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 friend's offer to "net" it.

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 years of

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 restricted" 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 truth
-some days. "Fickle" 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 right-on-the-money. It's 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 navigational aid-many 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 winds.

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.

Sum mer: 70-90-60 degre es F
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.

Fall: 50- 40 degrees F.
Don't 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 gauge.

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 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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