With water temps finally starting to push 50 degrees after a seemingly endless, F*CK#*@#* TERRIBLE WINTER – spring has finally sprung in our beloved District.
With warm weather comes the instinctual urge to do funtivities outside. Joggers, bikers, and all those kept contained inside for way too long hatch in a glorious manifestation of life and passive fitness. It also means hell on the local traffic scene – but I digress.
For us in the District, spring means a few things...
Cherry blossoms and tourists…
Nats games (I’m an O’s fan but beer is beer) and times spent meandering around Cantina Marina….
We've been spared the Caps annual game 7 home loss (aka the Red Wedding) this year (thank god)…
And of course, fishing some…or a lot…or all the freaking time now that there is no need for a gajillion layers or routine trips down I-80 to chase the local population of brutish salmonoids.
How liberating is that?!
But if any of y’all read last year’s #WordHatches around this time of year, there’s a pretty distinct chance you saw a pattern of irrational and reckless behavior that resulted in some great catches and funny stories.
Well, I can’t make any promises (I like to think I’ve learned a thing or two), I’m just gonna say it comes with the territory—especially if the fishing is as spectacular as it was last spring. See, once spring finally rids itself from the demented clutches of winter – my fishing options not limited to one local stream and a handful of productive trout waters – I tend to lose my shit.
In short, I’m talking about the deterioration of all things resembling rationality and a normal, functional life...all for a shot at that one fish.
In other words, things are about to get awfully fishy around here (if it looks like I haven’t slept…I haven’t).
The next few months will be a total immersion into the fly life as I’m looking forward to fishing way too hard until this all starts slowing down….hopefully around next December.
But just in case you missed all the #WordHatches from last year, here is the typical spring rundown around these parts-
After a long winter pounding the trout water and occasionally Four Mile Run with a goddamn vengeance – the Nation’s River smiles on us all and finally warms up to 50 degrees. Giving everyone hope. Trout guys curse the oncoming flood of fair weather fishermen….and powerbait.
Everyone starts talking shad in late February despite the facts that global warming has decided to punish this region by extending winter well into March in recent years. Maybe one year we'll be graced with an early season...Until then Shad start showing up in early April and the line for a boat at Fletcher’s starts at 4am. All time before/after work is spent at Fletchers for three weeks straight as water temps everywhere start to get primo.
At this point I’ve stopped shaving. After another week, I’m seriously contemplating a No-Shave-Shad-Run for the entire two months period these mini-tarpon enter the river. Hell, I’ve even started to smell like a shad (hickory, not gizzard. Thank god).
But like an addict—come late-April, I’m done with shad…I need a stronger pull...and really want a spey rod….
By now the run is fully on. Fletcher’s becomes too crowded. The majority of folks are keeping all the shad they can despite the postings about river herring and shad being endangered. There are no rules. It’s gross.
To boot the banks are lined with dart chuckers (non-derogatory term, I enjoy spin fishing a lot) and the channel completely lined with row boats making it tough to get back to the boathouse at times without taking a dart to the jugular. That said, it’s an incredible time.
If you live in the District, you need to experience it at least once.
But it’s time to roll out—people are starting to give me funny looks.
The run will continue for another month or so.…until the Dogwoods blossom….
Late April-Late May
Striper run starts mid-late April with the bigger fish pushing through the system first. The stripers range from 8”-40”. The big ones are rare on fly gear –especially in places that are accessible from the shore. But I dream nonetheless.
I start planning my life around the Alexandria tide chart hitting up every tidal creek outflow and inlet I can at “good” times. Everything from dates to beers with friends and family affairs are all strained and meticulously calculated against the tides –all for a shot at that one fish.
3:30am wake up calls for outgoing tides on school nights becomes the norm as you make the transformation from human being to thing that goes bump in the night. Sleep deprivation is nothing but a thang. Coming back to the park to fish an hour before it closes seems like a good idea even when you've already fished there from 4am-7am that day and again from 6pm-8pm.
You start to lose yourself in the calmness of a DC sunrise…..only hours after losing yourself in the serenity of a cool, spring night…You start not to care about the little things. The cast, a natural extension of yourself at this point. The initial mend upon fly hitting the water, like breathing. The retrieve synchronized to the point that you don't even recognize yourself doing it anymore. It just does...and you make another cast.
In other words, my friend - you start fishing.
You swing until you can’t anymore- that point where either the fish or the elements decide your fate for you. Moments denied when you are betrayed by the tide and at other times by an oncoming monsoon. Some of the best tides are ruined by a flooded river. Moons wasted on angry, chocolate water. So you tie flies.
Big flies. Some with clouser eyes, others with the Clear Cure—in every “PROVEN” combo you can think of. Once your armory is restored - the river gets its act together and it’s game time again. You wonder if it will ever happen…And then it happens.
You feel the bump, strip set, and realize you hooked something that really, really didn’t like being stuck in the face. The rod loads and you can feel the power of this magnificent force as the line shoots through the guides. In the soft glow of the surrounding street lights you hear, not see, the fish break the surface. In your mind you know it’s a solid fish. Over 25”…whatever the hell it is.
You hope it’s that striper you’ve been chasing every week for the past month. The thought crosses your mind it’s a snakehead…but pshhh. You pray it’s not a big blue cat. And then, in that same soft light that prevented you from seeing said beast break the surface from 80yds away –your finally given that glorious gift of sight. The fish coming into view, broad silver stripes and burly shoulders busting through its prison bird suite lateral lines in full, furious glory…and things suddenly feel complete.
You can finally sleep.
But even when you eventually stick that nice fish or too mixed in with the schoolies, you tell no one. It may have taken you days, weeks, months, or even years to accomplish the rare fate of pulling a 30” striper out of the shallows. But the shad beard compels you to do weirder things.
A life of secrecy is hard to maintain on a blog with 3K+followers. But sometimes you gotta speak up….like when you almost get arrested for “entering the Potomac” (still sounds like some sort of sexual deviancy) at 2:30AM near a busy, National Airport…
Time to lay low for a while….the stripers are slowing down…
The next show is in town.
Snakeheads, largemouth, and smallmouth bass have long ago emerged from their winter slumber offering up fun for those not obsessed with shad or stripers.
For bass, this means moving from shelves in relatively deep water into the shallows to gorge themselves. The creeks become a playground for anyone with a clawdad, small clouser, or frog.
Those alien snakeheads? Not so much.
After rising from their muddy, wintry resting places—water temps in the mid-50s inspiring them to start shagging all over the place at Chain Bridge—these bastards won’t eat a single thing until their done with their biznazz. But in May that all starts to change with some fish finishing said biznazz and finally deciding to eat something –as the summer continues, it only gets better.
The Tidal Basin becomes a second home for these aliens. Urban whale watching and day dreaming become one and the same. It’s the fish that doesn't see you that eats the fly. Be seen and you’re done.
I chase them with abandon until the grass gets too thick to fish without a boat….and the target keeps moving.
If you’re up for it, challenge yourself. There is no better place to become an ALL-AROUND fly fisherman than the Potomac watershed and its surrounding area.
Sometimes you’ve got to experiment. Change things up. Put your left shoe on your right foot. Well, maybe not that extreme. But you catch my drift (above all else, stay fly). Without risk taking or experimentation – our great sport would be limited to its origins of dry flies and small streams (not a bad thing). But because we are a species that likes to push the envelope – innovation is inevitable. We will always continue to push the boundaries before us. Don't believe me? Just look around.
Already our sport has progressed from said stream to the salt and from those holy salt flats it has expanded to the blue water in the pursuit of an adrenaline rush so pure and profound that it alters the life paths of even the most determined individuals and puts our existence into sweet, sweet perspective. However, the books have already been written on how to catch most of the badass fish on the planet. Far away fisheries pioneered by the legendary rock star cowboys of previous generations. But where do we draw our inspiration to deviate from the doctrines previously set before us nowadays? Family? Friends? Fish? Boredom? In other words- where do we find the courage to pursue happiness on our own damn terms? Honestly, I don’t know. I just try to fish as often as my body and schedule will permit. I try to adapt as much as possible and figure out the game on my own. Sometimes it’s reinventing the wheel – other times it’s letting the wheel spin. But the confidence to branch off and do something “weird” is a rare trait these days. The desire to forge trails and bushwhack a dying desire - but innovation is inevitable. There will always be individuals weird enough to try something new.
Too many individuals fear failure or ridicule these days. For others it’s loneliness or a bruised ego. But what’s the difference between not catching anything doing the accepted technique and not catching anything on an unorthodox rig? There isn’t one. Except that I guess you fit in with the norm. Doubt will dwell in one’s mind regardless when they fail. So why not make the fresh attempt and try something new and go down swinging?
After only getting one snakehead in the mouth this past year on a fly out of the Tidal Basin throwing just about every fly you could imagine - I couldn’t help but get to thinking….
What was I doing wrong?
Was I doing anything wrong?
Was it me?
Was it the fish?
There were no books for me to reference. No words to follow from the badass rock star cowboys of our sport's distinguished past. There was nothing but blank pages and overzealous blog posts by those fortunate enough to “fool” one of these great fish. I think my heart just skipped a beat.
Long before I became a fly guide - I was an aspiring tournament bass fisherman. In my youthful wanderings, I learned how to flip, pitch, and skip baits under docks. I lost baits in trees, boats, ropes, docks, buoys, living rooms, and on one unfortunate occasion -a cormorant. But eventually, I learned how to read water. I perfected my retrieves and rod action. I avoided the birds and studied and read as much as I could to get inside the head of my quarry. Big fish became the expectation – not the exception. In the end, I realized that most predatory game fish are of an eerily similar like mindedness. Most live in the same places and eat the same variety of things. They rarely deviate from that previous doctrine set before them – their survival instinct too tough to breakdown. So what gives with snakeheads?
The answers are…. well…. still up for debate. With each catch we’re figuring these fish out but the limited catches on fly rods really leave a lot to be desired. In other words – the book on snakeheads is still in the process of being written. From my observations – they are a random beast that loves banded killifish, hates cinnamon, and favors those not looking for them. I’ve heard of one caught on shad flies at Chain Bridge. Another was caught on a nymph in the Tidal Basin. One individual with a good ole fashioned worm and bobber caught one at Fletcher’s Cove. Pretty much all were caught by accident. Hell, Jeremy Wade had to implore a local fisherman to spear one FOR HIM in Thailand. Now that really puts things in perspective.
When I think about the unique opportunity placed before us on our Nation’s River (whether or not you consider these invasives a blessing or curse) – I can’t help but flash to those first pioneering bone fishermen on the flats. How many times did they spook a fish with an errant cast? How many times were they given the fin before hitting pay slime? When did they realize these fish were leader shy? When did everything start to click for those rock star cowboys? The history of our sport is fascinating. However, it is the future that excites me the most. The possibility of pioneering an entirely new fishery can't help but get you excited.
I guess it’s time to write some pages in this snakehead book. Let’s get weird.
When you tell your friends that you’re coming down for a long weekend of revelry and catching up on good times – the last thing on their minds is a world record grass carp. But then again, there is no such thing as a “normal” trip to Memphis.
When I travel, I’m about as close as it gets to being narcoleptic. The minute I step on a plane, I find my seat and promptly pass out until landing, dreaming of fish all along the way. It’s a fairly sweet system I’ve developed. Yet, on the flight back to Memphis to visit my alma mater and see the old friends, favorite bars, and eateries I left behind en route to the “real world”– I couldn’t sleep. The amalgamation of memories – Stauffer Field, frat row, tailgates, the “Barnett Library”, Zinnies, finals anxiety, fried chicken friday, Alex’s Tavern, the sight of long lost faces, and the return to my fly origins - encouraging my mind to race faster than if it were on Adderall . But I think the real reason I couldn’t sleep was a much simpler one - I brought my fly rod with me.
Most people know Memphis for its music and food. Whether it’s munching down Rendezvous dry ribs, Huey’s burgers, or Gus’s Fried Chicken while listening to the Sun Studios crooning of B.B. King or Elvis Presley along Beale Street or bumping bass to 107.1 (where hip hop lives) along Summer Avenue – Memphis is defined by its willingness to please your senses. Unfortunately, it will never be confused with a world class fly fishery. But what Memphis is – is a city defined by its opportunities and those individuals who seek them.
I like to think that I sought out my opportunities in college. I came to the Bluff City an obnoxious undergrad bent on dominating beer pong tables and the baseball diamond and left a relatively sane, rational-minded fly fisherman with a bum elbow and a healthy perspective on life. The person I was on my first day of college radically differed from the man I was on my last. Memphis forced me to blaze my own path to happiness - every cast into the unknown teaching me something new about life. Every dumb golf course bass a cure for the pangs of home sickness. I can only hope to repay this good fortune down the road - to inspire those around me to find true happiness in whatever they do.
I guess fishing will always be what I want to do. It will be the first thing on my mind whenever I see water or travel to a new place. It drove me to wonder onto an empty golf course on a cold night in the pursuit of largemouth bass and happiness my freshman year. I know for a fact it is the reason I convinced my best friend to move to Mudd Island instead of living closer to campus my junior year (there are neighborhood ponds). And despite an incredibly supportive group, is how I kept my sanity in Memphis despite all the obstacles that school, baseball, and life threw my way. Simply put, fishing has never asked me for anything more than a chance. I will always give it one….
The return trip to Rhodes College and Memphis was one of mixed emotions. I knew I would be walking into a situation where time had visibly passed me by. I would feel old and unwanted. There would be new buildings, new faces, and the inevitable first introductions to people I would probably never see again. Yet, I also knew that the faces and places that I came to love in Memphis would be there - that my friends, surrogate family, and most importantly - my fish would be there.
I won’t bore you with tales of how infuriatingly close I came to triumph or how several potential world record grass carp gave me the fin. I won’t tell you about how silly I looked hiding behind a tree and roll casting to a fish from someone’s backyard. I sure as hell won’t tell you what happened Saturday night. But I will tell you this, there are opportunities everywhere. All you have to do is look.
Remick Smothers is a native son of the District of Columbia and the founder of FlyTimesDC. A self taught fly fisherman and fly tier, Rem graduated from Rhodes College with a double major in fly fishing and English in 2012. He has been celebrating the fly life ever since. Just remember, if it's dark out, there's a shark out. Above all else, stay fly. #flytimesdc