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Algal Blooms in the Basin

The ICPRB is fielding calls about the blue-green algae that can create toxins that harm people and pets who come in contact with blooms. News stories about dogs dying after swimming in contaminated ponds and lakes are getting heavy circulation. Lakes Needwood and Frank in Montgomery County, Md., have annual blue-green algae blooms and people and pets should avoid contact with the water. Blue-green algae lives in the Potomac, but large blooms are not currently common.

Blue-green algae is capable of producing toxins that could be harmful, but does not always do so.MarylandVirginia, and the District of Columbia all monitor these blooms and welcome reports from the public. The Environmental Protection Agency  works on harmful algae blooms as well. Blue-green algae, also known as cyanobacteria, is just one type of algae. Many other kinds of algae, such as filamentous types that look like hair attached to rocks, do not produce toxins, although any blooms of algae indicate an imbalanced system usually high in nutrients. Algal populations are an important part of aquatic systems, but can cause problems when they grow rapidly out of control.

As a general rule, humans and pets should avoid water that is discolored, has a layer of algal scum on the surface, or has a strong odor.

While instances of blue-green algae seem to be growing with hotter, wetter summers, it has been much worse. Into the 1970s, the Potomac and Anacostia rivers in the District were covered by florescent green mats of blue-green algae every summer. The blooms greatly decreased as Potomac restoration efforts took hold.

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About the Basin: Occoquan Regional Park

The Occoquan Regional Park in Lorton, Virginia, provides a steady dose of history, waterfront views, and a relaxed pace.

A path surrounded by trees. A building can be seen at the end of the path.

Photo courtesy of NOVA Parks

Before it was a public park, the Occoquan Regional Park was home to a plethora of brickmaking kilns run by prisoners housed at the nearby Lorton Work House Prison. The ovens were known as beehive kilns for their rounded form, a shape that has been used since the Middle Ages. The bricks from this area were used to build public buildings in Washington, D.C. and throughout northern Virginia. Visitors can explore the last remaining beehive kiln at the park.

The park has baseball fields and a boat launch (for carried craft only) and beautiful views of the Potomac River. The highlight of this park is the recently renovated trail. The paved, easy trail was expanded to a 5k-length in 2018. This park is ideal for families with strollers or kids learning to ride a bike.

Just downstream of the Occoquan Reserve, the river is an important source of drinking water for the region. The Occoquan Regional Park sits at the intersection of hiking and history, where water resources meet water demand.

Want to learn more? Join ICPRB’s Executive Director, Mike Nardolilli, as we explore the interplay of water demand, politics, zoning, water quality, and the challenges they present during an easy 3-mile walk. We will learn about the triumphs and challenges of relying on Occoquan Reservoir as a source of drinking of water for the region. The hike is free and open to the public. We will meet at the Brickmaker’s Café (9751 Ox Rd, Lorton, VA) at 10:00 am on Sunday, September 15. Learn more on ICPRB’s website.

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Potomac River Fishing Report – August 9, 2019

Children with fishing rods lined up along the side of a canal.Mountain trout streams remain in good shape for this time of year. Anglers are matching insect hatches or using streamers. Some nice trout are being taken in the North Branch Potomac. The South Branch Potomac is running fairly clear, and anglers are finding some nice smallmouth bass and catfish. The Shenandoah is in good shape, and the North and South forks are running clear and giving up some nice smallmouth bass.

The upper Potomac is giving up some smallmouth along the shore in the morning and evening, and out of shaded rock gardens and ledges during the day. Overall, the normally very productive stretch from Lander to Brunswick has not fished well this season. Catfish seem to be biting well most everywhere.

In the District of Columbia, bridge pilings and hard structure are providing largemouth bass and catfish. The Washington Channel and War College Wall and grass beds are giving up some largemouth bass and crappies. Some hydrilla beds in the main river hold some bass on moving tides.

Further downstream, the headwaters shallows of tidal creeks are prime territory for northern snakeheads and some bass. Lilly pads and grass beds in Piscataway and Mattawoman creeks are fishing well. The main channel off the Fort Washington lighthouse is a prime area for very large blue catfish.

From the Route 301 Bridge downstream, anglers are finding some striped bass, many of them small. Anglers are limiting out on Spanish mackerel, large spot, and white perch.  The Channel edge between Piney Point and St. Georges is a target area for stripers, and many anglers are using spot to live-line for the larger rockfish. Anglers are casting to rock jetties near Point Lookout for a mixture of stripers and bluefish.  Anglers also are finding some very nice cobia in the area. Crabbing is good.

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Potomac River Fishing Report – August 2, 2019

A little boy is holding up a fishing pole with a fish on the hook. Mountain trout streams are in good shape for this time of year. Anglers are matching insect hatches or using streamers. The same holds true for the North Branch Potomac. The Shenandoah is running a little low in the upper reaches, but the river is producing some nice smallmouth bass and catfish.

The upper Potomac is best in the mornings and evenings, and anglers are taking smallmouth bass off poppers and other topwater baits. Daytime action is in the shaded ledges and rock gardens near the bottom. The Brunswick section is fishing slow for bass, but catfish are biting well. Washington Channel and the war college wall and grass beds consistently hold bass and cats.

Downstream, main channel grass beds hold bass. The heads of tidal creeks hold bass and are loaded with snakeheads. Lilly beds at Mattawoman Creek and other areas are holding fish. The deep channel off Fort Washington lighthouse is a great place to target large blue catfish.

From the Route 301 Bridge downstream, anglers are finding striped bass, a lot of Spanish mackerel, spot, and perch.  Channel edge between Piney Point and St. Georges. Available spot are being used to live line for stripers, as sell as the rock jetties around Point Lookout. Anglers are taking lots of mackerel, with some bluefish and a few cobia rounding out the opportunities. Crabbing remains good.

We are grateful to the many river watchers who contribute to this effort. Particular thanks go to the state departments of natural resources, Steve Chaconas/National Bass Guides, Mike Dudash/Eagle Aquatics, River and Trail Outfitters, Aqualand Marina, and White’s Ferry.

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About the Basin: Potomac State Forest

Archery, hiking, hunting, fishing, equestrian trails, mountain biking are popular in the Potomac State Forest. Winter sports like cross country skiing and snowmobiling are also a possibility.

Don’t expect to see many people enjoying these opportunities as this rural state forest competes with many state parks in the region for outdoor entertainment opportunities. Even in the height of summer, you will feel like the trails and creeks exist only for you.

The cool, shaded streams make for excellent trout fishing. The majority of the forest is a Delayed Harvest Trout Fishing Area (Group II) which means an angler can possess up to 5 trout during the summer months (check local licensing restrictions).

A 3-D archery range offers the opportunity to practice your aim at 30 life-size 3-dimensional targets.

Potomac State Forest’s claim to fame is that it has one of the highest elevations of any Maryland state forest. At 3,200 feet, Backbone Mountain reigns over this small state forest in the headwaters of the Potomac River in Western Maryland. It also provides for challenging, and rewarding, hiking trails.

One such trail is the Lostland Run Trail. It is a challenging hike with varied terrain and many stream crossings. With appropriate preparation, this trail will reward you with beautiful views, wildlife sightings, waterfalls, and fun swimming holes. Keep your eye on the trail blazes though, as they are easy to miss.

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About the Basin: Monocacy Aqueduct

The Monocacy Aqueduct on the right. Trees on the left. Green grass in the foreground. The Monocacy Aqueduct has a storied past. In its long history, it was used as an important transportation route for goods, goods, animals, and arsenals. Placed at the mouth of the Monocacy River, it was a vital passageway during times of peace and war. Thanks to a recent stabilization and reconstruction effort by the National Park Service, you can still see the structure as it was originally constructed almost two centuries ago.

The aqueduct spans 560 feet across the Monocacy River, connecting the 184.5 miles of the C&O Canal towpath from Cumberland, MD to Washington, D.C. The trail on the canal is flat and easy, making it especially nice for families with bikes, strollers, and bike trailers.

A boat ramp at the Monocacy side of the aqueduct is the final exit point for boaters on the Monocacy Scenic Water Trail and a popular entrance point for anglers.

There is ample parking and a restroom available should you need it.

Learn more about the history of the largest aqueduct on the C&O Canal on Saturday, July 27. Jim Cummins, retired ICPRB Aquatic Biologist, will lead a hike along the towpath as part of ICPRB’s Walk in the Woods series. We will learn more about the fascinating social and environmental history of this area. Find more information on ICPRB’s Events page.