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 email@example.com. We’re looking for more content contributors.
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.
After spending a few weeks chasing stripers in the cool waters of Martha’s Vineyard, I returned to my beloved District with an embarrassingly bad National’s team, 100 degree days with 100% humidity, and Nation’s River on the verge of boiling (87 degree water). Fishing was tough. When the river is dirty AND hot – it’s a tall order getting any fish to take a fly. But then, out of nowhere, the oppressive heat and humidity disappeared. The cool night temperatures started cooling the water - a great thing for anglers looking to stay within the District – and now, I’m excited for the last few days of summer.
In Rock Creek Park, size 6 clawdads and legged woolybuggers dead drifted through the deeper pools have been producing well for large and smallmouth bass, carp, catfish, and panfish. While dead drifting clawdads can be productive, the real name of the game this time of year is throwing topwater flies. Dahlberg divers, weedless frogs, and poppers along the banks typically produce your larger bass, especially along the rip rap edges of the creek and any vegetation. However, this is a pattern you can employ pretty much anywhere right now – Four Mile Run. Little Hunting Creek, Duck Pond, Constitution Gardens– just find the nastiest stuff you can and try and put your fly in it.
While there are plenty of options within the District to keep a fly guy happy this time of year, one of my favorite summer activities is chasing bronzebacks where the Upper Potomac River and Shenandoah River meet near Harper’s Ferry, WV. A smallmouth enthusiast’s haven due to relatively easy wading, accessibility (a one hour and fifteen minute drive from DC), and the incredible amount of fish per mile – Harper’s Ferry is hard to beat as far as prime location for day trips.
Loaded with thousands of small islands and riffles, fish are pretty much everywhere. For an exceptional fishery, the fishing isn’t particularly technical though. A 4 or 5wt rod with floating line and 8 feet of 3x, a fly box with some clawdads, small streamers, and poppers, and decent wading boots are all one needs to take advantage of these fish filled waters. Fish will typically range from 8-12” with a few bruisers 15”+ mixed in on a good day, but for what they typically lack in size, these smallmouth will more than make up for in fight and numbers. Outside of bronzebacks, Harper’s Ferry offers opportunities at pumpkinseed sunfish (the prettiest fish on the river in my opinion), carp, and channel catfish.
For those you fancying trout, water flows are good in the park and brookie action remains steady. Action in the spring creeks (Beaver MD and Mossy Creek) has been solid as well if you’re fishing either early or late in the day. Much of the mid-day bite we were having has dissipated. Still, micro midges under a hopper or beetle will continue to produce for this time of year in Beaver. If you’re fishing Mossy, hoppers and beetles along the moss beds without the dropper (snags).
As the calendar rolls over to August 1st remember one thing: if it’s dark out, there’s a shark out.
Remick Smothers is a native son of the District of Columbia and the founder of FlyTimesDC.