Top Reasons to Fish the Potomac River – Hunt & Fish

Top Reasons to Fish the Potomac River

Posted on: July 18, 2018 By: Maryland DNR

When George Washington chose to build Mount Vernon on the banks of the Potomac, he ensured that the waterway would forever be known as the “Nation’s River.” Ever since, this beautiful stretch of water has occupied a special place in our imaginations.

The Potomac River originates in the Allegheny Mountains of West Virginia and carries nutrients into the Chesapeake Bay. It is one of the bay’s largest tributaries—second only to the Susquehanna River. Interestingly, a variety of saltwater species can be found in the Potomac, including cobia, bluefish and striped bass. With such an abundance of nutrient-rich water, activities, history and fishing options, it’s no wonder the Potomac is one of Maryland’s favorite waterways for fishing.  Here are just a few of our top reasons to fish the Potomac River.

Northern Potomac River

Potomac River

Winter Along the C&O Canal by Larry Helms

Potomac River

  • The Maryland Department of Natural Resources routinely stocks sections of the Northern Branch Potomac River of Garrett County every spring and fall with a combination of rainbow, golden and brown trout.
  • The tailwater below Jennings Randolph Reservoir in Garrett County provides a unique, western-style float trip experience for brown, rainbow and cutthroat trout for approximately 20 miles. Guides are available and encouraged, as visitors can encounter significant rapids.
  • The northern Potomac is packed full of opportunities to target popular gamefish species, including smallmouth bass, walleye, muskellunge (muskies) and channel catfish year-round. Anglers are encouraged to harvest any flathead catfish they encounter as they are non-native and increasing in numbers.
  • There are tons of great access points for boats, canoes and kayaks from many National Park Service boat ramps along the length of the northern Potomac.
  • Historically significant sites and towns near the river, including Harpers Ferry, Antietam Battlefield and the C&O Canal, are a big draw for history buffs after a morning spent reeling in fish.

Southern Potomac River 

Potomac River

Potomac River

  • Professional and recreational anglers hone their skills from the D.C. border near the Woodrow Wilson Bridge down to the Nanjemoy Creek. Keep an eye out for moss-green lunkers hiding in lily pads or tucked under submerged wood.  Other coveted species are scattered throughout the same area, including catfish, crappies, various sunfish, and white and yellow perch. Anglers are also occasionally surprised by a flathead catfish, longnose gar, bowfin or chain pickerel.
  • Blue catfish are a non-native species that were stocked in Virginia tidal waters back in the 1970s. Since then, they have spread to many adjacent areas, including the Potomac.  Blue catfish can exceed of 100 pounds under prime conditions, making for a great fishing trip and a tasty meal to end the day.
  • Another invasive species to Maryland’s waters is the northern snakehead.  The Department of Natural Resources encourages the harvest of each and every snakehead caught. They are coveted for their dense, white flesh and their fillets can be prepared in a myriad of ways. It’s a clean-tasting fish that rarely has a ‘fishy’ flavor. They also put up a great fight for anglers. Please note that it is illegal to possess or transport any live snakeheads.

Some of the river’s most visited and cherished spots – for fishing, recreation, and history – include National Harbor, Piscataway Park, Mallows Bay, St. Clements Island, and Point Lookout State Park.

The Maryland Department of Natural Resources Public Angler Access Map can help you locate and learn about dozens of fishing spots.  Boat ramps are easy to find and several fishing piers are available to anglers who don’t have access to a watercraft.  The Maryland Angler’s Log provides great insight into what areas are hot and what baits appear to work best. Check out the Maryland Fisheries webpage for more information regarding overall fishing and fishing programs in Maryland. You’ll also want to refer to the Potomac River Fisheries Commission, which determines regulations like creel and size limits jointly with the states of Maryland and Virginia.

Angling in the tidal Potomac can be enjoyed at any age and from any mode, whether you like to fish from a canoe, kayak, powerboat or right from the shoreline.  With birding, boating, fishing, sightseeing, and countless other things to do along the Potomac River, it’s easy to see why this waterway is a Maryland – and American – staple.


Images courtesy of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources’ Flickr