Where the hell did summer go? I can’t believe it’s almost Labor Day. It seems just like yesterday we were sticking shad and stripers at Fletcher’s Cove dreaming about the possibilities of an endless summer filled with snakehead taco nights, natitude, and listening to “Get Lucky” just one more time. Back when it was 90 degrees in April…two weeks after it snowed…..CRAZY!
But as it is, summer draws to an unceremonious close without a single snakehead taco night (my only beast slid out of my net!), a city void of natitude, and inevitably - listening to “Get Lucky” just one more time. It’s safe to say that life is sweet and our river is in a good place. Plus pumpkin beers are back. Hell yes.
In a month or so, the Nation’s River will be a wildly different fishery. Knock on wood we have a solid fall push of striped bass. But right now, smallmouth bass are on fire, dry flies fished late in the day and terrestrial hopper-dropper rigs during the middle of the day have been sticking their share of trout, and reports of snakeheads being caught down river continue to come in here and there inspiring those delusional enough ( I kid) to try and catch them on flies. With that said, last week was spent fishing Rock Creek Park, the C&O Canal, and Harper’s Ferry for bronzebacks and carp.
As of this writing, our Nation’s River sitting in the upper 70s, low 80s (and closer to 70 in the mountains) – most fish are happy and can be actively found feeding in their usual summery haunts. With rain only in the forecast for Wednesday, the hot bite we’ve been experiencing should only continue into and through Labor Day weekend. Tan and gold streamers fished in sizes 4-8 have been slaying panfish and smallmouth bass in Rock Creek and Harper’s Ferry. Blue poppers fished early and late in the day are equally as deadly. For bigger fish, try dead drifting a big crawdad pattern downstream into the deeper holes with some split shot and wait for that thump. Fish are fairly spooky due to the water clarity. Expect the usual mixed bag of bass, catfish, and panfish with a possible shot at a carp or two. While Harper’s and Rock Creek continue to consistently bend rods this time of year (as most smallmouth fisheries do…check out the James, Susquehana, or Shenandoah too!), I ran the risk of getting skunked and spent Sunday on a mission to get slimed on the C&O.
Let me say this first before everyone gets the wrong idea, jumps in their vehicle, and speeds on down to Lock 7 to chase carp– the C&O Canal is not a place for purist, snobby fly fisherman. It is not an ideal place to go fly fishing by ANY MEANS. There is a ton of foot traffic, absolutely no back casting room, and if fortunate enough to hook into a golden bone – challenged with a very limited bank to land the fish. With that said, I was in a forgiving mood on Sunday and up for a challenge. Having only fished the C&O Canal a handful of times and never seeing a single carp, I figured it was time to change that.
I arrived at Lock 7 near Glen Echo with an improved mindset, a pack of bonefish leader, and a box of ugly munchkin carp flies ready to chase down the man in the golden suit around noon. After taking a right and walking a mile or so up towards Lock 8 I grew a tad disheartened. I saw plenty of bass and bluegill, but not a single carp. No mud trails either. The water was too deep to sight fish in most parts and generally stained. If there were carp here, they weren’t helping me out at all. However, my misadventure to the North wasn’t completely useless as a large, deep storm/drainage pool adjacent to the trail warranted some eyeballing.
After scanning the pool for a few minutes, I saw a sunfish. LIFE! Followed by a big bass….Followed by another nice bass…followed by some flashes in the deepest part of the pool. Being the curious camper that I am, I managed to find my way down to the bank and began exploring. The water, crystal clear and void of pretty much all life except for its trapped residents, was anything but shooting fish in a barrel. I imagine this pool late in the day with topwater flies could be incredible. But that’s beside the point. More important is what I found in the pool. Sure the quality bass and panfish are a bonus, but what appeared to be a few left over hickory shad (definitely not gizzards) were happily swimming around in the shallows. Um, wtf, mate? I guess they didn’t get the memo to move on out while the water was still up in the spring. Just ask the interns on the hill though, there is nothing like a summer in DC! But back to carping, we’ll save Location X for another time.
Upon pulling myself out of the storm hole, it was back to trudging trails and straining eyeballs. I walked the entire way back to Lock 7 without seeing a carp. But I wasn’t going to give up that easily. So upon reaching Lock 7, I kept walking toward Georgetown and Lock 6. Within five steps of the lock, I was immediately rewarded as I spotted my first carp of the day. Then I saw another one….and another… FIVE STEPS in the right direction was all it took! WTF! Unfortunately though, I was not alone in my pursuit of the man in a golden suit.
My discovery was quickly squashed by a competing Hispanic spin fisherman who promptly climbed down the lock wall next to me and— no exaggeration— began picking up boulders from the bank and attempting to drop them on the fish’s head. I’m not sure what I was more cheesed about – him trying to poach my catch, spooking every carp within a mile, the blatant vandalism of NPS land, or this individual’s decision to kill an innocent carp for no goddamn reason in such brutal fashion. Needless to say, a few bystanders and I gave him a piece of our minds. I don’t think he’ll be doing that again… at least on the canal... in front of a crowd…. #clownshoes.
After some brief unpleasantness with said poacher/vandal/clown shoes, I continued on my way down the canal towards Georgetown. After a hundred or so yards I got my second shot at a tailing fish. Lucky for me, the fish decided to show itself in a moment of relative serenity on the tow path. No joggers. No cyclists. Just me, the fish, and nature (sort of). I was finally going to have my shot and stripped out a few feet of line. One mini false cast later and the fish was gone. My fly firmly entrenched in a thorn bush (nice). On days like this, where nothing seems to go right and the possibility of getting skunked gets realer with each refusal and boulder thrown via stranger, all you can do is try to stay on the top of your game.
Just because the fish are a-holes doesn’t mean you have to be one. Keep looking. Keep casting. Keep trying. You’ll lose some battles – finicky fish, frayed leader, and failed knots the main culprits in futility – but never lose let yourself lose the war. All it takes is one bite or one dumb fish to change the entire outlook of a day. With that in mind, I did what I could and kept walking, looking for any trace of the elusively frustrating common carp.
Eventually I found a small pod of fish mudding in a fairly accessible stretch of water in between Locks 7 & 6 near a fallen tree. Being careful to not spook the fish with my presentation, I made sure to adequately lead the fish. If there is one thing I’ve learned over the years, it’s that you can’t lead a fish enough when sight fishing. Sure they are entitled to change direction or start munching from any old patch of river muck, but by studying the movements of a mudding fish and predicting where they will go, you up your odds substantially of not spooking the fish by laying a cast across its back. This proved true again on Sunday as after 4 hours of walking, maybe 10 total casts, and 6 carp seen – I landed my first C&O golden. A solid 5lb specimen who barely acknowledged the hook in his mouth and fought no harder than a roll of bounty paper towel (I’ve never seen that from a carp, ever). Regardless, there was no better feeling than hoisting that slimy beast from his algae ridden home, promptly realizing your hands are too slimy to use your iphone camera (I tried….had to use a windex wipe to clean the carp slime off the screen afterwards), and releasing said beast back to its lazy, goofy existence unharmed and undocumented (sorry instagram followers!).
So what can you take away from this report?
Bronzebacks are going for gold, goldens are going for bronze, and if there is silver to be had here – fall is on the way with some stripers.
Rock Creek giveth
Well, last weekend’s cold front really made things weird. Talk about fly times put on hold.
After already experiencing cooler than normal weather the past few weeks, the front dipped water temps into the mid-70s on the main river and into the 60s in the creeks and mountain streams. I mean, I’m not one to complain about cool temps and legitimate trout water in August – the fish probably aren’t either –but last weekend’s poorly timed cold front really shot the bite to sheet.
Fish can deal with cooler water temps. However, they need to get adjusted to them first. When temps drop as dramatically as they have (5 degrees over a two day period), the bite can be adversely affected. With temps expected to rebound quickly this week to summer norms, look for the solid topwater action we’d been having late in the day in recent weeks to return in a big way.
Limited to fishing in the District this weekend, I hit Rock Creek Park hard on Saturday and Sunday. Expecting good things, I was ultimately in for a struggle (thanks weather). Prior to the cold front – every pool seemed to produce a smallmouth, solid channel cat, or about 3-4 sunfish when things lined up right. However, as the front moved through around midday Saturday, that bite died. Hard. Although I managed to do alright with terrestrials and small poppers fished in slack water and calmer flows for sunfish (you’ve got to love dry fly action), the big smallies (13”-16” is a really good fish for the creek, although 20”+ are not unheard of) were not coming out to play.
To me, the smallmouth bass in Rock Creek Park are its crown jewel. They are what I target each and every time out. Sure there is a nice population of largemouth bass, catfish, carp, and panfish to keep things interesting. But there is nothing better than drifting a streamer through a deep hole, setting the hook, and seeing a bronze football erupt from the water…within walking distance from home…in the Nation’s Capital….Pretty hard to describe. While I consider any day on the Rock to be pretty solid as long as I can stick a few fish; I have to stick at least one solid smallmouth for it to be considered a “good day”. So naturally, this weekend was harshing my vibe.
It’s an all too strange and real phenomena when you’re on the stream and can literally feel the fish shut off. Like a nightmare reserved for the most twisted and distressed of dreams. But it happens sometimes…..like Saturday. But give these fish sometime to adjust to the weather and they’ll start eating again. It may not be the way they were before by any means, but the lock on their jaws is off and that is at least a start.
After chasing the rest of Saturday’s slow bite away with a few Lagunitas Lil Sumpin' Sumpin' Ales, a glorious catnap, and an Orioles drubbing of the Rockies, I felt recharged and ready to make Rock Creek Park my biznatch on Sunday….albeit with a revamped game plan. Stripping streamers wasn’t going to do it. The fish were too lazy. Similar to a frat boy sleeping off Saturday night in his “wook den” (any place usually inhabited by a early 20’s male where the desire to go out and do things is replaced with the urge to do nothing and or watch trashy tv on-demand) –the resident smallies in Rock Creek Park wanted delivery pizza over chasing down a nice steak. They made that loud and clear. With that in mind, I came back with the exact same streamers I threw the day before and some slightly heavier split shot. It was time to get lazy.
All day Sunday, I dead drifted streamers through the deepest holes I could find in the creek. I mended frequently to get the fly down but other than that, did not impart any intentional action onto the fly. Following Paul Rudd’s lead in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, I did less and covered water quickly. It paid off in a big way. A couple highlights from the day were seeing a nice smallmouth fly out of a fallen tree to nail a properly presented mossboss. Sick. Another was when a drifted streamer simply stopped drifting and another nice smallie skied out of the water. While those two were definitely my best fish of the weekend, it was nice knowing that the bite wasn't gone— it was just different.
By Sunday evening, my weekend catch consisted of the usual mixed bag action (a couple channel cats, a few peckerhead smallies, and a bunch of sunfish) that we've come to expect from The Rock. Conjuring that up from an essentially fishless day the day before on Saturday was nice. I’m not saying it wasn’t hard work to pull a few from the stream last weekend. It definitely was. But now that I know what to do when the cold fronts start rolling through, I am confident that this fall will see some truly impressive smallies brought to the net/InstaGram – #deaddrift.
Outside of Rock Creek Park, I’m hearing good reports from carp chasers near Lock 7 on the C&O Canal, dynamite late day top water action on the Upper Potomac for smallies and panfish, epic dry fly action on Mossy Creek near dusk, and reports of snakeheads still being caught here and there a little further downstream around Quantico Creek on buzzbaits. With temps expected to rise this week, look for these late summer patterns to continue for the next week or so as we make that love/hate march towards Labor Day, fall, and the eventual winter banishment to the vice, mountain trout water, and Four Mile Run. In other words, stay fly while you can. Winter is coming.
Fishing for bass and panfish has been red hot in and around the Potomac recently. Topwater flies such as poppers or gurglers fished along weed edges and creek banks led to some explosive topwater strikes last week, while smaller streamers continue to fish well in the small creeks and tributaries. After thoroughly harassing the smallmouth population in Rock Creek via size 6 mossboss streamers most of last week, I decided to take the show on the road this weekend and head back up to Harper’s Ferry in search of some bigger bronzebacks and a golden ghost in honor of TLTFF’s #CarpWeek. After an incredibly rough start to the morning (Lagunitas Undercover is nothing to play with), good friend and former FlyTimesDC compatriot, Wes “Mantooth” Repass and I hit the road.
Arriving around noon to this Wild and Wonderful playground, the early morning overcast we drove through dissipated the minute we hit the water. Undoubtedly, this affected the smallmouth bite in one way or another, but more importantly, having no sunblock, was the theme of the day. As of this writing, a bandana tan line is clearly visible on my forehead. Thank you for that Buff…but back to the fishing.
The rocking streamer bite I experienced most of the last two weeks was nonexistent on Saturday. Flies drifted through usually fishy haunts all vulnerable and ready to be devoured, but to no avail. No love from the pecker head smallies or sunfish either. Fish were lazy. It was a slap in the face. Hell, I even walked through a couple holes I thoroughly covered with multiple flies only to see smallies scatter everywhere in mass exodus from my size 14 wader boots. Wes, a fairly accomplished fly angler himself, was also striking out.
What the hell was going on? Clawdads failed. Mossbosses sucked. Even the woolybugger, God’s secret weapon on his toughest days on the water, did nothing. I was a streamer dreamer living in a cruel, fishless world. It was time to change things up.
Moving out of the main flow of the river, I decided to focus my time and effort on the numerous riffles and smaller pocket water found near the WV bank. If you’ve ever fished pocket water out west, it’s a very similar ordeal. However, instead of throwing a parachute Adams and dropper for gorgeous trout – you’re tossing a booglebug popper with a damsel fly nymph trailer to the feisty neon-faced pumpkinseed sunfish and brutish bronzeback bass (smallmouth). Sound like fun? That’s because it is.
At Harper’s Ferry, the pattern was fairly simple. Drift the popper through fast water. Pop it in the still pools near eddies. If nothing happened after a few drifts, move on to the next confluence of flows. Rocket science? No. A nifty way to fool finicky fish? Hell yes. But that’s nymphing in general. After a slow start to the day, slowly but surely, the bite started turning on.
Over the course of the next few hours, 30 or so pumpkinseed sunfish, a rare red eye rock bass, and one bruiser smallie fell for my antics (the smallie rose from a deep pool to destroy a blue booglebug - epic). Unbeknownst to me – Wesley was also slamming fish in the face a little further upstream.
Although it started slowly, Saturday was a great day on the water and fairly typical action for this time of year on the Upper Potomac. While Harper’s may not be an average day trip for the time pressed angler, topwater action remains a solid bet in places like Four Mile Run, the weed edges of the Duck Pond, Constitution Gardens, and Rock Creek Park. Bring a few poppers, a damsel fly nymph or crazy Charlie, and your favorite small streamers and hit the water in the first or last hours of the day!
Look for this hot/humid trend to continue until Wednesday. Then it’s nice and cool again through the start of next week. Make sure to get out and take advantage of these unseasonal conditions!
Year of the bluegill
Fishing in and around the District continues to be productive as the calendar shifts to August. The incredibly mild weather we’ve been having recently has made outings this month much more tolerable than usual. When I think DC in August, I think 90+ degree days with equally oppressing humidity, tourists, and the Nation’s River’s pushing 90 degrees. But thanks to global warming (or Shark Week), we’ve been graced with 80 degree days and little to no humidity. The water rests around a fish happy 77-80 degrees. I’ve been wearing jeans. Hell yes.
This weekend was spent harassing fish in different places (which were mentioned in last week’s fishing report) than I normally do this time of year.
Friday I fished with Ben Chernow, a longtime friend and recently committed Vanderbilt law student, at our old stomping grounds – location X in Potomac, MD. Having stumbled upon this small gem of a bass lake back in high school, it was nice to be back. I feel like every report or article I write contains the transition “It’s weird, but”, so I won’t disappoint. It’s weird, but whenever I come back to a place I’ve fished before, it feels like coming home after being away for a long, long time. The time dedicated and hours spent on the water are to be blame for, I guess. But after 5 years away from location X, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of nostalgia while walking its grassy shores and a sense of wonder. If I knocked on that same 5lber’s door with a properly placed fly, would she still answer the call after all this time?
Back in high school, I used to spend every free moment away from the baseball diamond or school tossing soft plastics and weedless frogs to big bass here. It was where I took off the training wheels and started the transformation from someone who could fish to an individual who knows how to fish. There’s a big difference between the two in my opinion. But back to the fish.
A great bass lake year round, location X becomes a fantastic topwater fishery in the summer months. The algae pops up and the hydrilla comes in thick. It’s a beautiful thing to those who know what I’m talking about. Seeing the lake covered in green goodness, I knew we’d be on fish all day. I set Ben up with a large, weedless slug go, which he dragged on top of the nastiest grass he could find and ended up hooking our two nicest bass of the day (1.5 and 3lbs). While Ben plugged away for the big ones, I spent most of my time catching the MONSTER sunfish and bluegill that call this water home. Anytime I can consistently catch dinner plate sized panfish, I am more than game to abandon the pursuit of other species. On Friday, I made the right call.
With dragonflies in abundance and a 4wt in hand, I tied on a blue popper and went to work on the bream. In a little over two hours, I managed to catch 40+ bluegill and sunfish that were all close to or over 1lb. It was a great way to spend a lazy afternoon on the water, catch up with some old friends (Ben and the fish), and stay relatively close to home. However, the good vibes would need to be quelled quickly. Saturday would be spent chasing snakeheads with a client.
Client trips for snakeheads are a tough deal. With their widespread and voracious reputation (thanks mass media), most people assume snakeheads are EVERYWHERE and eating EVERYTHING, ALL THE TIME. As anyone who has fished the Potomac before knows, this is NOT the case. Sure, they are pretty much everywhere. Sure, they pretty much eat anything they can fit in their mouths. To some extent, they do eat all day. But these are not dumb, indiscriminate feeders. Instead, I like to think of Snakeheads as a combination between a Musky and Palomino trout (aka the weirdest fish of all time). They require a certain level of stealth that is hard to perfect when confined to urban fisheries from shore, yet at other times show a certain level of recklessness reserved for Charlie Sheen at a bottomless brunch.
Like most fish, they require accurate casts and a short memory for failure. But with all my excuses now covered, I will tell you this – they ARE NOT INVINCIBLE. With this in mind, I met Jack from Boston at 7:30 at the Duck Pond parking lot.
Saturday morning had perfect conditions for topwater. No wind. Overcast skies. Rain here and there. Even the hydrilla was perfect. The conditions were ripe for a snakehead encounter (or three). Not to mention, we were the only people on the water.
We started fishing to the left of the Gravelly Point culvert, making sure to thoroughly cover the shoreline with topwater frogs and buzzbaits on our way to the spaddlelock. 1) About an hour or so into the trip, I saw a nice sized fish pushing a wake on top of the hydrilla. Using braided line and a spro frog (don’t hate), I made a long cast to lead the fish and what would you know? The wake bee-lined for the frog and I became witness to one of the most impressive topwater assaults I have ever seen. The massive snakehead, which jumped twice before submerging itself deep in the hydrilla, was easily over 30”. But as is the theme with snakeheads this year, it was close but no cigar. Knowing I had limited time to land the fish before the hooks came out in the grass, I ran over to where I saw my line…..and came back with a huge clump of weeds. Definitely a buzz-kill to say the least. But with one clear take, it gave Jack and I the needed boost of confidence to hit the spaddlelock hard.
2) Don’t want to tease anyone here. Unfortunately, our confidence proved for not as we were shut out in the back end of the Duck Pond and to add insult to injury – had another snakehead swim out of its aqua jungle fortress to eye ball us from a few feet away. I can tell you this – there is nothing eerier than being sized up by a fish. After covering the entire area twice over with top water, we decided to start fishing our way back. 3) On the way back to the cars, we spooked our third snakehead of the day on the edge of some cattails. Jack and I followed the fish’s wake for as long as we could to get another shot, but it quickly disappeared into the mysterious depths of the Duck Pond. We ended the morning around 11am with three sightings and one missed fish. Par for course with snakeheads - the newest member of the “1,000 cast” club. Congrats, you bastards.
After nursing my wounds with a few bud heavies and a delicious catnaps (yes, plural), I woke up on Sunday recharged and ready to casually kick the ever living sh*t out of Rock Creek Park (I mean that in the nicest, non-violent-fired-up-to-fish way possible). Starting at the Connecticut Avenue Bridge and working my way down to the cemetery bridge, I proceeded to stick 4 solid smallmouth and a couple of feisty chanel catfish along with the usual bevvy of pumpkin seed sunfish, all while seeing some GIANT smallmouth bass that were easily in the 18”+ class.
I began the morning throwing a blue popper and damselfly nymph combo around 10am, picking up a few sunfish here and there but not enticing anything larger. After finding a pool with some large channel cats hanging out, I made the switch to a size 4 WhosYoClawDaddy. I can’ tell you how accurately this fly imitates a skittering crawdad. Just awesome stuff. Dead drifting this fly through the pool produced a nice cat. However, the real treat came a few minutes later when two big smallmouth one 14”, the other pushing 20” (yes, that big), emerged from seemingly nowhere at the bottom of the pool. Adjusting my drift to get the WYCD in front of the pig, the smaller smallie rushed in front of it to gobble the fly and the fight was on. After a minute or so of intense rock balancing and strange looks from joggers, I had my prize. A beautiful 14” Rock Creek smallmouth. No “small” feat for RCP.
Continuing to work my way down stream, I picked off another, smaller smallmouth on the WYCD before switching up to the MossBoss streamer. Casting the MossBoss to the opposite bank and allowing it to drift through the channel or casting parallel with the banks and bringing back at a quick pace will garner reaction strikes from most gamefish in the creek. It worked well on Sunday, bringing another two healthy smallmouth bass to the net and another feisty channel cat. Around 1pm, I closed up shop and decided to head home for some matinee baseball.
All in all, last weekend was different. But sometimes, you’ve got to change it up. Let’s hope this incredible weather continues.
Remick Smothers is a native son of the District of Columbia and the founder of FlyTimesDC.