Story by Debra Zimmerman Murphey and Photography by Maury Tobin
A day before the Maryland BASS Federation Nation's April 10, 2010, tournament trail opener at Smallwood State Park in Charles County, Scott Sewell, of Middle River, Maryland, has two things on his mind: catching a large largemouth bass and a wish that the wind dies down.
"It's bass, God, then family," Sewell, a weekend angler, explained the previous evening before extending an invitation to accompany him on a pre-fish (practice period) trip on the Mattawoman Creek aboard his slick Nitro bass boat.
The Mattawoman Creek is a tributary of the Potomac River and is home to a large population of largemouth bass. Largemouth bass, a species that is prolific in the Upper Chesapeake Bay and Potomac River systems, including its tributaries in Charles County, have turned Smallwood, off of Route 224 in bucolic Marbury, into an unrivaled Southern Maryland hotspot for bass-fishing devotees. It's a world dominated by rigged-out boats, aerated live wells (where fish are kept before they are placed in bags to be weighed in and sized up) and artificial lures called names like crankbaits and jerkbaits.
Smallwood is a Mid-Atlantic "mecca" for bass fishing and tournaments, says Patrick Bright, manager of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources' Southern Maryland Recreational Complex. Hobbyists and pros alike fish this region because bass are drawn to the Potomac River's (and its tidal feeder creeks') abundance of grasses and underwater structures - an ideal ecosystem for both spawning and finding prey, says Joe Love, tidal bass manager for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. Bright added that bass anglers pay a nominal fee to both register tournaments and use the public park for their fishing expeditions and competitions.
"I really love the Mattawoman Creek. These waterways are among the most pristine and productive fishery in the state and we should do all we can to protect it because when it's lost, it's lost forever," says Sewell while traversing the creek for largemouth bass to a backdrop of spring foliage, water grasses, herons, ospreys, beavers, bald eagles and mallard ducks. Not only is Sewell a bass-fishing fanatic, he's also owner of Let's Go Fishin' Guide Service ( www.marylandbassfishing.com ) and conservation director of the MBFN.
MBFN is an umbrella organization for more than 60 affiliated chapter clubs of the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society, Inc. (BASS). This group, whose members live by the fishing credo of catch-and-release, has a huge appreciation for largemouth bass, a typically freshwater fish that was stocked in the Chesapeake Bay in the 1800s. At MBFN's trail opener, Rick Allen and Tony Lohr, two anglers from Westminster, Maryland, who belong to the Bent Rod Bassmasters Club, each won more than $1,000 in the first-place boater and non-boater categories, respectively. Anglers bring in their largest five fish and wins are based on total weight, with a payout, too, for catching the biggest bass.
The Bounty of Bass
This hardy bass species, Micropterus Salmoides, is known for being a showman, as are the charismatic pros that have helped build competitive bass fishing's mainstream and grassroots appeal in the past few decades, notes Love. Avid angler and La Plata resident, Kevin Waterman, says part of what makes bass fishing so exciting is that largemouth bass are feisty and the sport, challenging. Variables such as temperature, what kind of bait to use, weather patterns, casting principles, and uncovering good spots to fish all dominate anglers' thoughts and actions.
ESPN is owner of the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society (formerly known as B.A.S.S.). There are different levels of competitions tied to the universally known name, Bassmaster, and ESPN televises tournaments that are held throughout the United States, helping build the bass buzz. The other large main bass organization is FLW Outdoors (broadcasting via Versus Country), which also hosts top-tier tournaments across the nation as well as other competitions, including the Bass Fishing League and college events. With a dominating Internet presence, corporate sponsors and tournament broadcasts that wow, FLW and BASS have turned bass fishing into big business and a sport that has hooked Americans.
At Smallwood alone this season, more than 100 tournaments, with an approximate 8,000 anglers, will be held from April through October.
There are many organizations that focus on bass fishing tournaments, conservation and youth programs, including the two major organizations, Bass Anglers Sportsman Society, sports.espn.go.com/outdoors/bassmaster/, owned by ESPN, and FLW Outdoors, www.flwoutdoors.com.