My wife begrudgingly rolled over when the alarm went off at the hotel. We were to meet our guide, Captain Matt Miles, at the boat ramp for a smallmouth float on the James River in about an hour. Like a trooper, Susanna rolled over and looked like she was filled with regret with her decision to humor me and join in on the fishing trip. I’ve fished with Matt a few times before, twice for musky and once for stripers (yikes, I just realized I never wrote about that trip!), but this would be the first time getting out with him to focus on smallmouth.
We rolled up about two minutes early with Matt waiting patiently and strung up our gear. Matt’s dad ran the shuttle with us, saving us an extra trip by car on each side. Matt told me and Susanna that we would be fishing topwater today – but I already knew that. Who would possibly fish any other way in late August?
We got onto the water, and it was time for Susanna to demo her casting skills. Being a novice as-is, this was her first time casting in about two years, and the rust was really showing. Matt was prepared though. After a five minutes of casting lessons, she already was casting better than I had ever seen before.
With everyone’s casts in check, we began the real float. The first stretch would be slow. For some reason, it seems every single float I’ve ever done is terrible through the first and last half mile of river. We get along some shoreline grass, and Matt tells me to be ready for a fish cruising the grass line. Sure enough, I get nailed by a 12-14” smallie. The skunk was off.
The next fish slurped the fly like a trout taking in a midge. It barely even left a surface riffle. It was a true sign of a giant. Sure enough, my 7-weight bent hard. We battled back and forth, and I struggled keeping it out of the submerged grass. Matt gave me pointers on properly fighting the bronzeback. Go figure, after 15+ years of chasing smallies on the fly, you can still learn the right way to fish and fight fish. Matt netted my quarry. It measured just over 20 inches – a Virginia citation fish.
The next several fish alternated between the “fun size” 12-14 inch fish and the hefty 17-19 inch fish we were after. We caught so many fish in the 16-inch plus class, we stopped counting. I had another fish in the 20 inch range on the line, but a last second dodge of the net and dive under the boat left him swimming away with the popper in his mouth. I was blown away by the sheer number of quality fish. There was even a huge one that we watched sip the popper. In my excitement, I fumbled the hookset and missed. I said, “Well, that’s OK. It wasn’t quite as big as the first one.”
Matt quipped, “Hey man, whatever helps you sleep tonight.”
Ready to book with Matt Miles? For some of the best fly fishing in southwest Virginia, give Matt a call. Rates start at $300 for a half day float or wade trip.