After years of being equally curious and intimidated by the vise, threadin, and whip-finisher...and ultimately paying the price with my wallet at fly shops - I finally decided to get my wits about me and started tying my own flies. I'm about 3 months into this great journey and the results are starting to pay off big time both financially (saving lots of money) and peronsally. There is an undeniable connection between fly fishermen and their quarry - especially when they sip down some of your home brew - but why does the fly fishing community stop itself at de-barbing hooks to be fish friendly?
J-hooks can still be lethal - as evidenced by their ban in bill fisheries - yet I still don't see many fly anglers using circle hooks on their streamers. Additionally - de-barbed circle hooks can still find themselves lodged in fish's backs or friend's ears , so the benefits of using circle hooks are fairly obvious:
A) Care for the Fish: Plain and simple, they're easier on the fish. Plus you don't have to worry about snagging gizzard shad and hook sets are usually in the corner of the mouth.
B) Safer: When in close proximity to other boats or fishing with two anglers in the boat - these flies make it impossible to snag yourself or someone else.
C) Keep your flies: Similar to it being difficult to snag people or undesirable fishes, it takes some serious misfortune for one of these flies to snag on the bottom. After losing 15 or so flies in my first 4 trips to Fletcher's this year with J-hook shad flies, I've only lost 3 (two break-offs on fish) with de-barbed circle hooks.
With all positives said, I can't spin this all one way without telling you that there is one major difference between J-hook flies and those of the circle variety - the hook set. Coming from a saltwater background, I've been using circle hooks for a long time. The way they work is fairly simple: once the fish has the fly/bait/lure in it's mouth, the angler reels/strips tight on the fish. This in turn pulls the hook into the corner of your quarry's mouth for a perfect hookset. The mistake I see most anglers make (myself included) is that they will try to rod set with a circle hook. In short- you will lose every fish that falls for your fly by doing this. Setting with the rod will pull your fly out of the fish's mouth. Instead, STRIP UNTIL YOU COME TIGHT, THEN RAISE THE ROD. It may take a few fish to get this technique down, but once you master it - you'll be exponentially more fish friendly and won't have to worry about giving your friend or neighboring vessel that shad dart earring they always wanted.
So next time you stop in at Urban Angler - pick up some size 4-6 circle hooks and brew up something tasty. They say what goes around, comes around....sounds like a circle to me.
To say the Potomac River is a big river, is an understatement worthy of a colonial tar and feathering. The Potomac - 405 miles in length, 4th largest river on the Atlantic Coast, and 21st overall largest river system in United States - differs incredibly depending on when and where you are fishing it.
In some places it is as pure and breathtaking a waterway you will ever find, in others - it'd be wise to wear a hazmat suit when netting your catch. But that's the beauty of urban fishing. You've got to fish where you are.
The North Branch and South Branches of the river are a renown trophy trout water - boasting great numbers and size within their rainbow, brown, cutthroat, brook, and golden trout populations - until it reaches the salt line near the Piedmont Plataea on it's drift down the Atlantic Coastal Plain. In laymen's terms, the river shifts from a trout water to a smallmouth fishery before ultimately becoming a truly tidal fishery with elements of both salt and freshwater fly fishing once it reaches our beloved District.
Because of the incoming salinity from the Chesapeake Bay, the Potomac plays host to prominent runs of anadromous fishes (fish that live in salt and spawn in freshwater) in the spring - i.e. White Perch, American Shad, Hickory Shad, and Striped Bass - while also harboring mostly freshwater tolerant species such as Large & Smallmouth bass, Gar, Blue Gill, Sunfish, Crappie, Catfish, Carp, and invasive species such as Northern Snakehead and common Gold Fish. Needless to say, you never know what is on the end of your line.
The Potomac's combination of size and mixed bag potential reinforces the importance of treating the river like a saltwater fishery. Similar to the legion of tournament bass fishermen who fish this tidal section of river who cover water by making long casts with spinner and crank baits, covering lots of water with streamers and clouser minnows to find actively feeding fish is the name of the game. Sure you can focus on smaller areas and specific fish (such as mudding carp or spawning largemouth bed), but to truly take advantage of this river's awesome fishery (large, urban game fish) - you got to strip for it.
Outside of flies and stripping speed, depth becomes an important factor as well. Using sinking or intermediate lines to get your flies down in the water column is especially key when fishing places such as Chain Bridge and the Upper Potomac, where turbulent flows keep flies up in the water column and subsequently - away from fish. Even at more urban fisheries such as Gravelly Point or the water discharge at Four Mile Run - getting your fly down in the current and to the fish is as important as fly selection itself. If you're in a rut, experiment with depth more than fly selection to find feeding fish. You've got to find them before you can catch them.
Last cast: The Potomac can be a frustrating fishery. Its muddy waters and urban fish often giving the fin to those in pursuits of its natural treasures. But by thinking outside of the box and combining fresh and saltwater tactics to find feeding fish, one can improve their hookups exponentially. By following these guidelines to A) throw bait fish imitations , B) cover more water, and C) experiment with depth over fly selection - you will find yourself making the necessary adjustments on the water that you need to BY YOURSELF and ultimately - catching more fish. There is something beautiful in that.
Dig our strange.