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.
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.
Last week's report talked of snow followed by warming trends which in turn were followed by yet again - more snow. Well, the weather continues to play games with our emotions as all the good accomplished by Friday and Saturday's warming trend was subsequently erased by Monday's most recent snow fall. The Groundhog's latest folly will drop water temperatures back into the low 40s and delay the shad run by another week or two. However, all is not lost.
While early spring patterns were starting to emerge (i.e. streamer and baitfish patterns), fish can still be caught in their normal winter stomping grounds. Four Mile Run, which has recently undergone some shoreline renovations is still your best bet at finding a bent rod this time of year. Clousers, small woolybuggers, and and small baitfish imitations produced the most action.
Last Saturday, fellow FlyTimer Kenny Hodge and I took advantage of the good weather (high of 54, sunny) and hysteria surrounding the shad run and hit the water early (low tide at 6AM, on water by 6:45) and found the water all to ourselves.
We fished the early stages of the falling tide finding no takers at the discharge before pounding the rip-rap and banks downstream. As the tide dropped, warm water is forced down the channel, corralling most rational minded game fish into its warm flow. Thanks to the Arlington Parks Service, the overhanging trees on the bank have been trimmed, leaving some incredible cover. This combination of cover and warm water makes finding fish here somewhat easy. However, the difficult task is getting larger targets to bite.
We found success on size 10 woollybuggers in white and tan, as Kenny proceeded to catch his first ever Panfish Slam (crappie, blue gill, red breasted sunfish, and pumpkin seed sunfish), a nice channel cat, and moved some truly impressive pre=spawn largemouth bass. They had zero interest in any fly we threw their way.
Since Four Mile Run is a heavily pressured fishery, these fish aren't very dumb. Long casts and unique looks with flies are a must for bigger fish. My tip would be to try and angle your casts parallel with the bank since the over hanging trees are now gone. If you need a stylistic reference - think jerk bait fishing for largemouth.
Hope springs eternal.
Remick Smothers is a native son of the District of Columbia and the founder of FlyTimesDC.