Chesapeake Outdoors

Vol. 8, No. 32
Aug. 10-16, 2000
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Otters and Smallmouth Bass

Past the clogged arteries of the Capital Beltway, which insidiously beat me into depression, the South Branch of the Potomac flows through the quiet solitude of northeastern West Virginia on its way to join the mighty Potomac River.

It was here in Moorfield, a small town in the Mountaineer state replete with that telltale sign of modern life, the ubiquitous Wal-Mart — a shining beacon to consumer big box commercialism open 24 hours, seven days a week — that we began our two-day fly fishing trip for smallmouth bass.

Annapolitan Mat Miller; Will Smiley, who is a true river rat from the Shenandoah region; and I planned to float about 20 miles of the South Branch. We also came armed with a cadre of fly fishing gear (five-weight fly fishing outfits and scores of flies to throw to smallmouth bass, Micropterus dolomieu. A three-pound fish might not elicit much emotion from a hardened Bay angler, but put that same three pounds in a smallmouth’s body, hook up with one on fly gear — and you have yourself a fight.

Ornery and tough, smallmouth bass don’t back down, and they hit the offering with ferocity found, albeit on a grander scale, in ocean-going pelagics. They don’t give up easily, leaping and spinning as they try to throw the hook. By any angling standard, pound for pound, smallmouth bass offer a formidable fishing challenge. And they’re great on the grill.

Another highlight of the trip — and there were plenty of those (as well as some low points, including the obligatory downpour before we could pitch our tents) — was catching glimpses of river otters. In the Chesapeake Bay watershed, river otters, Lutra canadensis, were once abundant, but their populations, like many in our region, have succumbed to intense pressure from trappers and habitat loss over the centuries.

With their shimmering, dark brown coat glistening in the sun’s rays, these amiable and fun-loving swimmers are a treat to see in their natural environs. Otters are a noisy bunch, emitting a series of grunts, chortles, whistles and growls. True carnivores, they eat crayfish, fish and frogs. They also eat small mammals and have been known to gobble up beaver kits if the two species inhabit the same area.
Graceful and powerful swimmers, otters use their muscular tails and flipper-like hind feet to propel themselves through the water. They have retracting foreclaws, as do cats, to groom themselves and eat. As one would think necessary for an aquatic existence, otters have large lung capacity. They have developed a strong sense of smell, possess good eyesight both above and below the water and use their whiskers to sense vibrations in the water. Otters also have an excellent sense of touch.

It won’t be long before I head to the mountain rivers to paddle and fish, a great way to take a break from the sweltering August sauna and break the mental anguish of traffic jams.

Fish are Biting

Bottom species continue to be the hot ticket for Bay anglers. Flounder can be found along the drop-offs at Punch, Tilghman, and Poplar islands. And although tide was wrong, this writer picked up some good croaker while striking out for flounder along Claiborne in Eastern Bay. Nice white perch can be taken at Bay Bridge pilings.

Inside the Patuxent River, spot, flounder and sea trout catches are increasing. Fly and light tackle anglers hitting points in Eastern Bay, Cedar Rips, and Calvert Rips are scoring nice rockfish and some trout. Bluefish are scattered from Point Lookout to Love Point.

Copyright 2000
Bay Weekly