With only a few, precious weeks left until the leaves start to turn and the thermometer begins its cruel, gradual descent from temperate to polar vortex driven absurdity - it's time to relish the dog days of summer.
My beloved Orioles are in first, the Redskins haven't lost a game yet, and for the second straight year, we've been blessed with a temperate second half of July and start to August....and for the second straight year, our crew has been lucky enough to get out consistently and stick some solid fish in the face.
Cool air temps mean cooler water temps which in turn mean happy, hungry fish....and more holdover trout on the stocked and wild trout water. Cha-ching.
It's a good time to be alive. Whether it's tossing poppers to brutish bronzebacks on the Upper Potomac, James, or Shenandoah Rivers, flipping dries to brookies in the park, or floating terrestrials to finicky spring creek browns and bows - the action has been much hotter than the weather. That's a good thing, people.
Get out and fish. Now.
On recent trips to Beaver Creek (MD) and Mossy Creek with Kevin and Clarence, I found fish were happily looking up during the first part of the day (8am-12pm). On both streams small foam hoppers and beetles on 11-13' 5-6x leaders and delicate, precise casts got the job done on these notoriously finicky fish. Make sure to match the hopper size to whats hanging out in the fields. The fish can be choosey. But really, it's all about that first presentation on a good stretch of pressured water.
Before I decide to make a cast on small spring creek, I make sure I've got my ducks in a row. It's important to know that you've got enough line, casting room, and mental clarity to make that first cast count. Don't rush yourself. Don't be mad at yourself if you get hung up in a tree. Stay fly and overcome. Get trouty.
That said, after 12pm, it didn't really matter if you were Lefty Kreh or Hank Patterson.
As the sun got higher on each of these trips, the fish were more reluctant to come on top and a change in game plan was needed.
Although these two streams are relatively similar in their inhabitants, they're radically different in setting and strategy. On both streams, since they lie on the borders of fields and farmland - fish look up in the summer for terrestrials (duh). But when they stop looking up, these trout waters differ in their respective plans B, C, and D. Beaver, although a solid bet for streamers (plan D) is much more of a delicate nymphing, small bug game (plan B) when fish aren't coming up. Mossy is almost the exact opposite with fish taking meat off the bottom and along weed edges (plan B, C, D).
On Beaver, I continued to be stubborn and drift the hopper as I got a few good looks from some decent fish in the 14-17" range. Convinced I'd eventually fool one, nothing came to fruition and I tapped out at 2pm with two, 12" browns to my name. Not bad, but an important lesson here - refusals are like that chick at the bar that you've convinced yourself is into you but lo and behold is ultimately surrounded by all of her friends, hates who you are and what you're all about, and really, honestly, just thought your hat was cool. Sure, you're doing something right- remember, she thinks your hat is cool? But ultimately, she's sure as hell not going home with you and that number she put in your phone is actually some guy named Raul. No, they don't know each other and sadly- you'll probably never see her again. No matter how many times you were that hat and hangout at the same bar. That said, while I was talking with the proverbial girl at the bar in my super cool hat to no avail - Kevin was putting in some serious work on Beaver.
Switching up to a somewhat standard double-nymph rig, Kevin went on to stick a half dozen or so healthy, wild bows and browns to my two. His weapons of choice? Drifting rainbow warriors and olive scuds through the deeper runs under a small, white indicator on 5x. Most fish were in the 10-14" range, (the normal-nicer range for Beaver) and similar to the hopper bite, dissipated shortly after noon or so.
Around 2pm we got off the stream as a few more fishermen had shown up and a local kid was blowing up the entire scene by walking through the channel with a large net....I like where his heads at, just needs some better execution....
On Mossy, Clarence and I had some decent action earlier in the day (8am-12pm) with terrestrials. Between the two of us, we had 6 rises on this notoriously challenging trout water - resulting in one, 13" brown brought to hand and a few FML moments as Clarence hunted down a pair of beastly browns and got them to rise twice on his beetle without ever having them feel the steel. Exciting but emotionally tantalizing nonetheless.
As the afternoon doldrum set in, we decided to switch over from our terrestrial get-ups. The game was as played out as Hangout Fest on the following Monday morning. The fish having already stepped in what we were dropping, I tied on my go-to fly - the stars*** (formerly StarFox, Starfoxx), and decided I was going to dead drift along the weed edges and deeper holes. We had moved a few big fish earlier in the day and figured that although it was summer and the water was low and clear, the bigger browns would be stacked up in dark water. Plus, who could pass up the equivalent of a free chipotle burrito delivered right to their door? So we drifted streamers through the water we had already fished hard and quickly managed to hook into a healthy 14" fish along a weed bed. Thank god for telescoping nets because this fish, or any other fish for that matter, would've been physically unreachable.
As the stream became more crowded with both fishermen and cows (landowner agreements be damned, right?) - we decided to hit my favorite hole in the lower stretch before getting out of town.
Splitting up the hole, Clarence took the top end and I fished the back end. Expecting something relatively cool to happen as this spot doesn't get hit too hard on Mossy, I saw the indicator slowly drift down and I set on what felt like a good fish.
I felt the weight of the fish and saw the flash that gets everyone and their mother fired up. The fish dug hard for cover but I was able to maintain control and eventually navigated the slob to the surface. Expecting a solid 18" Mossy brown or bow, your reward for slugging it out on one of the more challenge/reward streams in Virginia -this strange feeling came over me.
Confusion. Disappointment. Pride?
We had just stuck the chub of the century! A solid 18" fish and about 2lbs on him. Huge head. A weird and fitting way to end a day on Mossy, it just goes to show that sometimes you just can't have it your way. Mossy is a great reminder of that.
To remedy this - we stopped at the BK en route back to the District.
Smallmouth and Co.
Trout are truly a tremendous fish. They are beautiful, wild, fussy, and ultimately fight hard as hell when you stick a good one. Coming from the perspective of a salt/warm water guy, pursuing them on the fly has made me an infinitely better fisherman. That said, if you're looking to throw a little gas on the fire that is your life as a fisherman - look no further than your local smallmouth hole. For those brandishing their 2wts and telescoping tenkara sticks at me like swords, I encourage thee to check out our smallmouth bass and carp fisheries on the Upper Potomac, Shenandoah, and James Rivers - or prepare to duel.
On the Upper Potomac, Clarence and I did pretty well throwing popper/dropper set ups and big, foam terrestrials for the resident smallmouth bass and panfish that frequent this area. For this set up I like to use a black or blue boogle bug or similar popper on a 9ft 3x leader. From there I tie on a 2-3ft section of 4x tippet to either a damselfly nymph, crazy charlie, or woolybugger and will dead drift this set up through pocket water and deep runs.
Why the tippet discrepancy?
Good question. If you're bottom fly hits a snag in fast water or a place you don't necessarily want to wade over to for a rescue mission - it's way easier to pop off the bottom fly. That way you won't lose the entire get up so you can retie and be back to fishing the popper/dropper in no time.
If popper/droppers aren't your thing - the streamer action up this way can be pretty awesome. My favorite flies are the previously mentioned stars*** and clawdad. Fishing the stars*** is pretty SOP - cast down and across and swing. Strip back. Repeat. I like to target anywhere with depth/bottom change. Dead drifting under an indicator works well too if fish are being persnickety. Enough with the stars*** tho. She gets enough play.
The real deal for this area is the clawdad. Whether it's bouncing this versatile fly on the bottom of deep runs or sight casting them to brutes in the shallows - THERE IS NO BETTER FLY for this fishery when specifically targeting bronze backs. Carp are also suckers for these things too.
AND SPEAKING OF RIVER DONKEYS....
Clarence and I encountered a school of about 20 or so large carp (20-30lbs) on the Upper Potomac. Spent about an hour trying to get them to eat but unfortunately not a single fish was mudding. Bummer. That said, these fish are the target for those wanting a real challenge on the water. The gradient, vantage points (islands, rock formations), and generally solid visibility make this an extremely exciting game for anyone in pursuit of getting into their backing. Clawdads, sculpins, and damselfly nymphs are the name of the game.
For those without wheels or the desire to trek an hour or two outside of the city for their fish fix, there are plenty of options in and around the District. Schoolie stripers, largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, snakeheads, carp, and panfish all are readily available to those willing to pursue them on our Nation's River.
The outflows of tidal creeks during low light hours and darkness will hold their fare share of schoolie stripers (8-18"...think Oct for bigger fish...unless you have a boat and know how to read a depth finder). Gravelly Point, Tidal Basin, Four Mile Run, and Little Hunting Creek are all solid bets. Swing streamers on intermediate or sinking lines on outgoing tides. If you're not getting bit, it's probably a depth thing.
For largemouth and smallmouth, think poppers, terrestrials, or dahlberg divers at first or last light. Streamers on intermediate or floating lines with some shot will also get the job done. Four Mile Run, Rock Creek Park, Constitution Gardens, and the non-choked out sections of the Duck Pond are all solid bets. Snakeheads can be a bonus.
For carp, the C&O canal is still fishing well. While the MULBERRY MADNESS of late May and June is ultimately gone and the stretch of canal through Georgetown has reverted back to its douchey, yoga pant infested sheet show - there are plenty of fish to be had up around Locks 7&8 by Glen Echo. Up on this stretch, the name of the game remains small clawdads, damselfly nymphs and PRESENTATION, PRESENTATION, PRESENTATION.
When I fish for carp, I like to see the eat. These fish can be weird and spit out a fly in less than a second without you knowing you actually got bit. Knowing when to set is crucial. Therefore, I pretty much only target a fish when I can see its head or have a clear understanding of its orientation in the water. Casting to their tails does no good. Hell, I can wait for homeboy to get into position. It's called stalking for a reason, right? That said, I've found the fish closest to the canal path are the easiest to convince and present a small damselfly nymph to. On Sunday I saw close to 20 fish, had 2 takes, and missed both. So is life. So is carping. Tis why we play the game.
Remick Smothers is a native son of the District of Columbia and the founder of FlyTimesDC.