Federals Fishing

By Steve Chaconas

Federals Fishing

Fort Hunt High School is legendary in Northern Virginia, and in many cases around the world. Known for exemplary academic performance and world champion high school marching band, its alumni stick together. There’s something about the bonds created in the land owned by George Washington’s Mount Vernon and in the shadows of WW2 prisoner of war camp at Fort Hunt. Further cementing this relationship is our annual Potomac River fishing trip.

Gary Burke still lives in the area. During the year we stay in constant touch via phone, email and FaceBook with Duel Ballard who lives in Delaware. We’ve even tried Facetime! Another year and another medical update. Who’s taking what pills and what joints are being replaced. It’s like a bunch of teenagers discussing bodily functions, but these days they aren’t functioning the way they used to.

We have a lot in common which includes fishing. We all grew up fishing the Potomac in the shadows of health department warning signs along the broken glass riddled river. When the old Wilson Line cruise ship left a wake, the shoreline used to jingle. And yet we fished. We all fish frequently fish and share stories through the year. Our plans were for an early spring trip. But something about a virus postponed our outing into late July. We were happy the Governor of Maryland decided to let us go fishing. We wore masks or face coverings…at times. I took everyone’s temperature with a touchless thermometer, but Duel held out for the rectal thermometer.

We took a stroll down memory lane and the streets that raised us. Noting where old hangouts were, what replaced them and how long they’ve been gone too. Our high school cars were looked back upon almost with the same fondness of old girlfriends, almost! We wondered if we still had those old autos what fun they’d be. Not wondering the same about the old girlfriends.

Where are they today? A name would pop up and one of us would know where they were and what they were up too. Safe to say, most were retired. A few no longer with us. We also praised our classmate, “Mr. Reunion” Joe Gilliland. Joe has kept Fort Hunt, a school that closed in the early 80s, relevant with an annual all class July picnic at Fort Hunt Park complete with cookout and live bands. Sadly, Covid choked that plan.

Since we were already caught up, we just picked up where we left off. Better yet, we fished for several hours getting a fish here and there. It seemed appropriate to integrate past fishing stories into this new one we were creating. Casting skills were on display and reluctant fish found their way on board. It was a hot day, but we toughed it out. When Gary asked what happened to the grass, we knew he was talking about subaquatic vegetation. Duel, a former FHHS crew team member told stories about the river from the 70s. How bad it was and things he saw while rowing. Then he topped it off with his experiences working at a sewage treatment plant. The Potomac has improved.

What happens on the Skeeter stays on the Skeeter, so stories about old friends and politics received the same treatment. We seemed to like the same crowd and agreed on the issues of the day. We had a lot in common, where we grew up, where we went to school, and the places we used to go. But it’s fishing that has remained our common thread. It was like we were on an island, except there were no island girls nor was there any beer. Nothing around interrupted us at all. It was non-stop talk, with some laughter at each other and ourselves.

Gary and I are available for another trip this fall, but Duel has a 4 year old. Yes, a 4 year old. His sweet daughter made it tough for daddy to make this trip. She is so used to having him around all the time. We voted to have him bring her on the next trip.  Apparently, Duel has taught her well and she can really catch them. Maybe she can give us a few pointers. I think anything will help.

At our age we aren’t going to let our years catch up to us. We may not be as fast or as strong, but we will keep a step ahead.  Our eyesight isn’t as good as it used to be, but our vision is clear. Our friendship is ageless.

Potomac River Bassing in AUGUST

It’s hot, as water hits the mid to upper 80s, get out early and leave before the heat and storms roll in.

Take a top down approach and continue as long as weather and fish cooperate. Hollow frogs or soft plastic buzz toads will work close to cover, grass or wood.

When the topwater bite fades, try shallow crankbaits and bladed jigs. Slow retrieves with swim jigs will work too. Catch grass and snap and stop. Stay in the shade as long as possible.

After the sun is out and stays, time to go to soft plastics. Texas rigged Mizmo tubes on 3/0 Mustad Ultra Point Tube hooks, shaky head with long shank Mustad jig hooks,  Neko rigs with Mustad 2/0 red wacky rig hooks and wacky rigged weightless stickworms work. Skip baits under docks or into grass clumps.

Line is key too. For frogs and toads, use 60 pound Gamma torque braid. For the crankbaits and bladed jigs, use 12-14 pound test Gamma Edge fluorocarbon line. The soft plastics presentations can be used on spinning gear like Quantum Smoke reels spooled with 15 pound test Gamma Torque braid with 10-12 pound test Edge leader. Or on casting gear, spool Quantum Smoke casting reels with 14 pound test Edge that can also handle most cover situations.

Author Capt. Steve Chaconas is Potomac bass fishing guide. Potomac River reports: nationalbass.com. Book trips/purchase gift certificates: info@NationalBass.com.

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