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……
After the coolest August the District hath ever seen, this past week reminded us why Labor Day isn’t the end of summer. Air temps returned to the low-mid 90s and that ugly humidity thing reared its head again sending water temps into the low-mid 80s and fish scampering to find cooler water. Despite the warm water (it peaked at 86 degrees on the Tidal Potomac last week!), fishing remained strong with solid all day opportunities for smallmouth and largemouth bass, carp, catfish, snakeheads, and panfish on the Nation’s River and its tributaries. For those seeking trout, dry fly action for brookies is on fire in the mountains and the spring creeks are producing some slabs and Hawg Johnson encounters as summer creeps to an end. Last week I fished Hagerstown’s Beaver Creek with Orvis’ Trent Jones and Rock Creek Park a handful of times before and after work, neglecting my usual weekend trip up to Harper’s Ferry in lieu of a free boat ride to Annapolis for some crabs, brews, and celebration of non-laborious activities.
Beaver Creek fished okay last Thursday as Trent and I set out before sunrise in an attempt to find Hawg Johnson and bring him to instagrammed justice. Although we were ultimately unsuccessful in taming this leviathan, Trent did well fishing a small stimulator in skinny water and some of the narrower pools, sticking several average sized Beaver browns that were looking up due to a ton of field hoppers and other terrestrials coming off the bank. In addition to terrestrials, fish were rising on something incredibly small that neither of us could make out on the surface. Oh well. Some parts of the trout equation will always remain a variable. That’s what makes it fun. While Trent fished dries, I spent most of the day fishing a variety of streamers (size 2-6 sex panther and size 6 Moss Boss in fall fish patterns) looking for an encounter with Hawg.
Fishing in the couple honey holes behind the shop, I managed to get a couple solid browns (16-18”) to flash on a Moss Boss but ultimately they weren’t into getting stuck in the face and to my chagrin, aborted their missions to feast at point blank range. What a tease. After thoroughly harassing every fish in the stretch behind the shop, Trent and I meandered over to the special regs section by the church. As we came to the second footbridge pool (aka Land of Giants), I managed to crawl myself into position so that I could make a cast without being detected by the 30 or so browns in the pool. On the first cast my hopper landed right on the bubble line and a large brown (20” or so) rose up to investigate…and promptly put the fly on his nose before submerging to the depths…. like a coward.
I’ve had some spooky encounters with large fish on Beaver, but at this point, the bigger fish were toying with my emotions. After a few more presentations and refusals, Trent and I decided to see if things were better downstream. Although conditions were right, fish continued to be fussy, as they neither wanted any part of streamers and hopper dropper set up nor the slightest interest in any of Trent’s smaller surface offerings. After fishing our way back up to the second foot bridge to fish for the last hour of the day, Trent and I decided to split up. He’d go investigate some of the pools we neglected up stream and I’d keep swinging for Hawg at the footbridge….
Three monster flashes, one brief take (I pulled the hook out of his mouth), and one snapped line were all I had to show for an hour of pool gazing. As usual, Beaver provided a nice challenge, beautiful wild fish, an escape from the doldrums of the city, and a brief encounter with Hawg Johnson. We left around 1 for a burger and beers at Whitlow’s, a meal so satisfying that I almost forgot about that monster brown…almost. I’ll be back for him this week. You can bet on that.
Rock Creek Park continued to fish well this weekend despite reports of a body being found near Beach and Joyce Road on Labor Day around 6pm. Although the body (an apparent homicide victim) was found several miles upstream from legal fishing waters, it’s a powerful reminder for would be anglers to bring some sort of protection with them in the park, especially if fishing near dusk. That said – dry fly action (small terrestrials or poppers) for panfish has been insane in the last hour or so of the day (almost non-stop) while the bass bite has slowed down a little bit due to warming water temps. Despite the climbing temps last weekend, bronzebacks are still being caught (albeit less frequently) on dead drifted streamers and clawdad patterns fished along channel ledges or dragged on the bottom near structure. Surprisingly, I’ve been finding more fish downstream around the Graveyard. These skinnier channels that feature deeper water around the banks have been harboring small gangs of smallmouth bass (up to about 16”) that you can actually sight cast to or blind cast to and see erupt from the rip rap along the bank. Very cool. Other than that, Rock Creek Park was its familiar self with a few stray channel cats mixed in on the smallmouth bite. I expect action to pick up this week with our nighttime lows in the 60s and 50s dropping water temps back into the fish friendly 70s. Expect fish to be in their familiar haunts, albeit much more active.
With the NFL starting on Thursday (HTTR), pumpkin beers on the shelves, and cooler weather on the way I can’t be happier. Actually, scratch that. I want another piece of Hawg.
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.
Last week I fished Gravelly Point, the Tidal Basin, and Chain Bridge. The Potomac River continues to provide action to those seeking it. Snakehead, Gar, Carp, Striped Bass, Largemouth, Smallmouth, and pan fish action are all heating up as the Shadams family starts wrapping it up before their migration back towards the Ocean. Look for LMB and panfish on shallow spawning beds (hard bottom, shallow water) until the end of the June. Also – CICADA action. Tie em up and get em wet.
Recently, I’ve been night fishing the outgoing tides in areas where bait is concentrated. In these areas, striped bass, walleye, LMB , smallmouth, and crappie have all been the usual suspects with a few random catfish mixed in. Until this weekend, a 6-7 wt rod has been the perfect amount of backbone for most of these fish.
On Sunday night, albeit a full moon and slightly off color water, the conditions were right to find some stripers around Reagan Airport. There were some fish around ( a few pops on top but not a ton), but none fell for the size 6 baitfish imitation I was throwing. However, where the stripers failed me – big gar and catfish did not. Attempting to find some deeper water in the current, I ended up getting dragged into my backing 4 times in one night and crossing two species off my list. Considering this a hiccup – the Potomac’s version of a practical joke – I left the 8wt in the car and ventured out into the darkness the next night with my 7wt again. Big mistake.
Immediately I was into something big that took me into the backing (5 fish, 5 backing runs). After a ten minute struggle, I brought my first golden of the night to the net. After snapping a few pics, I went back to my spot and gave it a few more casts by the outflow before venturing off to fish the deeper bowls. It was a good call. Although bites were spread out over 15-20 minute periods, I managed to hook into another large blue cat (27”, 8lbs), my second big ghost of the night (33”, 15lbs), and a mystery fish (which took me 15 yards into my backing). After the second ghost of the night and the clock approaching 3:30am I decided to call it quits. In two nights of hunting for stripers there were a total of 7 bites, 7 runs into the backing, and 0 striped bass caught. Talk about getting weird.
The snow a few weeks ago coupled with a warming trend, more snow, and another warming trend have made conditions a tad difficult on the Potomac. Snow melt has raised water levels slightly while dropping temperatures back into the low to mid 40s.
As we know by now, cold, muddy water doesn't make things easier. But don't fish with dynamite just yet. With river temps remaining in the low to mid 40s, individuals looking for the first action of the spring should continue to hit spots like Four Mile Run and Blue Plains until water temps start getting near the 50s. Once the water hits that magical number, expect action to really pick up. Until then, winter patterns are the go-to.
Give it two weeks and you won't know what to do with yourself - there are that many options between the spring shad run, stripers, snakeheads, pre-spawn largemouth and smallmouth, mulberries for carp, and the year's best trout fishing. It's a good time to be a fly fisherman. Just keep the faith.
What's Happenin': The water is cold and will be for a while. However, the days are getting longer and you can still find feeding fish in tidal creeks and tributaries around the District. It won't be long until this river goes gang busters, but that's in another month or so. Anglers on the Potomac this time of year would be wise to target areas with with warm water discharges or... spots with a combination of mud bottom and hard cover on sunny days.
My Recommendation: Finding any combination of clean and warm water is key this time of year. Anglers should expect places like Four Mile Run or Blue Plains to produce but shouldn't anticipate having the water to themselves on weekends. Outgoing tides are best as they bring warm water down through the creek channel, past the power poles and bridges, and into the Potomac. Carp, largemouth bass, crappie, sunfish, and catfish all move into these areas during the winter, creating a plentiful fishery but a crowded one. Because of this pressure, anglers should experiment with their fly selection and presentations to entice fish into feeding. Any assortment of the standard stuff - wooly buggers, small clouser minnows, baitfish streamers, double nymph rigs, or even poppers - should tempt warm water refugees into biting.
Remick Smothers is a native son of the District of Columbia and the founder of FlyTimesDC.