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.
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.
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.
After spending the past weekend chasing redfish, tarpon, and snook in Siesta Key’s Garden of Eden – the Heron Lagoon – I returned to the realities of our Nation’s River. Since this is an urban fishing blog and supposed to be a Potomac River fishing report – I’ll give a brief recap of my adventures on the Treasure Coast. In four days I managed to jump 4 juvenile tarpon (8-15lbs), boat 12 or so snook up to 22”, and fooled 3 carefully sight casted reds (all over 26”) while spooking countless more. I’ll admit, there’s an obvious drop off between jumping tarpon in a mangrove wonderland and bopping snakeheads on the nose with big and ugly streamers in the Tidal Basin, but the tug is the drug and you've got to fish where you are (thanks to Matt Miles and the Urban Lines crew for that one). With Gravelly closed to wading anglers – I’ve had to change up my game to pursue our local striper population. But fear not, all is not lost.
Let’s make this clear - Gravelly Point is not the only place that consistently produces schoolie striper action in our district waters. The river is flush with these feisty game fish right now and will be for the next few weeks until water temps get too high and they retreat to deeper, cooler water. The challenge is finding areas that concentrate these aggressive game fish. In my experience, one can consistently find stripers in areas with current, depth change (think shallow water close to deep water), and lots of bait. Areas such as Chain Bridge, Little Hunting Creek, the Tidal Basin, Four Mile Run, and the mouth of Rock Creek Park on moving tides are all places to target schoolie action in the summer.
This past week, I managed to get a few days on the water chasing stripers at Chain Bridge and Little Hunting Creek. Throwing a small striped bass imitation on full grain sinking line during the last few hours of the falling tide into the main current and stripping it through the eddy seam produced a few fish at Chain Bridge with the largest being a chunky 17”. Bites were not hot and heavy, but each fish was healthy. I’d love to see a moratorium put on the striper fishery so that these stocks could recover and the giant fish (50+lbs) we saw in the late 90s, early 2000s would come back. Outside of stripers - there was a lot of surface activity from spawning gar and a few rises that looked suspiciously like snakeheads. I didn’t see many hookups from the spin or bait fishermen, but the river is still full of fish. Working the outgoing tide at Little Hunting Creek produced a more consistent bite than the big, deep water at Chain Bridge. Swinging some smaller deceiver (size 6) patterns on a RIo intermediate streamer line produced well in the shadow lines, most fish were cookie cutter 10-13” but there were definitely some bigger fish mixed in as they were quite loud in their pursuits of fleeing baitfish.
With Andrea done tormenting our area, expect the river to be off color for a few days and water a tad higher than usual but nothing flood like as the river should be done cresting on Thursday (if more rain doesn’t ruin things). The rain dropped water temps into the low 70s so expect action to be solid this week for our river’s game fish population. In off color water, try fishing darker patterns (black & purple) near structure for largemouth, smallmouth, snakeheads, and catfish. Tight lines.
Last week I fished Gravelly Point, the Duck Pond, Tidal Basin, Rock Creek Park, and Fletcher’s Cove via boat.
Action continues to be hot on the Tidal Potomac. Our run of larger striped bass (measured in lbs not inches) is underway at Fletcher’s Cove/Chain Bridge along with white perch, river herring, and the entire Shadams family (Gizzards, Hickories, and Americans). Fishing big clousers and streamers on full sink lines deep and jigging the fly back up through the water column has been an effective method for getting to these larger stripers.
To get as deep as possible, make your initial cast and mend/strip out line until you start seeing your backing. Once your line straightens out behind the boat, you’ve reached your max depth. If this still isn’t deep enough, try lifting the rod tip up and slapping the line down on the water to get the fly sinking again. The stripers won’t come on every cast, but for those willing to put in the time – the reward is certainly worth the effort. If schoolies are more of your thing, check out Gravelly Point on an outgoing night or early morning tide.
It seems like everywhere I’ve checked out recently has some combination of herring, shad, or perch. Any place with a tide swing seems to be housing shad - the outflow at Gravelly Point/Duck Pond, Rock Creek Park, and Tidal Basin are a few of such places. Gar are also starting to become active again in the Duck Pond as they prepare to get their spawn on as well – start tying up rope flies.
Rain is in the forecast for Tuesday this week. Be sure to check the little falls gauge before heading out. I'll probably take a break from the Shadness Madness and pursue some trout this week.
The world is your oyster this time of year – shuck it.
Last Friday’s rain storm sure messed a lot of things up. The hot shad bite we had been experiencing cooled down with the rain and muddied water…..the shore bite disappearing altogether on Monday. The striped bass and largemouth bite also cooled significantly with the rain and subsequent post front conditions. But fish can still be caught dragging big, dark flies in and around structure. Water temps dropping from 70 degrees to 60 in the course of a week didn’t help things either. However, this shouldn’t come as a surprise –the Potomac and its tributaries are adversely affected by big rains. That’s not to say that fish were not caught this weekend. When big rains effect the Potomac - community ponds, public lakes, and other areas without extreme runoff become hot spots. The infusion of fresh oxygen into the water usually ignites the bite in a big way. But muddy water and blue bird skies don’t make things easier. Period.
Unfortunately for fishermen this past weekend, the big storm happened on Friday – leaving the river a muddied wasteland for most of the fishable weekend. High skies and zero cloud cover didn’t help ignite the bite as much as squash it. Even hitting the water on Monday, there were noticeable mud lines and very few patches of “clean” water. Knowing that the shad bite would significantly cool down at Fletcher’s in addition to the largemouth and striper bite – I decided to check out some areas for Snakeheads down river.
I chose the Tidal Basin not only for its somewhat robust snakehead population, but also because the snakeheads in the lower part of the river do not have lock jaw (unlike the spawners upriver at Chain Bridge). In what I like to call, “Urban Whale Watching” – snakeheads will come up to breathe air every 20 minutes or so, giving away their position with a telltale boil – I waited to see if any fish were around…and were they.
In my experience, the tidal outlet on Ohio Drive holds good numbers of these fish. There are some monsters in there too (3.5ft+) so be prepared for anything and everything. I found fish on the incoming tide nearest the inflow on Ohio Drive. I worked the gate for about an hour or so with no luck. Every pattern I tried failed. Including the Sex Panther…..I then walked the sea wall for a few hundred yards covering all water between Ohio Drive and the FDR Memorial. Still, nothing. Somewhat tired and defeated (beautiful weather, ugly water) I decided to give it one more shot at the bridge. I’m glad I did.
On the second cast, I felt a big bump and strip set hard on what I figured to be a catfish or bass. Snakeheads are too smart, too finick, I thought to myself. Man, do I need to keep the faith more. My rod doubled over, a monster snakehead erupted from the water, and my adrenaline started flowing. After a spectacular display of brutish strength, I got the fish to the wall….only to realize that A) the tide was still too low for me to boga grip it and B) my net was too small. A good problem to have I guess….until I got the fish’s head in the net, the fish slid backwards out of said net, and the hook dislodged from its toothy gullet. I’ve never come closer to snapping my rod.
So…. sorry for being long winded, just thought I’d share that moment of truth.….
Water will clear up by today or Wednesday with a return to fishing normal spring patterns. Chartreuse has been the color for shad recently as they’ve collectively decided to swear off the pink stuff. For stripers look for current and bait (incoming, outgoing tides at creek mouths) and for largemouth, look for fish holding on shallow structure.
Remick Smothers is a native son of the District of Columbia and the founder of FlyTimesDC.