Well….they are here…….lots of fish caught up at Fletcher’s this past weekend.
QUEUE SHADNESS MADNESS!!!!
With water temps now in the low-mid 50s, expect action on our Nation’s River to really pick up in a big way….and fast. After one of the worst winters I’ve ever experienced up this way, life is returning to the water in the form of the season’s first big push of shad and striped bass from the Chesapeake.
Along with the anadromous fishes (those who make the great journey from the sea to the river to spawn), largemouth and smallmouth bass are starting to perk up after a winter of lethargy and sketchiness. Creeks should start holding some impressive specimens here once the water calms down after Monday’s rain.
Snakeheads and gar won’t be too far behind the bass as water temps keep climbing north of 55 degrees.
Carp are a year-round option, albeit the canal is no place for the weary kind (tight casting space, pedestrian traffic, and sight fishing carp in general being a war of attrition), but even these finicky bulldogs make horrible life choices once the mulberries start popping off the bank in the next few weeks.
In other words, there is a lot to look forward to as the early spring weather continues to make us forget winter….and we haven’t even started talking trout water…..
Of course our ill-timed rains have synced up with the weekends to keep water relatively high and unfishable to start the season but if you’re down to explore – options abound.
Sinking lines in the 250-300gr variety are a must on the main river up at Fletcher’s with an intermediate being my preferred weapon of choice when fishing the slower water and tidal tributaries downstream from the cove in Alexandria.
Having not yet made the trek to Fletcher’s to swing for shad; I’ve made stops at Gravelly Point and the C&O Canal in recent days. I’ll be making my shad debut sometime next week.
Gravelly is still slow, a few resident stripers here and there but nothing too crazy to report just yet. Saw my first surface activity this weekend so that’s a good sign that bait is starting to be flushed out of the Duck Pond. Expect action to really heat up in a week or so once the river comes back down.
Even though the rest of it hasn’t been filled yet (to the chagrin of my buddy Connor), the C&O around Lock 7 is loaded with carp right now. On a recent trip with a buddy we had legit shots at half a dozen fish, saw close to 20-25 over the course of a few hours, and even managed to move a few. A #8 black bead head bugger got the most love out of any our offerings. It’s always nice seeing these fickle beats react to the fly, but we ultimately couldn’t come tight and bring a fish to the net. Oh well – like I said earlier, it’s a war of attrition. Sometimes you make a perfect presentation and it’s ignored and at other times you make a loud, reckless presentation that for sure should spook the fish and it gets clobbered…go figure. You’ve just to keep your head in the game and try to make EVERY cast count for something. Expect the game to become less difficult once the mulberries become ripe.
After today’s half inch of rain the river is supposed to crest on Thursday at 6.1 feet, essentially right back to where we were mid-week last week with angry, high water and no boating opportunities. If you’re itching to get out, Monday afternoon (today) and Tuesday morning should provide decent shots at fish before the water gauges shoot above 5ft for the rest of the week. Fishing from shore at Fletcher’s should be solid despite the increased flows. If you venture down that way, please BE AWARE OF THE DANGER. Unless you’re Michael Phelps, you’re most likely done if you fall in that current.
And with each passing second, the river is rising……
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.
Last week I fished Gravelly Point, the Duck Pond, Tidal Basin, Rock Creek Park, and Fletcher’s Cove via boat.
Action continues to be hot on the Tidal Potomac. Our run of larger striped bass (measured in lbs not inches) is underway at Fletcher’s Cove/Chain Bridge along with white perch, river herring, and the entire Shadams family (Gizzards, Hickories, and Americans). Fishing big clousers and streamers on full sink lines deep and jigging the fly back up through the water column has been an effective method for getting to these larger stripers.
To get as deep as possible, make your initial cast and mend/strip out line until you start seeing your backing. Once your line straightens out behind the boat, you’ve reached your max depth. If this still isn’t deep enough, try lifting the rod tip up and slapping the line down on the water to get the fly sinking again. The stripers won’t come on every cast, but for those willing to put in the time – the reward is certainly worth the effort. If schoolies are more of your thing, check out Gravelly Point on an outgoing night or early morning tide.
It seems like everywhere I’ve checked out recently has some combination of herring, shad, or perch. Any place with a tide swing seems to be housing shad - the outflow at Gravelly Point/Duck Pond, Rock Creek Park, and Tidal Basin are a few of such places. Gar are also starting to become active again in the Duck Pond as they prepare to get their spawn on as well – start tying up rope flies.
Rain is in the forecast for Tuesday this week. Be sure to check the little falls gauge before heading out. I'll probably take a break from the Shadness Madness and pursue some trout this week.
The world is your oyster this time of year – shuck it.
Remick Smothers is a native son of the District of Columbia and the founder of FlyTimesDC.