fish this bait parallel to the bank, yo-yoing it back to the boat. Cast it out, let it fall to the bottom, engage the spool and lift the rod tip. If you feel vibration, allow it to fall again and repeat. If however, you do not feel vibration when you lift the rod tip, SET THE HOOK. A fish has the bait. This technique is excellent for lunker bass, but few of them. This year I will be using the Sonic Blade bait with the same technique.

OCCOQUAN RIVER:

Launch at Occoquan Regional Park. There are a number of places to fish this river during the winter. Turn right at the bottom of the ramp and head for the back of the river. Once under the Route 123 bridge, search the depthfinder for schools of baitfish and/or fish. If you find baitfish, you will catch fish. Use a ¼ oz. Silver Buddy on a reel with 12# line and let the bait drop to the bottom. Pick it up off the bottom very slowly with the rod tip. It it vibrates, drop it and repeat. If not, set the hook and bring in the fish. My partners and I have had many 200 fish days in this area over the past five years or so. There is no size to the fish, but it is fun. Make sure you have a lure retriever and lots of line on it. You can count on losing a bunch of Silver Buddies without it. Heading back down to the mouth of the river, check out the wooded bank across from Prince William Marine. This bank holds good fish in the winter, as there is plenty of wood cover and it drops off into 15+ feet of water. The lower point drops into 35+ feet of water. Crossing the river, don’t neglect the dropoff in front of Prince William Marina. There are almost always baitfish on this drop and bass hanging around them. Although Silver Buddies will work here, I prefer drop shot rigs with small green pumpkin or black grubs. Moving downriver, the rock wall on the left side warms in the sunlight and transfers this heat to the water. With a 15’ dropoff, fish will hold at the base of the drop. Below the Route 1 bridge, fish will hold on the dropoff at the outside edge of docks on the left side of the river. If there is any green grass close to the bank, they will hold there as well. Once again, a drop shot rig will take the fish. One of the best techniques is to cast a Shaky Head, tipped with a green pumpkin Zoom Trick Worm up on the flat and allow it to sit still. Do not move it. This technique is called “Dead Sticking”. Lots of crappie are found on the dock with the gas pump on it.

BURKE LAKE:

Launch at the VDGIF ramp off Route 123 and head across the lake. On the way, fish the dam until you reach the other side. Turn left and head up the shoreline, using small spinnerbaits and buzzbaits. Mann’s Baby One Minus crankbaits will also work, but you will spend a lot of time getting the thread algae off the hooks. Once you get to the point of the first island, turn left and head for the Park ramp. Just before you arrive, break out the soft plastics or drop shot rig and fish the concrete structure on the downlake side of the ramp. It will show up on your depthfinder as a wall in 14 feet of water. This wall holds fish all winter. If not bass, then walleye.

FARM PONDS:

If the air temperature is not too low, ponds should not be iced over. If this is the cast, remember that fish will eat all winter if food is available. Since ponds are generally shallow, the fish are going to be holding at the base of the dam. Walk along the dam and drop a plastic worm, Senko or drop shot rig into the water at the base of the dam. Let it soak as long as you can stand it. This technique works very well in ponds in the winter.

Safety:

WEAR YOUR LIFE JACKET!

Make sure you know the weather forecast.

Always let someone know where you intend to be fishing and what time you expect to be home. If you schedule changes, use your telephone. Make sure someone knows where you are. It doesn’t take but a few minutes in cold water to die of hypothermia.

Dress in layers. Don’t forget any part of the puzzle. Hat, Gloves, Shirts, Pants, Socks, Boots, Rain Gear. All are equally important.

Notes: 

Always check the weather report before heading out. We all know that weathermen have a habit of changing forecasts every 3-4 hours. What was supposed to happen when you went to bed is not necessarily what is going to happen when you get up.

If you will be launching a boat, take along some Kitty Litter to put on the ice on the launch ramp. In freezing weather, the first boat to launch will lay down a ice sheet on the ramp. Tow vehicles have been known to slide on icy, inclined ramps…..and they don’t float! Be sure to use caution on the boat docks at the launch ramp. Lots of times, there is a frost coating on the wood and it cannot be seen. Rest assured that it is still slick.

If you store your boat outside, take a large can of HOT water and pour it in the bilge of your boat. Once it has drained out the back, insert the drain plug. Frequently, water draining out of the boat during cold weather, will freeze in the threads and the ice will not allow insertion of the drain plug.

Remember that tides are much lower in the winter than in summer. This means that where you could take a boat at low tide in the summer is probably impassable in the winter. When you head into the back ends of tidal waters, remember that you have to leave in time to be out before the tide drops to non-passable.