With water temps finally starting to push 50 degrees after a seemingly endless, F*CK#*@#* TERRIBLE WINTER – spring has finally sprung in our beloved District.
With warm weather comes the instinctual urge to do funtivities outside. Joggers, bikers, and all those kept contained inside for way too long hatch in a glorious manifestation of life and passive fitness. It also means hell on the local traffic scene – but I digress.
For us in the District, spring means a few things...
Cherry blossoms and tourists…
Nats games (I’m an O’s fan but beer is beer) and times spent meandering around Cantina Marina….
We've been spared the Caps annual game 7 home loss (aka the Red Wedding) this year (thank god)…
And of course, fishing some…or a lot…or all the freaking time now that there is no need for a gajillion layers or routine trips down I-80 to chase the local population of brutish salmonoids.
How liberating is that?!
But if any of y’all read last year’s #WordHatches around this time of year, there’s a pretty distinct chance you saw a pattern of irrational and reckless behavior that resulted in some great catches and funny stories.
Well, I can’t make any promises (I like to think I’ve learned a thing or two), I’m just gonna say it comes with the territory—especially if the fishing is as spectacular as it was last spring. See, once spring finally rids itself from the demented clutches of winter – my fishing options not limited to one local stream and a handful of productive trout waters – I tend to lose my shit.
In short, I’m talking about the deterioration of all things resembling rationality and a normal, functional life...all for a shot at that one fish.
In other words, things are about to get awfully fishy around here (if it looks like I haven’t slept…I haven’t).
The next few months will be a total immersion into the fly life as I’m looking forward to fishing way too hard until this all starts slowing down….hopefully around next December.
But just in case you missed all the #WordHatches from last year, here is the typical spring rundown around these parts-
After a long winter pounding the trout water and occasionally Four Mile Run with a goddamn vengeance – the Nation’s River smiles on us all and finally warms up to 50 degrees. Giving everyone hope. Trout guys curse the oncoming flood of fair weather fishermen….and powerbait.
Everyone starts talking shad in late February despite the facts that global warming has decided to punish this region by extending winter well into March in recent years. Maybe one year we'll be graced with an early season...Until then Shad start showing up in early April and the line for a boat at Fletcher’s starts at 4am. All time before/after work is spent at Fletchers for three weeks straight as water temps everywhere start to get primo.
At this point I’ve stopped shaving. After another week, I’m seriously contemplating a No-Shave-Shad-Run for the entire two months period these mini-tarpon enter the river. Hell, I’ve even started to smell like a shad (hickory, not gizzard. Thank god).
But like an addict—come late-April, I’m done with shad…I need a stronger pull...and really want a spey rod….
By now the run is fully on. Fletcher’s becomes too crowded. The majority of folks are keeping all the shad they can despite the postings about river herring and shad being endangered. There are no rules. It’s gross.
To boot the banks are lined with dart chuckers (non-derogatory term, I enjoy spin fishing a lot) and the channel completely lined with row boats making it tough to get back to the boathouse at times without taking a dart to the jugular. That said, it’s an incredible time.
If you live in the District, you need to experience it at least once.
But it’s time to roll out—people are starting to give me funny looks.
The run will continue for another month or so.…until the Dogwoods blossom….
Late April-Late May
Striper run starts mid-late April with the bigger fish pushing through the system first. The stripers range from 8”-40”. The big ones are rare on fly gear –especially in places that are accessible from the shore. But I dream nonetheless.
I start planning my life around the Alexandria tide chart hitting up every tidal creek outflow and inlet I can at “good” times. Everything from dates to beers with friends and family affairs are all strained and meticulously calculated against the tides –all for a shot at that one fish.
3:30am wake up calls for outgoing tides on school nights becomes the norm as you make the transformation from human being to thing that goes bump in the night. Sleep deprivation is nothing but a thang. Coming back to the park to fish an hour before it closes seems like a good idea even when you've already fished there from 4am-7am that day and again from 6pm-8pm.
You start to lose yourself in the calmness of a DC sunrise…..only hours after losing yourself in the serenity of a cool, spring night…You start not to care about the little things. The cast, a natural extension of yourself at this point. The initial mend upon fly hitting the water, like breathing. The retrieve synchronized to the point that you don't even recognize yourself doing it anymore. It just does...and you make another cast.
In other words, my friend - you start fishing.
You swing until you can’t anymore- that point where either the fish or the elements decide your fate for you. Moments denied when you are betrayed by the tide and at other times by an oncoming monsoon. Some of the best tides are ruined by a flooded river. Moons wasted on angry, chocolate water. So you tie flies.
Big flies. Some with clouser eyes, others with the Clear Cure—in every “PROVEN” combo you can think of. Once your armory is restored - the river gets its act together and it’s game time again. You wonder if it will ever happen…And then it happens.
You feel the bump, strip set, and realize you hooked something that really, really didn’t like being stuck in the face. The rod loads and you can feel the power of this magnificent force as the line shoots through the guides. In the soft glow of the surrounding street lights you hear, not see, the fish break the surface. In your mind you know it’s a solid fish. Over 25”…whatever the hell it is.
You hope it’s that striper you’ve been chasing every week for the past month. The thought crosses your mind it’s a snakehead…but pshhh. You pray it’s not a big blue cat. And then, in that same soft light that prevented you from seeing said beast break the surface from 80yds away –your finally given that glorious gift of sight. The fish coming into view, broad silver stripes and burly shoulders busting through its prison bird suite lateral lines in full, furious glory…and things suddenly feel complete.
You can finally sleep.
But even when you eventually stick that nice fish or too mixed in with the schoolies, you tell no one. It may have taken you days, weeks, months, or even years to accomplish the rare fate of pulling a 30” striper out of the shallows. But the shad beard compels you to do weirder things.
A life of secrecy is hard to maintain on a blog with 3K+followers. But sometimes you gotta speak up….like when you almost get arrested for “entering the Potomac” (still sounds like some sort of sexual deviancy) at 2:30AM near a busy, National Airport…
Time to lay low for a while….the stripers are slowing down…
The next show is in town.
Snakeheads, largemouth, and smallmouth bass have long ago emerged from their winter slumber offering up fun for those not obsessed with shad or stripers.
For bass, this means moving from shelves in relatively deep water into the shallows to gorge themselves. The creeks become a playground for anyone with a clawdad, small clouser, or frog.
Those alien snakeheads? Not so much.
After rising from their muddy, wintry resting places—water temps in the mid-50s inspiring them to start shagging all over the place at Chain Bridge—these bastards won’t eat a single thing until their done with their biznazz. But in May that all starts to change with some fish finishing said biznazz and finally deciding to eat something –as the summer continues, it only gets better.
The Tidal Basin becomes a second home for these aliens. Urban whale watching and day dreaming become one and the same. It’s the fish that doesn't see you that eats the fly. Be seen and you’re done.
I chase them with abandon until the grass gets too thick to fish without a boat….and the target keeps moving.
If you’re up for it, challenge yourself. There is no better place to become an ALL-AROUND fly fisherman than the Potomac watershed and its surrounding area.
She's trying to eat the reel.
Two weeks ago it was snowing, our Nation’s River filled with shivering shad and eager anglers – individuals like me who held onto the slightest glimpse of hope that spring would finally come in mid-April. Now it’s 90 degrees. I guess we should be careful what we fish for. I mean wish for. For weeks, Washington was mired in the misanthrope that is an extended winter. But like the Cherry Blossoms and Nationals Park, so too has the Potomac River sprung back to life.
To me (and every other living thing on this planet) – spring is that clichéd “renewal of life”. The magical time of year when the sun warms the earth, baseball starts its marathon-long season, sundresses and shorts become the norm again, oh and shad, bass, snakeheads, and stripers return to our local waters. In short - hope for good weather, sunny days, and good fishing abound within everyone (well, maybe just the weather and sunshine). For the next couple months, our water temps will remain below 80 or so degrees. Game fish of all shapes and varieties will go through their life cycle of pre-spawn gorging, spawning lockjaw, and post-spawn exhaustion. It will undoubtedly be the best fishing of the year for everything that swims everywhere… But call me crazy - I will miss winter.
I will miss winter a lot actually. More than I probably should. But there is a special serenity to be found on a quiet, crisp morning in an otherwise empty forest dotted with fresh snowfall. A simple beauty in relishing the breath in front of your face, knowing you’re the only person on the water that day, and realizing you should’ve worn 7 layers instead of 6. It’s the way a hot cup of coffee warms your entire body when everything else is frozen around you. It’s your favorite winter hat, the sunburns from a sunny, 20 degree day, and knowing with every cast you make – you’re telling Jack Frost to suck it. But most of all – I will miss the fish and the incredible rush that comes from sticking a fat trout in a seemingly empty pool. The satisfaction of knowing you’re doing what you love despite the elements. But not everything about this past winter was perfect- RGIII's knee being at the top of my list.
But there were many trips were I froze my ass off and came back with nothing to show. Mornings were my rod guides and hands froze. I lost two nets and half of a G Loomis rod on one trip. Almost lost my life on another. But if I've learned anything from winter, it’s that even though the forest is barren – life still exists in the stream.
So before the trees bud and the shad run reaches its fever pitch (look for cast netting poachers near Chain Bridge) – let’s raise our glasses to winter. Thank you for every minute of your miserable biting winds, freakish fronts, short days, and regulation to trout streams and Four Mile Run. You've versed me well in patience and perseverance. Lessons that will pay off come summer doldrums. But now that spring has sprung, who cares about any of that?
Time to party with some fish.
Stay fly.o edit.
February - it’s close to 3am and there is a prodigious falling tide. I’m fairly sure that I’m supposed to be asleep because there are neither cars on George Washington Parkway nor the sleepy running lights of commercial vessels on the Potomac in any direction. Even Reagan National is still. But that’s not a bad thing. Far as I know, everyone in the Nation’s Capital is warmly dreaming of things to come in their beds. And here I am balls deep in a chilly morning on the Nation’s River all by myself. Despite the numbing sensation spreading through my extremities - I couldn’t be happier. But why am I here? I guess I hate normal.
As I stand in the nearly frozen water, Jack Frost doing his best to turn me into a frost giant from Joddenheim, my mind starts to wonder. Each roll cast, drift, and retrieve a test of my will to be there. But I chose to be in this moment. Normal people wouldn’t. This isn’t a normal situation. But honestly, there is no place on earth I’d rather be. All of this in spite of knowing that I’m playing against the odds this early in the season – that the water is too cold, the summer’s plentiful baitfish are no longer plentiful but on par with the unicorn, and that most sane striped bass have booked it to the Outer Banks by now. But fuck it. Anything could happen. There’s always a chance at the spectacular. You can’t have any doubts.
Unfortunately most people I speak with about fishing tell me that it’s a game of luck. I agree with them to some extent. But if you’ve only wet a line a couple times in your life, I can imagine that “luck” would be a convenient explanation for the inevitable successes and failures that belie this sport - similar to the ways magic, superstition, and blind faith were used to rationalize mystical concepts in medieval times. Simply put, anything can be attributed to luck. So naturally, I’d argue that this sport is about more than that. That skill, knowledge, and chance define fishing and life more than anything else. It’s about knowing what to do in certain situations and not being afraid to try something new when that fails. It’s about seeing the water on any given day and knowing, I’ve been here before. In other words, confidence under any condition is a valuable life trait. But damn, it’s hard to sound macho when your cajones might freeze off.
My contemplations continue for little over an hour. The time goes by without anything more than a powerful but brief thump. I’ve caught plenty of stripers here on past nights but looking at my phone, it’s now 6:30 AM. If there were fish here tonight, they would’ve shown themselves by now. But I have it all planned out from here anyway - leave at 6:45, in bed by 7, wake up for work at 8:30, in the office by 9:15. It will be a normal day. I’m not sure why this upsets me. My mind tells me, “Goddamn Rem - your hands are long past the point of being useless. Your ears hurt. You can’t feel your toes. You’re going to be tired for work. Why the fuck are we here?” But I decide to make one last cast, fully aware of what might happen.
The fly lands on the outter edge of the current flow. The line starts drifting and I mend to keep the fly in the strike zone. As it drifts through the main current seam, I give it a quick strip.
It’s now 8am. I have work in one hour. I’m still in my waders. I smell like I got jumped by a gang of striped bass. I’m tired and my day hasn’t technically started yet. But I feel fantastic and energized at the same time. Shaking my head and cracking a red bull, I can’t help but think - it’s amazing how one last cast turns into 100. Thank god I hate normal.
I doubt I will ever change.
Remick Smothers is a native son of the District of Columbia and the founder of FlyTimesDC. A self taught fly fisherman and fly tier, Rem graduated from Rhodes College with a double major in fly fishing and English in 2012. He has been celebrating the fly life ever since. Just remember, if it's dark out, there's a shark out. Above all else, stay fly. #flytimesdc