Tidal Potomac River: Penrod Cove
By Ken Penrod

Looking west, see one of the concrete islands that Ken is responsible for as well as the massive concrete slab jetty that protects this cove.

Penrod Cove is a 1950s gravel pit located in the tidal-fresh portion of the Potomac River, on the Maryland side, just south of the District of Columbia border—and just north of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge. This cove was formerly “land” before the Smoot Sand and Gravel Company mined the land of rich gravel deposits for a growing and booming construction industry in and around the Nation’s Capital. This quaint body of water is a tidal jewel, unlike any other tidal water in the Chesapeake Bay system. Known also as The Spoils, outdoor writer Pete Toerek dubbed it Penrod Cove after I designed and supervised the installation of a concrete jetty and two islands from the one-mile, six-lane, Woodrow Wilson Bridge deck that was replaced in 1985. The 9,000,000 pounds of slab concrete deck provided a jetty at the mouth of the cove that keeps floating debris and muddy water out of the “pond.” The two concrete islands, strategically placed in deep water, offer aquatic creatures and baitfish sanctuary and attract bass like a magnet attracts steel. The firm bottom, absent of silt because of the jetty—and the sculptured shape of the cove, with substantial, deep water and dropoffs, creates prime spawning and nursery conditions, with year-round potential for regional anglers. Several of the largest bass in the entire Potomac River have been caught from Penrod Cove, including the state record tidal bass caught a few years ago by local angler and tournament competitor, Justin Riley.

The boat launch that I recommend is Belle Haven Marina, located just south of Alexandria and the I-95 Bridge, accessed from Mount Vernon Parkway. The launch fee is $5 and parking is limited. Once launched, you must motor to the right, toward an island, and then turn left toward the river. Cross the river, toward the new Maryland-side development called National Harbor. Follow the channel markers into Smoot Bay. Once you are well inside the bay, turn north, toward the new bridge (be aware of the “6-MPH” zone) and go through the first few lanes of foundations and enter Penrod Cove, on the right, in about 200 yards.

If you haven’t been here before, stop inside the narrow entrance and allow me to describe Penrod Cove—and name certain key areas. On your left you will see the concrete jetty (Kens Rocks) that runs north and south; along the north shore (Justins Bank,) you will find a treed shore that offers a shallow shelf near shore then plunges into deep water. This eventually forms the first north-side cove (The Incubator) that becomes shallower and strewn with submersed wood cover. As the shore turns south, there is a small, treed island (Goose Island), and to the east is another cove (Day Saver) with great, differing depths. It will turn south, then west, to another cove to the south. This cove (Beltway Cove) has differing depths and not until it turns north will you find obvious shoreline cover in the form of construction debris and barges. The shoreline now turns west (Nevins Fame,) toward the entrance and main river where the depth alternates. You will find hard cover and some submersed trees and a great point at the entrance that I call “Coops Point.” In the middle of Penrods Cove are two concrete slab islands, the south island is called “Tomb Stone Island” and the north island is called “Six Pound Island.”

This is Maryland jurisdiction so a Chesapeake Bay Sportfishing License or a Virginia Fishing license is required. From time to time you will see the DC Harbor Police boats in the cove but they have no jurisdiction. I see many shore-bound anglers during prime time months but they hike through the woods. Where they park their vehicles is beyond me. For the record, this cove is an awesome crappie fishery during the last few months of the year as well as the first few. Large striped bass visit this water in the spring and you may catch juveniles much of the year.

I fish aboard a Ranger Z-21 bass boat powered by a magnificent four-stroke Mercury 250-HP Verado outboard motor, with Lowrance HDS electronics and a Minn Kota, Fortrex 101 trolling motor. Once I reach Penrod Cove, it’s the trolling motor and Lowrance sonar that gets a workout. The route that I provided between Belle Haven Marina and Penrod Cove is important because you simply can’t cross the river from the Alexandria side because of shallow, “spoils” areas. There is a route from the north but I don’t dare try to explain it because it is dangerous. Crossing the river to Penrod Cove, in small boats, during strong winds, is hazardous. I call strong winds 15 MPH and more, especially from the north, dangerous, for small craft and for inexperienced boaters. A prudent boater will always obtain weather information before choosing a launch—and a source that I rely on is NOAA Weather Radio.

I’ve always said that there are no magic artificial lures—but there are magic locations where just about any lure, well presented, has the potential to catch bass. I’ve always advocated that “timing” is everything—and for the record, I preach that 90% of the fish live in 10% of the water. That being said, the winter, spring and fall months, in Penrod Cove, can be magic if you fish the water slowly and thoroughly.

So, let’s talk about artificial lures. My suggestions for all the seasons include: Rapala DT04 to DT08 crankbaits (firetiger and hot mustard); Luhr-Jensen Hot Lips crankbaits (firetiger, gold, red & blue/silver,);  Mizmo tubes (green pumpkin, red crawfish, Penrod Purple and Camo); Big Mouth spinnerbaits (Penrod Special and Whisper Shad;) Rattlin’ Rapala (blue/silver;) four inch grubs, flat tail or curly (watermelon or pumpkin;) Silver Buddys and drop-shot plastics. The X-Rap jerk bait will catch big bass in the spring.

The Jetty: Ken’s Rocks

The huge concrete slabs that were used to construct this jetty provide superb cover with deep water access and is a 12-month habitat. I prefer to keep my Ranger one cast away from the obvious concrete because as many bass will be found in the deep waters as in and around the structure. My two best techniques for searching this water are crankbaits and four-inch tubes. I have success during cold months with grubs and Silver Luckys. The best seasons for this portion of Penrod cove are winter, spring and fall.

Justin’s Bank

This north shoreline is always protected from strong northerly winds. I seldom visit the northwest corner where an old duck blinds sets, choosing to begin 100-yards east of the corner. Be sure to monitor your sonar along this stretch because the bottom contour is exciting. The bottom drops off quickly from the shore and this deep water access provides great staging depths for prespawn and postspawn bass. Here again I prefer Rapala crankbaits, Mizmo tubes and I add the Case Magic Stik for water temperature above 60-degrees. This is a good, all-year area.

To the rear (east) is “The Incubator” and ahead (towards the river) is the area labeled by me as Justin’s Bank.

The Incubator

This narrow cove lies at the east end of Justins Bank. There is relatively deep water one cast off shore but the shallow, wood strewn bottom between your boat and the bank is prime spawning grounds. The spring of the year is best for this cove but you should always be able to hook a few bass during any season. My favored offerings will be plastic tubes and Case Magic Stiks but spinnerbaits and other plastics work well also. Try shad colored Rapala DT04 crankbaits also.

Goose Island

Goose Island is a small piece of land left standing during gravel mining for unknown reasons. As you finish the Incubator, the island lies to the right before entering Day Saver Cove. It’s best to circle this little island a few times alternating lure presentations with tubes, crankbaits and spinnerbaits. This is a prime springtime habitat.

Day Saver Cove

Day Saver Cove is a rather large cove on the east end of Penrod Cove. The bottom depths vary, quite shallow near Goose Island but deeper as you move on, especially the east end and the south side. I prefer to use weightless plastics, tubes and Rapala crankbaits in this cove. This is a spawning cove and we do best here in the spring.

Beltway Cove

Beltway Cove is Beltway Cove because it lies along the Beltway (I-95.) The first few hundred feet from Day Saver Cove toward the Beltway; the right-half of the south shore and the entire west bank is worth the efforts, especially in the spring. There is some relatively deep water in the cove, with fall-down trees and submersed wood but along the west side you will find much construction debris and old gravel barge remnants. Cast spinnerbaits and plastics in this area but a Rattlin’ Rapala may be the best choice. If I were to eliminate any water in this cove—this would be it.

Nevins Fame

Nevins Fame is the shoreline between Beltway Cove and the river. This is a good, year-round bank with substantial construction debris, submersed tree parts and overhanging trees. There is good depth to this area so I tend to stay one cast offshore and probe this area with crankbaits. My client Nevin and I caught 155 largemouth bass along this shore in less than five hours—thus the name.

Coops Point

Coops Point is the point along Nevins Fame where the cove meets the Potomac. Every fish that visits or departs this cove will spend some time here. Enough said?

Tombstone & Six Pound Islands

These islands are composed of huge concrete slabs that were installed in the deepest water in the middle of the cove. They should be fished well during any visit—and season.

There is so much to fish outside of this cove but I’m out of space. When I rate all the various fish-holding areas of the entire Potomac River, this area ranks number one or two with me.

Ken Penrod is the owner operator of Ken Penrods Life Outdoors Unlimited—a multi-guide, 30-year old guide service specializing in fresh and brackish waters of Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania and the District of Columbia. Visit www.penrodsguides.com for company information—and our weekly fishing report. Ken can be reached at kenpenrod@comcast.net or on his cell at 240-447-2206.