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.
Sitting around the Thanksgiving table, surrounded by family and the renowned kitchen stylings of my sainted mother, a cold Lagunitas Brown Shugga in hand and turkey coma well on its way, one could think of a bevy of reasons to feel truly blessed this time of year. Family, friends, football, and the fall migration of steelhead and giant Great Lake run brown trout all fit the bill. But a certain someone in our company wasn’t content with simply eating delicious turkey chow and casually chatting about current events.
In the midst of sating ourselves on roasted fowl and adult beverage, my mother decided to push the envelope….Stir the pot…. Shake things up… You know, shake and bake? Alright, that was a stretch…. especially considering all she did was start the standard “what are you most thankful for?” Thanksgiving table conversation. But stick with me here.
After prompting each guest or family member to share something they were personally grateful for (quality employment, good health, togetherness, and my mom’s famous oyster casserole were a few memorable mentions) there were only a few peeps left before it was my turn to spit some truth.
What the hell would I say?
You know, between the absurd level of on-water shenanigans and near death experiences, it’s been kind of a crazy year, but also one to be truly thankful for. So naturally, I didn’t want to just say something for the sake of saying it. There have just been too many moments worthy of thanks this year. Some were beautiful, others ugly, and some that were truly moments of reckoning. I couldn’t play it safe here. I couldn’t cop out.
It goes without saying that I’m grateful for the three Fs in my life. Family, friends, and fly fishing are all wonderful things. So you may be asking, well, what are you thankful for, Rem? One word: Perspective.
Now it may sound dumb or vague….or even worse—like I’m trying to get deep on y’all—but the ability to cut through the bullshit and not be fooled by the powerbait of life is a blessing in onto itself. It wasn’t easy getting here. It took a few cold doses of Sweetwater to learn that floating the mainstream isn’t always the best idea. But people, similar to fish, are often doomed by the flashy things in their lives. Everyone falls for them from time to time. It’s human nature. But similar to the happenings in the surf and steam –it’s no coincidence that most cultures around the world share a relatively similar angling tradition that respects or even reveres big fish most. When you get down to brass tax, there is good reason for this—especially as more and more anglers these days have begun to embrace catch and release.
Big fish are those individuals who consistently avoid the temptations around them. They routinely find ways to avoid that fatal mistake. They overcome adversity with ease to throw the hook, wrap you around something sinister, or simply—whoop your ass—and leave you shaking at the knees. They are masters of survival. So much so that when these monsters are ultimately stuck in the face with one of life’s barbs – more often than not, they find themselves released out of respect.
The lessons we can learn from something as simple as fishing are limitless and in every instance (no matter how painful the learning process is/was), refreshing.
So let’s see what I’ve learned in the past year…..
I learned that to become a better fisherman, you must either fish water that challenges you or fish with someone who is truly better than you—for these are the tests of an angler’s true skill (the ability to overcome and the ability to learn/ignore your foolish pride, open your mind, and you know, try something different, man)….
I learned that fish hate cameras…. But that Hawg Johnson never takes a day off…so always bring a camera….just don’t call your shots…..
I learned that dry flies aren’t something you can actually be allergic to—but something that is highly, highly addictive….
I learned that 6 and 7x are way stronger than you’d think….but at the same time, not nearly as strong as you’d think….
I learned that tire treading is very, very essential for driving in the rain….
I learned that one cast can change the outlook on your entire day, week, month, year, or life…..
I learned to not fuck with beavers….they hate you….
I learned that there are bull sharks in the Potomac…..
I learned that even “garbage flies” get bit……
I learned that the fish are just part of the equation…..for the things you see on the water and in nature can change even the most verdant couch potato….
I learned that Bald Eagles are way better aerial fighters than Ospreys….
I learned that days on the water are more important than nights at the bar….
I learned that Snakeheads are curious, intelligent, and spiteful assholes….not fish…..
I learned that lyme disease does not come from limes…but ticks….
I learned that Four Mile Run will ruin your waders… pick your shots….
I learned that the fish you miss or lose are weirdly the ones you remember most….
I learned that paradise isn’t shit unless you have someone to share it with…..
I learned that a four fly rig is nothing but non-essential, self-imposed trouble…..although it’s a cool premise….similar to those first airplanes with 100 wings…..
I learned that just because a fly looks good on the vice it doesn’t mean it will look good in the water…..
I learned that there is nothing stopping you from fishing but the absence of time…..make time for fishing….
I learned that those you trust and love (and love you back) are the only people who matter in life – for they are the only ones who care enough to look at your fish porn, listen to your nonsensical ramblings about tippet and marabou, and welcome you home with a hug despite the body odor, scraggily facial hair, and fish slime….
Thank god for turkey, blondes from Boston, and the lessons learned.
Let’s do it all over again next year!
Remember when you were a little kid?
The world was some combination of the unmanageable, unexplainable, and to sound as cliché as possible—endless. You know what I’m talking about though. Bubbles were fascinating, candy the staple of a healthy diet, and dinosaurs/sharks what the cool kids were into. In other words, we didn’t know shit. I mean, we are talking about the days when mom and dad controlled everything - drove you places, filled your days by signing you up for passionless things you didn’t want to do (piano lessons, soccer, math tutoring, etc), and ultimately were the naysayers for all things fun –that time in our lives when any new experience was well, mind-blowingly exciting and upon further reflection - completely out of our hands.
As we grow older though, we start to realize how much our lives are out of our control. We gain awareness for the things around us (dogma) and begin that fruitless adolescent fight against the parental units for every inch of free will that we can get (driver’s licenses, curfews, and friend circles be damned). It’s funny, but just as the struggle reaches a fever pitch, the higher ups cut the line and release us back into the real world on our own. More times than not with the hook still stuck in our mouth…. as if they knew what they were doing all along or something (thank god for catch and release).
Often, this newly found freedom doesn’t translate directly to the happiness one thinks it would. Similar to a dog that finally catches the squirrel in the backyard and doesn’t really know what to do with it; we spend most of our lives thinking about THE FUTURE so much so that we’re unprepared for it when it finally comes. If we could just harken back to our youthful beginnings and that original thirst for life that thrust us into this world like a bat out of hell– everything would probably be fine. But I feel like that would require a lot more coffee at this point.
For the sake of caffeine abuse, I ask you dear reader to ask yourself a simple question. What do you want to do? Think for a good long minute. It can be about fishing or any part of your life that you feel isn’t up to snuff. Found it? Good. Now, that you know what you want to do – ask yourself what’s stopping you from going out there and actually doing it? What ACT OF GOD is standing in your way? What impassable river separates you from the thing you desire most on the other bank? Time is often a culprit. There simply isn’t enough of it. Prior commitments to family or work and physical limitations are all valid excuses as well, but outside of that – who/what is drawing the line in the sand for you and telling you not to cross it these days?.... Look in the mirror, boss, more often than not— it’s you.
I don’t mean to rub anyone the wrong way. We all live busy lives. This may well be youthful ignorance. But whenever I hear about fellow young persons finding themselves in ruts or pissed off about their whereabouts in life, obviously jaded over the places they’ve been or continue to be in, I can’t feel sorry for them. Don’t like your job? Go and pursue your happiness. Tired of that same old bar? Find a new scene. Tired of fishing the same places? Go and research new water. It’s called Google.
There are a lot of things we cannot control in our lives. Weather, death, and the feeding patterns of 20”+ brown trout being a few that come off the top of my head. But the few things we can control –the outlook we take into every day and the effort we put in to getting what we want out of life – are absolutely within our hands. If you don’t believe me, check out the powerful work done by Project Healing Waters.
The work this national organization does to rejuvenate the minds and souls of wounded veterans through fly fishing is truly remarkable. In teaching these heroes the ways of the wand, how to read the stream, and the endless possibilities of the vice – Project Healing Waters helps veterans learn a new sense of normal in their lives despite their physical limitations. By employing fly fishing and all the technical skills associated with it (knot tying, casting, fly selection, etc) these heroes learn to use their new appendages in a stress free environment while doing something new and challenging. Through time on the water, they gain a new lease on life. It’s funny how chasing a silly little fish in a silly little stream can do that for someone.
I’ll admit I’ve experienced the aforementioned feeling of finding yourself rutted in misery, despite not having an excuse to (people who fish Four Mile Run and Duck Pond often know exactly what I’m talking about). Maybe it's the pangs of boredom or that lackluster feeling of being unchallenged - but when times get tough, the tough get going. Challenge yourself. Try to innovate your life. It’s important to realize that the parental units or whatever guiding forces from your past are no longer driving the car that is your life. Sure, they are along for the ride, but they are no longer running the show by filling your schedule with piano lessons or foreboding you to hang out with that Pikos kid because he’s a bad influence.
Simply put, there is nothing preventing you from driving five hours to go fishing on a famous stretch of trout water or chase stripers in the surf if that’s where your heart is at. There are no rules except for those of society (stop at red lights, don’t murder anyone, mandatory clothing in public, etc). We should stop living like we CAN’T do what we want to (as long as it’s within reason). Pick up that fly rod and make the cast. You’ll never know what will happen if you don’t. Your future is now.
Fly fishing is a beautiful thing. To me, there is neither a simpler nor greater pleasure than hopping into my waders, threading the line through my guides in early morning darkness, and finding myself on the creek at sunrise. That is my perfect morning. It’s a lot of people’s perfect morning, but as we know – perfection is hard to obtain. However, people need to remember perfection is purely based upon a state of perspective. Any moment can become perfect. All it takes is one cast. So why do so many anglers get pissed when they find someone else on the water with them in these beautiful moments? Strangers be damned – share the love!
I’m not sure about you dear reader – but getting the stink eye for merely being in the vicinity of another angler is not something I take too kindly to. It’s kind’ve like being blatantly ignored at a packed bar while trying to order drinks. It’s rude, unnecessary, and ultimately something that negatively impacts more than one individual’s experience. We’re all there for the same reasons – fun having, catching fish, exploration, relaxation in nature, finding yourself, learning a craft, etc - so why the need to be a dick (for lack of a better word)? While you’re staring down that approaching angler like they’re a leper – you could be fishing.
I always find it a little funny when I see other anglers get visibly infuriated. I’ve seen foot stomping, arm waving, whistling, yelling, and of course, bird giving, over the years - more childish responses to the slightest bit of adversity than anything else. So naturally, I don’t let it phase me. But it is a little disconcerting that so many anglers are missing the big picture. That they actually think they have this sport all to themselves. News flash: sport fishing is a $6 billion industry per year. I guess the word got out somehow…
I know we all like to think of ourselves as the biggest badasses on the river. Conditioned to think this way over instagrammed propaganda and countless dollars forked out for $50 trucker hats, $100 “Trout Bum” shirts, $500 ProGuide waders, and fancy $150 fish-friendly nets (not to mention that rod outfit in your hand), but having the best gear or looking cool in fish pics doesn’t get you anywhere in this sport. Respect does. Respect for the environment, the fish, and yes, your fellow anglers.
Simply put, no one person owns the water (unless you’re fishing the Jackson River in Virginia). Instead, anglers need to adopt the mindset that the water is all of ours to share. We are all responsible. If we all do our part to keep fisheries sustainable and water clean there will be many more perfect moments to be had. But part of the reason there is such a mad dash for the best spots is that there are only so many of these places left. Because so many anglers over the years thought they were the biggest badasses on the river, promptly discarding their waste into the river, keeping everything they caught, and using the threat of imminent violence to keep productive water to themselves – fish populations and water clarity are not what they used to be.
In recent years, our angling community has become aware of these issues –science and conservation leading the way to a brighter future. But it takes the like-minded effort of an angling community and local governments to truly implement the change we need. You may have noticed our slogan: “Above All Else, Stay Fly”. Well, here at FlyTimesDC – we truly believe in message behind the words. It’s about keeping things in perspective, enjoying every second of this one life we have to live (and fish), having respect and awareness for your environment, and in doing all of this – knowing that the world will be a better place because of your efforts. Call it zen, hippie bullshit, a fresh perspective, or what-have-you – but try it out before you dismiss it as youthful ramblings. It’ll probably help you become a better person and fisherman.
So the next time you get the stink eye when you get on the water, instead of looking at your boot laces and sheepishly walking further downstream or shaking your fists in preparation for the equalizer – introduce yourself, strike up a few lines of friendly conversation, or maybe even share some tips. Remember, we’re all here for the same reason – it’s about time we start acting like it.
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