Bass Fishing Mattawoman Creek
By Ken Penrod
The three largest tidal river largemouth bass I've
ever seen lived in Mattawoman Creek, a Potomac River tributary located
in Charles County, Maryland. Big bass number one was so large that
Maryland Department of Natural Resources biologist, Leon Fewlass,
could not capture her with his probe-net even though she had been
adequately stunned by an electric shock during a study in the mid-80's.
Bass number two was firmly attached to a blue-silver, one quarter ounce
Sugar Shad and my good friend and colleague, Richard Novotney,
Executive Director of MSSA, refused to net the bass."We use fish like that for bait on the Bay,"
was his excuse.
||Bass number three's story is kinder. I caught this largemouth bass on a blue/silver Sugar
Shad in April of 1995. Doctor David Giammittorio and Judge
Robert Giammittorio accompanied me that bright-sky day where
during a falling tide we worked an underwater rock bed when
the bass bite. The fish was too strong and showed way too much
endurance for me to believe it a bass so I declined my doctor
The bass broke water about one-half cast off of the port side of my
Ranger bass boat and all three of us uttered the exact same,
single word expletive. She "bottomed-out" my very accurate, 10 pound maximum, digital scale, measured 26.5 inches
long with a girth of 18.75 inches. For three years this bass
held the National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame, Catch
& Release Category, 12 pound test record. I released
this fish, after a photo session and believe she would have
broken the Maryland record.
Mattawoman Creek is the most productive tributary of all
the fine Potomac River branches. Electro shocking studies by
MDNR biologists reinforce my statement as does my 30-some
fishing this estuary, the past 20 years as a full time,
professional guide. No other Potomac tributary, no other Chesapeake
Bay river, receives as much fishing pressure. Just last summer during
the Bassmasters Top 150 Tournament, first, second and third place
weights came from Mattawoman, totaling approximately $150,000 in prize
money to the proud participants.
During the spring of 1997 Bill Nearhoff and I caught (and released)
five bass that weighed a little more than 31 pounds.
There are two launch sites on Mattawoman Creek. There is another
nearby facility in Virginia, Leesylvania State Park. Smallwood State
Park is located near the mouth of the creek. From Indian Head Highway,
Maryland route 210, take route 225 east, then 224 south and look for
the park entrance on the right.
Slavins Launch is located near the half-way point of the creek in the "speed
portion of the tributary. Southbound on Indian Head Highway, MD route
210, make the last possible left turn on Mattingly Avenue-just
before entering the Navy Base, Naval Surface Warfare Center.
My introductory paragraphs could lead one to believe that all an
angler need do is show-up and fish but nothing is further from the
is a word often used to describe Mattawoman Creek. "I
caught 30 bass here yesterday and didn't
get a bite today."
is common banter at launch sites. "Feast
or famine," "heaven or hell,"
are other analysis.
Weather patterns, boat traffic, commercial fishing,
fishing pressure, electro-shocking studies and lack of current are
reasons why fishing success can suffer but more often than not,
unexpected or unexplainable fish movements are the culprit.
The problem with Mattawoman Creek, if you are looking for something to
blame, is that this fantastic creek has massive food sources, deep
water sanctuary and every conceivable bass attracting habitat known to
man. While dominated by emergent and more recently, submersed
vegetation, fallen trees, feeder creeks, old man made wooden
structures, excavated coves, marsh grass, boat docks, rocky bottoms
and deep water near shore offers options to aquatic inhabitants and
causes anglers to choose.
Like most anglers, I go to Mattawoman with a "plan" based on experience and my knowledge of black bass behavior. More often
than not, I'm
those other times though that account for my greying hair. I offer the
following seasonal plan along with some alternatives if you don't
do well with the cards you are dealt.
I much prefer to fish Mattawoman Creek during a falling tide but have
done extremely well during high water also. Tidal flow, high and low
expectations are available from a number of sources including the
weekly Fisherman Magazine. Potomac River tides are based on "Washington, D.C." tables. Mattawoman Creek is approximately 25 miles down river of the
Capital city where low tide is usually 1.5 hours sooner. Look for
about 2.5 to 3.0 feet of difference between high and low limits. I
break up the creek into two parts: The No Wake End (headwater portion)
and the River End (from the speed controlled portion to the Potomac).
Spring: 40 degrees to 70 degrees F.
This 40-70 degree range is very large and every conceivable pattern will
be encountered, but there is a progressive pattern. I wouldn't
dream of fishing the spring variances without a surface water
temperature gauge, quality sonar unit and GPS. I don't
like to link spring to months either. Fish don't
have calendars. Everything they do is triggered by water temperature.
Mattawoman Creek can be a difficult water to fish, more specifically
boat, before the spatterdock vegetation reaches the surface. This
super vegetation rarely shows itself before mid-April. Without this
boaters find themselves grounded on/in marsh mud.
I fish from a 20-foot Ranger 520 bass boat powered by a 225-horsepower
Mercury OptiMax outboard. I install a Lowrance LDT-3001 surface water
gauge, a Lowrance X-65 on the bow and a Lowrance GlobalMap 160 on the
console. All three units furnish water temperature information to me. My spring rule is: "If you are losing water temperature as you motor along-you
are going in the wrong direction."
During the low portions of my temperature range, the "40's," I'll
fish the outside channel bends in the speed restricted portion of the
creek from the beginning of the speed notification to the bend above
Slavins. I'll use Mizmo tubes, plastic worms, Silver Buddy or Rippler lures and
during mid-day, shad or firetiger pattern crankbaits (Brush Baby or
Speed Trap). You are always protected from those strong northerly
Once the water temperature reaches the mid-40's to 50 degrees, I have
options: (1) If I'm
not doing as well as I expect, I'll wait till mid-day and motor upriver (if water temperature holds or
improves) using my Lowrance GPS to guide me along on a "trail" I've
saved. I will want to fish the unseen spatterdock stems with tandem,
willow leaf, Big Mouth spinnerbaits, shallow diving crankbaits and
four-inch, Mizmo tubes. This is where the good sonar, GPS and temp
gauge pays for themselves. TIP:
If you don't
have GPS or good sonar (shame on you), follow the commercial watermen's
trap corks-generally placed in the deepest water. While on the subject, this is the
time of year when those commercial watermen haul-seine the spatterdock
flats and they can care less about ruining your fishing. I cannot
understand why they are permitted to do that-and they think the speed laws are for everyone else. (2) If the Potomac
River is not a muddy mess from upriver runoff, I know that small white
perch and big, fat bass will begin to congregate on rocky points near
the mouth of Mattawoman. I will fish these areas with Luhr Jensen,
Sugar Shad, lipless crankbaits. This pattern will eventually become
choice number 1.
Late Spring: 60 through 75 degrees F.
This range can occur as early as late March or as late as early June.
Again, my water temperature gauge is my guide. By now spatterdock will
show above the surface, the herring run is in progress and a lot of
differing activity can be expected. I know from extensive study that
tidal bass usually spawn during new and full moon stages when water
temperature reaches the 65-70 degree stage.
I have two rock-solid patterns and they occur on the two ends of the
creek with some good stuff in between. (1) My primary game plan will
be to continue casting Sugar Shad to rocky cover, points and gravel
banks between Smallwood State Park and the Potomac. Marsh Island (near
the Park) will begin to provide excellent opportunity where we use
plastics and spinnerbaits to wood, grass and spatterdock.
(2) Many resident bass never leave Mattawoman and most of these fish
prefer to spawn in the upper reaches of the creek. I'll
want low water but I'll
catch a bunch of bass from spatterdock and wood cover up creek. I'll
use spinnerbaits, crankbaits and plastics.
Between the two extremes are additional opportunities. Many of the
larger bass prefer to stage in deep water on outside channel bends
while awaiting prime conditions to move to nearby, shallow gravel
ledges to drop her eggs. I'll
fish those dropoffs with firetiger or shad colored Hot Lips crankbaits
(crankbaits capable to reaching 8-10 feet in depth).
There are some dropoffs just outside some of the spatterdock fields that
will hold bass all year long but this temperature range is almost a
sure thing. I'll
try crankbaits and deeper swimming spinnerbaits but Carolina rigged
plastics can be deadly. Try rigging a weightless, green pumpkin Mizmo
tube for this application.
mer: 70-90-60 degre
My major effort will focus on spatterdock fields within the speed
restricted zone or vegetation in Marsh Island Cove or Marbury Creek
Cove. Whenever I can catch bass on buzzbaits, I'll do it as long as they want to eat, but more often than not a
one-quarter ounce, Big Mouth spinnerbait with chartreuse Colorado and
gold Indiana blades with chartreuse/white/blue skirts will perform
best. Most bass, during a falling tide, will be hooked along the
outside edge of the fields but during higher water, we may fish well
inside the perimeter. I'll
search for bass on the first drop outside the field edge with a
crankbait. If we are not doing well, we will move the boat alongside
the vegetation and pitch Mizmo tubes, plastic worms or dark colored
jig and craw combinations to pockets and edges.
By the 70-75 degree range, bass seem to abandon the shallow, rocky
bottoms and points between the state park and the river-and
the wood cover within the speed restricted zone can disappoint.
An excellent backup plan: Submersed vegetation continues to proliferate
some of the shores where we seldom ever caught fish before. Look for
swarming schools of herring fry. If you spot this food source-fish
that area. These narrow bands of grass also attract lots of killifish-and bass.
One of the most overlooked patterns in the creek is to
fish along flooded marsh grass. If you find marsh grass and submersed
grass, you have found prime areas. I like the spinnerbait for this but
a salt saturated Mizmo tube is hard to beat.
It seems that the hotter the water gets, the shallower the bass and I'll
often spend the day in the very back end of the creek or in one of the
few little tributaries in the upper creek. Spinnerbaits, tubes and
shallow-dive crankbaits are preferred but Texas rigged plastic or jigs
may excel also.
40 degrees F.
be in a hurry to declare "fall" just because your calendar claims the season. Mattawoman Creek bass
will feed at vegetation habitat until those eatable inhabitants
abandon it. Because night time temperatures chill the surface and
shallows, bait and bass may move off this cover until the sun
jump-starts the photosynthesis process. I'll
begin my day on dropoffs with jigs, crankbaits or tubes but I'm going to vegetation as soon as I notice an increase on my temperature
Eventually the vegetation will die off and bass will move back to
deeper water especially around wood cover. I like the area between the
start of the "6
MPH" zone and the town houses near Slavins. Hot Lips crankbaits and jig and
craw combinations are ideal tools.
There are some excellent deep water drops near shore
adjacent to the state park where similar success is expected.
I have the finest bass boat and outboard motor available but I catch my
fish while operating the electric trolling motor. I can't
say enough about my Minn Kota, Maxxum trolling motor and the Douglas,
AquaTroll batteries that furnish reliable power all day long. There
are days when I will not burn a gallon of gasoline while fishing
Mattawoman, but I demand a lot from the trolling motor and energy
source. I fish virtually every day from mid-March through October and
if it wasn't
for my onboard, DualPro battery charger-I'd lose some money and some clients. I provide a lot of fishing
information to other anglers while fishing Mattawoman but I'll
bet that I also help as many with battery or trolling motor woes.
At times you will find that my favored areas are on opposite ends of
this little creek, much of the distance to be traveled at a "snail's pace"
by bass angler standards, but the protection is warranted and I'd
have it no other way. The very marshy makeup of the creek prevents
shoreline development for the most part. Much of the north shore, from
Slavins to the Potomac, contains the 100-year old Naval Warfare
Surface Facility where propellants are manufactured. There was a time
when this facility almost destroyed the creek with pollutants. I think
they have become a good neighbor in recent years.
Mattawoman Creek is a very fragile estuary. Spatterdock vegetation seems
to be declining from erosion, boat wakes and commercial fishing abuses
but for the most part. I think she is still the best as far as the
fishery is concerned. I'll
brag about her most often but there will still be those times when she
beats me-but what a place to take a butt-kicking, or catch a bass of a lifetime.
I can be reached at 301-937-0010 for guided
trips. Visit our website at www.penrodsguides.com
for weekly fishing reports and other valuable information. My
books, titled Ken Penrod's
Tidal Potomac River Fishing Bible,
or Ken Penrod's
Top Ten For Fishing PAMARVA
may be purchased at many fishing store outlets or ordered directly
by sending $25 to PPC Publications, 4708 Sellman Road, Beltsville,
MD 20705. Both books contain Mattawoman Creek information.
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