Five Top Maryland Bass Honeyholes
October 04, 2010
From Rocky Gorge Reservoir to Deep Creek Lake, here are five prime places to hook bass in our state.
by Gary Diamond
Though it may seem hard to believe, spring is just around the corner. Yes, when all that snow melts and water temperatures rise into the 50s, the shallows of most lakes and rivers will be swarming with aggressive largemouth and smallmouth bass. At this time of year, most bass are slender, particularly after spending a long, cold winter in deep-water haunts trying to survive on little or no forage. They may be hungry, but they're not hungry enough to ignore an improperly presented lure or bait.
First off, though, it's good to keep in mind that Maryland's black bass season runs from June 15 through Dec.31 each year. You can fish for largemouths and smallmouths right now, but you just can't keep any. This regulation provides protection to spawning stocks during a critical period. Additionally, a minimum size limit of 12 inches was also put in place to protect juvenile bass until they had the opportunity to spawn at least once before being harvested.
GUNPOWDER/DUNDEE RIVER COMPLEX One of the first locations where you can see tidewater largemouth bass activity is in the upper reaches of the Gunpowder River's tidal segment near Joppatowne. Ironically, the best fishing usually takes place in the segment between the Mariner Park launch ramp downriver to the railroad bridge. The lake is quite shallow outside the 4-foot-deep channel adjacent to Gunpowder Cove Marina. While the water is by no means clear in the river's upper reaches, it's likely the lack of clarity that causes water temperatures to rise more quickly. The sun's warming rays are quickly absorbed by the dark-colored, muddy bottom and nearby pier pilings, thereby triggering the largemouths' migratory urge weeks ahead of schedule.
Because of this early warming trend, anglers can expect to find lunker, pre-spawn largemouths lurking in the shadows of the marina piers, where jig-and-pig combinations, particularly dark patterns of black, purple and brown, can be highly productive. The secret to success here is timing. Most of the bass will forage on minnows and worms during high tide and the first few hours of the tide's ebb. Keep in mind that the water is still quite cold, with temperatures ranging into the low 50s at best. Therefore, in order to entice these semi-lethargic bass, your lures must be retrieved slowly with a slight twitching motion. More often than not, the strike is nothing more than a soft tug, which many anglers mistakenly believe is the lure snagging a sunken log or piling. Consequently, it's important to set the hook at the slightest indication of a change in line tension, as this could be the bass you've always dreamed of catching.
As the tide falls, bass will seek sanctuary in deeper waters, mainly along the shallow edges of the creek's main channel where they'll continue to forage on killifish or anything else that appears edible. Tube lures, especially darker patterns such as crawfish, motor oil and drab green/brown patterns garnished with metal-flake, seem to be quite effective in these areas. The lures are usually cast a few yards onto the shallow flats and are slowly dragged over the channel edge again with a slow, erratic retrieve.
As the waters warm and the season progresses, the shallow flats of Dundee Creek and nearby Saltpeter Creek come alive with pre-spawn, tidewater largemouths. The heated discharge from Baltimore Gas & Electric Company's oil-fired electrical power plant quickly warms the surrounding waters, which in turn attract large schools of killies, which are known locally as bull minnows. Any place you find large numbers of baitfish is always a good place to find predator species such as largemouth bass. Most lures resembling a 2-inch killifish are slammed hard when cast near the power plant's discharge canal and among the pilings of Dundee Creek Marina.
High tide and the first few hours of ebb tide are the most productive times to fish even on bright, sunny days. If the day is overcast, or the tides coincide with normal periods of low light, the odds of sinking your hook into a lunker largemouth increase dramatically.
Photo by Ron Sinfelt
CONOWINGO LAKE This particular impoundment will be ice cold and often quite muddy through the end of April and into early May, but don't let this be a deterrent. Many of the impoundment's tributaries will be significantly warmer, and if the weather remains dry for a week or two, the creeks will be quite clear. In fact, some anglers would prefer it if the creeks were a bit off-color, but this is usually not the case during early spring.
Conowingo Lake is a reciprocal boundary water situated in Maryland and Pennsylvania. However, in this particular body of water, unless you are fishing from shore or inside a Pennsylvania creek, Maryland fishing regulations prevail. If you're fishing the lake's main body, a license from either state is acceptable, but if you fish in the creeks or from shore, you must have a license issued from the state where you are fishing. In both states, bass season is closed until June 15; however, catch-and-release fishing is now permitted in both jurisdictions.
In Maryland's portion of the lake, there are several locations where you'll find good numbers of largemouth and smallmouth bass shortly after ice-out. Among them is Funks Run, just a quarter-mile above Conowingo Dam on the Cecil County, Md., shore.
Bass fishing is accessible from shore, but the best bass fishing takes place among the myriad of partly submerged trees in the middle of the run's backwaters. This spring-fed stream provides a constant flow of crystal-clear, 55-degree water that eventually empties through an 8-foot diameter pipe that runs beneath the adjacent railroad tracks. It's a great place to catch and release smallmouth and largemouth bass, but because of the underwater tangles, it's also difficult to fish with anything other than live minnows suspended beneath a float or Texas-rigged plastic worm or grub.
Broad Creek, on the Harford County side of the impoundment about three miles above the dam, also holds good numbers of largemouth and smallmouth bass. However, the creek's waters are considerably colder than those of Funks Run, and the action really doesn't get underway until late April or early May, and that's if the winter was relatively mild. Therefore, if you're fishing earlier in the year, head uplake to the warmwater discharge of the Peach Bottom Nuclear Power Plant.
The power plant's heated waters attract swarms of gizzard shad, the lake's prime forage species. Consequently, when electricity is being generated and 70-degree waters are flowing from the discharge canal, smallmouth and largemouth bass congregate just below the canal's spillways and gates to feast on the tiny shad. Tiny deep-diving crankbaits that resemble the size and color of the baitf
ish are the most productive lures; however, this is also a great location for tossing 2-inch live shiners into the turbulent waters and waiting on an arm-jolting strike.
What makes this particular site exciting is the fact that you never quite know what to expect. In addition to the bass, there are good numbers of tiger muskies, walleyes, channel catfish, northern pike and an occasional hybrid white bass lurking in the same waters. They're all feeding on gizzard shad.
There's a great launch ramp at the end of Dorsey Road, which puts you just a few hundred yards above the discharge canal. This is an easy run for most small boats, and most of the time, you'll be fishing only a few yards from shore.
Muddy Creek, which is located along the York County, Penn., shore, should be called Clear Creek. The only time the creek is muddy is during and shortly after a heavy downpour, and most of the time, the water is extremely clear. The creek is loaded with bronzebacks that average 15 inches or larger, most of which lurk beneath rock ledges that project from deep beneath the creek's south shore. This is definitely small-boat territory, and an electric trolling motor is highly recommended because the creek is just 30 to 50 feet wide throughout most of its backwater reaches. This is a great place to fish tiny crankbaits, small grubs or live minnows, all of which can be productive during the early season.
ROCKY GORGE RESERVOIR This impoundment is operated by the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission, which supplies drinking water to municipalities in Montgomery and Prince George counties and other nearby areas adjacent to Washington. Formed by the T. Howard Duckett Dam, Rocky Gorge Reservoir courses through the Patuxent River's steep valley, where depths quickly fall off to nearly 70 feet in the lake's lower reaches.
The most productive early-season action takes place in the lake's upper reaches between Snell's Bridge at Ashton Road downlake to the U.S. 29 Bridge. Waters in this area seem to warm quickly, particularly in the coves along the impoundment's north shore. Most of the coves are stream-fed and hold smallmouth and largemouth bass; however, with the exception of the lake's upper reaches, the bass are best accessed with the aid of a small boat.
Local anglers often begin fishing for bass shortly after ice-out or when the snow has been gone for a few weeks and the reservoir clears. Water temperatures in the coves may soar to 60 degrees in the back ends of shallow coves on sunny days, producing conditions that entice wary bass from their deep-water haunts to feed on pre-spawn bluegills that are looking for nesting sites in the shallows.
Live minnows and shallow-running crankbaits seem to be the most productive offerings, especially when you are fishing late in the day. As the season progresses, the smallmouths will usually migrate uplake to spawn in the river's fast-flowing waters. It's a relatively long run to these areas with an electric motor, but it can be quite rewarding, particularly if the fish are just coming off the spawn.
Similar to most area water-supply lakes, only electric motors may be used, and a special permit is required in order to fish here. The permits sell for $30 for the season (or $3 per day) and are available at the Brighton Dam office, which is open every day from 8 a.m. till 8 p.m. For directions to the office, call (301) 774-9124. The lake opens to the public on March 1 and remains open till the end of December. There are two excellent launch facilities situated in the impoundment's lower reaches.
LOCH RAVEN RESERVOIR This 7-mile-long impoundment is owned and operated by the city of Baltimore as a municipal water-supply reservoir. Until a decade ago, the lake's pristine waters were crystal clear and nearly sterile. In fact, it was the lack of nutrients that kept most of the lake free of aquatic grasses, with the exception of the back ends of a few coves.
The only fish-holding structure was a stumpfield that was inundated in 1922 when the dam was constructed on the Gunpowder River's middle reaches. A few logjams were created during spring floods that took place several years later, and until siltation took its toll, foundations from old buildings also provided hiding places for big bass.
About 10 years ago, shortly before a hunting moratorium was enacted to protect migratory Canada geese in the Atlantic Flyway, small flocks of resident geese began showing up near the mouth of Dead Man's and School House coves. At first, there were just a couple dozen birds, but as time progressed and the moratorium was put in place, the flocks began to increase dramatically in size. Today, it is estimated that more than 4,400 geese use the lake on a daily basis. Their droppings contribute huge volumes of nutrients to the lake's once-sterile waters. The result was similar to adding fertilizer to a wheat field.
Over the years, there has been an explosive growth of sago pondweed, horned pondweed and common waterweed. Though the grasses are quite dense, there are open pockets within the dense beds that hold enormous numbers of bass. The grassbeds begin to emerge in mid-April, just about the same time Loch Raven Fishing Center opens for business. Because the water is still cold, the vegetation emerges slowly, providing bass the opportunity to spawn before the grass inundates the lake's bottom.
Spring is a great time to cast shallow-running crankbaits along the lake's sun-bathed shore, concentrating your efforts on the impoundment's northern side where waters may be as much as 10 degrees warmer than the south shores. The emerging grassbeds not only hold large numbers of largemouth bass, but additionally, huge numbers of chain pickerel and some big northern pike can be taken with the same lures. More often than not, the water clarity is such that you can see the fish chasing your lure at incredible distances. What a great place to fish!
Again, only electric motors can be used at Loch Raven, and a special permit is required to fish from a boat. The permit is available at Loch Raven Fishing Center and sells for $50 for the season. For additional information about boating and fishing, call the center at (410) 887-7692.
DEEP CREEK LAKE Winter arrives early and leaves late at this western Maryland lake. While some of the best largemouth and smallmouth bass action takes place relatively early in the season, you must keep in mind that during most years, the lake is still ice-covered until early to mid-April. However, the spring-fed coves will begin to warm shortly after ice-out, and by the end of April, there will be large concentrations of big bluegills fanning out nests in preparation to spawn. Foraging bass begin moving onto the coves to feast upon the young hatchlings a week or two after the bluegills begin nesting.
While spring rains and run-off from heavy snows heavily impact most lakes and major rivers, Deep Creek Lake usually remains quite clear. Therefore, it takes quite some time for the waters to warm. The spawn may not take place until early June. Local anglers frequently look for pre-spawn bass in the shallows along the lake's shore, particularly w
here partially submerged, dark-colored granite boulders transfer heat to the lake's waters. More often than not, there will be swarms of bluegills at the same locations, which attracts largemouth and smallmouth bass.
Live minnows are always a good bet here, but there are times when deep-diving crankbaits bounced off the boulders and slowly retrieved close to the bottom are extremely effective. If a bass fails to chase the lure, there's a good chance it will be slammed by a big bluegill, walleye or chain pickerel, all of which are plentiful and active from mid-May through the end of September.
There is an excellent launch ramp at Deep Creek Lake State Park. Huge granite boulders line the shores on both sides of the ramp, and there are lots of downed trees that provide excellent bass fishing structure. You can expect to enjoy great fishing action here until the water gets warm enough for water skiers and personal watercraft to take over sometime in early July.
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