By Jeff Little
The Potomac River largemouth fishery near Washington, D.C., endures a staggering number of tournaments almost year-round. Each Saturday morning from March through November, $40K glitter rockets gather by the dozens at the launches and blast off in all directions. Trolling motors churn the grass beds into chunks of floating vegetation to be carried away by the outgoing tide. Where does a kayak angler fit into this chaos? That's easy: where the bass boats can't go.
In truth, there aren't that many spots the tournament anglers can't reach at high tide. But the commotion required to get there shuts down actively feeding fish. A kayak's stealth coupled with a finesse approach carves out a productive niche in this highly pressured fishery.
Glide quickly along, scanning the 3- to 5-foot-deep grass flats for movement. Expect to cover acres of water, but don't settle in until you see movement. Once you locate an aggregation of bass, stand up, rod in hand, to get a broader view of the area.
Wind can really play havoc with boat positioning, especially when you're standing in the kayak. Learn to use it to your advantage. Start a drift at the upwind part of the flat, and let your anchor bog down in the soft grass. After fan-casting in all directions from the fixed position, lift the anchor and allow the wind to deliver you to a fresh casting radius.
THE FINESSE BAIT
Killifish or mud minnows prevalent in tidal Maryland waters were once called mummichog by local Native Americans. This common name was adopted to describe the color of soft plastic that I use in my Confidence Baits Large Bird, a paddle-tail finesse worm. Rigged on a 1/8-ounce Draggin' Head, it comes cleanly through grass that causes even lighter, shaky head worms to bog down.
The Potomac is full of tributaries carpeted with grass beds. Subaquatic vegetation makes the fishery vibrant. Grass provides oxygen and filters out sediment and nutrients that cause dead zones downstream in the Chesapeake Bay. Countless species of insects, fish, amphibians, and crustaceans utilize it as both nursery and cover from predatory species. Tidal bass anglers keep careful tabs on which grass beds are flourishing, and which areas haven't come back as strong as last year. Tidal largemouth are nomadic by nature. The deciding factor on where they roam: Where's the grass?
Not all grass beds produce equally. Dense acres of the same type of grass hold few fish. Grass beds that have differing composition in terms of species (milfoil mixed with hydrilla and a smattering of spatterdock) provide the kind of density variation these ambush predators prefer.
Tidal tributaries have a collection of channels winding through dense spatterdock—lily pads that extend above the water's surface. These channels open up into large bays that can seem vast and a little overwhelming. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. The areas immediately outside of the spatterdock openings provide great concentrations of post-spawn bass. They spawn up in the tributaries, where higher banks provide protection from wind-generated current. Once the ritual is complete, they move a short distance out into the bays and recover. Part of the recovery includes munching on mummichog.
Every bass angler knows to fish edges: drop-offs, shorelines, the substrate transition from riprap to sand. This grassy sweet spot is no different. The edges are the perimeters of sandy grassless pockets and channels. They look like tan-colored potholes in a sea of green. The tan-hued channels that drain the flats also hold bass. It's not the middles of these tan, sandy patches you want to target. It's working a particular spot—where dense grass reaching the surface transitions to a thinning submerged lane and precipitously drops into the bare patch—that draws violent attacks.
A 7-foot, 6-inch medium-light fast-action spinning rod delivers the bait to distant grass edges. The length allows the angler extra reach to maintain proper line tension in the face of wind and tidal current. Spool up with 15-pound, bright-yellow braid so you can see the line hop long before you would feel the hit. A 10-pound-test, 8-foot-long fluorocarbon leader keeps educated bass from second-guessing the dying killifish in front of its snout.
From most anchored-up spots, it's possible to find several individual potholes in the grass. Polarized sunglasses are a must. The longer you gaze, the more bare patches appear. For particularly large bare spots, slice it up into several casts, cutting it up like a pie. Make casts that trace the longest edge of the tan area as possible.
The retrieve starts up on top of the clumps of matted grass outside the hole. Slowly pull the bait to the edge and give it enough slack to fall down in the grassy drop-off. Pull the bait with the rod instead of evenly reeling it. Proper speed of retrieve depends on how aggressive the fish are that day, but keep in mind that the fish prefer an easy meal. They aren't willing to chase a quickly moving and healthy minnow that appears ready to dive into the nearby grass. Make it look sickly and lethargic. That means slow it down and let it pause for up to 20 seconds at a time. Hits may come following the lure breaking free of grass and leaping out into open water along the edge.
In a big open-water environment like a tidal bay, it's inevitable that a few bass boaters will spot the guy standing in the kayak catching all the bass. They move in closer than they should to get their limit or find their lunker. The fish hear the familiar whine of a trolling motor and shut down. No worries. I just pull my anchor.
Jeff Little is a basser of all seasons. His kayak fishing DVDs available from Confidence Baits get down and dirty into the details of fishing his favorite smallies in winter, summer and fall. A spring edition can't be far off.