The tidal Potomac River near Washington, D.C. gets lots of accolades for its brackish water largemouth fishing and exotic snakeheads. But what often gets overlooked is that this river also offers superb smallmouth bass action for over 100 miles upstream from the Nation's Capital.
Smallmouths are not native to the Potomac, but were introduced by railroad in 1854. As a train crossed the river, a worker dumped a bucket full of fingerlings off the trestle and the fish expanded from there.
The dividing line between largemouth and smallmouth water basically starts around the city limits. From that point all the way upstream into West Virginia the Potomac offers a beguiling mixture of boisterous rapids, swirling eddies, gentle riffles and rocky outcroppings that grow outsized bronzebacks.
Best Way to Fish It
Some prime spots to wade fish include Brunswick, Point of Rocks, Violets Lock, Swains Lock and the Route 340 Bridge. Most of these spots have a good mix of still water, pools, eddies and riffles to wet a line in.
While I enjoy wade fishing, my favorite way to fish the upper Potomac is float fishing from a canoe, johnboat or inflatable raft. Cast as you go and anchor out when you come upon particularly good looking spots.
Where to Go
A few potential floats worth taking are from Brunswick to the Route 15 Bridge at Point of Rocks (7 miles), from Dam #4 to Snyders Landing (8 miles), from Hancock to McCoys Ferry (13 miles), and from C&O Canal Lock 56 to Hancock (12 miles).
If you choose to use a boat with a motor instead of floating, try the area around Sharpsburg, off Harpers Ferry Road. Taylor's Landing, Snyder's Landing and Dargan Landing are three spots where you can launch are return by motor after the day's fishing.
If you prefer lures, go with thin minnow plugs, medium-diving crankbaits, small spinnnerbaits, soft plastic jerkbaits, small plastic worms, topwaters, such as the Tiny Torpedo by Heddon, and perhaps best of all, 1/8-1/4 ounce lead head grubs. Good colors for these latter lures include motor oil, smoke, chartreuse and purple. A good spinning outfit with 6-8 pound line is perfect.
The best outfit for fly fishing is an 8-9 foot rod with a 5-8 weight forward or bass taper floating line and a 6-9 foot leader tapering to a 6-8 pound tippet. Surface fishing is excellent unless the waters are high and cloudy. Go with chartreuse or white poppers, deer hair bugs and large trout flies such as the Grey Wulff, White Miller, Irresistible or Goofus Bug.
Split shot can help if the waters are high. Optionally, you can keep a spare spool or extra reel handy rigged with a high-density sinking tip when fish are holding deep.
While smallmouths are the main quarry, expect to catch stray channel cats, plus lots of rockbass, bluegills, redbreast sunfish, and occasional largemouths mixed in.