Saturday, May 5, 2012

Occoquan River

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My sister-in-law is in town from St. Louis this week, and I thought it would be nice to have a fish fry this weekend.  I had plans to fish the lower potomac for some catfish and possibly some croakers, which people have been reporting.  When I found out that Ryan from the MKF forum was fishing for catfish this weekend too, I asked him if he wanted to meet up and fish together.  He had to be in Virginia today, so he was going to check out the Occoquan river.  Since I have not fished the Occoquan before, I was open to trying it out with him.

The area by the shore launch.

I got to the Occoquan Regional Park at 6:00AM, paid my $5 non-resident fee for launching, and started rigging up my kayak.  Ryan arrived shortly after, and we were in the water around 7.  We shared our plans for the day, and we were going to jig for some crappie by the docks of the marinas south of the 95 bridge, and then soak some bait to try for some catfish.

After passing the 95 bridge, we started casting along the shorelines on our way to the marina to see if we could hook up with a bass.  That was unfruitful for both of us, so we went to the docks and started jigging.  Within the first several minutes, I was getting nibbles on my shad dart rigged with a 2" gulp minnow.  I thought maybe the minnow might be too big, so I swapped it out with a 2" tube.  2 casts later, and I caught the first fish of the day.  A 15" largemouth bass.  I tried jigging some more in that row of docks, but I didn't get any more hits, so I moved on.

First fish of the day.

In the second row of docks, I went back to my gulp minnow and tried vertical jigging with it.  After several tries, I get a hit...and it turns out to be a big old channel catfish.  I was trying to catch crappie, not catfish!  Well, the catfish was a pretty good size, so I put it on my fish stringer and tried again.  Several minutes later, I get another hit...and it turns to be an even bigger channel catfish.  I never got to measure it, but I would say it was pushing 20 to 22 inches.  Again, it was not a crappie, but I did want to catch catfish today...on the stringer he went.  I was starting to think that my jigging technique was somehow only attractive to catfish and not crappie.  A few minutes later, and I hook up with another catfish!  Unbelievable!  Oh, and all this time, these fish were being caught on my ultralight rod with 5 lb test braid.  It was actually kind of fun catching these large fish on light tackle.  I really wanted to catch some crappie, so I decided to move on and try the next marina.

On the way to the next marina, I trolled a small rattletrap crankbait to see if anything would hit it.  I was doubtful that it would work because of my failure to catch anything on a crankbait at the flats earlier this week.  However, halfway to the marina, I had a fish on my crankbait.  It turned out to be a small striper.  I forgot to snap a pic, but it was 15 inches.

Ryan and I got to the next marina, and we tried jigging again for crappie.  Ryan was actually pretty successful - he was catching a lot of crappie on his small gulp minnows.  I asked about his technique, and it sounded like he was doing exactly what I was doing back at the previous marina where I was catching the catfish.  I thought maybe it was the location that turned me into a catfish magnet, so I tried the vertical jigging again....and...I caught another catfish.  Several catfish, actually.  I was getting a little frustrated at this point, because I wanted to catch crappie!  At one point, I hooked up with a BIG fish.  It wouldn't surface, and it actually dragged me out of the bay I was fishing in and into the next one before showing itself.  It was a huge blue catfish.  I was excited about catching such a large fish, so I went to stick my lip gripper in its mouth, and I guess his small teeth rubbed the line the wrong way, because the line broke.

I originally had a 6lb test mono leader on my 5lb braid main line.  I had snapped it somehow while landing one of the earlier catfish, and lazily just tied my jig head directly onto the braid.  I am pretty sure that abrasion from the rough surface on the blue catfish's mouth was what caused my line to fail.  Never again will I make that mistake.  He was huge...

Since it was time to retie, I thought of something else to try.  Last year, when I was perch fishing, I had some success using soft plastic grubs on a spinner arm.  I tried adding the spinner arm to the gulp minnow, and voila!  I was starting to catch me some crappie.  I went through several more of these docks to try to catch some crappie worth eating.  There were a couple white perch in the mix of fish that I caught too, which was a pleasant surprise.  Eventually (inevitably) I hooked into another catfish, and that was when I decided I was done fishing here.  Catfish are fun to catch on ultralight tackle, but it's also frustrating when you're not targeting them.

Ryan and I moved around, casting our lures to the shoreline to see if we could catch some more bass.  We both ended up catching a couple bass, but none that were impressive in size.  I caught mine on the gulp minnow, and on the rattle trap crankbait.  The gulp minnow is so'll catch anything!

At this point, we slowly started making our way back to the launch and stopped by the 95 bridge to see if we could catch any catfish.  I didn't have any success there, so after a little while I parted with Ryan and I went back to the launch.  I was packed up and on my way home by 1.

My kayak and gear at the end of the day.

Fishing the Occoquan was interesting - it was a lot more fun that I thought it might be.  I also caught 6 species of fish today, which is pretty cool when you consider that they were all caught in the same body of water.  I brought home a few of the catfish, crappie, and white perch and cleaned them for tomorrow's fish fry!

Tomorrow's Dinner.

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