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