It has been almost 150 years since the Union and Confederate artillery batteries fell silent over Northern Virginia's Occoquan watershed, which includes historic Bull Run Creek. But the watershed and its unique bass fisheries have been so well preserved against the ravages of time that a contemplative angler can almost imagine he has been transported back to 1862, when the Second Battle of Manassas tragically took the lives of more than 3,000 soldiers.
Today, Bull Run Creek traces the eastern edge of the Manassas National Battlefield Park, which was established in 1940. The creek is completely surrounded by heavily wooded public park land and undeveloped private land, so bass anglers can peacefully wade the stream or cast their lines from either shore. For the persistent and clever fisherman, the reward may be an ornery 4-pound smallmouth bass rocketing out of its deep sanctuary to demolish a real or imitation crawfish.
The 600-square-mile Occoquan watershed, which provides 17 million gallons of drinking water per day to thirsty Northern Virginians, includes the Upper and Lower Occoquan rivers and the jewel of the watershed, the 1,700-acre Occoquan Reservoir. Almost all of the fishing water is protected by parkland. From the headwaters of Bull Run Creek to the confluence of the Lower Occoquan River with the Potomac River, there are more than 35 miles of prime bass-fishing waters.
Bull Run Creek is readily accessible to shore anglers, wade fishermen and small watercraft, such as canoes and kayaks. The creek is dominated by classic riffle-run sequences and large, blown down trees. The creek flows directly into the 12-mile-long Occoquan Reservoir, the largest urban reservoir in the U.S. Located within Fountainhead Regional Park, the reservoir, with its steep, forested shoreline, sheer rock bluffs, and ample wood cover, is "the best place to fish for big bass" in Northern Virginia, according to a recent scientific study by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. The current largemouth bass record for the reservoir is 9 pounds, 11 ounces, but longtime senior park ranger and revered local bass fishing savant Smokey Davis insisted, "There are double-digit bass in the Occoquan Reservoir."
Immediately downstream from the reservoir is the Lower Occoquan River, a tidal bass waterway. Local fishing guide Andy Andrzejewski is an Occoquan River bass fishing expert. "The Occoquan River is a 12-month fishery," said Andrzejewski. "The winter fishing is excellent for both numbers and fair sizes of bass." The water depth around numerous bridge supports and rock ledges plunges to 25 feet, offering excellent coldwater habitat for bass that might otherwise be afflicted with lockjaw.
Occoquan Watershed Trip Check
Location: The watershed is located about 25 miles southwest of Washington, D.C., in Fairfax and Prince William counties, Va.
Lodging: Numerous hotels and motels can be found by checking with the Prince William County/Greater Manassas Convention and Visitors Bureau at www.visitpwc.com.
Local Info: To find local boat ramps and related information, check with the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority at www.nvrpa.org. For information about the Manassas National Battlefield Park, go to www.nps.gov. To learn about the charming 200-year-old town of Occoquan, Va., on the Occoquan River, check out the town's Web site, www.occoquan.org. Potomac Mills, a popular outlet shopping mall with more than 200 stores, is located on Interstate 95 just a few miles south of Occoquan. The mall's Web site is www.potomacmills.com.
1861 — Year in which the First Battle of Bull Run was fought
3,300 — Number of Union and Confederate soldiers killed at the Second Battle of Bull Run in 1862
400 — Approximate number of tributaries that comprise the Occoquan Watershed
1 million — Number of Northern Virginians who depend upon the Occoquan Reservoir for drinking water
Best Times To Go
Of the several Occoquan Watershed bass fisheries, Bull Run Creek turns on first, in early spring. Mike Fisher, president of the Fountainhead Bass Club, recommends fishing the Occoquan Reservoir in March and April, before the spawn. While the Lower Occoquan River is productive throughout the year, it is most notable for coldwater bass fishing, which is not generally available at other nearby bass fishing locations.
Lures To Pack
In the Occoquan Watershed, the best advice is to "match the hatch." For Bull Run Creek, that means small spinnerbaits, Texas rigged grubs and tube baits, and small crawfish-imitator crankbaits. In the Occoquan Reservoir, the dominant forage species are crawfish and shad. Available lures should cover the entire water column (the water is 70 feet deep near the dam). Recommended baits include topwater poppers, the Smithwick Rogue, suspending jerkbaits, 1/2-ounce chartreuse spinnerbaits with tandem willowleaf blades, Senko worms and Carolina rigged plastic crawfish imitators. In the Lower Occoquan River, productive coldwater fishing calls for Silver Buddies in gold and silver, Mann's Stingray grubs in avocado color, weighted plastic worms and Crippled Herring spoons.
In Bull Run Creek, smallmouth bass will hold tight to rocks and wood cover in fast current areas, so weighted snag-resistant baits should be cast as precisely as possible to maximize time in the strike zone. When fishing the Occoquan Reservoir in early spring, "bank beating" can actually be productive, so long as wood cover is targeted later in the day after the water temperature has increased. In summer, reservoir bass suspend in deeper water over main lake points, which requires the use of Carolina rigged baits and drop shot techniques. Mike Fisher also emphasized that reservoir bass are starting to feel increased fishing pressure, so experienced anglers are switching to finesse fishing techniques popularized on the gin-clear waters of Western lakes and impoundments. During wintertime on the Lower Occoquan River, baits must be worked at a painfully slow tempo. Bass fishing is also most productive during active tidal water movements. Slack tide periods should be avoided.