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Changing Seasons

We might have cracked the winter season. Fish are up shallow and will likely stay there.

Water temperatures were above 55 last week, opening the tacklebox and moving bass and anglers into shallow cover. Another warm week, but unstable weather with 60 on Monday and mid 70s by Wednesday. A cold front brings thunderstorms late Wednesday as temps drop to mid 50s from there into the weekend.

Warmer water and more sunlight have grass growing. In these areas, lipless crankbaits like Lucky Craft LVR D-7 on 12 pound test GAMMA Edge fluorocarbon. Engage the grass and snap free. Hesitate and move the bait again. Consider upgrading hooks to Mustad KVD Short shank triple grips…upgrade a size!

Green pumpkin Mizmo tubes on Mud Puppy Lures insert heads are working anywhere, including in grass, on wood and docks. Use slow presentations, and allow them to glide horizontally. Gamma Torque braid with a 10 pound test Edge leader and a medium heavy spinning rod can cover all terrains. The bite is soft, watch line and pay attention when you lift the bait...get ready to set the hook. A soaking in Jack's Juice Bait Spray helps!

In clear water areas, especially with chop on the water, Lucky Craft suspending Pointer jerkbaits are very effective. Make long casts on medium action spinning gear. Either 6 pound test Copoly line or braid with a leader. When using the leader, try Edge fluorocarbon to allow the bait to stay down. Use Pointer 78 in water less than 4 feet deep, the Pointer 100 in deeper water.

Crank shallow wood or grass at lower water with 12-pound test GAMMA Edge. Mann’s Baby 1-Minus in red patterns work well.

Capt. Steve Chaconas is a guide on the Potomac River.


Cold weather and shorter days are putting fish into winter patterns, a great time to fish. Look for steep drops! Take it slow, small and light…grubs, tubes, thin small worms, and hair jigs! Spinning gear handles lighter 6-pound test GAMMA Copoly or EDGE fluorocarbon. Mustad Ultra Point Mega-Bite hooks are thin enough wire to set hooks on hard-mouthed, cold fish from a longer distance on light line!

Crappie and bass are being caught in deeper spots out of the current, like Spoils, and Smoot Bay.  DC Bridges are also spots to try, as is Washington Channel.  The hot spot is Blue Plains…very crowded! There are many shad and other species; it’s hard to get baits through them.  You have to “feel” fish before setting the hook! Drop shots, split shots are good, but Carolina rigs with 1-ounce Round Valley Premier tungsten weights keep baits in one spot a long time, letting current push baits. Generally, a 5-inch Mann’s HardNose Lizard in green pumpkin or watermelon/red works.  Same baits on split shot and drop shot.

During heat of the day, near warmed rock and wood surfaces or close to Blue Plains, work suspending jerkbaits like Lucky Craft’s Pointer 78 in clearer water 45 degrees or warmer…warmer the better…50 is very warm this time of the year. Use 10-pound test.  Jerk and pause…twitch…pause, twitch and sit. Before you jerk, crank baits down first.  Try Lucky Craft S.K.T. DR RT here too! If other area water warms to 45, try crankbaits and spinnerbaits.  For crankbaits, a tight wiggle suspending bait is needed like Lucky Craft Bevy Shads or S.K.T. DR RT, effective to about 5 feet.  Spool 10-pound test and make long casts. Fish are not hitting very hard, so crankbait hooks become critical.  Replace with Mustad Ultra Point trebles. Crank and pause. Both can also be worked like a jerkbait, short jerks and long pauses. Spinnerbaits, like Mann’s Classic 3/8 ounce or heavier with willow/Colorado gold blades retrieved near flats out of current, close to deeper drops, pausing when you don’t feel the bottom, will work. Slow down with a slower reel or slow it down by slightly under-spooling.  White or white/chartreuse skirts.

Bass are grouped on drops.  Make bait transitions as fronts pass. Temperature gauge is the most important boat instrument and your PFD the most important piece of gear.  Dress in layers, take a buddy and let others know where you are going to be.  A fall into the river this time of year can be fatal!

The king of all winter baits is the Silver Buddy! The company is making them again. Cast to 3-foot depths and burp down drops to deeper water.  Vertically jig over 8-15 foot holes.  Don’t overwork! Control drops on semi slack line back to bottom. Feel a “tick” or feel fish when you lift again.  For tackle, use a 7-foot medium action graphite Quantum rod and 12-pound test GAMMA Copoly.  Casting gear is easier to cast while wearing HANZ Extremity Wear gloves.  Replace dull hooks, cutting the eye near the shank, open, attach and close. Split rings allow hooks to catch each other.  I replace factory hooks with Mustad Ultra Point Trebles. Blade baits locate groups of fish.  Take note of depth and stay on them. 

For bottom baits, try three:  Mann’s Stingray Grubs, Mizmo Tubes, and 1/4-ounce Punisher Hair Jigs with plastic Punisher chunks. Thinner diameter line offers less resistance, encouraging fish to hold on longer.  Thin diameter makes it easier to feel light bites and set hooks on longer casts, and gets to the bottom, holding in wind and current.  I use Gamma Copoly 6-pound test. Slow down, stopping when you contact cover!  Every little bit helps, soak these in Jack’s Juice garlic, sprayed into bait bags soaking into plastic. 

For 3-inch avocado Mann’s Stingray grubs, use 1/4-ounce round jig heads.  Rig tails flat.  A drop of PRO’s Soft Bait glue keeps grubs on hooks! Cast to bottom lifting the rod, slowly drop, creating a very slow gliding motion into cover.  Green pumpkin Mizmo tubes rigged with a 1/4-ounce Mud Puppy Custom baits weedless insert tube head made with Mustad Hooks make this bait glide.  Punisher Hair (blue chunk with Punisher rattle), olive/orange (green chunk with Punisher rattle).

Drop shotting becomes very effective the colder it gets, near 40 or below.  Fish group on drops on South Point, Smoots, Spoils, barges above the Wilson Bridge, and Foxes Ferry. Using 6 pound test, keep leaders about 6 inches or less.  A good drop shot rod has enough backbone to hook set on long casts, but flexible enough when working under the boat. Quantum Smoke spinning reels have smooth drag systems for the lighter line. Use a 3/16-ounce Water Gremlin BULLSHOT bullet-shaped split shot weight. Rig Stingray grubs or a 5-inch Mann’s HardNose Finesse worm on 2/0 Mustad Mega Bite hooks. Feel cover with weights, leave in this location as long as possible, aggravating fish into biting.

Work split shot rigs with 2/0 Mustad Mega Bite hooks and Stingray Grubs or 5-inch Mann’s HardNose Finesse worms with a 1/8-ounce BULLSHOT weight dragged very slowly and stopped.  Feel weight, set the hook.  Let baits fall down drops.  Pause in strike zones.

Warmed water, even just a few degrees, can make fish more active.  Wind blown banks are great places to start.  Baitfish follow the food chain and winter bass actively feed under these conditions! High-pressure cold fronts with clear sunny skies force bass to take cover and go deeper, not eating as much.  Target cover with repeated casts. Work very slowly!!! Start shallow, work deeper.  There are shallow fish all times of the year.  Next time you catch a fish, see if there’s dirt in belly scales.  This shows how long fish have been on the bottom.  Lots of silt, go slower!!!

Capt. Steve Chaconas, Potomac bass fishing guide, BoatUS contributor. For Potomac River reports: Book trips/purchase gift certificates:

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