Luke Wheeler loves catching bass on one of his favorite Maryland bass fishing spot, the Potomac River. He fishes the Potomac as often as he can. He shares some of his insider secrets about how he is so successful catching Potomac River largemouth and smallmouth bass.
How long have you been fishing the Potomac River?
I have been fishing the river my whole life but I really started fishing it hard about 4 years ago. I have been fishing it 3 to 4 times a week ever since. I get out as often as work will allow which is usually weekday evenings after work and weekends.
What do you love about fishing the Potomac River?
I love the variety of sport fish that are just so abundant. It seems wherever you go there’s a good chance to find fish and good quality at that. I’m always exploring new spots and discovering new ways to catch them when it gets tough.
What keeps you coming back for more?
What keeps me coming back for more? Probably the success of figuring them out in a new place or maybe just a new way to catch them at your favorite spot. The river seems so versatile and every day is a new experience.
What section of the river is your favorite to fish?
People ask me this question a lot. To me it’s like picking a favorite food, song, or movie. It’s a mood thing, depending on what I want to do that day or maybe if I had a bad outing the day before.
I will say fishing up north above the Woodrow Wilson bridge seems to always produce bass whether that be large mouth, smallies, or stripers depending on what you want to do. But I see less snakehead up that way and they are quickly becoming a popular sport fish. So if I know I want a snakehead or two for dinner while I’m bass fishing I’ll head south like Aquia Creek, Mattawoman, etc.
I would say my spot choice is most heavily influenced by what I want to catch and where I think the best mix of quality and quantity are going to be located. This is based on my previous few outings, which is always in flux.
What boat are you fishing out of?
I fish out of a 1998 Bass Tracker Pro Team 175 with a 40 horsepower 2-stroke, as well as a Vibe Sea Ghost 130 kayak for the smaller more difficult to get at places. The boat is a small aluminium riveted boat that tops out at 25 mph. I probably wouldn’t recommend it for the river, all-weld boats are much sturdier and can handle a bigger motor. I spend a lot of time running from spot to spot that I could utilize fishing so sometimes I have to make “tough decisions” on whether to stay or move.
That being said it was affordable and hasn’t let me down in 4 years. It really is a great boat despite its shortcomings and gets me out on the water which is the most important thing. It hasn’t stopped be from putting together some good bags and having a blast doing it. If i had the money, however I would buy a bigger all weld or a fiberglass boat to fit more people and gear, not to mention the SPEED.
You recently picked up the Helix 10. How has this helped your fishing?
I love the Helix 10. Literally the most accurate and clear picture ever it will blow you away especially if you’ve spent your life with mediocre tech. It has significantly increased my ability to scan spots and know right away if they will produce fish because you can see them so clearly.
I have only one complaint and that is just a few days ago the left side of my transducer went black and I cant figure out why. I’ve seen other people with this problem and they say to call Humminbird and they will replace the transducer for free but I haven’t had the time recently. I will probably make an Instagram post about it if all goes well so keep an eye for that.
The fall season is coming up. What are your favorite baits/presentations for fall fishing on your favorite section of the Potomac for largemouth?
The fall is a great time to fish. The bass like to key in on shad and other bait you can really whack em out in the main river on blade baits, spinnerbaits, swimbaits, etc. I REALLY love an underspin with a little paddle tail swimbait. They cant resist it.
One of my favorite ways to catch them though is frogging mats. this time of year the mats get real thick and the grass underneath dies or gets really sparse. This makes for a truly epic frog bite really any time of the day. And if the frog isn’t getting bit pick up a heavy tungsten and go punching, because the fish are still there.
Do these bait/presentation selections change at all for other seasons?
I basically fish the same way from late spring or whenever I feel the spawn has finished up all the way until late fall. I vary my techniques and presentation but only due to changing conditions say day by day or week to week.
However in the winter I completely change up and slow way down with my finesse or my swimbaits. Or I’ll go reaction and throw a blade or lipless crank to coax those giants into biting. Sometimes a big fish especially one that’s been caught before can be fooled most easily by a reaction bite than anything. So ripping a lipless or something that has the instinct trigger like a jerk bait works great. Bass are hard wired to react and they cant help but lash out where as with a swimbait or slow jig they have time to see it and chose whether or not its food and whether its worth chasing down
I notice that you pick up some smallmouth on the Lower Potomac as well. I think of them more for the Upper. How often do you catch smallies?
Most people also think upper Potomac when they think smallmouth and to a certain extent that is true. They are very abundant up above the falls but they are often overlooked in the tidal river. They shouldn’t be. You aren’t going to catch them everywhere they are very picky and prefer rocky current seams out near the main river, but more often than not if you get one there’s a school down there and its gonna be a good day.
I have noticed they really school up in the lower and will even be packed in with schools of largemouth if your’e in a spot like a main river point with some current seams. I would definitely say you can target them. While you will get the incidental smallmouth on, you can also pattern them and find spots where they will outnumber the largemouth.
Overall, what are 5 pieces of advice do you have for fishing the Potomac River?
Five pieces of advice I can give would be:
- Be careful. The river is tidal and always changing. Just because there is no log or rock to hit one day doesn’t mean it wont be there the next and running into a spot at noon doesn’t always mean you can get out at 4.
- Tide. Tide. Tide. The fish in the Potomac can be very predictable if you pay attention to the conditions and most of all that is tide. The tide will also tell you where to fish, certain creeks and coves are inches deep at low tide but when it comes in the fish really pack in and you can get on a good bite. On the flip side fishing main river might be better in a low tide situation if the current is moving well the fish will pull out there and suspend or school up to feed.
- Keep track of patterns. Often times while fishing especially on a day to day basis the fish will bite on a certain lure or retrieve and knowing how fast you were moving the bait or where the bait was in the water column can make the difference between catching that one fish or getting the school fired up and really putting fish in the boat. This also relates to the tide because if your’e on a certain spot where you know there are fish, they may only bite on a certain tide time and its important to remember if the tide was halfway out and moving fast when they started biting. That is important information that will give you better success in the future.
- Don’t waste time. If the fish aren’t biting don’t keep doing the same thing. You don’t have to necessarily move especially if you know there’s fish below, but change colors, lures, retrieve speed. I’ve had many days where i was in the front of the boat stubbornly hopping a jig or Texas rig and the guy in the back picks up a crankbait or starts fishing faster or whatever and just gets on ’em hard and that’s what makes the difference.
- Get out and fish. You can’t catch fish from watching YouTube or scrolling on Instagram. Get out there and get a bait wet regardless of a boat or kayak. I started out bank fishing ponds and little tributaries of the river on foot with one rod and a draw string backpack. Caught my PB from the shore actually with my first ever casting setup, a cheap Pinnacle reel with an old 6 foot Ugly Stik from the 90’s. Fish don’t discriminate and $500 combo with a $10 jig likely wont make the difference. You can catch fish with a water bottle and a piece of corn.
Thanks Luke. Will be following on Instagram @lukereels.