Last weekend I teamed up with Urban Angler for the second annual Potomac Snakehead Tournament which is held at Smallwood State Park in Southern Maryland. With a bevvy of cool sponsors - Urban Angler, Alewife Annapolis, Profish, Tidal Potomac Fly Rodders, and Flying Dog Brewing Company - how the hell could this not be a fly time? Factor in the post-tournament free Flying Dog Snakedog IPAs and fried snakehead tacos and you could say the time spent getting laughed at by snakeheads most of Saturday and Sunday was well worth it. Props to the @MDVASnakeheadSlayer, Austin Murphy, for putting together one hell of an event. I'm sure it will only get bigger in the coming years. Additionally, mega props to Urban Angler owner Richard Farino for sponsoring our kayak team of degenerate fly fishermen. It was a fantastic time. Not sure there is anyone on the river trying to figure these things out harder on fly tactics than Austin and the Urban Angler crew of Richie, Grizz, and Ivan. While the bow fishermen out fished us fly rodders by about 1,050lbs of snakehead to none - the challenge is still out there. Who will bring the first snakehead Next year these fish are seriously f*cked. Now on to some fishing reports, eh?
With Memorial Day in the rear view mirror and the shad run almost officially flat-lined, the Potomac is ready to change gears as we transition from spring to summer here on our Nation’s River.
For fly anglers in and around the District, this means a few things to look forward to as the thermometer gets all uppity:
1) No more shad until next April – sorry dudes, all good things must come to an end. Expand your mind, man.
2) Stripers? The big boys are deep and down river but there are some bigger fish still around. Expect them to move shallow again come Fall (60 degree water). Schoolie action becomes hot n heavy.
3) Poppers, poppers, poppers (give J&M a call!)
4) BASS SEASON (Smallies, schoolie stripers and largemouth)
5) Snakeheads…..everywhere…take your shots…check out the Tidal Basin if you want to see one
6) C&O Carp (Mulberries in Georgetown, sight fishing at Locks 7&8)
7) Rope flies and gar
8) Dry flies for rising trout (SNP and spring creeks)
9) Fishing at low light hours (sun up, sun down…night)
10) WET WADING! (lose the waders and hop in….unless you’re in the Potomac...safe flows for wet wading Tidal Potomac up to Harper's Ferry are generally when the gauge at Little Falls reads 3-4ft)
So…that’s a bunch of random words and vague fishing references in list form – but you catch my drift, the waters in and around the District pose a multitude of options this time of year for those with fish on the brain. The show isn’t going anywhere either.
Right now, local options for fly fishermen are very, very good. Spots such as Rock Creek Park, C&O Canal, Tidal Basin, Four Mile Run, and the outflows of Little Hunting Creek and Gravelly Point are all offering up shots at bass (smallmouth, largemouth, schoolies), carp, snakehead, catfish, gar, and panfish while also producing some pretty darned, impressive catches. The spring creeks and mountain trout water are also fishing very well right now according to my sources.
Since our last update (sorry for the delay in posting some new info, shad run is pretty much the same fishing report for a month or so and then I got lost in the siren’s song that is Florida saltwater fly fishing for two weeks…but we’re back!) – we’ve fished Shenandoah National Park, Rock Creek Park, Dyke Marsh, Gravelly Point, C&O Canal, Four Mile Run, and Little Hunting Creek.
Dry fly action for native brook trout is on fire right now In Shenandoah National Park and really, all throughout the valley, as fish are gorging on drakes (think sizes 12-10 to ward off smaller fish). In particular, the Dry River outside of Harrisonburg has been producing some really nice specimens but most of the blue line streams are giving it up to those willing to hike in a little bit. Study a map, pick a line, bring out your Tenkara stick or 2-4wt fly rod, and your favorite dries/terrestrials and have a blast.
Rock Creek Park is starting to come back to life after a slow start to the season. Morning sessions last week produced the standard mixed-bag that one would come to expect from this dynamic little urban fishery. Although we’ve yet to pull out our first bronzeback of the season, it is only a matter of time until these fishy footballs move into the creek for the summer with some fish being true trophies pushing 20+”. Right now the creek is mostly largemouth bass, panfish, catfish, and the odd snakehead/carp here and there. 4-6wt fly rods with 7.5ft 3x leaders for streamers and 9-11ft 4x leaders for poppers/terrestrials have been working well. I’ll typically sight fish particular holes when the water clarity is good enough from high up on the trail. Look for dark objects contrasting against the sandy bottom. More often than not, these are big catfish but you’ll find nice bass and carp mixed with them. Some flies that are getting it done right now are clawdads (size #2 or #6) in tan, olive or black bounced on the bottom close to structure. Size #6 clousers in black and olive/white, starfoxxes, and size #4-6 kreelex for stained/murky water swung through the deeper pools and channel ledges also produced well. If you’re dying for some topwater, a well-placed popper or froggy Dahlberg diver on the bank is hard to beat.
Dyke Marsh/Belle Haven Marina/Mt. Vernon, albeit only accessible by boat, yak, or paddleboard, was OK on Connor and I’s snakehead scouting trip over Memorial Day weekend. Although we didn’t see any snakeheads, the gar spawn is ON, SON! So many gar…..everwhere…..but that didn’t stop us from hooking into a few nefarious characters in the form of a couple chunky dock bass and panfish. Flipping docks on incoming tides with Hawkins hat tricks and clawdads will produce this time of year but a specific fly isn’t really getting it done in particular. When flipping docks or heavy structure with the ole fly rod, it’s all about presentation. Be sure to use flies that maintain a big profile and solid drop/sink rate. Think spin-fishing with plastic Kreature baits but with feathers and fur. More often than not, you’ll get bit on the initial drop so make sure to watch your line as the fly sinks. Topwater early in the day and at low tides has been producing well as the less water between your fly and the fish, the more likely they are to whack it.
Four Mile Run is doing what it normally does – offering up perfect spawning habitat for panfish and bass. This past weekend while fishing the Snakehead Tournament, I was able to stick a few chunky bass and slab panfish on Dahlberg Divers and starfoxxes upstream of the Mt. Vernon Ave bridge on high tide. The water up this way is generally too skinny on low tides but when the tide comes up there’s a substantial drop off and cover on the far bank that will hold fish. Also saw a monster snakehead in the 30-36” range….One day…..If possible, try not to walk in the stream in this section – you’ll miss/spook more fish than you’ll catch. On low tides, fish downstream. Throw poppers to the bank and underneath the trees for feisty panfish, bass, and if you’re lucky, a northern snakehead taco night might be in your future. Don’t be afraid to use a damselfly nymph as a dropper either – truly one of the more versatile flies on this entire river system. Outside of those techniques, you’re liable to do pretty well on any given day fishing standard clouser minnows in baitfish patterns (olive/white, black, brown/red, etc) on moving tides. There are a ton of white perch in the creeks right now…ringing the dinner bell for pig largemouth bass (5lbs+). Don’t be afraid to throw big flies.
The C&O Canal is in its heyday right now. Although the C&O plays home to everything in the river, with several nice largemouth, smallmouth, and a handful of snakeheads landed each year – I will always think of this failed engineering endeavor as a carp fishery (a "Wild Carp Conservation Area" if you will). Depending on where you’re fishing on the canal, the game can be radically different. Down in Georgetown (locks 1-4), you can fish where the canal dumps into Rock Creek and find the same mixed bag variety we spoke of earlier or you can target the Mulberry Trees. When you find a tree, scope it out for a minute or two—more than likely there are a few carp mulling around underneath it crushing berries. Flies for these fish are relatively simple. Personally, I use a size 10 egg hook with purple grande estaz and chartreuse thread. Think of it as a glorified egg pattern. But anything resembling a berry in either purple, green, or greenish-white will get the job done. If worse comes to worse, bring a small circle hook and pick up a berry. I won't tell. As you move on up the trail through Georgetown away from the Mulberries, keep an eye out for actively feeding fish along the banks…and tourists in your back cast….
The canal up in Glen Echo around Locks 7&8 is a much different fishery- albeit your swapping out shoppers and yogies for swarms of cyclists. On this water the carp fishing remains a sight fishing game but one in which you’re throwing more standard carp flies in slightly larger water. For me, I’ve done very well with damselfly nymphs in size 14-16 when it’s presented stealthily on a mudding fish. More often than not these casts are no longer than 10-15 feet. When I spot a mudding fish on the far bank, I’ll often switch over a something a little more bulky. Size 6 woollybuggers or small crayfish patterns do the trick nicely. Black, brown, or olive are all good colors. Slowly strip the fly through the mud cloud with short, two-inch strips every 4-5 seconds until your fly is clear of the danger zone or you’ve hooked up with king goldfish. Don’t be disheartened if they won’t cooperate at first, this is not an easy game but one of the more rewarding and challenging fisheries in the District due to the extremely limited casting room, pedestrian foot traffic, and the fickle nature of carp. Be sure to bring a big enough net.
Both the outflows of Little Hunting Creek and Gravelly Point are playing home to schoolie stripers and gar right now. The gar are spawning, blowing up mud and grassflats on the regular in an epic display of sexual frustration. Once they’re done spawning you can catch these strong fighters on rope flies (no hooks, their teeth get tangled in the rope=”hookset”) in Roaches Run and the mud/grassflats on the main river. Right now though, they are a snagging hazard – especially when drifting big baitfish patterns on sinking or intermediate lines for stripers. Schoolies (12-20”) should be around for the summer. Low light hours and darkness will bring them shallow to crush the ever so abundant forage fishes that pour out of the Duck Pond during the summer months. Be sure to not play these fish too hard or keep them out of the water longer than you need to as the warm water temps of the Potomac put a fair amount of stress on these fish before they’ve even reached the net.
As the season progresses we’ll start branching out to the spring creeks and smallmouth water for our typical brand of summer fun. Harper’s Ferry, the North Fork of the Shenandoah, the James, the Confluence, and the Upper Potomac all will produce quality bronzebacks as the days get longer. Poppers (blue, black/red, yellow), clawdads, hellgrammites (see: Chuck Kraft's crittermite fly), and baitfish patterns like clousers, kreelexs, starfoxxes, and large woollybuggers are all good bets as well if you’re looking to swing streamers.
For spring creek trout, terrestrials will soon be the name of the game. My personal favorites for summer are large stimulators in orange or olive and anything with foam whether it be a Chernobyl ant, tarantula, hopper, or fat albert – there is nothing better than seeing a big trout destroy a terrestrial drifting along the bank. That said, bring some smaller stuff as well. There are days when they’ll smash a size 8 beetle and others where they won’t look at anything but a size 24 BWO. Hopper dropper set ups will do work.
If you’ve got a fly story to tell, technical tip, or fishing report you’d like to share on the site – reach out to Remick at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’re looking for more content contributors.
After the coolest August the District hath ever seen, this past week reminded us why Labor Day isn’t the end of summer. Air temps returned to the low-mid 90s and that ugly humidity thing reared its head again sending water temps into the low-mid 80s and fish scampering to find cooler water. Despite the warm water (it peaked at 86 degrees on the Tidal Potomac last week!), fishing remained strong with solid all day opportunities for smallmouth and largemouth bass, carp, catfish, snakeheads, and panfish on the Nation’s River and its tributaries. For those seeking trout, dry fly action for brookies is on fire in the mountains and the spring creeks are producing some slabs and Hawg Johnson encounters as summer creeps to an end. Last week I fished Hagerstown’s Beaver Creek with Orvis’ Trent Jones and Rock Creek Park a handful of times before and after work, neglecting my usual weekend trip up to Harper’s Ferry in lieu of a free boat ride to Annapolis for some crabs, brews, and celebration of non-laborious activities.
Beaver Creek fished okay last Thursday as Trent and I set out before sunrise in an attempt to find Hawg Johnson and bring him to instagrammed justice. Although we were ultimately unsuccessful in taming this leviathan, Trent did well fishing a small stimulator in skinny water and some of the narrower pools, sticking several average sized Beaver browns that were looking up due to a ton of field hoppers and other terrestrials coming off the bank. In addition to terrestrials, fish were rising on something incredibly small that neither of us could make out on the surface. Oh well. Some parts of the trout equation will always remain a variable. That’s what makes it fun. While Trent fished dries, I spent most of the day fishing a variety of streamers (size 2-6 sex panther and size 6 Moss Boss in fall fish patterns) looking for an encounter with Hawg.
Fishing in the couple honey holes behind the shop, I managed to get a couple solid browns (16-18”) to flash on a Moss Boss but ultimately they weren’t into getting stuck in the face and to my chagrin, aborted their missions to feast at point blank range. What a tease. After thoroughly harassing every fish in the stretch behind the shop, Trent and I meandered over to the special regs section by the church. As we came to the second footbridge pool (aka Land of Giants), I managed to crawl myself into position so that I could make a cast without being detected by the 30 or so browns in the pool. On the first cast my hopper landed right on the bubble line and a large brown (20” or so) rose up to investigate…and promptly put the fly on his nose before submerging to the depths…. like a coward.
I’ve had some spooky encounters with large fish on Beaver, but at this point, the bigger fish were toying with my emotions. After a few more presentations and refusals, Trent and I decided to see if things were better downstream. Although conditions were right, fish continued to be fussy, as they neither wanted any part of streamers and hopper dropper set up nor the slightest interest in any of Trent’s smaller surface offerings. After fishing our way back up to the second foot bridge to fish for the last hour of the day, Trent and I decided to split up. He’d go investigate some of the pools we neglected up stream and I’d keep swinging for Hawg at the footbridge….
Three monster flashes, one brief take (I pulled the hook out of his mouth), and one snapped line were all I had to show for an hour of pool gazing. As usual, Beaver provided a nice challenge, beautiful wild fish, an escape from the doldrums of the city, and a brief encounter with Hawg Johnson. We left around 1 for a burger and beers at Whitlow’s, a meal so satisfying that I almost forgot about that monster brown…almost. I’ll be back for him this week. You can bet on that.
Rock Creek Park continued to fish well this weekend despite reports of a body being found near Beach and Joyce Road on Labor Day around 6pm. Although the body (an apparent homicide victim) was found several miles upstream from legal fishing waters, it’s a powerful reminder for would be anglers to bring some sort of protection with them in the park, especially if fishing near dusk. That said – dry fly action (small terrestrials or poppers) for panfish has been insane in the last hour or so of the day (almost non-stop) while the bass bite has slowed down a little bit due to warming water temps. Despite the climbing temps last weekend, bronzebacks are still being caught (albeit less frequently) on dead drifted streamers and clawdad patterns fished along channel ledges or dragged on the bottom near structure. Surprisingly, I’ve been finding more fish downstream around the Graveyard. These skinnier channels that feature deeper water around the banks have been harboring small gangs of smallmouth bass (up to about 16”) that you can actually sight cast to or blind cast to and see erupt from the rip rap along the bank. Very cool. Other than that, Rock Creek Park was its familiar self with a few stray channel cats mixed in on the smallmouth bite. I expect action to pick up this week with our nighttime lows in the 60s and 50s dropping water temps back into the fish friendly 70s. Expect fish to be in their familiar haunts, albeit much more active.
With the NFL starting on Thursday (HTTR), pumpkin beers on the shelves, and cooler weather on the way I can’t be happier. Actually, scratch that. I want another piece of Hawg.
Finally, something new to report. Four Mile Run is no longer the only place to catch fish! Spring is here! Well... not entirely just yet, but the water temps are pushing 50 and will definitely get into the low to mid 50s by the end of the week. This means a bunch of things for our area's fly fishing community:
A) SHAD RUN
B) STRIPER RUN
C) SNAKEHEAD RUN
D) PRE-SPAWN LARGEMOUTH
E) BEST TROUT FISHING OF THE YEAR
So what's a fly fisherman to-do? There are just too many options.
Well, here is where I come in with some advice. Especially with shad catch reports starting to become more consistent on theTPFR forum and Fletcher's Boathouse website - try to do a little bit of everything. Don't limit yourself. Spring is only sprung for a small portion of our angling calendar. Go nuts.
Options A-C all take place on the same stretch of river near Fletcher's Cove and Chain Bridge. Bringing two rods, while often times a complete burden, will actually serve you well here because you can easily switch from a shad set up to your striper/snakehead rig depending on the respective fishery's temperament that day. Additionally, snakeheads seem to pop out of nowhere, so it'll be good to keep that extra rod close by. FYI - Pink seems to be the color for shad thus far and stripers are not stacked up at Gravelly Point just yet.
As for my catching this past week/weekend, I decided to chase some trout.
On Wednesday of last week, I fished the public section of Mossy Creek. Throwing some hand-tied patterns (meet Kermit), I had one rise from a big brown in the first bridge pool, before having to settle for a few fall fish and one more rise/rejection. A beautiful morning on a gorgeous stretch of water is hard to beat, but driving the 2.5 hrs for a skunking is tough to take. Luckily the next night was the Fly Fishing Film Tour, so I got my fill of fish porn regardless if I was the one doing the catching or not.
On Friday, I fished with Trent Jones of Orvis Bethesda. After telling him about the shit show in Virginia's stocked trout waters, he decided to introduce me to Maryland's Beaver Creek - a small limestone creek in Hagerstown, MD that boasts a healthy population of wild brown and rainbow trout. This creek is a gem. Having almost exclusively fished Virginia's trout waters, I was very impressed with both the number of fish per pool and the quality of them. In short - gorgeous, wild fish an hour from DC. That's hard to beat.
We caught about a dozen or so browns with a pretty rainbow mixed-in in a few hours on the water, Trent slaying them with the smallest dry (size 24) I've ever seen and me, nymphing with size 22 zebra midges and scuds. The largest fish was around 12" but we broke off larger fish throughout the day (fml). The fish were particular about what they ate and are definitely spooky, so careful wading and general stealthiness are key (no need for SNP brook trout stealth tactics though).
I'll be hitting the stretch from Fletcher's Cove to Chain Bridge this week before work in pursuit of shad, stripers, and snakeheads with a guest appearance on the private waters of Mossy Creek on Friday. Add in MLB Opening Day and I'm in heaven.
Hope springs eternal.
Last week's report talked of snow followed by warming trends which in turn were followed by yet again - more snow. Well, the weather continues to play games with our emotions as all the good accomplished by Friday and Saturday's warming trend was subsequently erased by Monday's most recent snow fall. The Groundhog's latest folly will drop water temperatures back into the low 40s and delay the shad run by another week or two. However, all is not lost.
While early spring patterns were starting to emerge (i.e. streamer and baitfish patterns), fish can still be caught in their normal winter stomping grounds. Four Mile Run, which has recently undergone some shoreline renovations is still your best bet at finding a bent rod this time of year. Clousers, small woolybuggers, and and small baitfish imitations produced the most action.
Last Saturday, fellow FlyTimer Kenny Hodge and I took advantage of the good weather (high of 54, sunny) and hysteria surrounding the shad run and hit the water early (low tide at 6AM, on water by 6:45) and found the water all to ourselves.
We fished the early stages of the falling tide finding no takers at the discharge before pounding the rip-rap and banks downstream. As the tide dropped, warm water is forced down the channel, corralling most rational minded game fish into its warm flow. Thanks to the Arlington Parks Service, the overhanging trees on the bank have been trimmed, leaving some incredible cover. This combination of cover and warm water makes finding fish here somewhat easy. However, the difficult task is getting larger targets to bite.
We found success on size 10 woollybuggers in white and tan, as Kenny proceeded to catch his first ever Panfish Slam (crappie, blue gill, red breasted sunfish, and pumpkin seed sunfish), a nice channel cat, and moved some truly impressive pre=spawn largemouth bass. They had zero interest in any fly we threw their way.
Since Four Mile Run is a heavily pressured fishery, these fish aren't very dumb. Long casts and unique looks with flies are a must for bigger fish. My tip would be to try and angle your casts parallel with the bank since the over hanging trees are now gone. If you need a stylistic reference - think jerk bait fishing for largemouth.
Hope springs eternal.
Remick Smothers is a native son of the District of Columbia and the founder of FlyTimesDC.