And so it begins...
With Fletcher’s set to open this Friday, March 24th we thought it’d be appropriate to hit y’all with our forecast for Opening Day. We’ll be providing a weekly update throughout #SHADNESSMADNESS so be sure to check back each Monday…until the dogwoods blossom…
As water temps continue to rise, expect shad, striper, and blue cat activity to pick up in a big way. Shad have been in the river for a few weeks now but have since disappeared after the big blow. That said, it’s only a matter of time before they get all hot and bothered into eating things they normally don’t eat. More importantly though…the herring have been here since February and the buffet is set for the river’s biggest predators…
The recent (and desperately needed) snow and rain will add some flow and color to our Nation’s River which will make drift fishing a tad easier and hopefully keep fish in the area around the cove longer. Expect the cove to be fishing high and a bit off color this weekend (think 4.6-5.0ft on the gauge). We’d recommend tying your shad flies in pink, black/gold, black/purple, and chartreuse as these colors tend to show up better when the river is being fussy like this. Same goes for stripers….
When flows are up it’s important to take note of the tides. You’ll always want to be fishing some sort of tide swing in this river and the same plays up in a big way for #SHADNESSMADESS. It often dictates the bite. A falling tide/low tide when the river is up will mean you’re dealing with much faster water in and around the cove. In the same breath, an incoming/high tide will be slower and more manageable. Aim to make your moves when the water is right and if you’re fishing the outgoing make sure you’ve got a good anchor rock!
As far as gear goes for shad, we’d recommend using a 250-350gr sinking line and 7-8wt fly rods with about 3-4’ of 10-12lb fluorocarbon leader. Rigging flies in tandem is always a good way to experiment with colors and figure out what’s pissing them off in particular that day. For the striped fish and big cats, 9-12wt rods are imperative for dealing with big fish in big current. You really do not want to be under-gunned. A 250 grain line in the softer water on the right tide will get you down but if you’re looking to fish the main current we’d recommend something in the 350-450gr range to get down. Herring patterns will be your best bet while the big fish are around, think 7-10”, flashy…and while white/red should be the go to for most of the season, the aforementioned colors above will probably be your best bets to eliciting a strike from the District’s most mercurial and beloved gamefish while conditions are the way they are.
Rise up, pursue the pull, and enjoy the good clean livin’ this weekend.
A few years ago, we scribbled a piece about writing your own book on fly fishing for snakeheads in District waters. The gist was that the specie was an exciting new opportunity to pioneer a fishery and that it was up to all of us an angling community to figure out how to consistently catch these ornery critters on fly.
Well…the book is still out on that one.
Snakeheads are an entirely right time, right place quarry on fly gear. Right tides, water clarity, and water temp/time of year dictate how these mofos roll. Your window in and around the District to sight fish for these fish is relatively small. Blind casting is just dumb… May is rumored to be the best month. But I digress…
When writing that snakehead article, I never thought I’d tussle with large, migratory striped bass in the urban portions of Nation’s River on a fly rod. I considered it a myth - something that would require a lot of time to figure out and something I wouldn’t want to pass up for shad fishing every spring.
But after a few seasons crushing on Chad (shad) - I found myself pursuing a stronger pull.
From 2012-2014, I aggressively pursued striped bass in wadeable waters within the District. The usual haunts of the Tidal Basin, Gravelly Point, Four Mile Run, and Rock Creek Park fishing for schoolies in the 6-14” range the norm. But some nights we’d catch bigger fish. Real fish in the 20-25” range. A couple buddies claimed to catch 30” fish on the right night and the right tide…and from there the bar for “big ass fish” was set at 30”… the holy grail for a fly fisherman seeking stripes in the District.
A fish you’d generally have to fly somewhere else for…but they were here all along.
We all knew the fish were there. The upper reaches of the mighty Tidal Potomac in the spring are a logical place to find striped bass with its current, hard bottom, and generous structure. But the techniques required to catch them are…well… not what you’d think compared to most folks’ experiences in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast…so here are our striper tips for in and around The District. These techniques are more suited towards folks fishing out of boats but can be applied to shore or wade fishing as well.
It’s important to get your fly down and stay in the strike zone. Whether from shore or anchored up, casting directly upstream with a sinking line is pretty much your only bet to get down. That said, if you get down too deep - you’re going to run through a small fortune of big flies, fluorocarbon leader, and patience. Swung flies can definitely get bit but tend to get snagged often and or only briefly in the zone they need to be in to be chewed…. That’s why we prefer to keep the fly in the water and the boat moving versus anchoring up when targeting stripers on fly gear.
Drifting allows you to cover the holes on the current seams where big fish lie while keeping your fly in the zone. By in the zone, we mean near or close to the bottom....in order to achieve this, we typically cast at an angle upstream and when the fly comes even with the boat, start the drift of the boat and the retrieve. By allowing the fly line to sync up with the boat, you can successfully achieve the correct depth without worrying about that dreaded snaggy swing. In these occasions, the litmus test or visual queue is that we use is that the line is straight (no swing or drag) when you begin retrieving. You must be in contact with the fly in order to work it properly and avoid losing everything you own.
Be smart though - if you’re not fishing the right depths and areas - you’re not going to be on the fish you’re looking for. Once you have the pattern down or find a productive spot - only then do we recommend anchoring up and fan casting.
Similar to shad fishing - it’s important to not ignore the details when you catch your first fish of the day. Depth and speed of retrieve are your two most important factors whenever playing with sinking lines. When stripers are sulking - they’re just chilling on the bottom. You could bounce a live herring on their nose and they might sneeze at it, but they probably won’t eat it.
Suspended fish are usually the ones chasing bait and actively feeding. As is the key to any fishery - finding actively feeding fish will always be the key to successful fly tactics. If you can stay in the school - you’ll be having a legitimate pajama party with fish in the 18-27” class all day…or at least until the tide turns…
Stripers are pack hunters. They are apex predators in this river and all forage fishes fear them. Their only rival is the blue catfish but…we’re taking care of that (#catfishgraveyard)…Striped bass expect things they eat to try and avoid them. Or at least look like they’re trembling in their little fish booties. Quick erratic retrieves are the key here. Short, quick strips with a pause here and there will usually get them snapping.
I have a good friend who’s the most badass guide on the Chesapeake Bay named Tyler (check out tidewatercharters.com…). Tyler is very good at catching exceptionally large, spawning class striped bass. He’s also sick at catching large, spawning class trees (a real trophy fishery)….While his knowledge of the Bay and respect for the fishery separates him from the rest of the fleet, Tyler is not afraid to throw truly gargantuan shit during the spring. We’re talking 16” articulated thingamabobbers and other things that fit in that “things that go bump in the night” description. But it works. Spawning fish are gorging up on big baits - you’re average Herring is about 10-12”- so while a 7” fly will put you in the ball game…think musky size fare to get the big girls’ attention.
When schoolie class fish are around later in the season (15-28” fish) - it’s important to not stray too far from your shad roots. We’ve found that a double streamer rig works equally well for stripers. That short, choppy shad retrieve a killer. But when you rig up, make sure you’re seeing double when those flies get wet. Whether it’s a double Clouser or two baitfish patterns, rigging your flies up so that they swim in tandem about a foot and a half from each other will ignite a predatory response in a fish that’s easily excitable. Hell - you may even catch a double…which happened to us in May…26” and 24” respectively. Rowdy on the LevelX 7wt (smiling)…
But yeah - throw two flies if you’re feeling frisky.
The Potomac is rarely the same river for extended periods of time in the Spring. Seasonal rain, the inevitable rise in water temp from good weather, and a musical-chairs-like influx of spawning species acting as the culprits for seemingly daily change. For most folks fishing on the weekends in the spring and early summer - the river will drastically change over those fateful five days between shots. One week it’s 4ft flows, 55 degree water, and no baitfish to compete with. The next week it’s 3.5ft flows, 65 degree water, and a literal metric-ass-ton of herring. But as noted in the #Suspended section above - your choice of fly line will make a big difference.
You’ve got to be in the zone to get bit. The rule of thumb we go by is pretty simple - find the gauge height in feet and multiply by 100. That will roughly give you the right estimate for the sinking line you should be fishing. For example, when the river is flowing around 3ft (low and clear) - you can get away with a 250-300 grain sinking line or intermediate line with a sink tip. In the low flows, you’ll be able to get down to where the fish are feeding in that 10-20” range. Whenever the river is above 4ft on the gauge - you’ll want to be throwing a 400 grain line or heavier to get down. As always, a shorter leader in the 3-5’ range with your sinking line will keep your flies in the zone. When the water is murky we’ll throw 20lb test, when it’s low and clear - scale back to 12-15lb test.
Catching striped bass in The District does not happen overnight…unless you’re fishing for 6-12” fish which are essentially fingerlings and readily available at pretty much any tidal outflow…you’ve got to grind to get the goods. It changes every damn day.
We’re grateful and really lucky to have gotten to routinely pick the brains of the folks who pioneered this fishery on light tackle. They’ve been a tremendous help to us in understanding the river and why fish tend to hang out where they do, when they do.
Over the past two seasons we’ve gotten more comfortable calling certain shots based on river conditions but ultimately - you’ve got to grind for your opportunity on any given day out there. This past season was a great example of having the right mentality…and patience.
We absolutely smoked fish until Easter with over a couple dozen fish coming to hand in that weekend alone. After Easter - the bite slowed down substantially - going from 4 fish in a weekend to 2 fish in a weekend to 1 fish to the dreaded skunk. Whether it was water clarity, an influx of bait, or the fish more focused on procreation - there was a noticeable downturn in the striper bite.
As the flows lowered due to our dry April, more bait flooded the river and the water became even clearer. It was during this time that…well…we tried every trick in the book to no avail. More often than not - we came away catfished…which is a fun pull but not really what you dream about when you close your eyes at night (unless you’re having nightmares).
It wasn’t until the river conditions changed that the fish started snapping again…and they snapped hard. Before the river blew out in early May- we boated 25 fish in one morning all on fly. Which leads us too our next point…
Stripers are a well-known low-light predator. They love darkness, overcast days, sunrises/sunsets…and if you didn’t know - they absolutely despise cinnamon. It’s just the way they’re wired.
In early spring, this means lots of dark, cold mornings and in the summer, waking up even earlier to catch that window. Same goes for the evening. Once the shadows start coming on the water - you're back in the game. But as a rule of thumb, once the sun gets up high on the water (think 10am) in the morning- it’s usually game over and time to fish for other species or hit the barn. That said - the tide or a cloudy day can be a huge factor here and extend your bite. See below for more on that….
Stripers are also well-known structure prowlers. They use pretty much anything they can to give themselves an advantage when it comes to chowing down. For us on the Potomac that means bridge pilings, channel edges, bottom structure and humps, and places with rowdy depth change. Look for bad places to be a baitfish and you’re in the game.
Which brings us to our next point…tides.
When you combine the above two factors with the right tide - you’re setting yourself up for an encounter with the pajama man. Outgoing tides from tidal creeks during low-light hours will always offer up good opportunities to get into better fish. The same can be said for the incoming tide - but if you’re wading…your time is limited. Please don’t drown because “a stupid blog article told you to”.
Stripers, combined with their affinity for structure, use the current breaks on the tide swing to their advantage to snap on forage HARD. It is probably the biggest, single factor you can account for when targeting this specie on our river or any tidal fishery. Similar to when the sun gets on the water - the bite will often shut down the minute the tide goes slack. Think of it as a cease-fire between striped fish and their quarry…and you want to be on the water when the bullets are blazing.
Well, that’s all we have for now.
Until next time - keep rising up, pursuing the pull, and enjoying some good, clean livin’.
With only a few, precious weeks left until the leaves start to turn and the thermometer begins its cruel, gradual descent from temperate to polar vortex driven absurdity - it's time to relish the dog days of summer.
My beloved Orioles are in first, the Redskins haven't lost a game yet, and for the second straight year, we've been blessed with a temperate second half of July and start to August....and for the second straight year, our crew has been lucky enough to get out consistently and stick some solid fish in the face.
Cool air temps mean cooler water temps which in turn mean happy, hungry fish....and more holdover trout on the stocked and wild trout water. Cha-ching.
It's a good time to be alive. Whether it's tossing poppers to brutish bronzebacks on the Upper Potomac, James, or Shenandoah Rivers, flipping dries to brookies in the park, or floating terrestrials to finicky spring creek browns and bows - the action has been much hotter than the weather. That's a good thing, people.
Get out and fish. Now.
On recent trips to Beaver Creek (MD) and Mossy Creek with Kevin and Clarence, I found fish were happily looking up during the first part of the day (8am-12pm). On both streams small foam hoppers and beetles on 11-13' 5-6x leaders and delicate, precise casts got the job done on these notoriously finicky fish. Make sure to match the hopper size to whats hanging out in the fields. The fish can be choosey. But really, it's all about that first presentation on a good stretch of pressured water.
Before I decide to make a cast on small spring creek, I make sure I've got my ducks in a row. It's important to know that you've got enough line, casting room, and mental clarity to make that first cast count. Don't rush yourself. Don't be mad at yourself if you get hung up in a tree. Stay fly and overcome. Get trouty.
That said, after 12pm, it didn't really matter if you were Lefty Kreh or Hank Patterson.
As the sun got higher on each of these trips, the fish were more reluctant to come on top and a change in game plan was needed.
Although these two streams are relatively similar in their inhabitants, they're radically different in setting and strategy. On both streams, since they lie on the borders of fields and farmland - fish look up in the summer for terrestrials (duh). But when they stop looking up, these trout waters differ in their respective plans B, C, and D. Beaver, although a solid bet for streamers (plan D) is much more of a delicate nymphing, small bug game (plan B) when fish aren't coming up. Mossy is almost the exact opposite with fish taking meat off the bottom and along weed edges (plan B, C, D).
On Beaver, I continued to be stubborn and drift the hopper as I got a few good looks from some decent fish in the 14-17" range. Convinced I'd eventually fool one, nothing came to fruition and I tapped out at 2pm with two, 12" browns to my name. Not bad, but an important lesson here - refusals are like that chick at the bar that you've convinced yourself is into you but lo and behold is ultimately surrounded by all of her friends, hates who you are and what you're all about, and really, honestly, just thought your hat was cool. Sure, you're doing something right- remember, she thinks your hat is cool? But ultimately, she's sure as hell not going home with you and that number she put in your phone is actually some guy named Raul. No, they don't know each other and sadly- you'll probably never see her again. No matter how many times you were that hat and hangout at the same bar. That said, while I was talking with the proverbial girl at the bar in my super cool hat to no avail - Kevin was putting in some serious work on Beaver.
Switching up to a somewhat standard double-nymph rig, Kevin went on to stick a half dozen or so healthy, wild bows and browns to my two. His weapons of choice? Drifting rainbow warriors and olive scuds through the deeper runs under a small, white indicator on 5x. Most fish were in the 10-14" range, (the normal-nicer range for Beaver) and similar to the hopper bite, dissipated shortly after noon or so.
Around 2pm we got off the stream as a few more fishermen had shown up and a local kid was blowing up the entire scene by walking through the channel with a large net....I like where his heads at, just needs some better execution....
On Mossy, Clarence and I had some decent action earlier in the day (8am-12pm) with terrestrials. Between the two of us, we had 6 rises on this notoriously challenging trout water - resulting in one, 13" brown brought to hand and a few FML moments as Clarence hunted down a pair of beastly browns and got them to rise twice on his beetle without ever having them feel the steel. Exciting but emotionally tantalizing nonetheless.
As the afternoon doldrum set in, we decided to switch over from our terrestrial get-ups. The game was as played out as Hangout Fest on the following Monday morning. The fish having already stepped in what we were dropping, I tied on my go-to fly - the stars*** (formerly StarFox, Starfoxx), and decided I was going to dead drift along the weed edges and deeper holes. We had moved a few big fish earlier in the day and figured that although it was summer and the water was low and clear, the bigger browns would be stacked up in dark water. Plus, who could pass up the equivalent of a free chipotle burrito delivered right to their door? So we drifted streamers through the water we had already fished hard and quickly managed to hook into a healthy 14" fish along a weed bed. Thank god for telescoping nets because this fish, or any other fish for that matter, would've been physically unreachable.
As the stream became more crowded with both fishermen and cows (landowner agreements be damned, right?) - we decided to hit my favorite hole in the lower stretch before getting out of town.
Splitting up the hole, Clarence took the top end and I fished the back end. Expecting something relatively cool to happen as this spot doesn't get hit too hard on Mossy, I saw the indicator slowly drift down and I set on what felt like a good fish.
I felt the weight of the fish and saw the flash that gets everyone and their mother fired up. The fish dug hard for cover but I was able to maintain control and eventually navigated the slob to the surface. Expecting a solid 18" Mossy brown or bow, your reward for slugging it out on one of the more challenge/reward streams in Virginia -this strange feeling came over me.
Confusion. Disappointment. Pride?
We had just stuck the chub of the century! A solid 18" fish and about 2lbs on him. Huge head. A weird and fitting way to end a day on Mossy, it just goes to show that sometimes you just can't have it your way. Mossy is a great reminder of that.
To remedy this - we stopped at the BK en route back to the District.
Smallmouth and Co.
Trout are truly a tremendous fish. They are beautiful, wild, fussy, and ultimately fight hard as hell when you stick a good one. Coming from the perspective of a salt/warm water guy, pursuing them on the fly has made me an infinitely better fisherman. That said, if you're looking to throw a little gas on the fire that is your life as a fisherman - look no further than your local smallmouth hole. For those brandishing their 2wts and telescoping tenkara sticks at me like swords, I encourage thee to check out our smallmouth bass and carp fisheries on the Upper Potomac, Shenandoah, and James Rivers - or prepare to duel.
On the Upper Potomac, Clarence and I did pretty well throwing popper/dropper set ups and big, foam terrestrials for the resident smallmouth bass and panfish that frequent this area. For this set up I like to use a black or blue boogle bug or similar popper on a 9ft 3x leader. From there I tie on a 2-3ft section of 4x tippet to either a damselfly nymph, crazy charlie, or woolybugger and will dead drift this set up through pocket water and deep runs.
Why the tippet discrepancy?
Good question. If you're bottom fly hits a snag in fast water or a place you don't necessarily want to wade over to for a rescue mission - it's way easier to pop off the bottom fly. That way you won't lose the entire get up so you can retie and be back to fishing the popper/dropper in no time.
If popper/droppers aren't your thing - the streamer action up this way can be pretty awesome. My favorite flies are the previously mentioned stars*** and clawdad. Fishing the stars*** is pretty SOP - cast down and across and swing. Strip back. Repeat. I like to target anywhere with depth/bottom change. Dead drifting under an indicator works well too if fish are being persnickety. Enough with the stars*** tho. She gets enough play.
The real deal for this area is the clawdad. Whether it's bouncing this versatile fly on the bottom of deep runs or sight casting them to brutes in the shallows - THERE IS NO BETTER FLY for this fishery when specifically targeting bronze backs. Carp are also suckers for these things too.
AND SPEAKING OF RIVER DONKEYS....
Clarence and I encountered a school of about 20 or so large carp (20-30lbs) on the Upper Potomac. Spent about an hour trying to get them to eat but unfortunately not a single fish was mudding. Bummer. That said, these fish are the target for those wanting a real challenge on the water. The gradient, vantage points (islands, rock formations), and generally solid visibility make this an extremely exciting game for anyone in pursuit of getting into their backing. Clawdads, sculpins, and damselfly nymphs are the name of the game.
For those without wheels or the desire to trek an hour or two outside of the city for their fish fix, there are plenty of options in and around the District. Schoolie stripers, largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, snakeheads, carp, and panfish all are readily available to those willing to pursue them on our Nation's River.
The outflows of tidal creeks during low light hours and darkness will hold their fare share of schoolie stripers (8-18"...think Oct for bigger fish...unless you have a boat and know how to read a depth finder). Gravelly Point, Tidal Basin, Four Mile Run, and Little Hunting Creek are all solid bets. Swing streamers on intermediate or sinking lines on outgoing tides. If you're not getting bit, it's probably a depth thing.
For largemouth and smallmouth, think poppers, terrestrials, or dahlberg divers at first or last light. Streamers on intermediate or floating lines with some shot will also get the job done. Four Mile Run, Rock Creek Park, Constitution Gardens, and the non-choked out sections of the Duck Pond are all solid bets. Snakeheads can be a bonus.
For carp, the C&O canal is still fishing well. While the MULBERRY MADNESS of late May and June is ultimately gone and the stretch of canal through Georgetown has reverted back to its douchey, yoga pant infested sheet show - there are plenty of fish to be had up around Locks 7&8 by Glen Echo. Up on this stretch, the name of the game remains small clawdads, damselfly nymphs and PRESENTATION, PRESENTATION, PRESENTATION.
When I fish for carp, I like to see the eat. These fish can be weird and spit out a fly in less than a second without you knowing you actually got bit. Knowing when to set is crucial. Therefore, I pretty much only target a fish when I can see its head or have a clear understanding of its orientation in the water. Casting to their tails does no good. Hell, I can wait for homeboy to get into position. It's called stalking for a reason, right? That said, I've found the fish closest to the canal path are the easiest to convince and present a small damselfly nymph to. On Sunday I saw close to 20 fish, had 2 takes, and missed both. So is life. So is carping. Tis why we play the game.
Last weekend I teamed up with Urban Angler for the second annual Potomac Snakehead Tournament which is held at Smallwood State Park in Southern Maryland. With a bevvy of cool sponsors - Urban Angler, Alewife Annapolis, Profish, Tidal Potomac Fly Rodders, and Flying Dog Brewing Company - how the hell could this not be a fly time? Factor in the post-tournament free Flying Dog Snakedog IPAs and fried snakehead tacos and you could say the time spent getting laughed at by snakeheads most of Saturday and Sunday was well worth it. Props to the @MDVASnakeheadSlayer, Austin Murphy, for putting together one hell of an event. I'm sure it will only get bigger in the coming years. Additionally, mega props to Urban Angler owner Richard Farino for sponsoring our kayak team of degenerate fly fishermen. It was a fantastic time. Not sure there is anyone on the river trying to figure these things out harder on fly tactics than Austin and the Urban Angler crew of Richie, Grizz, and Ivan. While the bow fishermen out fished us fly rodders by about 1,050lbs of snakehead to none - the challenge is still out there. Who will bring the first snakehead Next year these fish are seriously f*cked. Now on to some fishing reports, eh?
With Memorial Day in the rear view mirror and the shad run almost officially flat-lined, the Potomac is ready to change gears as we transition from spring to summer here on our Nation’s River.
For fly anglers in and around the District, this means a few things to look forward to as the thermometer gets all uppity:
1) No more shad until next April – sorry dudes, all good things must come to an end. Expand your mind, man.
2) Stripers? The big boys are deep and down river but there are some bigger fish still around. Expect them to move shallow again come Fall (60 degree water). Schoolie action becomes hot n heavy.
3) Poppers, poppers, poppers (give J&M a call!)
4) BASS SEASON (Smallies, schoolie stripers and largemouth)
5) Snakeheads…..everywhere…take your shots…check out the Tidal Basin if you want to see one
6) C&O Carp (Mulberries in Georgetown, sight fishing at Locks 7&8)
7) Rope flies and gar
8) Dry flies for rising trout (SNP and spring creeks)
9) Fishing at low light hours (sun up, sun down…night)
10) WET WADING! (lose the waders and hop in….unless you’re in the Potomac...safe flows for wet wading Tidal Potomac up to Harper's Ferry are generally when the gauge at Little Falls reads 3-4ft)
So…that’s a bunch of random words and vague fishing references in list form – but you catch my drift, the waters in and around the District pose a multitude of options this time of year for those with fish on the brain. The show isn’t going anywhere either.
Right now, local options for fly fishermen are very, very good. Spots such as Rock Creek Park, C&O Canal, Tidal Basin, Four Mile Run, and the outflows of Little Hunting Creek and Gravelly Point are all offering up shots at bass (smallmouth, largemouth, schoolies), carp, snakehead, catfish, gar, and panfish while also producing some pretty darned, impressive catches. The spring creeks and mountain trout water are also fishing very well right now according to my sources.
Since our last update (sorry for the delay in posting some new info, shad run is pretty much the same fishing report for a month or so and then I got lost in the siren’s song that is Florida saltwater fly fishing for two weeks…but we’re back!) – we’ve fished Shenandoah National Park, Rock Creek Park, Dyke Marsh, Gravelly Point, C&O Canal, Four Mile Run, and Little Hunting Creek.
Dry fly action for native brook trout is on fire right now In Shenandoah National Park and really, all throughout the valley, as fish are gorging on drakes (think sizes 12-10 to ward off smaller fish). In particular, the Dry River outside of Harrisonburg has been producing some really nice specimens but most of the blue line streams are giving it up to those willing to hike in a little bit. Study a map, pick a line, bring out your Tenkara stick or 2-4wt fly rod, and your favorite dries/terrestrials and have a blast.
Rock Creek Park is starting to come back to life after a slow start to the season. Morning sessions last week produced the standard mixed-bag that one would come to expect from this dynamic little urban fishery. Although we’ve yet to pull out our first bronzeback of the season, it is only a matter of time until these fishy footballs move into the creek for the summer with some fish being true trophies pushing 20+”. Right now the creek is mostly largemouth bass, panfish, catfish, and the odd snakehead/carp here and there. 4-6wt fly rods with 7.5ft 3x leaders for streamers and 9-11ft 4x leaders for poppers/terrestrials have been working well. I’ll typically sight fish particular holes when the water clarity is good enough from high up on the trail. Look for dark objects contrasting against the sandy bottom. More often than not, these are big catfish but you’ll find nice bass and carp mixed with them. Some flies that are getting it done right now are clawdads (size #2 or #6) in tan, olive or black bounced on the bottom close to structure. Size #6 clousers in black and olive/white, starfoxxes, and size #4-6 kreelex for stained/murky water swung through the deeper pools and channel ledges also produced well. If you’re dying for some topwater, a well-placed popper or froggy Dahlberg diver on the bank is hard to beat.
Dyke Marsh/Belle Haven Marina/Mt. Vernon, albeit only accessible by boat, yak, or paddleboard, was OK on Connor and I’s snakehead scouting trip over Memorial Day weekend. Although we didn’t see any snakeheads, the gar spawn is ON, SON! So many gar…..everwhere…..but that didn’t stop us from hooking into a few nefarious characters in the form of a couple chunky dock bass and panfish. Flipping docks on incoming tides with Hawkins hat tricks and clawdads will produce this time of year but a specific fly isn’t really getting it done in particular. When flipping docks or heavy structure with the ole fly rod, it’s all about presentation. Be sure to use flies that maintain a big profile and solid drop/sink rate. Think spin-fishing with plastic Kreature baits but with feathers and fur. More often than not, you’ll get bit on the initial drop so make sure to watch your line as the fly sinks. Topwater early in the day and at low tides has been producing well as the less water between your fly and the fish, the more likely they are to whack it.
Four Mile Run is doing what it normally does – offering up perfect spawning habitat for panfish and bass. This past weekend while fishing the Snakehead Tournament, I was able to stick a few chunky bass and slab panfish on Dahlberg Divers and starfoxxes upstream of the Mt. Vernon Ave bridge on high tide. The water up this way is generally too skinny on low tides but when the tide comes up there’s a substantial drop off and cover on the far bank that will hold fish. Also saw a monster snakehead in the 30-36” range….One day…..If possible, try not to walk in the stream in this section – you’ll miss/spook more fish than you’ll catch. On low tides, fish downstream. Throw poppers to the bank and underneath the trees for feisty panfish, bass, and if you’re lucky, a northern snakehead taco night might be in your future. Don’t be afraid to use a damselfly nymph as a dropper either – truly one of the more versatile flies on this entire river system. Outside of those techniques, you’re liable to do pretty well on any given day fishing standard clouser minnows in baitfish patterns (olive/white, black, brown/red, etc) on moving tides. There are a ton of white perch in the creeks right now…ringing the dinner bell for pig largemouth bass (5lbs+). Don’t be afraid to throw big flies.
The C&O Canal is in its heyday right now. Although the C&O plays home to everything in the river, with several nice largemouth, smallmouth, and a handful of snakeheads landed each year – I will always think of this failed engineering endeavor as a carp fishery (a "Wild Carp Conservation Area" if you will). Depending on where you’re fishing on the canal, the game can be radically different. Down in Georgetown (locks 1-4), you can fish where the canal dumps into Rock Creek and find the same mixed bag variety we spoke of earlier or you can target the Mulberry Trees. When you find a tree, scope it out for a minute or two—more than likely there are a few carp mulling around underneath it crushing berries. Flies for these fish are relatively simple. Personally, I use a size 10 egg hook with purple grande estaz and chartreuse thread. Think of it as a glorified egg pattern. But anything resembling a berry in either purple, green, or greenish-white will get the job done. If worse comes to worse, bring a small circle hook and pick up a berry. I won't tell. As you move on up the trail through Georgetown away from the Mulberries, keep an eye out for actively feeding fish along the banks…and tourists in your back cast….
The canal up in Glen Echo around Locks 7&8 is a much different fishery- albeit your swapping out shoppers and yogies for swarms of cyclists. On this water the carp fishing remains a sight fishing game but one in which you’re throwing more standard carp flies in slightly larger water. For me, I’ve done very well with damselfly nymphs in size 14-16 when it’s presented stealthily on a mudding fish. More often than not these casts are no longer than 10-15 feet. When I spot a mudding fish on the far bank, I’ll often switch over a something a little more bulky. Size 6 woollybuggers or small crayfish patterns do the trick nicely. Black, brown, or olive are all good colors. Slowly strip the fly through the mud cloud with short, two-inch strips every 4-5 seconds until your fly is clear of the danger zone or you’ve hooked up with king goldfish. Don’t be disheartened if they won’t cooperate at first, this is not an easy game but one of the more rewarding and challenging fisheries in the District due to the extremely limited casting room, pedestrian foot traffic, and the fickle nature of carp. Be sure to bring a big enough net.
Both the outflows of Little Hunting Creek and Gravelly Point are playing home to schoolie stripers and gar right now. The gar are spawning, blowing up mud and grassflats on the regular in an epic display of sexual frustration. Once they’re done spawning you can catch these strong fighters on rope flies (no hooks, their teeth get tangled in the rope=”hookset”) in Roaches Run and the mud/grassflats on the main river. Right now though, they are a snagging hazard – especially when drifting big baitfish patterns on sinking or intermediate lines for stripers. Schoolies (12-20”) should be around for the summer. Low light hours and darkness will bring them shallow to crush the ever so abundant forage fishes that pour out of the Duck Pond during the summer months. Be sure to not play these fish too hard or keep them out of the water longer than you need to as the warm water temps of the Potomac put a fair amount of stress on these fish before they’ve even reached the net.
As the season progresses we’ll start branching out to the spring creeks and smallmouth water for our typical brand of summer fun. Harper’s Ferry, the North Fork of the Shenandoah, the James, the Confluence, and the Upper Potomac all will produce quality bronzebacks as the days get longer. Poppers (blue, black/red, yellow), clawdads, hellgrammites (see: Chuck Kraft's crittermite fly), and baitfish patterns like clousers, kreelexs, starfoxxes, and large woollybuggers are all good bets as well if you’re looking to swing streamers.
For spring creek trout, terrestrials will soon be the name of the game. My personal favorites for summer are large stimulators in orange or olive and anything with foam whether it be a Chernobyl ant, tarantula, hopper, or fat albert – there is nothing better than seeing a big trout destroy a terrestrial drifting along the bank. That said, bring some smaller stuff as well. There are days when they’ll smash a size 8 beetle and others where they won’t look at anything but a size 24 BWO. Hopper dropper set ups will do work.
If you’ve got a fly story to tell, technical tip, or fishing report you’d like to share on the site – reach out to Remick at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’re looking for more content contributors.
Well….they are here…….lots of fish caught up at Fletcher’s this past weekend.
QUEUE SHADNESS MADNESS!!!!
With water temps now in the low-mid 50s, expect action on our Nation’s River to really pick up in a big way….and fast. After one of the worst winters I’ve ever experienced up this way, life is returning to the water in the form of the season’s first big push of shad and striped bass from the Chesapeake.
Along with the anadromous fishes (those who make the great journey from the sea to the river to spawn), largemouth and smallmouth bass are starting to perk up after a winter of lethargy and sketchiness. Creeks should start holding some impressive specimens here once the water calms down after Monday’s rain.
Snakeheads and gar won’t be too far behind the bass as water temps keep climbing north of 55 degrees.
Carp are a year-round option, albeit the canal is no place for the weary kind (tight casting space, pedestrian traffic, and sight fishing carp in general being a war of attrition), but even these finicky bulldogs make horrible life choices once the mulberries start popping off the bank in the next few weeks.
In other words, there is a lot to look forward to as the early spring weather continues to make us forget winter….and we haven’t even started talking trout water…..
Of course our ill-timed rains have synced up with the weekends to keep water relatively high and unfishable to start the season but if you’re down to explore – options abound.
Sinking lines in the 250-300gr variety are a must on the main river up at Fletcher’s with an intermediate being my preferred weapon of choice when fishing the slower water and tidal tributaries downstream from the cove in Alexandria.
Having not yet made the trek to Fletcher’s to swing for shad; I’ve made stops at Gravelly Point and the C&O Canal in recent days. I’ll be making my shad debut sometime next week.
Gravelly is still slow, a few resident stripers here and there but nothing too crazy to report just yet. Saw my first surface activity this weekend so that’s a good sign that bait is starting to be flushed out of the Duck Pond. Expect action to really heat up in a week or so once the river comes back down.
Even though the rest of it hasn’t been filled yet (to the chagrin of my buddy Connor), the C&O around Lock 7 is loaded with carp right now. On a recent trip with a buddy we had legit shots at half a dozen fish, saw close to 20-25 over the course of a few hours, and even managed to move a few. A #8 black bead head bugger got the most love out of any our offerings. It’s always nice seeing these fickle beats react to the fly, but we ultimately couldn’t come tight and bring a fish to the net. Oh well – like I said earlier, it’s a war of attrition. Sometimes you make a perfect presentation and it’s ignored and at other times you make a loud, reckless presentation that for sure should spook the fish and it gets clobbered…go figure. You’ve just to keep your head in the game and try to make EVERY cast count for something. Expect the game to become less difficult once the mulberries become ripe.
After today’s half inch of rain the river is supposed to crest on Thursday at 6.1 feet, essentially right back to where we were mid-week last week with angry, high water and no boating opportunities. If you’re itching to get out, Monday afternoon (today) and Tuesday morning should provide decent shots at fish before the water gauges shoot above 5ft for the rest of the week. Fishing from shore at Fletcher’s should be solid despite the increased flows. If you venture down that way, please BE AWARE OF THE DANGER. Unless you’re Michael Phelps, you’re most likely done if you fall in that current.
And with each passing second, the river is rising……
Remick Smothers is a native son of the District of Columbia and the founder of FlyTimesDC.