Deep Creek Lake's Double-Header Bassing

Deep Creek Lake's Double-Header Bassing

Bronzebacks and bucketmouths keep anglers busy on this western Maryland impoundment. Here's where to go to catch bass at Deep Creek this season!

by Charlie Coates

With 65 miles of shoreline surrounding 3,900 acres of water, Deep Creek Lake is Maryland's largest freshwater impoundment. Located in the state's westernmost county of Garrett, this highland reservoir has long been known for its stellar coldwater fisheries. Trophy-sized trout, pike, walleyes and yellow perch are abundant here.

The good news for bass fishermen is that Deep Creek has also developed into a productive bass lake. Smallmouth anglers have been tuned in to the lake's fine bronzeback fishery for some time, but only in recent years have good numbers of largemouth aficionados found success. Many fishermen, however, are still not convinced.

Indeed, this oddly shaped lake has earned its nickname, the "Reluctant Dragon," as far as many disappointed largemouth fishermen are concerned. Until recently, most of the lake's bass, especially largemouths, have been relatively small. But in the mid-1980s, Maryland instituted catch-and-release regulations that prohibited the keeping of any black bass from March 1 through June 15. The apparent success of this initiative in protecting spawning bass, combined with a growing catch-and-release ethic among lake regulars throughout the year, has resulted in steady improvement of the bass population in numbers and size.

Guide Brent Nelson, who specializes in smallmouth and largemouth bass on Deep Creek, has been fishing this lake for over 40 years. "When I was a boy, we caught largemouths from 1 to 1 1/2 pounds," said Nelson. "Now, 2- to 3-pounders are commonplace, with more larger bass being caught each year. There's been a lot of improvement in the last five years, and 2001 was the best yet."

Guide Brent Nelson uses topwaters and jerkbaits to catch early-season smallmouths off main-lake points. Photo by Charlie Coates

GETTING READY
Medium-action spinning or baitcasting rods and reels will meet all of your needs for smallmouth and largemouth bass on Deep Creek Lake. A 6-foot rod is best for most purposes, although a shorter spinning rod is effective for skipping plastic baits under boat docks. That is Nelson's favorite tactic for hooking largemouth bass during high-sun hours throughout the spring and summer.

Low-visibility line is essential on this clearwater reservoir. Nelson recommends green monofilament in the 8- to 10-pound class, with lures tied directly to the line. "Use smaller lures with natural finishes," he said. "Crankbaits in orange and brown mimic crawfish, the favorite forage for bass in Deep Creek. Plastic baits, such as worms, tubes, grubs and jigs, should include natural colors." Pumpkin, root beer and watermelon dominate Nelson's color selection. Hard jerkbaits and surface poppers are also important components of his arsenal, especially for smallmouths.

A good depthfinder is invaluable for locating bars, ledges and the many huge stumpfields throughout the lake, as well as the manmade fish attractors that are usually 10 feet or more below the surface. Although water depth can reach 75 feet near the dam, there is no oxygen below about 30 feet, so you can eliminate a lot of unproductive water by being aware of the depth you're fishing.

The better sonar devices can even reveal thermocline depths, which will appear as shaded areas in the water column. Since bass will not go through the thermocline into a colder layer of water, it's a waste of time to fish below that depth. Lake maps, indicating depth ranges and some of the manmade structures, are available at local tackle shops. A lake map is essential for anglers who are unfamiliar with the lake.

A temperature gauge is another useful device that can help you find warmer spots on the lake during the spring. Deep Creek has numerous underwater springs with ambient temperature several degrees warmer than the surrounding water. "Just one degree can make a big difference," said Nelson. "Another great thing about those underwater springs is that they attract crawfish. Where the crawfish go, the bass will follow."

Deep Creek Lake State Park provides the only public launch ramps. It's an excellent facility, and it is conveniently located for spring bass fishing. Leaving the launch area, you can motor to the right (down the lake) or to the left (up the lake), or you can stay in the park area, which is an appealing option when winds are high and the water is rough.

A submersed rock guard off the beach can hold smallmouths and largemouths. The cove between the park and Glendale Road to the south is also worth a look. Glendale Bridge, which crosses the lake at its narrowest point, can be productive as well.

SPRING SMALLMOUTHS
Bass fishing at Deep Creek can be tough in early spring, but once water temperatures reach the 50s, the lake begins to come alive. If you catch a warming trend in early April just before a low-pressure system changes to a high, you can get in on some of the year's most spectacular fishing.

Smallmouths are found throughout the lake on stump- fields, flats and rocky shoals at this time of year. They'll be more scattered than largemouths, in small packs of three or four fish. Smallmouths and largemouths will move to shallower water on warm afternoons.

"These fish have been suspended over deep main-lake waters all winter and on a good day can be quite aggressive," said Nelson. "Look for bluffs and steep banks leading into major coves with deep-water access just behind the fish. Coves on the northwest side of the lake warm faster, as will stained water from runoff in the backs of coves."

Smallmouths begin to spawn in early May, several weeks before the lake's largemouths. That makes April a good time to find the pre-spawners on main-lake and secondary points leading into prospective spawning coves.

"The key here is a suspending jerkbait fished very slowly," said Nelson. "You might have to pause as long as 15 to 20 seconds. Gold seems to be the best color in early spring and again in the fall."

He suggests that anglers should concentrate on such areas as Holy Cross Point, Turkey Neck Point and North Glade Cove from the mouth to the splits.

It's no coincidence that all of these potential hotspots are in the upper portion of the lake. "I definitely prefer the upper end. You can catch smallmouths on the lower portion, but I think the best numbers and the biggest ones are in the upper section of the lake. There's more grass, plus plenty of rocks, springs and crawfish to attract them," said Nelson.

Nelson does

find smallmouths from the middle lake area down to the U.S. Route 219 bridge in early spring, and he particularly likes the shoreline along Route 219 on the west side of the lake. He'll work his gold jerkbait here, and he will throw crankbaits to bass moving up from the deep water just south of the Glendale Bridge.

Otherwise, Nelson will concentrate on the upper end of the lake. He particularly likes the floating boat docks that lake residents start putting into the water in April. This is his go-to pattern for largemouths all spring and summer, but it will also produce plenty of smallmouths on sunny April afternoons.

It doesn't take long after a dock goes into the water for bass to gravitate to it and suspend high in the water column. This is a good occasion to flip and pitch spider jigs and tube baits in and around the dock floats and pontoons. Watermelon, smoke and green pumpkin are the preferred colors.

By May, water temperatures should be in the mid-50s, and as spring sunshine warms the water in the back coves, these areas will rapidly climb into the 60s. The smallmouth spawn will be underway, especially in the warmer upper portion of the lake. Floating plastic worms and tube jigs are effective on docks, grasslines and stumps.

The lake is at full pool, and water levels will be high throughout May and June. Smallmouth fishing can be outstanding, as the smallmouths are more aggressive now than at any other time of the year.

SPRING LARGEMOUTHS
Although largemouth numbers in Deep Creek have increased in recent years, they're still not as numerous as their smallmouth cousins. Early-spring largemouths will be found in many of the same areas as smallmouths, but they favor shoreline weeds and shallow-water structure. When approaching a cove, work the first and secondary points for smallmouths and the back ends with grass and wood for largemouths. Fish any bulrush you find along the shore.

While Nelson will occasionally fish the lower end of the lake for smallmouths, he devotes all his time in the upper lake when targeting largemouths. Soon after ice-out, largemouth bass will come up from deeper water and head for bluff points with vertical drops. They'll stage along dropoffs in 8 to 12 feet, but they will move to shallower water later in the day.

As the sun warms the water later in April, quality largemouths can be taken during their quick sojourns into back cove waters that have been stained by spring run-off. They'll be feeding on baitfish attracted to the warming water. Shallow-diving crankbaits and white spinnerbaits often produce well in these areas.

"Concentrate on grassbeds, stump- fields, boat docks and points," said Nelson. "If you find main-lake and secondary points adjacent to deep water, largemouths should be nearby. Look for underwater springs near bluffs and cliffs."

Nelson suggests the North Glade Cove as a good area to try, especially the docks at the splits. He also finds good pre-spawn action in the backs of Sky Valley and Hoop Pole coves in and around the stumps.

Largemouths will begin their spawning ritual around the middle of May, with small buck bass cruising the backwaters of coves and bigger females holding on secondary points leading into these coves. Anglers are encouraged to leave the spawning bass alone and target the roamers, which can often be found near shoreline grass. "This is a good time to cast soft jerkbaits and floating worms up against the weedlines in Green Glade and Turkey Neck coves," said Nelson.

The topwater bite will be in full swing as water temperatures rise in May. Nelson will cast poppers to main-lake and secondary points early and late, using noisier propeller baits if the water is choppy. When the sun gets high, he'll move to docks and he will pitch tubes or worms. He advises keeping a jig-and-pig or spider jig ready on a flipping stick when fishing these docks.

As largemouths go into their post- spawn mode in early June, you'll find males guarding schools of fry in the grasses toward the backs of upper-lake coves. Soft plastics thrown in and around the vegetation and spinnerbaits pitched adjacent to the weedlines will be very effective. Try buzzbaits during low-light hours. As bass move to deeper water, Carolina-rigged worms are productive.

SUMMERTIME TACTICS
Around the middle of June, a number of changes come to Deep Creek Lake, none of which are welcomed by bass anglers. As Maryland's favorite inland vacation destination, the lake attracts hordes of visitors each summer, and the water is inundated with pleasure boats. The lake is drawn down each year at this time, gradually taking all the formerly productive shoreline grass, trees and brush out of the fishermen's game plans.

By early July, some of the lake's best fishing holes of spring - along with many bass anglers - are left high and dry. This is the year's most difficult time for bass fishermen, and those vacationers who leave the lake vowing never to fish there again can hardly be blamed.

Yet for those who know the lake and its largemouth bass, summer can be the most productive and enjoyable time of all. "The bass will concentrate under the docks and pontoons when the sun gets high," said Nelson. "The trick is getting your bait to them. You have to get it back under the cover. They're not usually going to come out in the sun to get it."

While a number of regulars and tournament anglers know about the dock pattern, few have refined their technique as well as Nelson has. "The fish might be on the ends of the docks early in the day, but they move farther back as the sun gets overhead," he said. "Lots of fishermen, including tournament guys with flipping sticks, just fish the edges and never get back far enough into the shadows. We can follow behind them and pick up fish they never reached."

To reach these bass, anglers have to skip plastic baits under the docks. This is best accomplished with a short, limber fishing rod. Along with a sidearm motion, a flick of the wrist will send the worm or grub on a low trajectory so it skips like a flat rock under near-to-the-water docks and pontoon boats. The targets are small, and it takes a while to master this technique, so it's best to practice before you go.

While bass under the docks aren't particularly wary, you'll stand a better chance of hooking up if you can get that first cast back where you want it rather than bouncing it off the dock or pontoon. Besides, most boat owners don't mind your fishing around their docks, but they frown on dents in their boats and lures imbedded in their mooring ropes. Please be respectful of other people's property.

Not all docks are created equal. "The more cover, the better," said Nelson, who seeks out docks with large pontoon boats, multiple boats, roofs overhead - anything that offers more shade. His favorite areas for finding these docks include Green Glade, North Glade and Turkey Neck coves and Poland Run. Some days he'll pull 30 to 40 keeper bass from the same few docks.

Nelson experimen

ts with different soft plastics for his skipping pattern, trying worms, centipedes and tube baits, but last year he had great success with a 4-inch soft jerkbait hooked "wacky" style with a No. 2 gold hook through the center. There is no additional weight added, so the rig flutters slowly to the bottom. Water depth under most docks at this time of year will only be a couple of feet.

Since this is mostly a high-sun pattern, what is one to do the rest of the day? "If bass aren't under the docks," said Nelson, "you can fish out in deeper water. Work a crankbait along the bars and humps. Some of the points extend pretty far out in the water, and they'll hold bass, too."

But Nelson prefers to spend his mornings on main-lake points over 10 to 20 feet of water, casting topwater plugs and hard jerkbaits to feisty smallmouths, or he'll enjoy a cool summer evening tossing poppers and streamers with a fly rod for smallmouths or largemouths. "And night-fishing can be awesome in the summer," he said. "But that's another story."

If you haven't fished for Deep Creek bass lately, you should give it a try this season. You might be pleasantly surprised. Remember that all bass must be released from March 1 through June 15. For more information, call Brent Nelson at (410) 799-9326.



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