A weekend of variety. I caught a fallfish, a couple bluegill (maybe a sunfish?), and a crappie this weekend. Front coming in really slowed down the fishing. At least that’s my excuse.
Broke my fly rod too, but it’s already at the repair shop. Can’t get it back soon enough…
A weekend of variety. I caught a fallfish, a couple bluegill (maybe a sunfish?), and a crappie this weekend. Front coming in really slowed down the fishing. At least that’s my excuse.
His Best Day EVER!
We got a ton of rain this week, and as my son and I scouted around Saturday morning we were dismayed to see every river access running too high and fast. So, we retreated up into the mountains to a farm where there is a pond we like to fish.
Other than having to retreat to the barn during a quick-passing storm, we fished there for 4 hours total.
The day started out okay, with him catching some little bluegills.
The first big event was that I tied on a crystal bugger, and on my second cast, had a decent sized fish on. Ross did great, dropping his pole, getting the net, and helping out. When all was said and done, here’s what I hauled in:
A 20” catfish! The landowner was as surprised as I was that it was in there. He said the last time he stocked catfish was 20 years ago and he hadn’t seen any in a long time. (the yellow mark on my rod is 20” from the butt of the handle)
The farmer’s dog had been with us the whole time, and we always enjoy his company. But he was interested in the fish as well, and was around us (which was fine with us at the time), but I didn’t see him getting the line from my rod wrapped around his leg. After I pulled the fly out of the fish’s mouth, the dog took a few quick steps away from us, and it sent the hook into my finger, behind the nail. I grabbed the line and called the dog back, and somehow we got the line off of him quickly. I am a practitioner of barb-pinching, and was so glad I had done it to that fly. I was able to back it out of my finger relatively easily.
We stopped down by the farmhouse to wash it off, and to tell about the catfish. Thinking about all the ways that could have been so much worse, we decided to keep the dog up at the house for the rest of the day though.
After weathering a storm in the barn, we got back out there and kept at it, and then things really started coming together for Ross. I had stopped at a gas station on the way out there and picked up some nightcrawlers and they definitely seemed to be the ticket. He caught several more small ones.
He has a smaller rod, and I forgot that at home. Luckily I had brought my spincaster, and he used that for the day. And I was glad he had such a big rod, because during the afternoon, he caught 2 more of those catfish on a worm and bobber.
The middle shot goes with the first net shot. He caught two of those bruisers and these were by far his biggest fish ever! He was so excited. He just kept saying “I want to catch another one of those catfish!”
All in all he caught 11 fish in 4 hours. He had several more get off the hook right at shore, so he had a busy day. I also had a busy day - being his fishing caddy. :) I was so happy for him though, I really didn’t mind not getting to fish too much myself. I caught the big catfish and then two bluegill.
On the way home, he said, “Papa, I LOVE catching fish!” And I said, “Yep, now you know why I go so often.” I’m so glad we have something we can enjoy together like this now. I predict many, many more fishing trips in our future.
The landowner told us that next time, if we bring a catfish we catch down to the house, he’ll fillet it and fry it for us. Definitely gonna do that!
Went to the North Fork of the Shenandoah last evening and had my first success with smallmouths. The CK Baitfish was successful for these two nice 12” smallies. Seemed like there were a lot of fish rising too, but when I fished a popper all I caught was fall fish. Not bad, but I was after smallmouth specifically. I did find a nice, deep hole where they were hanging out, about five miles from my house. Planning to make regular visits there this summer!
A Fatherhood Milestone: Helping My Son Catch His First Fish.
I took my son fishing for the first time last summer, just after he had turned 4. While I caught 3 fallfish, he caught zilch. I took him a few more times, but with no results - not even a bite. Now, this was all river fishing as the Shenandoah River runs right by our house almost.
This spring, when it warmed up enough for him to head out again, I redoubled my effort. I WANTED him to catch a fish, just so he wouldn’t think fishing was boring simply because he’d never caught one. I took him to a small pond last weekend where he got a few actual bites. I super-simplified things: bobber, hook, worm. We were getting closer… (oh, and I caught one by casting to it right after a rise and it hit hard. That was fun!)
This weekend, we went to southern VA to visit my parents, and I talked my dad into taking us to a lake nearby called Lovill’s Creek Lake. What we didn’t know was that it was mainly used for boating, but we still found a small patch or two to fish from around the edges. I could see bluegill everywhere, so we went bobber, hook, and worm again, and after about a half hour or so, my son hauled in his first ever fish. It was the finest bluegill I’d ever seen, mainly because my son was so proud of it. Maybe you can tell by the photo… (that’s my dad in the back!) He went on to actually catch TWO fish that day!
Dad and I totally struck out on the lake ourselves, using fly rods, but below the dam there was a little stream and I managed to hook a little rainbow with a San Juan Worm before we headed home. But the real win for me was helping my son catch his first ever fish and seeing his reaction. It was awesome.
I started fly fishing almost 6 months ago. By the end of the first day I knew it was going to be a life-long hobby. By the end of the second day, I knew there was a lot I didn’t know and a lot I needed to learn.
I went through one book several times, I listened to podcasts, and made lots of notes. I have tried to fish at least once a week since then - oftentimes managing two or three quick trips a week. In some ways I feel experienced - but there is one thing that continuously humbles me: Mossy Creek.
Mossy Creek is what I consider my “home creek.” It’s in my area - easy to drive to, and some of the best trout fishing around available there. Tom Rosenbauer once said that one of the best things you can do to become a better angler is to pick one place and haunt it. That is, to specialize in one body of water. In general, I fish there 1-3 times a week. Not usually for a whole day - just a half hour or hour here and there. I do what I can.
Here’s the thing. I’ve been frustrated and skunked while fly fishing - and I know that it just happens, and I know I’m still a novice. But I have been skunked a higher percentage of times at Mossy Creek than anywhere else. (for you mathematicians out there I know it’s partly due to the fact that I fish there a higher percentage of time than anywhere else) But I’ve had people give me advice on what to use and when to go and how to fish - and I’ve done those things, with no success. IN FACT, it was within my first two months that I caught three fish there, and haven’t caught any since then.
I keep up with the guys who guide out there and who own my local fly shop and I see photo after photo of them catching fish all day - on days I struck out - and I want to say “Just tell me what you’re doing!!” It frustrates me that they purposely take the fly out of the fish’s mouth for every photo - I am kept in the dark as to what method/fly they are using to succeed. But I understand that it helps them stay in business, and they are helpful to me - so I don’t hold it against them. But sometimes I just want someone to come out, tell me the one thing (or many things) I need to know to start catching fish there. I can catch fish other places - just not at Mossy, which is the place I MOST want to catch fish.
On the other hand - I don’t want it to be given to me. I like a good challenge, and this one is definitely up there. I look forward to the day when I’ve finally unlocked the code and can catch fish at will as some of the guys I know do. I don’t want to know what flies they always use - I want to figure it out for myself. I want to be the one to master Mossy Creek, as others have done.
I want to mention one thing quickly - I have had some guys give me very special attention regarding Mossy Creek, and I am very thankful for that. One fellow angler took almost an hour out of his day once and went through his fly box, drew sketches in the dirt, and showed me pictures - telling me many of his secrets. One of the guys at the fly shop has given me advice on which flies to select, what types of day to fish those, etc. I am extremely thankful for all of that.
What befuddles me is why I haven’t been able to connect the teaching to actually catching a fish yet. Yet when I calm myself for a second, I know it’s because it’s not just as easy as A, B, Catch fish. There’s more to it - intuition, trial and error, learning the subtleties, and a little luck. Mossy Creek is known as one of the most challenging places on the East Coast to fish, and likewise one of the most rewarding. The guys who have coached me - I know for a fact they have spent hundreds more hours and days than me fishing there. Nobody just told them how to do it.
So I am willing to put in the time. The reward in the end will be worth it. Sometimes I just want someone to tell me - just let me in already! But that’s not really what I want. I want to figure it out, to master it, to unlock it myself.
I think this is one of the reasons fly fishing so easily becomes a life-long hobby for most people, because it takes a lifetime to figure it out. Malcolm Gladwell said it takes 10,000 hours for someone to become an expert in something. Last time I checked, I think I was somewhere around 100 hours logged so far. I guess the main thing for me to do is keep logging time at the creek and keep reading, and listening to podcasts. It’s important to not reach a small level of mastery and then assume you don’t need any more instruction - you risk plateauing and I fear it’s happened to me. I’m going to fire up the podcast this afternoon, and hit the water a few times this week and keep going.
I’ll report back when I finally master Mossy Creek, but if I were you I wouldn’t be holding my breath while you wait…
My wife sent me to a nursery Saturday to pick up some topsoil for our garden, but she gave me poor directions. The good thing about that was that on the way, my son and I discovered a new creek with stocked trout water. So I returned there Sunday morning to try it out.
One word describes that 3 hour experience: confounded. I’ll get into that more in a bit. The place was quite scenic.
I saw a mink come down out of the woods at one point, and there were birds singing. The water was nice and slow where I was and it was plenty deep. I had talked to an angler yesterday and verified that most of what’s in there is brown trout.
The first thing I had to overcome was my ability to cast. I had underestimated how tight it was in there. I wanted to just wade into the middle and cast straight upstream, but the water was too deep for that. So I waded in a few feet and had to sidecast most of the time - but I was able to make that work both up and down stream pretty well after a while.
Soon after I arrived, which was at 6:15am, I noticed the first rising fish. Then another, and another - time to tie on a dry. I was closer to Harry Murray’s stomping ground than usual, so I tied on a Mr. Rapidan first. It seemed to not really attract much attention, though I got one small hit on it - more like a bump. After a while, I decided to go with a Parachute Adams. Absolutely nothing in response. I thought I had another bump at one point, but I think it was wishful thinking and it was while I was looking at my watch.
All around me fish were continuing to rise. I saw boils, I saw gulps, I even saw a couple jumps. I began trying different patterns, colors, sizes - whatever I had. I never got a hit, barely even a look. At one point the sun was right so I could see 4 small fish downstream of me. I would cast above them and they’d come look at the fly and settle back down, uninterested. Several times I saw a fish literally rise a foot away from my fly - obviously interested in something, but not any fly I was throwing. I even changed my leader and tippet to something lighter - but to no affect. It was more than slightly frustrating.
I keep two medium-sized fly boxes in my chest pack, and every time I use a fly I put it on the foam hanger instead of back in the box. It allows the flies to dry better, but also lets me keep track of what I’ve used that day. This photo is telling.
As I was out there, I started remembering all the things I’ve read and heard Tom Rosenbauer say, and this came to mind:
When you see fish rising, but not gulping off the surface, it’s likely they are eating the emerging flies as they come up after hatching.
This isn’t a quote, but an idea I remember reading about. It did seem like they were eating, but not directly off the surface. There were only a few actual gulps and maybe one actual jump. Mostly more like boils. And as I examined my fly boxes, I was dismayed to have this many emergers: ZERO. How could I be so stupid and unprepared?
I honestly don’t know for sure what the heck went wrong - why I fished every fly in the box seemingly, for three hours, to hungry fish, and didn’t get one catch. But I think it had to do with emergers. I would bet that dries would have worked later in the day. I believe that was my first morning fishing dries, and I think I was underprepared for what phase a hatch is at that time of day. Could be wrong, but I guarantee that I’ll have emergers in my box before next time.
One other note - as much as I liked the water and the fact that there were active trout there, it was one of those places that people come to fish it right after it’s stocked, using spin-casting and artificial bait. It was evident early on that the etiquette I’ve become so used to as a fly fisherman (where the last time I was out a guy told us he’d go on way down the stream so that we could have our space, and he went so far we couldn’t see him anymore) was not practiced by this other type of angler. Two guys horned in on the same section I was fishing and though it seems snobby to say it, I wasn’t fond of having another guy right there with me the whole time. I do like having space when fishing - I think it’s the solitude I value, and when another guy you don’t know is 50 feet away from you the whole time, that’s not solitude. Anyway, a nice place, and only 20 minutes from my house, but not my new favorite place.
As promised, the video version to my previous post about Big Bend Farm.
Big Bend Farm
I went with my friend Cardo for a two-day trip to Big Bend Farm this week. It’s located on the Cowpasture River in Bath County, VA. We had our fingers crossed that the fishing would be good, and we weren’t disappointed.
There was a lot of nice water there, averaging 2-3’ deep pretty much everywhere, with slow pockets, and deep, fast runs. We arrived at 8:30am, and within the first 15 minutes I had caught a nice 15” rainbow on a Parachute Adams dry fly. I had seen them rising off to the edge of the river in a calm spot, so I worked over there, switched to the Adams, and had one within 5 minutes.
The one thing we noticed about those waters is that the trends change regularly throughout the day, and while some changes are general, some were very localized. Where I caught that first fish was a small area where only maybe 3-4 fish were rising - the rest of the river was doing something else. And that period of rises was over within a half hour. So, it was like that - you could fish one method/fly with great success over and over, but then things would change and it’d go dry. You’d have to figure out what it had changed to and then do that - or when it went dry, try to find a couple fish rising somewhere and toss a dry to them in the interim.
Shortly before lunch the first day I caught the biggest fish of my life. Not big by some people’s standards, but big for me. I’ve caught a couple of 18 and a half inch rainbows, but this one was so thick! I almost couldn’t get my hand around his midsection to pick him up out of the net. And he put up quite a fight too - it seemed like 5 minutes from the time I hooked him till the time I netted him. I was exhausted, but elated.
We spent some lame hours that afternoon in a stretch that was pretty inactive, but then we repositioned around 3pm and caught fire. I ended up with 7 rainbows and a nice-sized brook trout by the end of the day, and I hooked up with as many more without landing them. The rainbows ranged between 13-18.” Just as we came off the water, it began to snow…
It snowed all night long and everything was colored white the next morning. This was a big surprise for us as we weren’t expecting more than rain. But when you’re in the mountains, that’s how it goes. The nice part was, we had steak dinners and a huge warm fireplace to keep the chill off, and the next day it warmed up and by noon all the snow was gone.
Cardo started off hot the next day catching 3 almost all in a row and in 5 minutes - so it seemed to me. I couldn’t make anything happen. I think I caught one that morning. After lunch, we talked with a guy who was guiding two other gentlemen there and he told us about a second parking area, so we drove through a bunch of fields and gates to get there.
The second spot was way more beautiful, but a little less productive. Cardo caught one, but I blanked. We explored further downstream, and I took up a spot in slightly faster water up to my waist, and hooked up with 4 in about an hour (3 rainbows and a brookie).
While I was there, there were some trees overhanging the water nearby, and I noticed at one point fish jumping out of the water several times, and that there was a fly in abundance all around me. A hatch! Having never been around a hatch, and having very little confidence in myself, I tried floating an Adams around, but by the time I had it in the water (constantly changing trends), the flies and fish had moved on. As they flew around, the wings looked tan to me, and Cardo said they looked black when sitting still. I looked at my fly box, and factored in first hatch of the year - I guessed it was the Quill Gordon (even though I had missed the feeding time for that hatch in that area). When I got home yesterday, I saw Harry Murray had declared a Quill Gordon hatch the day before - so I was right! I was sorry I hadn’t been quicker on the uptake out on the water though - I would have loved to catch a fish by actually “matching the hatch.”
Somewhere along the way that afternoon I lost my net. :( No idea what happened to it, but I went to land a fish, reached for it, and it just wasn’t there. So I barehanded the last 4 fish of the day - which was kinda fun.
My last story for that trip centers around a place I spotted that first morning, but only really went to work on it the last evening. It was a slow-water pool behind a downed tree. I was sure there were fish in there. As I was exploring with my bugger, I saw a fish rise - it’s Adams time! I had a strike on the 4th or 5th cast, then another a few minutes later, and the chess match was on. I found I had to cast in JUST the right spot to entice a strike (and I later found out that the fish had been holding behind a rock and in front of the tree, so it could only see that one part of the water). On the third strike, I hooked him! He was big, and he leaped out of the water, and my line came shooting back at me. NO! I’d lost him. But in that leap, he actually jumped over the tree that was laying just above the water, and then jumped 3 more times up stream before disappearing again. He must have been 18-20” long. I examined the line - the tippet knot! Here’s a good rule - replace your tippet every 2 hours. I lost several nice fish this week due to me not checking my tippet every hour or so. Some guys check everything or replace it after every fish they catch. After a while of fighting fish, the knot wears out, or is pulled apart and loses its integrity. I would have had that fish if I had adhered to this rule. I ended up getting him to strike 2 more times, but never actually caught him. But it was a great way to spend the last hour or so of my trip.
I’ll be making a video in the next week or so that I will post here to show more of the trip, but that will take a while to edit. But there’s more from this trip to come. When the fish were rising, the Parachute Adams seemed to do the trick as a dry option. When they were down in the water, the Crystal Bugger just crushed them - either black or olive. I caught most of my fish on those. I think all totaled, I caught 13 fish in 2 days, and had as many more hookups without landing them - so a pretty fun, active fishing trip! Thanks to Cardo for setting it all up, and the photos are courtesy of him as well.
We ended our trip by stopping by our local fly shop, Mossy Creek Fly Fishing, for their 10th anniversary open house. We ate crazy good barbecue, and restocked on our streamers. The funny thing was, by the time we parted ways we were both ready to go fishing again soon!
A Cautionary Tale
I was so excited when my wife granted me a few hours Sunday afternoon to cut loose from the family and go fishing. Her only request was to “stay close.” Easy enough - the Shenandoah River runs so close to my house I can see it from the kitchen window.
So, I walked outside for a second, peered around, deemed it a nice enough day and got in the car to head to the access point without a second thought. When I arrived and started gearing up, I first realized that I hadn’t brought my typical jacket. When I go fishing, I highly prefer functionality of my clothing over what it looks like. I typically wear polypropylene, and other materials that are light, but wind-blocking, and that don’t hold moisture. The jacket I found myself with would block the wind, but was more cotton-y inside.
I’ve heard it said that when a huge plane like a 727 crashes, it’s never because one thing went horribly wrong. Rather, it’s usually 7-8 minor things that all went wrong at the same time, or in succession. Not having the right jacket was one little thing - probably no big deal I thought.
With my waders on and rod in hand, I strode down to the river and noticed straight away that it was higher than normal. Hmmm…. But I had come to fish, and time was ticking, so let’s get to it. I had only ever stood on the bank there, never waded, so I was definitely going to wade today. I worked my way out from the bank a little, and was surprised by how quick the water seemed to be moving, even though it didn’t really look that fast. By the time I was up to my knees, I had to be VERY careful with every step because I was in danger of getting tipped over and swept away with any wrong move and the water just kept rushing past. By the time I got positioned to fish, I looked over my shoulder and thought the shore sure is a long way away - at least it seemed like it. There would be no fast way to get back to shore - if I hurried, I knew I’d go in the drink.
I fished there for a while, and soon noticed it was a lot colder than I thought it’d be. I looked down at my thermometer and it read 52F for the air. But it was cloudy, so it didn’t feel very warm. I dipped it in the water and it came back 42F. Also colder than I expected, though I don’t know why I expected different looking back on it. I realized I hadn’t put anything warm on my lower half. Beneath my waders was a pair of regular pants and socks. It soon became evident I wasn’t going to catch anything where I was, and I felt some relief as I made it back to shore safely. I shouldn’t go back in there anymore - find some slow water.
Luckily there was a relatively calm, leeward part of the river that I could wade through without any fear of getting swept over, so I fished there a while. It was around this time that I realized my toes were kind of hurting. My boots run just a tad small, and they feel tight when I first put them on - then they usually feel fine after 20 minutes of walking around. I figured I just needed to move my feet around some more to get them settled.
I fished a ton of different types and colors of flies that day - and caught absolutely nothing. Never even saw a fish. What made me decide to head back was that I had been in the water up above my knees for a while, and my legs were really cold. I finally decided I should pack it in, and as I began walking up out of the water, I realized that my feet were numb - couldn’t feel my toes. My mind raced for a second as I hoped I hadn’t just given myself frostbite. It made me nervous to think how long I had gone without realizing I wasn’t feeling my toes. When I got to the car, I blasted some warm air on them and they started to come back.
When I got home, everything was fine - no black spots or anything, but it took almost an entire hour for my legs to stop having that cold-burning sensation you get on your face when you’ve been out too long in the cold.
So here’s the cautionary part - never underestimate the river. Don’t just assume everything will be fine and you can get by with less than adequate clothing. I did this time, but it could have been entirely different. Had I been swept under, that thin layer of mostly cotton clothing could have put me in jeopardy - whereas having polypropylene and wool on would have helped in that situation. If you see that the river is up - be very cautious. Don’t go out too far - as soon as it feels unsafe, it is. Get back to shore some where it’s safe. Fly fishing is a wonderful pastime, but it’s not worth losing your life over. And think while you’re out there. I had a thermometer telling me the water was 42 degrees. For some reason it didn’t register what I was doing to my body.
This really wasn’t what I would call a “close call” by any stretch. BUT, had one more little thing gone wrong… a foot slip, perhaps - and things would have been pretty dire.
Anglers, be safe out there. Watch out for yourselves and each other. Be over prepared for anything, and you’ll always be prepared for everything. Happy fishing.