We take a break from bass fishing today. We talk to Rocky Droneburg who guides for both smallmouth bass and musky about his fishing for the big toothy creatures. Rocky shares with us how he catches big Upper Potomac River musky.
How long have you been chasing down musky on the Upper Potomac?
10 years. I started in the summer of 2009. I love so many things about the sport. But, I would say the visual strikes in clear water are the best. It really gets my heart pounding seeing one of these fantastic beasts chase down a fast moving bait.
There are a lot of rivers that pop into my mind when thinking about musky fishing. But the Upper Potomac is not one that I normally thing about. Why is this a mistake?
Unlike most of the eastern rivers, the Potomac River has a self sustaining pure Musky population. How they got there still remains some what a mystery. The Maryland DNR ceased their hybrid musky stocking program in 2005.
Due to the expansion and stability of the true Musky populations, the Potomac’s catch rate per hours fished is quite high! In comparison with other Musky waters. So far for 2018, My boats catch rate is 3.9 hours per fish caught. Meaning all of my partners including my fish caught divided by each man hour of fishing. Now the year is only half over. So, I would expect 8 to 11 hours per fish by the conclusion of 2018.
What is your personal best musky on the river?
My personal best musky based on weight was caught in November of 2016. She was 45.5 inches long. But sported a girth of 25 inches! She weighed 33 to 34 lbs. The average musky size on the Potomac River is 36 to 38 inches. This is based off of the Maryland DNR creel data collected by participants that fish the Potomac River.
Where do musky typically live in the Upper Potomac?
They have been caught through out the upper Potomac region from great falls to Cumberland Marylnad. But seem to thrive in the Washington County section of the River. This section provides a mixture of deep pools, impoundments and some different elevation drops that slow and speed up the current in different areas. In my opinion, the most important key feature is fishing areas with some deeper pools.
What do you consider your top two months for chasing down Upper Potomac musky?
If I had to pick 2 months to be my favorite. It would be December and January. I’m a cold weather lover. I love chasing fish in the snow, sleet and ice!
If we have to shovel the boat launch or spread out rock salt on the ramp before using it, it is almost always game on. The muskies are very active in very low water temperatures, 32 to 35 degrees.
One such day my partner Chris and I caught 7 muskies in 1 outing. That’s simply fantastic!
But, there is always a downside. We break so much equipment during this time frame. Ice build ups around your line guide and gears, This can destroy even the highest of quality reels. We currently keep a camp heater on the boat to thaw out frozen reels. We just rotate them out constantly.
Do you fish for musky during the summer on the Upper Potomac?
I do fish some in the early summer months. It depends on how high the water temps are. My cut off is 80 degrees. I’m gonna refrain from preaching not to do it. It’s a very sensitive subject in the musky world. My 2 cents are, if you are catching fish and wearing them down to complete submission before netting, that fish has a high likely hood of delayed mortality.
I feel you should use heavy enough gear to get that fish in the net as quickly as possible. Once in the net let it soak at boat side, still in the net. I personally remove the lures from the fish while still in the net year round.
Get your camera ready and bump boards out and wet before removing them from the net. Most importantly, keep hook cutters to cut hooks that are difficult to remove with out ripping their mouth and gills up. Don’t destroy a 12 to 18 year old fish for a $1 dollar hook
Tough question but I am going to limit you to two baits throughout an entire year for Upper Potomac musky. Which two are you picking and why?
My favorite 2 lures? Whatever they are wanting to eat! My go-to baits are gliders and deep diver cranks. I have a lot of confidence in gliders by Anthony Ashby owner of Hot Tail Gliders and Crankbaits. He’s a small time basement bait maker out of Martinsburg, West Virginia. Anthony was one of the first Musky hunters I met when I got started and quickly became good friends.
Hot Tail Gliders provide so many variations of a glider from light to heavy and small to large. All having their time and place. I personally think the glider provides the angler with a reaction strike. They don’t necessarily want to eat it but kill it. As far as cranks, I like models that dive to 6 to 8 feet. Depth Raiders , Jakes and Hot Tail Gliders make some cranks now as well.
I personally like cranks in extremely cold water before freeze up. When it gets this cold, sometimes the musky don’t want to come up to chase a bait and opt for the easy in their face meal.
What are your favorite colors of these baits for musky on the Upper Potomac?
Obviously, when fishing stained water you might want some brighter lures. I usually opt for a solid white bait in these conditions
Overall, what are 5 pieces of advice that you have for someone fishing the Upper Potomac for musky?
- Have the right tools necessary to safely release a musky. Those tools would be a large net. It will serve as a boat side live well until your ready to remove them. Small bolt cutters for extracting lures safely from their mouths. You may need them to cut someone free if they get hooked. I remember a situation where a 43 inch ball of fury was hooked to my buddies knuckle by a 7/0 treble hook! The fish rolled in the net, while attempting to unhook it, which snagged my buddies hand. I hate to think how that would have turned out if I didn’t have the bolt cutters! Jaw spreaders will assist you in accessing your lure and hooks that need cut. Long needle nosed pliers in the 12 inch models. Helps keep your fingers out of harms way. Cut resistant gloves will help you when handling your fish. I do not recommend boga grips! I’ve witnessed too many fish with broken mandibles. As well as metal hook like devices to run between their gills is just wrong.
- Sharpen your hooks – I keep a mill file handy at all times. Even the brand new hooks are not as sharp as a freshly filed hook. It only takes a few minutes to sharpen your hooks. Why take a chance on losing that fish of 10,000 casts?
- Pick a section of the River and learn it. The fish will move throughout the water depths through the seasons. Learn their habits. Then move on to other areas and apply it. You will be surprised just how much alike the many sections are. Remember that even a follow from a lazy musky is a piece of the puzzle. They are not somewhere by accident. If you see one. They are hanging out there for a reason.
- Perseverance pays! Never give up! You are chasing a fish with a small window of daily activity. Track your efforts. Keep a log or journal. You would be surprised how the puzzles comes together when tracking Moon majors and minors. It motivates you to get out there or stay that extra hour for a moon set/rise.
- Polarized glasses are a must. If you don’t see a follow, how will you know you did something right? You have to see them! Otherwise your just recklessly chucking lures.
Remember its all about puzzle pieces! I hope these few tips put the odds in your favor!
If someone wants to book you for a trip, how do they go about doing that?
Those interested in a trip can get information and book by contacting Susquehanna Smallmouth Solutions on Facebook. We’ll also soon have a website up and running. I can be contacted directly thru my Facebook.
What is a day like with you on the water?
A day on the water with me is fairly fast paced. I like to keep moving. I may visit a spot or hole several times in a day. I would recommend bringing some pain relief such as Advil. It’s a lot of time standing and casting. It’s very hard on the lower back.
Obviously fish activity is hard to predict. But most trips you will at least see follows. Sometimes 10 or more. But we do occasionally get skunked. My most confident times of day are sunrise, sun set and whatever Moon majors or minors are during that given day.
Most folks that have booked with me have never fished for musky. So you can expect some on the water training so to speak. I will demonstrate how to execute a proper figure 8, lure technique and casting safety. That’s to reassure I don’t have to use my bolt cutters on them or myself….lol.
Thank you Rocky!