Bass fever takes hold at National Harbor

Luke Clausen found a rare day in June when, on the fourth day of the FLW Tour bass fishing tournament on the Potomac River out of National Harbor, he brought in 19 pounds, 4 ounces of fish, two pounds more than any other professional fishermen had caught that day. His total catch weighed 69 pounds, 14 ounces, and it earned him a cool $125,000 paycheck.

Rocell Viniard, vice president and director of marketing for National Harbor, figures several thousand people attended the event, particularly on the last day, when FLW and sponsors have a lot of free family activities that are open to the public. She says they "had a couple-of-million-dollar impact on National Harbor, (Prince George's) County and the state and that's why we've invited them back for next year."


The pros are used to fishing the Potomac, but this was the first year the FLW Tour was headquartered at National Harbor.

Bass fishing started in this area in 1854, when William Shriver brought 30 bass in a rail car from the Ohio River. He thought they'd thrive and he was right. Today anglers consider the Potomac one of the best places in the country for bass fishing.


With 150-plus miles of Potomac shoreline, Charles County became a natural gathering spot for anglers, particularly around the ramps and docks at Smallwood State Park. Tom Roland, who was the county chief of parks, decided that the rest of the world should enjoy what Marylanders liked. He and his wife, Joanne (then head of county tourism), started working on scheduling minor and major tournaments. Anglers came (and still come) from across the state and country and spent money on hotel rooms, meals, and supplies.

In the case of a major tournament about six years ago, anglers arrived early to pre-fish and rented planes and pilots from nearby Maryland Airport to survey the Potomac to see where the reeds and underwater grasses were. The purse, split between amateurs and professionals, totaled $1.25 million. The top individual prizes were $200,000 for pro Mike Iaconelli and $40,000 for amateur Pat Wilson. Forrest L. Wood (FLW Outdoors) people estimated the event brought in about $4.6 million in revenue to the county.

The tournament was filmed (including aerial shots of the area and underwater cameras) and ran on Fox Sports News and Armed Forces Network, providing more than 80 million viewers with a glimpse of Charles County and its proximity to Washington and other prime tourism destinations.

Lesser events churn up interest too, and Deep Creek Lake and other watery venues in Maryland host more than 100 tournaments each year.

Bass is easily the number one fresh-water sport fish, according toChad Gay of FLW Outdoors, because the bass population is so large and available in rivers, lakes and even backyard ponds. "They're a predator," says Gay, "and a fun fish to fish for. They're somewhat aggressive and they will bite almost anything, just out of curiosity."

Roger Trageser, an electrical contractor, is affiliated with the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society (BASS) and says there are about 60 or 70 chapters across the state. They have tournaments from April through November, and work with disadvantaged children to teach them the sport, and with Paralyzed Veterans of America and Weekend Warriors, a National Guard organization.

Getting hooked

John Bonn, a building contractor by day and part-time employee at Bass Pro Shop in Hanover (Arundel Mills) by Tuesday and Thursday nights, says if you'd like to try it, most of the local clubs will advertise in the spring that they're looking for members. "Check around to find a club that fits what you want to do," Bonn says. "Some fish just on the Potomac, in reservoirs around the state, on the Eastern Shore, or follow a tournament circuit. Then, while most clubs fish on weekends, you'll find one that goes out on Wednesdays. Some clubs offer trophies for tournament winners and others offer prize money."


After you've been approved for membership, the club will pair you with someone who has a boat and you're almost ESPN-worthy. Or, you can look for a club that fishes where you can rent a jon (flat-bottomed) boat and practice a few times so you'll feel more confident when you participate in a tournament. You don't need a $50,000 boat to enjoy yourself.

Bonn will help you through the ins and outs of bass fishing and guide you toward appropriate clubs. After buying two or three rods and related gear that will run you a few hundred dollars, figure on spending another $200 or $300 in the first year for tournament entry fees and to help defray the price of fuel for the boat you're using for a fishing base.

Snakes in the grass?

One concern over the past six years has been the invasion of the foreign snakehead fish, which has no natural predators here. Although it was feared that the snakeheads might feed off the bass, Bonn says, they've apparently decided they prefer other fish, particularly crappies.

The snakehead are said to be tasty, and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources is working on promoting snakehead as a restaurant menu item. Bonn said the snakeheads are an easy catch, and he brought in a 12-pounder earlier this year.

Chad Wells, executive chef for Alewife Baltimore, uses snakehead whenever he can buy it. However, there are no commercial fishermen catching the snakehead, so the supply is unpredictable. They usually come in with a catch of catfish. Perhaps because of the heat and excessive rain this year, the snakeheads have been lurking in shallower areas that aren't conducive to larger commercial boats.


Therefore, Wells has been featuring the snakehead at special events including a cooking demonstration at the 44th annual Seafood Festival held at Sandy Point over the Sept. 10-11 weekend. He says the fish are mild and clean tasting because they're fresh-water fish. They aren't fatty or oily and he fixes them fried, sautéed, grilled, in a po-boy sandwich and baked. He adds that, unless you absolutely know where the fish comes from, he doesn't recommend eating them raw (as in sushi or sashimi) because they could have parasites.

The First Annual Potomac Snakehead Tournament took place on Sept. 2-3, with anglers able to fish anywhere within the tidal Potomac. Participants and spectators had a chance to taste Chef Wells' snakehead dishes. Unlike bass fishing, which is a catch-and-release activity, all snakeheads must be killed.

If you've followed bass fishing, you realize it's a predominantly male activity. It's not that women aren't good with a rod and line, though. Christiana "Christy" Bradley, from Bealeton, Va., is the Geico pro.

Some fishermen can be intimidating or have an attitude of, "I came to fish, not to make friends." But, says Bonn, "they're that way to men and women."