My life started to unravel a few weeks ago …
It all started with that damn shad run. I tied countless flashy pink flies. Kindergarten Specials and Brown Nosers. My apartment still looks like a pre-school arts and crafts classroom with no clean up time. I’m addicted to the vise. It won’t get any cleaner either as stripers, largemouth, and snakehead start picking up (sorry, Lorraine). But as we inch closer to summer – the Nats doomed by bandwagon fans, unrealistic expectations, and a revamped Braves team now playing the role of pissed off underdog – I can’t help but think about how quickly things can change. Damn those seasons.
In a few weeks, summer will be here. The simple beauty of 78 degree days replaced with those approaching 100. Intense humidity and wild, random weather will become the norm (see: Derecho). The water temps will soar above 80 degrees and all the great action we’re having now will be gone. Not completely gone. Fish will certainly still be caught. But the fish won't be residing in the shallows – refugees of the heat in search of cold water and oxygen. Stalking fish in darkness will become the name of the game. The epic mixed bag bite we’re having now will not return until fall. Then it’s winter and we’re back to Four Mile Run banishment and driving to the mountains for trout streams... It’s amazing how those seasons change. Amazing to think just three weeks ago there was snow on the ground. But for now the water temps are in the mid-60s and our great river has sprung back to life in a big way. I plan on taking advantage of this until it ends.
I'll always remember what my dad told me last year after graduating college. I was down at his place in Siesta Key, FL with a certain Brogan Jayne trout bum chasing tarpon. We had 6 glorious days to get it done. I remember coming off the water one day and giving him a hug, he could tell I was getting tired but instead of ushering me to bed uttered the five most beautiful words I've ever heard - "fish your ass off, son." In this context - there is only one spring. Take complete advantage of it.
This is the season where the fish are in my wheelhouse- big streamers for largemouth, stripers, and snakehead. I’m making the most of this spring. Fishing as often and as furiously as I can. Last week, I averaged 5 hours of sleep and close to 4 hours of fishing a day. That’s almost a 1:1 sleeping to fishing ratio. Wow. But you know what? I'm fine. Exhaustion is a state of mind.
I wrote a previous Word Hatch about not being normal. The article (found here) focused on my affinity for fishing at weird times of day, making more fruitless casts on a frigid outgoing tide in darkness than I probably should have, almost giving up, and ultimately on the last cast – hooking into one of the better striped bass I’ve ever caught in the District (20”). My hands numb, work quickly approaching, and doggone tired –the article hinted at something much deeper than simply a love for ripping lips and sacrificing beers and sleep to play in the outdoors. That was in the winter….. Now that spring decided to show up, none of that has changed. In fact – it may have gotten worse…
I haven’t shaved since the shad run….
I almost chopped off the tip of my left index finger trying to slice a bagel….
I stepped on a nail while trying to pick off stripers at the Tidal Basin….
The tug is the drug…
I am a slave to tide…
I’m pretty sure I smell sometimes…
I’m so glad spring has sprung.
So what can I tell you about springtime in DC? Push your limits. The good times will eventually end.
She's trying to eat the reel.
Two weeks ago it was snowing, our Nation’s River filled with shivering shad and eager anglers – individuals like me who held onto the slightest glimpse of hope that spring would finally come in mid-April. Now it’s 90 degrees. I guess we should be careful what we fish for. I mean wish for. For weeks, Washington was mired in the misanthrope that is an extended winter. But like the Cherry Blossoms and Nationals Park, so too has the Potomac River sprung back to life.
To me (and every other living thing on this planet) – spring is that clichéd “renewal of life”. The magical time of year when the sun warms the earth, baseball starts its marathon-long season, sundresses and shorts become the norm again, oh and shad, bass, snakeheads, and stripers return to our local waters. In short - hope for good weather, sunny days, and good fishing abound within everyone (well, maybe just the weather and sunshine). For the next couple months, our water temps will remain below 80 or so degrees. Game fish of all shapes and varieties will go through their life cycle of pre-spawn gorging, spawning lockjaw, and post-spawn exhaustion. It will undoubtedly be the best fishing of the year for everything that swims everywhere… But call me crazy - I will miss winter.
I will miss winter a lot actually. More than I probably should. But there is a special serenity to be found on a quiet, crisp morning in an otherwise empty forest dotted with fresh snowfall. A simple beauty in relishing the breath in front of your face, knowing you’re the only person on the water that day, and realizing you should’ve worn 7 layers instead of 6. It’s the way a hot cup of coffee warms your entire body when everything else is frozen around you. It’s your favorite winter hat, the sunburns from a sunny, 20 degree day, and knowing with every cast you make – you’re telling Jack Frost to suck it. But most of all – I will miss the fish and the incredible rush that comes from sticking a fat trout in a seemingly empty pool. The satisfaction of knowing you’re doing what you love despite the elements. But not everything about this past winter was perfect- RGIII's knee being at the top of my list.
But there were many trips were I froze my ass off and came back with nothing to show. Mornings were my rod guides and hands froze. I lost two nets and half of a G Loomis rod on one trip. Almost lost my life on another. But if I've learned anything from winter, it’s that even though the forest is barren – life still exists in the stream.
So before the trees bud and the shad run reaches its fever pitch (look for cast netting poachers near Chain Bridge) – let’s raise our glasses to winter. Thank you for every minute of your miserable biting winds, freakish fronts, short days, and regulation to trout streams and Four Mile Run. You've versed me well in patience and perseverance. Lessons that will pay off come summer doldrums. But now that spring has sprung, who cares about any of that?
Time to party with some fish.
Stay fly.o edit.
Most people I have come into contact with have been asked the somewhat silly question, “Where do you think you will be in 5 years?” No one can answer it for certain. So I don’t like asking it. If I wanted to experience random and irrational future gazing, I’d hit up Punxsutawney Phil for a weather report. But since we’re asking the question – in five years, I would ideally own, manage, and operate my own trophy trout stream and fly shop somewhere in the peaceful serenity of the mountains with a loving wife, loyal Labrador/trout retriever, and a chunky, healthy offspring. But in reality, I have no idea where I will be (probably still fishing whenever I can get on the water and trying to promote this site) - a lot can happen in 5 years. Just look at DC sports.
As recently as 5 years ago, Gilbert Arenas was a star in the NBA, Jason Campbell was the starting QB for the ‘Skins, the Caps were just starting their run of division championships and playoff heartbreak, and the Nationals’ best player was not Stephen Strasburg or Bryce Harper - but some dude named Lastings Millege (Zimmerman was hurt most of that season). Since then, a lot has happened. Arenas was replaced with the electrifying John Wall due to injuries and a hand gun fetish and now finds himself playing “professionally” in China, Campbell was jettisoned to the Raiders for a draft pick that would eventually help land RGIII and is now Jay Cutler’s backup in Chicago, the Caps are starting to fade but I’ll always rock the red, and Lastings Millege has thankfully been replaced by Bryce Harper. In short - a lot has changed. Our city, once filled with the allegiances of a transplant, non-local community, now has a little local pride. We no longer suck. People have jumped on the bandwagon. Even ESPN wrote about it. We even have a local brewery that promotes our most righteous quest for statehood. But before the success, there was a lot of heart break, misery, and Steve Spurrier. Our Nation’s River has had a similar rise to prominence.
Once considered one of the most polluted water ways in the United States in the 60s and 70s, the Potomac River has undergone aJared-esque makeover. In the dark days, it was more common to pull up a dead body from our murky river than a Northern Snakehead in this day and age. The shad, the poor shad, were denied their natural spawning rights because of manmade obstacles (dams) and pollution en route to their spawning grounds. To put it bluntly – the only fish made to feel at home were catfish. Gross.
Since those dark days, our Nation’s River has become aware of its importance to the Eastern Seaboard - the Potomac and its tributaries the life blood of the Chesapeake Bay and of vital importance to several anadromous fish species. The local governments, conservationist groups, and robust angling community responsible for leading the charge against fish barriers, over fishing, pesticide runoff, raw sewage, and other detriments dumped into the river. But there is still more to be done. We can always improve our home waters.
In last week’s hatch, I talked about how we are not in control of the car driving our lives. My aspirations of a peaceful mountain lifestyle and our District’s newly founded sports relevancy could crumble just as quickly as RGIII’s knee or the Obama economy. One slip of tire treading or missing the last step on the way out the door in the morning could affect the rest of your life. So why estimate what the future may bring? To me it’s not worth it. All we can do is live in the present. Do a little bit every day to make this world we live in a better place. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – fish how you live and you’ll love your life.
So where will I be in 5 years? I have no idea - probably fishing.
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