Earlier in June, I went on a float trip with Albemarle Angler. Despite the tough conditions, I had a fantastic time, and caught some great fish. Last time, the conditions weren’t right for topwater, so I booked another trip with hopes we’d have some better luck. After all, there’s no better fishing than topwater. I had such a great time with Scott on the last trip, I called Albemarle Anglerback up and scheduled another trip with him.
Luckily, we were met with much better conditions this time. It was a bit overcast with a light sprinkle every now and again, the water was fairly clear, and the flow was on the lower side. There was a new challenge for Scott this time though – I brought my girlfriend, Susanna, along with us. Susanna had been fly fishing only a couple times before with about a year spanning the last time she even picked up a fly rod. Scott was up to the task, though.
Scott sat Susanna in the front of the boat and pushed us off. Scott had tied on a streamer for me, and a small popper on Susanna’s line to make casting a little easier. Scott reminded Susanna of the basics of her cast and made sure she was able to get the line out. With both of us getting flies in the water, the trip was on.
A few minutes downstream, I’m working my streamer along some cover, just itching to feel that bump on the end of the line. Suddenly, I hear Scott say “Here it comes… OK, SET IT!” Confused, I looked at my fly and didn’t see anything. That’s when I turned my head to see Susanna’s rod doubled over, with about a 18″+ smallmouth attached to the other end. Scott walked her through the fight, and she managed to keep the line tight. Not only was this the first fish of the day, this was Susanna’s first fish that wasn’t a sunfish. The fish made a last ditch effort at the side of the boat as Scott went to net it, and evaded the mesh. Susanna brought it the fish back to the boatside, and Scott made another attempt at putting it in the net. Unfortunately, the fish had just a little bit of fight left in him, and managed to toss the hook as Scott swooped in. The smallmouth swam free, narrowly evading the horrors of a brief photo shoot.
With the excitement already starting, and Susanna preparing for her next cast, I had two thoughts in my head: how proud I was of my girlfriend for getting into such a giant bass, and “Oh crap, my girlfriend may have just hooked the biggest fish of the trip.”
Not too much later, Susanna hooks into a rock bass and a sunfish while Scott had me continuing to try some streamers. At that point, Scott decided topwater was where it was at today, and switched me over to a gurgler. Soon after, I was on my first smallmouth. It didn’t have the size of Susanna’s, but was still as fun fight. We continued to see great action on smallmouths for most of the morning. Quite the difference a great guide can make – Susanna went from hardly being able to cast to consistently catching smallmouths in a matter of a couple hours.
In the midst of all the smallmouth action, Scott floated us past some slow water with lots of cover that just screamed largemouth bass habitat. The Shenandoah has some BIG largemouth hiding in it, and I figured I’d try to pull one out of it.
I laid out a nice, long cast with the green gurgler. I gave it a quick strip to make some commotion, and waited for a few seconds. I gave it another rip, and the fly made the perfect splashing action. Another pause. I watched a mouth devour the foam and fur, and set the hook. “Just an average largemouth,” I thought… until the fish made a run. I realized I had a nice one on the end of the line. The bass gave me a few shoulder leans and tried running for the cover. My Orvis Helios 2 had the backbone to turn him, but I started getting a little worried if my 3X tippet would withstand the stretching. I let him have a little line back before coercing him to the boat. Scott netted him up, and I admired the nice 20″ – 22″ largemouth sitting in the next. This fish wasn’t only long, he was fat. Scott snapped a few pictures of me and the quarry, and we let the fish swim back off into his home. I’m sure the fish let out a huge sigh of relief, but it unquestionably wasn’t as big as my sigh of relief. “At least this fish was bigger than Susanna’s,” I said to myself.
We kept on fishing, with the bite starting to slow a little as the sun started coming out. Even still, we continued getting nice reactions from the average size (12″-16″) smallmouths and some giant sunfish. We stopped on a beach for a great lunch. Scott brought along some fantastic sandwiches from a deli near Charlottesville. After scarfing them down, we continued our day.
The afternoon bite was a bit slower than the morning, although we had pockets of frenzied activity. I was still hoping for a trophy smallmouth of my own. The 16″ fish sure are fun – heck so are the 12″ fish – but bigger is definitely better. Hopefully the big fish would cooperate like his younger cousins had been. The fish were so eager to bite, I even had one fish come at my fly three separate times after I pulled the fly out of its mouth the first two times. All this pointed to a good shot at a big guy.
By late afternoon, we were drifting past a bank with a nice grass patch along the edge. Scott had me casting up to it to try to coerce a fish to bite. No luck. Scott had a feeling about that section though, and rowed us back up stream to do one more float past it. I laid out my cast, popped the gurgler, and just as I was about to pick up and throw again, a flash of bronze engulfed the fly. At first I thought it was another average sized smallie, but the fish quickly set me straight with one heck of a run. The battle continued as the bronzeback put my 7wt to work. A few jumps and several hard runs later, the fish came boatside, and Scott swooped in with the net. This fish wasn’t quite as big as the largemouth, but it fought a heck of a lot harder. It even rivaled the size of the fish Susanna lost at the boat.
We took a few more fish to the boat through the rest of the afternoon, but nothing else that rivaled the size of our earlier fish. Nonetheless, Scott once again proved his ability to put his clients on fish consistently. This time, the topper was proving he can do it with inexperienced fishermen (and fisherwomen!), too.
Ready to book with Albemarle Angler? Be sure to leave a review if you try them out! They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org via email or by phone at (434) 977-6882. Rates for a full day floats are $350 including lunch, and wading trips start at $225 for a half day. Albemarle Angler targets smallmouth bass from mid-March through mid-October, and trout (brook, brown, rainbow, and tiger trout!) from mid-September to mid-June depending on water flows. They fish the Shenandoah and James Rivers for smallmouths, and various rivers, streams, and creeks (including some private water) for trout. Albemarle Angler is also a full service fly shop located at 1129 Emmet St, Charlottesville, Virginia, 22903. As if all that isn’t enough, they also coordinate fly fishing trips across the globe.