there actually fish in this muddy,
moving water with little or no underwater
weedbeds? I was soon to find out.
Amid the ebbing flow I watched as
little schools of tiny fish darted
through the shallows off a point.
From time to time another, larger
fish would burst forth from under
these hapless juveniles and scatter
them, often onto the bank....
On a typical hot and muggy early
July day W2 visited the tidal Rappahannock
River. This is a river with an upper
section steeped in Civil War history
where opposing armies camped on
wooded hillsides and fought over
the few accessible fords. This is
a river that flows through rural
Virginia, the City of Fredericksburg
and then, in its lower stretches,
on past tidal towns best known for
crabs and the watermen that pursue
is the middle section that is most
often overlooked by anglers. Only
a few tight-lipped locals know how
good the Rapp can be for bass fishing.
Forty fish days are not uncommon
when conditions are right. Access
is limited, but good ramps exist.
Perhaps this is what keeps the river
The section W2 fished recently is
best known for those fiesty river
largemouth bass. From the Five Dollar
Hole down to Port Royal Landing,
the river teems with plenty of other
fish throughout the summer, but
tidal bass are what most anglers
it has puzzled some of the best
anglers over recent years with inconsistent
catches, "The Rapp" continues
to draw dedicated and curious anglers
seeking an alternative to more popular
and neighboring fisheries like the
Potomac and Lake Anna.
fish the Rappahannock is easy. You
just need a boat and a ramp. To
know and understand it takes a little
more time and research. From its
humble beginnings as a spring near
Chester Gap in the Blue Ridge Mountains,
the river flows some 184 miles southeast
into the lower Chesapeake Bay. The
watershed runs from between the
Potomac-Shenandoah Rivers in the
north of Virginia and between the
York and James River basins in eastern
Virginia. From Fredericksburg on
down, the Rapp is brackish, and
influenced by tides.
The tidal section is often stained,
characterized by acres of shallow
mud flats and logs, and it has very
few navigable creeks until you near
and get below the Route 301 crossing.
Vegetation is mostly on the banks
in the form of marsh grass and some
lily pads. There is very little
fishable submerged aquatic vegetation
and never has been according to
host for this Destination File was
Bruce Lee; an easily recognizable
name that often has Rappahannock
River in the same sentence. Lee
is an angler, a hunter and accomplished
tournament angler that has more
citations, trophies and awards to
his name that anyone I've ever met.
What I found most amazing, is that
he is approachable and extremely
is a lifelong river angler and now
a riverside resident and businessman.
The 54-year-old angler is the owner
of Port Royal Fish House located
at the Route 301 Bridge crossing.
His son Mike, also an avid and accomplished
river angler, runs the place.
we launched Bruce's '03 Sanderson
Marine Gambler around 10 a.m. into
the river from his ramp near the
Five Dollar Hole, Lee told me "his"
river had not fared well since the
drought of 2001.
really hit the lily pads hard. Areas
where guys would normally catch
30 fish a day, produced just a few
for them as recently as last year,"
he told me. Green Bay was one of
these historically good lily pad
flats that has suffered in recent
guess was that the river had experienced
serious saltwater intrusion from
a lack of rain and flow during '01.
The resulting salination blighted
many plants that require fresher
water. He also guessed the salty
water might have impeded spring
spawns for fish like largemouth
bass and crappie.
were still some creeks in the lower
river that had decent freshwater
flows and the fish were o.k., but
generally the fishing got tough
on the river," my host told
me as he fired up his Mercury 225
hp EFI outboard. Major sources of
freshwater in the lower Rappahannock
include Catpoint and Occupacia Creeks.
the start of our trip, it was obvious
Lee knows the river -- well. The
Gambler often travelled at speeds
exceeding 70 mph. Hydraulic tabs
on the bottom of the transom and
a hydraulic jack plate allowed Lee
to get out of the hole and on plane
in less than two feet of water throughout
our visit. He can run with this
setup in less than a foot. Needless
to say, these are good attributes
when running the shallow flats and
creeks of the Rappahannock.
after leaving his dock, Lee put
some heat to the outboard and trimmed
up for a ride that took us all the
way down to Port Royal Landing.
We had scheduled the trip to take
place during favorable tides. This
meant we were to "run the tide"
from Port Royal back to Lee's ramp
as it began to ebb. A two-hour window
would be prime time.
the tide is the way I fish. It's
not that difficult once you try
it and on this river, it's very
important," Lee advised me.
we did stop to fish after an incredible
Gambler ride, we did so at a lily
pad field at the mouth of Roy's
Run just below the 301 bridge. Lee
said he just wanted to check the
area. The tide was just beginning
to move, and the pads looked good,
but the fish were not in. Bruce
was pitching a Texas-rigged Berkley
Power Pulse Worm (pumpkin chart.
and red shad) quickly to the pad
next stop was at the Maryland side
of the 301 Bridge where some old
pilings acted as a current break
as well as an attractor for floating
logs. This spot looked fantastic,
but offered no action either.
again fired up the Merc for a short
run to a nearby wood-filled flat.
He noted the particular log he was
fishing had produced 10 fish at
times. After about 10 casts with
the worm we were off again.
most veteran anglers, Lee knows
hitting a bunch of spots with precise
presentations during the right tide
is the best way to fish a river.
Gambler next stopped and the Minn
Kota went down at the mouth of a
small creek, just up from Goldenvale
Creek. Here, like many parts of
the river, brush had lodged on the
second drop. The Garmin 260 read
two feet dropping into 10 feet.
We used the worms and crankbaits,
but still only hauled water.
Lee didn't seem rattled and promised
we'd catch fish as he again navigated
back up river to a spot known as
the Cypress Hole. Here, several
cypress trees grew on the bank and
their roots, or knees, reached down
into the river. These trees were
unusual because there are very few
on the Rapp.
calling this one," said Lee
with a smile, predicting success
while choosing his presentation.
a Wiggle Wart crankbait, Lee fired
a cast to the bank and sure enough
connected with our first Rapp fish
-- a solid 13" largemouth that
engulfed the little orange/brown
crankbait. After a photo and release,
my guide fired another cast and
caught fish #2 from the same spot.
This fish was just slightly smaller,
but with the river attitude I would
grow to admire. My host's ability
to "call his fish" was
impressive, too. It was like spider-sense.
prime time approaching, Lee said
we had to move. He had a lot of
spots we needed to get to. We next
stopped at white plastic barrel
marking an irrigation pump. Under
the barrel, wooden supports anchored
the intake in the muddy bottom.
calling one here, too," the
Master Angler proclaimed.
Lee graciously insisted I cast first
with my worm. I was using a Bud's
Tingler on a ABU Garcia D Series
reel and Fenwick Eagle GT 6'6"
rod. My first few probing pitches
were off target, and Lee gently
reminded me river fish want precision.
They don't want to move much to
get a meal, but hit the right spot
and they will hammer your stuff!
must have made the right cast, because
the Tingler never hit bottom and
the line came toward me. I set the
hook on a 14" bass and instantly
became a Rapp River bass club member.
these successes Lee began to really
"feel it" and at just
about every spot we visited for
the next three hours, we caught
fish -- honest, he even called a
few more fish. We hit approximately
25 holes, fishing fast and precisely.
The pattern was clearly to fish
wood on the drop or at the mouth
of one of the dozens of shallow
tidal creeks draining into the main
river. Lee has sweetened a number
of these areas up with brushpiles.
He told me this pattern would hold
small crankbait (Bandit 200), the
Berkley Power Pulse Worm, Bud's
Tingler and later a 1/4-oz. Tiger
Shad spinnerbait were our lures.
At one large creek mouth about a
quarter mile below his ramp, Lee
and I caught bunches of largemouths,
white and yellow perch, a crappie
and even a smallmouth!
I probably lost the two biggest
fish of the trip. One took a worm
after repeated casts to an unseen,
but certainly felt, shallow brush
pile along a drop. I just couldn't
get the hook set properly and the
fish pulled off as it raced toward
the boat. The next fish bull-dogged
the Bandit on another shallow brushpile
and dropped off as I was lifting
it over the side of the Gambler.
Each fish was about three pounds.
actually landed two fat 15"
bass to top our catches. The smallmouth
he caught was about 11". Our
tally for the day's fishing was
23 largemouth bass and a bunch of
other species. Most came near the
end of the trip, between 2-3 p.m,
and they came in bunches.
appeared there were plenty of 11-13"
bass in the river; the result of
a year class that wasn't affected
as much by the drought. Larger fish
are the ones that suffer the most
from saltwater intrusion is what
we guessed and that is why catching
one over two pounds is tricky these
days. That should change, though.
"In a few years, if things
keep going the way they are, this
river is going to be great,"
said my host at day's end.
To fish the section of the Rapp
the author and Bruce Lee did, launching
at Port Royal Landing is a good
idea. 804-742-5666. Not only is
there a ramp, but Mike stocks river
lures, catfish supplies and bait,
food, drinks, seasonally fresh seafood
(great prices on crabs) and rents
boats, canoes and kayaks. There
will be bass and catfish tournaments
out of Port Royal Fish House this
summer and fall. See the W2 Calendar
of Events for dates. Be sure and
consult tide tables for your day
. You will also want a GMCO Pro
Series map of the Rappahannock,
available at the W2 site or on page
9. Ken's Fishing & Hunting in
Fredericksburg is the best tackle
shop in the area, stocking all the
lures mentioned in the article.