Aaron Weinstein, Naturalist at CCNC

In the spring newsletter, we discussed the ins and outs of birding in Rockville as a safe option for many of us during the COVID-19 quarantine. As many other outdoor activities open up, there is no better time to try fishing! Despite Rockville’s suburban appeal, the greater Washington, D.C., area contains some of the best fisheries in the country. The many creeks and tributaries that make up the Chesapeake Bay watershed provide incredible opportunities for fishing, many within an hour of Rockville. Strong environmental regulations aimed at restoring the Chesapeake Bay have made our waters cleaner and more biologically productive than decades before.

            Fishing can be overwhelming, and the presence of multiple factors like weather, seasonal changes, lure styles and bait choices can make the sport a frustrating process. Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be. There are a few general rules of thumb that eliminate much of the guesswork to help anyone catch fish. By breaking down local fish species, locations, and bait and tackle, this article has everything you need to be prepared for your first outing. With spring bloom in full swing, there is no better time than now to embrace the outdoors!

            The many freshwater lakes and ponds within and around Rockville are abundantly plentiful of fish and it is important to understand their role in the food chain before attempting to catch them. Largemouth bass tend to be the apex predators in most ponds and lakes, with their forage consisting of other fish, insects, crayfish, and anything else they can fit in their mouth. The sunfish family consists of many species that can be similar in appearance. Most commonly, these are bluegill, green sunfish, and longear sunfish. They are more omnivorous than bass and will eat both insects, small fish, plants and algae.

In between bass and sunfish are white and black crappie, a smaller predatory fish that also enjoy minnows, insects and zooplankton. Both sunfish and crappie are often referred to as panfish for their delicious taste and dinner plate size. In many local lakes, common carp have been naturalized into the ecosystem, where they have been introduced but are not destructive to other fish. Carp are not considered game fish but are occasionally targeted by anglers; these are not recommended as a beginner species. Other local species include smallmouth bass, which tend to hold more in creeks and rivers like Little Seneca and the Potomac. Largemouth bass and sunfish are among the most popular freshwater species and will be the focus of this article.

Location is one of the most important considerations for fishing and one of the biggest determining factors of whether or not you’ll be able to get a fish on the line or not. I deploy two specific techniques depending on whether I am bass fishing or panfishing (sunfish and crappie). Sunfish love to stay in the shallows and, if I don’t see them, it is safe to say I should change spots. If you can see smaller ones coming to check you out, cast further out to find the larger ones lurking behind. Bass are ambush predators, so you want to be mobile and cast into as many different areas of the lake/pond as you can. I prefer one rod for this style of fishing so I can cover as much water as I can.

Finding fishing spots and connecting with other anglers is easier now than ever. The mobile app Fishbrain allows anglers to log their catches, optionally share their location, and check out what other people are catching around them. iNaturalist is a similar app that allows people to share wildlife around them. Online tools like Google Maps and online depth charts, as well as local Facebook groups, can easily put you on to more fish. Lake Frank, Lake Needwood and Seneca Creek State Park are all within 15 minutes of Rockville and provide great opportunities to catch fish locally. 

The variety in fishing tackle, styles, and colors is overwhelming even to seasoned anglers but, in reality, none of these considerations are the end-all to catching fish. If a fish will bite a jerkbait or a spinner, it will just as willingly bite a worm. What this means is you shouldn’t stress too much about your gear; location is a much more important consideration for where to put your energy. For sunfish, I use live worms cut into tiny pieces and threaded onto a small baitholder hook. These hooks shouldn’t be much larger than a quarter and you can buy them pre-snelled as a pack. Try fishing with a bobber and experimenting with different line lengths between the bobber and hook to find where in the water column the fish are holding.

Bass fishing gear can be absurdly specific, but a Texas rigged plastic worm will catch anything, even when other lures fail. The Texas rig is used for soft plastic worms and creature baits (crawfish, lizards, etc) and consists of a sliding-bullet weight and an offset worm hook. It will be overly complicated to try and describe this here, but online videos provide excellent visuals to help anyone through their first time. I highly recommend beginning with this rig and catching a few bass before experimenting with other lures. Beginner fishing videos are a great way to get comfortable with your gear and learn more techniques.

 Fishing as a hobby is a series of trial and error, and even times when you don’t catch fish can be a great learning experience for the future. Don’t feel discouraged if you try something new and it doesn’t work the first time.  Keep at it and I guarantee you’ll surprise yourself. Whether you’re escaping the stress of daily life or bringing your family closer to nature, there is something in this hobby for everyone!        

Location is one of the most important considerations for fishing and one of the biggest determining factors of whether or not you’ll be able to get a fish on the line or not. I deploy two specific techniques depending on whether I am bass fishing or panfishing (sunfish and crappie). Sunfish love to stay in the shallows and, if I don’t see them, it is safe to say I should change spots. If you can see smaller ones coming to check you out, cast further out to find the larger ones lurking behind. Bass are ambush predators, so you want to be mobile and cast into as many different areas of the lake/pond as you can. I prefer one rod for this style of fishing so I can cover as much water as I can.

Finding fishing spots and connecting with other anglers is easier now than ever. The mobile app Fishbrain allows anglers to log their catches, optionally share their location, and check out what other people are catching around them. iNaturalist is a similar app that allows people to share wildlife around them. Online tools like Google Maps and online depth charts, as well as local Facebook groups, can easily put you on to more fish. Lake Frank, Lake Needwood and Seneca Creek State Park are all within 15 minutes of Rockville and provide great opportunities to catch fish locally.

The variety in fishing tackle, styles, and colors is overwhelming even to seasoned anglers but, in reality, none of these considerations are the end-all to catching fish. If a fish will bite a jerkbait or a spinner, it will just as willingly bite a worm. What this means is you shouldn’t stress too much about your gear; location is a much more important consideration for where to put your energy. For sunfish, I use live worms cut into tiny pieces and threaded onto a small baitholder hook. These hooks shouldn’t be much larger than a quarter and you can buy them pre-snelled as a pack. Try fishing with a bobber and experimenting with different line lengths between the bobber and hook to find where in the water column the fish are holding.

Bass fishing gear can be absurdly specific, but a Texas rigged plastic worm will catch anything, even when other lures fail. The Texas rig is used for soft plastic worms and creature baits (crawfish, lizards, etc) and consists of a sliding-bullet weight and an offset worm hook. It will be overly complicated to try and describe this here, but online videos provide excellent visuals to help anyone through their first time. I highly recommend beginning with this rig and catching a few bass before experimenting with other lures. Beginner fishing videos are a great way to get comfortable with your gear and learn more techniques.

Fishing as a hobby is a series of trial and error, and even times when you don’t catch fish can be a great learning experience for the future. Don’t feel discouraged if you try something new and it doesn’t work the first time. Keep at it and I guarantee you’ll surprise yourself. Whether you’re escaping the stress of daily life or bringing your family closer to nature, there is something in this hobby for everyone!