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.
Fishing for bass and panfish has been red hot in and around the Potomac recently. Topwater flies such as poppers or gurglers fished along weed edges and creek banks led to some explosive topwater strikes last week, while smaller streamers continue to fish well in the small creeks and tributaries. After thoroughly harassing the smallmouth population in Rock Creek via size 6 mossboss streamers most of last week, I decided to take the show on the road this weekend and head back up to Harper’s Ferry in search of some bigger bronzebacks and a golden ghost in honor of TLTFF’s #CarpWeek. After an incredibly rough start to the morning (Lagunitas Undercover is nothing to play with), good friend and former FlyTimesDC compatriot, Wes “Mantooth” Repass and I hit the road.
Arriving around noon to this Wild and Wonderful playground, the early morning overcast we drove through dissipated the minute we hit the water. Undoubtedly, this affected the smallmouth bite in one way or another, but more importantly, having no sunblock, was the theme of the day. As of this writing, a bandana tan line is clearly visible on my forehead. Thank you for that Buff…but back to the fishing.
The rocking streamer bite I experienced most of the last two weeks was nonexistent on Saturday. Flies drifted through usually fishy haunts all vulnerable and ready to be devoured, but to no avail. No love from the pecker head smallies or sunfish either. Fish were lazy. It was a slap in the face. Hell, I even walked through a couple holes I thoroughly covered with multiple flies only to see smallies scatter everywhere in mass exodus from my size 14 wader boots. Wes, a fairly accomplished fly angler himself, was also striking out.
What the hell was going on? Clawdads failed. Mossbosses sucked. Even the woolybugger, God’s secret weapon on his toughest days on the water, did nothing. I was a streamer dreamer living in a cruel, fishless world. It was time to change things up.
Moving out of the main flow of the river, I decided to focus my time and effort on the numerous riffles and smaller pocket water found near the WV bank. If you’ve ever fished pocket water out west, it’s a very similar ordeal. However, instead of throwing a parachute Adams and dropper for gorgeous trout – you’re tossing a booglebug popper with a damsel fly nymph trailer to the feisty neon-faced pumpkinseed sunfish and brutish bronzeback bass (smallmouth). Sound like fun? That’s because it is.
At Harper’s Ferry, the pattern was fairly simple. Drift the popper through fast water. Pop it in the still pools near eddies. If nothing happened after a few drifts, move on to the next confluence of flows. Rocket science? No. A nifty way to fool finicky fish? Hell yes. But that’s nymphing in general. After a slow start to the day, slowly but surely, the bite started turning on.
Over the course of the next few hours, 30 or so pumpkinseed sunfish, a rare red eye rock bass, and one bruiser smallie fell for my antics (the smallie rose from a deep pool to destroy a blue booglebug - epic). Unbeknownst to me – Wesley was also slamming fish in the face a little further upstream.
Although it started slowly, Saturday was a great day on the water and fairly typical action for this time of year on the Upper Potomac. While Harper’s may not be an average day trip for the time pressed angler, topwater action remains a solid bet in places like Four Mile Run, the weed edges of the Duck Pond, Constitution Gardens, and Rock Creek Park. Bring a few poppers, a damsel fly nymph or crazy Charlie, and your favorite small streamers and hit the water in the first or last hours of the day!
Look for this hot/humid trend to continue until Wednesday. Then it’s nice and cool again through the start of next week. Make sure to get out and take advantage of these unseasonal conditions!
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.
Remick Smothers is a native son of the District of Columbia and the founder of FlyTimesDC.