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.
Remick Smothers is a native son of the District of Columbia and the founder of FlyTimesDC.