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.
Remick Smothers is a native son of the District of Columbia and the founder of FlyTimesDC.