September 30, 2010
May offers hawg bass hunters a time to catch big fish before the summer heat sets in. (May 2010)
While many largemouth have completed their spawning by mid-May, some fish are still spawning, especially in the northern regions of our readership area. The largemouth that have completed spawning are now cranky and hungry. We did some research with fisheries biologists to find waters that produce quality fish with consistency.
Deep Creek Lake yields plenty of 2- to 3-pound fish, but larger fish are in the lake. Here, Fisheries Tech Kenny Wampler is shown holding up a 7- and 8-pound bass from Deep Creek.
–ª Photo by Alan Klotz of the MD DNR.
In the northern Virginia region many urban anglers are surprised to learn that their very own Occoquan Reservoir is the top bass water in the entire district. The 2,100-acre impoundment is used as a water source for Fairfax and the city of Alexandria. This great bass lake is a short drive from interstate 95 and within a half hour drive of most of Northern Virginia -- depending, of course, on the traffic. The impoundment straddles the Fairfax and Prince William County lines.
The average largemouth at Occoquan is 2 to 3 pounds, according to district fisheries biologist Steve Owens. Owens stated that although each angler's skills may vary, many of the anglers he has talked to report 15 to 20 fish days, which is very good bass fishing just about anywhere.
Most anglers practice catch and release at Occoquan but for those who want to keep fish, there is a five fish limit with no length limits. The size structure of the bass population at Occoquan is very well diversified with fish spread out evenly from small fry up to 21 inches. Owens noted that there are a lot of fish in the 4- to 6-pound range of the population, which is a real draw for dedicated bass anglers.
The CPE-P is very good. CPE-P is the catch per effort of preferred fish that the biologist sample. Biologists define a "preferred fish" as a bass over 15 inches in length. During the last sampling the district was led by Occoquan. Many smaller waters typically dominate the rankings when CPE-P is used because smaller waters are easier to sample and because it is easier for biologists to isolate the bass population. It is uncommon for an impoundment of this size to be the top water.
So what makes Occoquan such a good bass lake, particularly in May? First, as mentioned above, there are lots of 4- to 6-pound fish available. The forage in Occoquan is gizzard shad, which allows the fish to grow fast, and there are plenty of shad to go around, too. Owens also pointed out that the CPUE or catch per unit effort of bass is excellent. This is slightly different from CPE-P. Both numbers are important but the CPUE shows the number of bass of all sizes that are sampled -- and strong numbers across all age classes means that there are plenty of younger bass to grow into those preferred fish!
Aside from the fish themselves, another benefit to fishing the lake is that the upper end of the reservoir has much less development and that means urban anglers can "get away" from the rat race and enjoy some good fishing close to home.
Anglers will find numerous private docks on other parts of Occoquan that make great holding areas for largemouth in May. In fact, after the spawn in mid to late April the bass will still be found in the shallow water. Shallow water would be defined in this case as anything 8 feet or less.
Anglers should fish all shallow structure, including blowdowns, docks, beaver huts and emergent vegetation. In mid to late May plastic worms work very well but early in May crank baits and spinnerbaits or jigs are great choices.
Anglers will find that they can drop a boat into Occoquan at Fountainhead Park on the Fairfax County side of the reservoir. More information can be obtained from the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority at 703-352-5900. On the Prince William side of the reservoir the boat ramp is at Lake Ridge Park and is operated by Prince William County Park Authority. Call 703-792-7060 for more information. The parks offer some boat rentals and bait. Bull Run Marina Regional Park is also an option on the upper end on the Fairfax side of the impoundment. This launch will get anglers closer to the more remote area of Occoquan.
Chesdin Reservoir another great bass fishery that sometimes gets overlooked. At 3,100-acres it is used as a water supply reservoir and is located on the Chesterfield-Dinwiddie County line. Buggs, Briery or other better-known bass lakes can overshadow this reservoir, but it is an easy drive from Richmond and offers mid-Virginia anglers a great spot to crank in some really nice bass.
Johnathan Harris, VDGIF fisheries biologist, said, "Chesdin offers a wonderful largemouth bass fishery. Average lengths from 2008 and 2009 spring electrofishing samples were 15 inches and average weights were around 2.25 lbs."
His data showed that there is an abundance of bass in the 14-20 inch range thriving in Chesdin. His sampling rates show that the catch rates bounce from 60-100 bass per hour of electrofishing. Harris reports that is average for this part of Virginia.
Bass anglers who fish Chesdin in May will find some fish still on the beds or nearby -- which means they are shallow. Harris reports that his sampling efforts have shown that they collect bass in numbers all over the lake. However, the coves seem to always hold nice fish. Fish in depths of less than six feet this time of year. Crankbaits in a shad color to mimic the gizzard shad forage are a good start. Jigs and spinnerbaits are another good bet followed by plastic worms slowly hopped and jigged around cover.
He has also observed that many anglers that fish Chesdin will drop their boat in and head uplake and go up the Appomattox River to the Winterpock Swamp area. The flooded stump bed is a great location for crappie schools and bass. As with any flat with submerged stumps the fishing is good but the stumps do pose a problem for props and motors. Take your time when driving through the area.
Chesdin does get plenty of pressure in the spring because so many anglers hit the water from the Richmond area. There are often tournaments on the lake as well but any anglers that want peace and quiet will often find it during the week. Mid week is a great time to get out there and with a few thousand acres of fishable water one could have a cove to himself.
The bass fishing at Chesdin is really good because there are a number of quality-sized bass that anglers can catch on any given day.
Harris stated it best when he said, "Ang
lers are just as likely to catch a 16-18 inch bass as they are to reel in a 10-12 inch fish."
He also reminded us that catching a 22-inch bass is not out of the question either. In fact, Chesdin is almost always one of the top producers of trophy bass citations. If an angler is interesting in taking some bass home to eat, Harris recommends taking the bass that are less than 15 inches. These fish eat better and by taking them out of the lineup, more resources are freed up for the remaining bass -- thus preserving the trophy fish for anglers looking for a hawg.
The facilities at Chesdin are more than adequate. One public ramp is located on the south shore of the impoundment in Dinwiddie very close to the dam. Also in Didwiddie are two more private ramps on the south shore. Whippernock Marina and Cozy Cove Marinas offer amenities. In Chesterfield County there is another private marina called Seven Springs Marina.
In Maryland, specifically western Maryland, we have an old but good impoundment that has served the Free State anglers since 1929. Deep Creek Lake in Garrett County is likely the best bass fishing lake in the state. It is the largest impoundment in Maryland and covers 3,900 acres at nearly a half-mile of elevation. The deepest portion of the lake is 75 feet, but the average depth is 25 feet. The lake is nearly 13 miles in length but has almost 70 miles of shoreline.
Unlike the previous lakes we have featured, Deep Creek Lake has a good population of both smallmouth and largemouth bass. Anglers who want to specifically target one particular species will find that the southern half of the lake is shallower and has more vegetation, which is the preferred largemouth habitat. Smallmouth bass on the other hand prefer the deeper water, rockier shelves and boulders along the shore of the northern portion of the lake. Anglers should keep in mind that May is closed to harvesting of bass due to the spawn. The first date you can harvest a bass is June 16th.
We found that fisheries biologist for Maryland DNR, Alan Klotz keeps an eye on Deep Creek Lake.
"The average size of largemouth bass is impressive at Deep Creek. There are lots of fish in the population between 2.5 to 5 pounds or 15 to 20 inches. We have sampled a few in the 7- to 8-pound range in the last couple of years too. Anglers will catch a lot of smallmouth in the 12- to 15-inch size class, and lunkers in the 18- to 20-inch range are commonly captured."
Klotz noted that during May anglers can easily boat and release 20 fish. The fishing is great because the ice has just melted out a month before and skiers and tubers are not out in full force yet.
Klotz was willing to share with us that the submerged stumps and wild celery beds at the southern end of the lake as well as the docks hold good numbers and sizes of fish. Lures such as Bomber Long A's and jigs with plastic grubs and tubes tossed and worked around structure are very productive. Try chartreuse or white and then experiment a little until you find the right color combination.
Smallmouth anglers will find the main lake points and any boulders along the shoreline are good to cast drop shot rigs, tubes and cranks such as Rat L Traps.
Delaware does not really have large impoundments like Virginia or Maryland but the fishing in the small lakes and ponds is quite good. Cathy Martin, fisheries biologist with the Delaware Division of Fish and Wildlife reported that McGinnis Pond was the favorite destination for bass anglers. The Kent County Pond is only 31 acres but is one of the deepest lakes or ponds and has consistently produced good bass fishing. The forage at McGinnis is predominantly golden shiners but the bass likely feed on young-of-the-year bluegill as well. According to fisheries data the average fish is nearly 15 inches. More fish 15 inches or greater are taken here than are fish less than 15 inches. The fish grow very fast and growth rates are above average for the state. This makes the pond a prime small-water fishery.
During May the water has not stratified yet. Martin reported that May bass are often found on the numerous drop offs in the spring. There are evergreen trees that have been sunk as fish attractors just upstream of the dam. The trees have probably begun to deteriorate but the bass do still use the structure to ambush prey in the spring.
The dam is another place shore-bound anglers may want to fish in the spring. The water near the dam is fairly deep at 9 feet and the fishing is good along the structure. However, anglers are reminded to stay clear of the fish ladder. The law states that you may not fish within ten feet of the fish ladder through May 30th.
Don't overlook the upper end of the pond though, as the shallows do warm fast and bass will tail out a nest once the water temperatures warm sufficiently. In late May the topwater action can turn on in the mornings and evenings. Try old standbys such as Jitterbugs or Pop Rs. Spittin' Image baits in a golden or shad color that mimic the herring that come through the fish ladder or the golden shiners are a good option too.
Anglers who fish the ponds in Delaware know that they are small and can be easily learned. A jon boat or canoe is all that is needed to fish them and shorebound anglers can effectively fish with good results.
When fishing a pond as small as McGinnis, anglers should keep in mind that the water is smaller, shallower and more likely to be impacted by noise such as anchors dropped on the boat floor, lures slamming into the sides of a jon boat etc. Therefore a piece of old carpet in the bottom of metal boats will help deaden the sounds some.
Anglers find that smaller lures cast on lighter or thinner lines from a distance will catch more fish. Use small white spinnerbaits in the spring and work them slow until the water warms up. Jigs with tubes are also good bets and spoons that are jigged along the contours of the pond and near structure will do the job too. Don't overlook using live bait if your goal is to take a few fish home. Whole night crawlers, minnows or crayfish are deadly in ponds like McGinnis. Give the live bait a twitch from time to time and freeline it to fool the wariest of the bass.
McGinnis has one ramp for small boats. The minimum size limit for bass at the pond is 12 inches. The state does own a decent portion of the shoreline but some private land has been developed nearby. Although aquatic vegetation can be found emerging in May, the thickest of the vegetation won't come on strong until the end of May and in June. The uplake portions tend to get overtaken first.
This month give our four featured lakes a shot. We did the legwork and found impoundments that were consistently good producers of bass year after year. All had good size structures of quality-sized fish.
Don't forget to take a camera with you. We would like to see your catch and possibly put it on the Camera Corner page.