Annual Fly By
By Steve Chaconas
Annual Fly By
Not many occasions require setting the alarm for 2:30 AM to embark to southwest Virginia, five hours away. At that time of the morning, brains don’t work well. Better load the car the night before or gear is sure to be left behind. Pack the YETI with as much food and water to maintain a healthy diet on the water.
Fishing 200 days a year, this trip stands out as anticipation builds as soon as the last ends. Buddy Alan Friedlander booked the trip as he’s done for the past 5 years for about the same time. I remember because we are usually fishing on my wedding anniversary. A great gift for my wife who gets to spend a few quiet days alone with her dog.
The location is the same, either the Upper James or the Roanoke River. And of course, our guide Capt. Matt Miles makes the trip. As a guide, I call these “same time next year” clients. Most of these people will refer to past trips and their solo trips. Spending a lot of time catching up on life.
Capt. Matt has been our float guide for 5 trips. We generally book 2 days to try various waters. Capt. Matt suggested the Maury River, a system we had not fished. He explained the other local rivers were a bit high and muddy. We were advised the Maury was a good river with lots of fish.
Much to our surprise our boat for the day wasn’t a boat, rather a rubber raft. Skeptical to say the least, we climbed on board. Slightly smaller, but just as comfortable, this vessel was designed to clear water only inches deep and slide over rocks.
I made my first cast with the Orvis fly rod Capt. Matt set up for me. Because of the direction of the boat and side of the river it was with my right hand, my unnatural side. It had been a year since my last fly rod cast. It didn’t take long where casts were effective enough to reach the fish. I cast with my left hand when changing river sides. With steady action all day, I was getting better at casting and setting the hook. Fish fell for gliding topwater lures early, but when that slowed Capt. Matt tied on tequilly flies. Alan and I picked up a few decent ones, but mostly 6 inch fish, not the ones we wanted.
At the end of day Capt. Matt discussed day 2 options. The Upper James River was fishing tough but provided better opportunities to get bigger fish. It was unanimous, we opted the bigger fish in lieu of numbers.
Back in the slightly larger drift boat, day 2 was tough. Very few bites. Capt. Matt’s decades of knowledge, and rowing ability put us on every terrain option. Shallow, deep, shade, sun, drops and edges, we fished them all.
A break for lunch and we were at it again, only a couple of fish to show for the morning’s effort. A lull for the next hour was interrupted with a double, Alan and I had hooked up with decent fish. Not sure whether the fish started biting, we had figured them out, or our confidence level had surged, but we started getting more and bigger fish.
Forced to make right handed casts on the right side of the river, a well-placed cast with the tequilly fly and the line went tight. A well-executed hookset and a big smallmouth bass was on. Not having much experience with everything happening after that, like rod manipulation to control the surging and acrobatic fish, my lack of experience lead to my rod finger slipping off the line, nearly allowing the fish to run free. These river smallmouth are strong, fast and have a lot of energy. Quickly reorienting my finger with the line, allowed my left hand to retain tension on the fish. The battle was nearly over. A few more surges, great netting by Capt. Matt and I had landed my largest smallmouth ever with my right hand.
After 2000 casts, my switching hitting status was established as I was able to finally put several skill sets together to prepare for a big fish. While not entirely graceful, I felt comfortable with my progress with only 8 days of experience over the past 5 years.
Casting is the base for all angling. The rest of the skills, lure presentation, strike detection, hooksets and landing, take time on the water. Capt. Matt has been a great coach, teaching and tweaking. I owe him more practice time to maximize his efforts. My Orvis fly rod will travel with me to extend beyond annual use.
Potomac River Bassing in October
Cooling water is encouraging fish to bite.
Use search baits like Mann’s Baby X crankbaits on deeper cover or the Baby 1-Minus for shallower cover. Tie to 10 pound test Gamma Edge fluorocarbon line.
Dock fishing is also good now. Pitch soft plastics with pegged 3/16 ounce weights on Quantum Smoke casting gear spooled with 12 pound Edge or Quantum Smoke spinning gear with 15 pound Gamma Torque braid with 10 pound Edge leaders. Soft plastics with 3/0 Mustad Mega Bite hooks will work: stickworms, Mizmo tubes, and just about anything in blue, black or green pumpkin. Soak all soft plastics in garlic Jack’s Juice Bait Spray.
For deeper applications and just about anywhere else, drop shot with 3/16 ounce Water Gremlin BullShot weights and braid/fluorocarbon setups, 2/0 Mega Bite hooks with 4 inch soft plastics.
In clear and calm water, topwater opportunities include buzzbaits, poppers and walkers.
Author Capt. Steve Chaconas is Potomac bass fishing guide & contributing writer for BoatU.S. (BoatUS.com) Potomac River reports: nationalbass.com. Book trips/purchase gift certificates: info@NationalBass.com.