Fishing for bass and panfish has been red hot in and around the Potomac recently. Topwater flies such as poppers or gurglers fished along weed edges and creek banks led to some explosive topwater strikes last week, while smaller streamers continue to fish well in the small creeks and tributaries. After thoroughly harassing the smallmouth population in Rock Creek via size 6 mossboss streamers most of last week, I decided to take the show on the road this weekend and head back up to Harper’s Ferry in search of some bigger bronzebacks and a golden ghost in honor of TLTFF’s #CarpWeek. After an incredibly rough start to the morning (Lagunitas Undercover is nothing to play with), good friend and former FlyTimesDC compatriot, Wes “Mantooth” Repass and I hit the road.
Arriving around noon to this Wild and Wonderful playground, the early morning overcast we drove through dissipated the minute we hit the water. Undoubtedly, this affected the smallmouth bite in one way or another, but more importantly, having no sunblock, was the theme of the day. As of this writing, a bandana tan line is clearly visible on my forehead. Thank you for that Buff…but back to the fishing.
The rocking streamer bite I experienced most of the last two weeks was nonexistent on Saturday. Flies drifted through usually fishy haunts all vulnerable and ready to be devoured, but to no avail. No love from the pecker head smallies or sunfish either. Fish were lazy. It was a slap in the face. Hell, I even walked through a couple holes I thoroughly covered with multiple flies only to see smallies scatter everywhere in mass exodus from my size 14 wader boots. Wes, a fairly accomplished fly angler himself, was also striking out.
What the hell was going on? Clawdads failed. Mossbosses sucked. Even the woolybugger, God’s secret weapon on his toughest days on the water, did nothing. I was a streamer dreamer living in a cruel, fishless world. It was time to change things up.
Moving out of the main flow of the river, I decided to focus my time and effort on the numerous riffles and smaller pocket water found near the WV bank. If you’ve ever fished pocket water out west, it’s a very similar ordeal. However, instead of throwing a parachute Adams and dropper for gorgeous trout – you’re tossing a booglebug popper with a damsel fly nymph trailer to the feisty neon-faced pumpkinseed sunfish and brutish bronzeback bass (smallmouth). Sound like fun? That’s because it is.
At Harper’s Ferry, the pattern was fairly simple. Drift the popper through fast water. Pop it in the still pools near eddies. If nothing happened after a few drifts, move on to the next confluence of flows. Rocket science? No. A nifty way to fool finicky fish? Hell yes. But that’s nymphing in general. After a slow start to the day, slowly but surely, the bite started turning on.
Over the course of the next few hours, 30 or so pumpkinseed sunfish, a rare red eye rock bass, and one bruiser smallie fell for my antics (the smallie rose from a deep pool to destroy a blue booglebug - epic). Unbeknownst to me – Wesley was also slamming fish in the face a little further upstream.
Although it started slowly, Saturday was a great day on the water and fairly typical action for this time of year on the Upper Potomac. While Harper’s may not be an average day trip for the time pressed angler, topwater action remains a solid bet in places like Four Mile Run, the weed edges of the Duck Pond, Constitution Gardens, and Rock Creek Park. Bring a few poppers, a damsel fly nymph or crazy Charlie, and your favorite small streamers and hit the water in the first or last hours of the day!
Look for this hot/humid trend to continue until Wednesday. Then it’s nice and cool again through the start of next week. Make sure to get out and take advantage of these unseasonal conditions!
Remick Smothers is a native son of the District of Columbia and the founder of FlyTimesDC.