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.
Life is too short to be a streamer dreamer.
It is 6:00am and quite dark out. I can either go to sleep or fish for a few hours before work. In my mind, the choice is a simple one. In reality, there is still sleep in my eyes and I’m pretty sure this comforter might be the greatest man nest of all time. But sleep won’t come easy and I’ve got to move my car anyway to avoid the parking ticket ring of death that is Glover Park during morning rush hour. A cup of coffee, fat lip of tobacco (don’t dip kids), and smallmouth bass are all I need to get out of bed. The creek is calling my name.
As the horizon slowly emerges from the darkness, I make out some old athletic shorts and flip flops on the floor. A used Columbia shirt from a previous outing hangs on my door knob. Even in remote darkness, the living room is a relative mess. Bottles of craft beer lay wasted and empty on a wooden table covered in fly fishing stickers from the night before (two fantasy drafts in a row will turn anyone to the sauce). Additionally, various fly patterns are strewn randomly across the entire apartment, which throws an element of danger into turning on light switches or fumbling through random objects on the table. On my way out the door, I swipe a few of the more promising looking creations from the night before along with my can of Grizzly and I’m out the door.
On the agenda this morning is testing an antennae-ed variation of the #sexpanther on smallmouth bass and other creek fishes in Rock Creek Park. The revamped panther has been working well on the bass recently and I’m looking to push the envelope a little bit to coax a bigger bronzeback into coming out to play. The pattern is big, leggy, and to this point, only full of potential. It’s time to find out if its up to snuff. Hopping into my beloved, dust covered and fish sticker ridden Explorer, I turn on the headlights, switch on the bluegrass station and begin my short descent out of Glover and into the raising darkness of Rock Creek Valley.
Parking near the ambassador to-some-foreign-land’s residence, I throw on the studded boots and wet wading booties (I will not wet wade in Rock Creek, just a precaution in case I need to wet an ankle). In the early morning darkness, the valley seems to transform into a primitive place. Deer graze casually in the shadows of multi-million dollar homes and the parkway, where cars rush in upwards of 50+mph during rush hour, is silent. For a few precious minutes, the babble of the creek will overtake the commotion of the most powerful city on Earth. That is a beautifully refreshing sentiment in my mind. But soon things will start moving again. They always do.
Stringing up the 4wt to the bemusement of a few early morning joggers, I tie on the new panther pattern I put together last night. Compared to the last week or so, it actually feels refreshing to be outdoors. The morning air is cool and crisp, the coffee warm and inviting in my hand. Fall is definitely on its way and all is good in the world as I look out onto the trail. The clock reads 6:45AM.
Making my way down stream, the first few holes I hit aren’t entirely productive. I see a few fish rising here and there, but nothing is hungry and they seem small. As the sun rises higher in the sky, my fast retrieve brings nothing to hand signaling that it’s time to change things up. Sticking with the same panther that got me out of bed and onto the stream this morning, I work a few of the deeper holes in the creek making sure to get the fly down on the bottom. But still, the fish won’t cooperate.
Each empty hole I pass on my way down stream conjures up memories of past victories and fish stuck in the face. When I close my eyes I can see smallmouth bass erupting from behind rocks and flying out of fallen trees to gobble down streamers. In this instance, I’m reliving the times when everything lined up just right – the fly, current, and fish all cooperating in a beautiful amalgamation of chaos and natural order. But on this morning, I’ll have to be content with memories. The creek is eerily still.
As I make my way around the creek bend, a fishless fly and hour glass weighing against my confidence, I spy a nice bass (14=16”) holding at the tail end of some shallow riffles. Once in position to cast, I can feel the rod load in my hand as the line queues its eloquent unfurl into the oblivion. In less than a second, my fly is in the water, drifting towards its inevitable fate. In less time than that, the fish will make a split-second decision whether to devour the weird, food-resembling object drifting toward its general area or not. His decision will be based upon a myriad of things I will probably never fully understand. Still, I will take its refusal to eat quite personally.
The fly lands several feet upstream of my quarry and slowly tumbles towards the creek bed. I mend the line to get it down just a little bit farther and watch the fish in anticipation of the indescribable. Almost like it was prompted by some dark, unseen force, the fish races out to investigate the fly. I take the fish’s cavalier attitude as a sign of appetite and give the fly a quick twitch as if to speed things up. To this day, I have never seen a smallmouth bass exit stage left more rapidly in my life. The rejection is hard to take.
In the last half hour or so before I have to go home and get prepared for the work day (3 eggs, 2 English Muffins, and a quick shower are all I need), I change up the fly for a small foam hopper and proceed to wail on a dozen or so sunfish before calling it a day. Despite the action, I can't help but feel unsatisfied and begin to think introspectively.
On a different day, would the same fish have eaten that same fly no questions asked? Did that slight twitch essentially tell the fish to f*ck off? Is the new panther pattern salvageable? I’m not sure. “Probably,” is the most thorough answer I can give y’all. But I guess that’s why I’ll continue to get out of bed in the morning while my peers hit the snooze button.
Life is too short to be a streamer dreamer.
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