Guiding a Guide
By Steve Chaconas
Fulfilling a New Year’s Resolution, fly fishing was on the table for 2020.
Our fifth annual two-day small mouth bass fishing trip with Captain Matt Miles almost never happened. Traditionally my buddy Alan Friedlander and I schedule a trek to Lynchburg Virginia in August. However our trip last year was postponed due to the virus. So we rescheduled for late October.
At 3:45AM our 4 hour drive to the Lynchburg Marriott to meet Capt. Matt was underway. For me, it’s the only time I opt for my fly gear. It’s also the only time when I’m totally focused on my fishing. Hopping into Capt. Matt’s truck we headed to the Roanoke River.
A 45 minute drive in Capt. Matt’s truck and our shuttle guy dropped us at the launch site. Then he drove the truck to where we would eventually pull off the water 8 hours later. This has been standard procedure for the past 5 years. We returned to a familiar Roanoke River float. Welcome fresh air greeted us as we assembled Orvis 6 weight fly rods, threaded Scientific Angler fly line through the guides and tipped with Gamma Frog Hair leaders.
Water had some color and was cooler. Capt. Matt said fish have been a bit off the bank, closer to deeper water. It’s all relative as deeper was around 4 feet. We started with the Game Changer, a fly version of a traditional suspending jerkbait. But first, it was time to reacquaint with casting, working the baits, and hopefully hooksets and landing fish. Doing this only once a year for the past five years, Capt. Matt got me up to speed quickly.
As a long time guide, I didn’t want to upstage or intimidate our guide. All I had to do was pick his brain and execute his instructions. I began casting right handed, something picked up last year. Capt. Matt gave me a quick refresher course on working the bait and hook sets. It didn’t take long for me to hook up with my first fish. My new Maui Jims HT sunglasses enabled me to see ledges, rock or wood current breaks. Seeing fish take my lure, I executed hooksets sooner. This was making sense.
Mending keeps slack out of floating line to create more natural presentations and more direct hooksets. I couldn’t figure it out. A quick question to Capt. Matt and I was executing this much needed action. It was simple too and quite logical. Just a simple lifting of the line and laying it over and voila…mending accomplished, leading to more bites and better hooksets.
Capt. Matt’s Tequilly flies have a light lead head and some rubber legs with a chenille body. It dropped slowly. The legs vibrated, creating a tantalizing and irresistible bait. Occasional snaps of the line, a strip, a pause, and bang! Bigger smallmouth were eating. Catching multiple 15 inch plus small mouth was a blast.
Fighting line and current, these muscle bound river bullies applied every ounce of strength to pull and stress my Orvis rod. The key was keeping the rod hand index finger on the line while using the other hand to make pulls to keep the hook secured and the fish under control. Slack in the line would unload the rod and allow the river acrobat to send the hook flying free. Tired fish were prepared for Capt. Matt to capture in the net. Leaving the net in the cool water, the defeated fish is allowed to recover as Capt. Matt readied the camera for the memory shot. A few shots and another dip into the net, this time for release.
The biggest fish stood out. Gliding down river, a log creating a current break came into view. Quickly I determined to make at least 4 casts, trying for 5. Nothing on the first. Nothing on the second. But on the third, a dark torpedo emerged from the log’s shadow to enter the swift current and engulf the Tequilly. It was a sight set. Bait disappears, set the hook and the fight was on. The ambush brought the fish closer to the boat, which meant some fast stripping was required to set the hook and to keep tension on the line. Mission accomplished. Now it was up to the rod to tire the fish, directing it to the final net destination for Capt. Matt’s net to slice through the water, cradling the biggest of the two day excursion.
Tired but relaxed, our 5th annual trip was a combination of perfect October weather, great fishing and awesome company. It was so good; we resolved to book trip number 6 in 2021.
Potomac River Bassing in January
Water is cold, into the 40 degree range. Late morning starts to around 4 pm is the best time to get out. Tides will move fish, but not a lot. The strike zone will narrow from 4 feet to 10 in general. Fish will move up to hard surfaces as the sun warms these areas.
Still the best lure is the Silver Buddy. Using ½ ounce baits on 10 pound test Gamma Copoly line, cast to the shallow areas and slowly work down the drop with gentle lifts and semi slack falls. Fish eat these baits on the fall, so be ready to reel quickly and pull when fish are on the line. A medium heavy rod is perfect to apply pressure but not too much to pull hooks out of the fish.
Several good follow up presentations will also work once Silver Buddys find the right depth and areas. Two grubs will work. Three inch stingray grubs and 4 inch curl tail grubs, both on ¼ ounce ball head jigs can be lifted slightly and allowed to pendulum horizontally with pauses when they hit the bottom and then repeating. Don’t be in a hurry.
Author Capt. Steve Chaconas is Potomac bass fishing guide. Potomac River reports: nationalbass.com. Book trips/purchase gift certificates: info@NationalBass.com.