James River Smallmouth with Matt Miles

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.

Matt-Miles-Smallmouth-On-The-FlyThe 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.

Sugar Hollow Farm with Albemarle Angler

Moormans River

The scenic Moormans River on Sugar Hollow Farm

This past weekend, I had the opportunity to get out on the water with Cole from Albemarle Angler to target some rainbow trout. We fished a private stretch of the Moormans River that’s on Sugar Hollow Farm just outside of Charlottesville, Virginia. Albemarle Angler has access rights to about 3/4 of a mile of this river, and they stock it each year with a hefty number of trout. Unfortunately, there’s really no wild or holdover fish in this river since it’s a tailwater fed with water from the top of a dam, and it just gets too warm during the summer to support the trout. This does make for a hefty smallmouth population, though!

My trout experience is pretty limited in rivers. Growing up on Cape Cod, the only trout you really caught were in lakes, with the extraordinarily rare catch of a sea-run brown trout. Since I focus so much of my time on warmwater or saltwater species, I haven’t had tons of time to learn proper ways to read a river or practice delivering a fly to a trout. I usually only get out for trout once or twice per year, and never in the winter. I was very excited to start picking up new techniques to add to my arsenal.

Rainbow TroutWe suited up and got in the river. It was pretty stained from the previous day’s rain, but wasn’t too muddy. Cole tied on a Kreelex for me, and told me how to fish the first hole. A few casts in, I get my first strike. After a hard fight and some acrobatic jumps, we have about a 14″ rainbow in the net. A few casts later, I was hooked up again with another beautiful, hard fighting rainbow trout.

The trout Albemarle Angler put in the river aren’t your standard stocked trout. They feed on natural river-based food, rather than hatchery food. The fish still readily take a fly, but their natural diet makes them a bit more wily, and much closer to a wild trout than your typical stocker.

Rainbow Trout

Another nice rainbow trout released

I was impressed with how well Cole knew the waters. Despite the stained water, he could tell me exactly where every feature of the river was. He knew where the ledges were, where I could walk out on a sandbar, and where to avoid so I didn’t snag. All I could see was muddy water. This knowledge paid off, though, and he kept me on fish all day. He knew when to switch up the fly, and just how to present it to maximize your chances at a strike.

Ready to book with Albemarle Angler? Be sure to leave a review if you try them out! They can be reached at albemarleangler@gmail.com 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.

Can’t get the Musky off my back

I have my flaws – too many to list here, in fact. But the one that gets me is I get obsessed about things. Fishing, obviously, is one of them. Musky happened to be a sub-obsession. With the weather getting cooler, the musky fishing was picking back up here in Virginia. You might remember from an earlier blog post, my friend Joe and I went after some musky on the fly with Matt Miles Fly Fishing. Joe caught one and had another strike. I got nothing more than a single follow and a tired arm. I felt shunned by the fish. Why didn’t he eat my fly? Mine must have looked just as tasty. I had to have my revenge.

With fall starting to hit full swing, Joe and I set up trip number 2 with Matt Miles on the James River. The weather was crap. Cool and overcast all day. A couple hours of rain in the morning, then misty and a shower or two the rest of the day. It was one of those days where the weather was only good for sipping some bourbon by the fire. And musky fishing.

Matt was determined to put me on my first musky. We hit a different section of the James this time than we did last time. We launched and found the first fish right at the ramp. It swam off as we floated over it, but still made a few throws. I got the follow a couple times, but no strike. Maybe the next hole would be better.

Matt taught us a trick cast, and how to throw a single hand rod with two hands. It was great. I was effortlessly throwing the half a chicken worth of feathers 80-feet plus all day without getting tired. This came in great use working more water with each cast.

It turned out, this wasn’t going to be my trip to get revenge. Instead, the fish just laughed at me. Joe and I combined for over 14 follows the whole day, but we couldn’t coax a strike out of even one of these beasts. We saw some real tanks too – probably some that were close to 50 inches. Even though we never bent a rod on a fish, it was one of the more exciting days I’ve had of fishing. There’s nothing like watching a giant torpedo follow in your fly, then circle around with your figure 8, just contemplating whether it should pounce.

The fish of 10,000 casts is beginning to live up to it’s name for me. I’ll be back out there soon, and hopefully I’ll get one to cooperate. In the meantime, look up Matt Miles and see if you can beat me to the punch and get one of these bad boys to eat your feathers. After you go, come back and tell us about it, then leave Matt a review!

All pictures are courtesy of Matt Miles Fly Fishing.

Fly fishing for Musky

Hard at work trying to coax a musky into taking my fly

James River Tree

A brilliant tree on the James River.

James River

The foliage was beginning to turn on the James. Made for some nice scenery.

Matt Miles, the King of Musky Fly Fishing

I’ve long known about the musky populations in Virginia rivers such as the New, James, and Shenandoah. Going after them has always been a fleeting thought in my head, but never made an honest effort to try to catch one. That all changed after a post on the message board of my local fly fishing club, Tidal Potomac Fly Rodders, with a picture of one of these beast’s toothy grin caught on a trip with Matt Miles – who I’ve dubbed the King of Musky Fly Fishing – of Matt Miles Fly Fishing. The wheels started turning. At a Tidal Potomac “Beer Tie” (a beer tie is an excuse for a bunch of guys to drink beer while tying flies and trading fish stories and lies), I met Joe and the musky idea came up. It was all but a done deal after that, and we were on our way to try to catch the fish of 10,000 casts.

Our first attempt at going out with Matt was postponed due to a massive rainstorm completely blowing out the James River. Early June brought around our second attempt. This time, a rain storm added a little bit of flow and quite a bit of color, but not too much to call it off for a second time. Our 6:30 AM meeting put us on the river around 7 AM. We’d be targeting musky, but throwing some smallmouth flies in between musky holes.

Matt likes to throw big flies for musky. I don’t mean “big” like 4 inch deceivers. I mean BIG. The flies look like they’re the product of a weird science project to combine a full size chicken and squirrel. We’re talking 10, 12, or even 14 inch flies. Throwing a wet sock is no easy task. Minimizing your false casts and double hauling is a requirement to having a chance of throwing this 11 weight all day.

Matt likes to throw big flies for musky. I don’t mean “big” like 4 inch deceivers. I mean BIG. The flies look like they’re the product of a weird science project to combine a full size chicken and squirrel. We’re talking 10, 12, or even 14 inch flies. Throwing a wet sock is no easy task. Minimizing your false casts and double hauling is a requirement to having a chance of throwing this 11 weight all day. If you learn to water-load, that will really help you late in the trip when you think your arm is about to fall off. My nice long casts from the early morning turned into mustering all my strength for a pitiful 30 foot cast by the last hole.

James River Smallmouth Fly FishingOur day started off pretty slow. There were no musky to be seen. No strikes, no follows, nothing. You shouldn’t expect to see one every cast or every hole, but we were just getting blanked completely. To top it off, we couldn’t even muster a strike or follow from a smallmouths between musky holes. We were starting to get suspicious if fish actually lived in the James at all. Matt changed up my fly to a Tequilly and that woke up the smallies. This section of the James is still recovering from a fish kill and a few poor spawns, so most of the smallmouth were pretty small. That was OK, though, because this river isn’t a place we would have gone to target the smallies. Even still, I ended up with a couple decent size fish that are an absolute blast on the fly rod. Joe wasn’t having quite the same luck and was quick to blame me for stealing all the good holes from the front of the drift boat.

We stopped for a stream-side picnic lunch before picking back up to try to find that elusive Musky. Joe took over the front of the boat (no more excuses from him now!) and we started slinging our water-logged birds. We approached a hole that Matt said was ripe with potential. Joe just about had his fly in the boat when I hear “MUSKY!!!!” and see Joe’s rod doubled over with an angry torpedo taking flight. It must have been his 10,000th cast.

James River Musky Fly Fishing with Matt MilesThe musky tried its best to escape, but was no match for the 11 wt Helios 2. Joe subdued the fish and Matt scooped it up. It was officially the first Musky either of us had ever caught, and the first one I had even seen in person. At about 33 inches, it wasn’t the biggest fish in the river, but was no baby either. Matt whipped out his camera and snapped a few pictures. As you can tell from the photos, Matt definitely has some photography skills as well as fishing skills. Matt got the fish back in the water and release him to fight another day.

About 10 minutes later, we pull up to another hole. Matt points out some fishy water, and Joe tosses his fly towards the spot. BOOM! An enormous musky hits his fly. This fish had to have been at least 50 inches. Unfortunately, the hook point didn’t find its way home and the best view we got was the flash of the fish. Joe and I each got one more follow, but couldn’t coax either fish to eat. By the end of our long day, Joe and I were both exhausted. I’ve never wanted to stop fishing before – and this wasn’t didn’t become the first time – but I just could make another cast to save my life.

For a unique fly fishing experience, be sure to call up Matt. Central and Southwest Virginia has some fantastic fishing, and this definitely needs to be on your bucket list. Matt guides year round for smallmouth and trout, and recommends September through June for Musky. I’m already starting to make plans to get back out there with him this fall. Rates start at $275 for a half day and $375 for a full day. Book a trip with Matt and come back and leave a review! Check out a short GoPro-filmed version of the trip on YouTube.

James River Musky with Matt MilesJames River Musky with Matt Miles Fly Fishing

Another Shenandoah Float Trip with Albemarle Angler

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.”

20130803_103055Not 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.

Shenandoah LargemouthI 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.

Big Shenandoah SmallmouthBy 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 albemarleangler@gmail.com 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.

Float Trip with Albemarle Angler

This summer has been pretty busy, so when I realized I had a spare weekend day to hit the water, all I wanted to do was head out to the Shenandoah Valley and catch some fish. I started calling up some guides, and luckily, despite only having about a week’s notice, Scott from Albemarle Angler was available for a full day trip this past Saturday. As the trout season was dwindling down, Scott suggested we do a smallmouth float – which was fine by me since Smallies are one of my favorite fish to catch, period. We decided on a several mile stretch right out of Shenandoah, VA.

In the days before the trip, I started getting a little nervous. A big storm was supposed to roll through Thursday, and I began suspecting the river would get blown out. Luckily, it tracked just far enough to have a minimal impact on the water levels. Scott called me the day before the trip for finalize details, and he said the water would be high, but fish-able. Disaster averted.

Muddy Water

I met up with Scott at the boat launch and discovered the water had a bit more color than we were expecting. We didn’t think we’d have crystal clear water (and frankly, didn’t really want it), but the water had maybe about a foot of visibility. Yikes. It looked like I was going to have a challenging day ahead of me. We got our rods rigged up – two with floating lines, and one with a sinker – and Scott pushed us off and down the river.

The morning was tough. We threw almost everything in our collective fly boxes and couldn’t get so much as a strike. We tried clousers, worms, hellgramites, hogsuckers, small flies, big flies, purple flies, black flies, green flies… and the fish just plain ignored it. Or didn’t see the fly. It was a rough first few hours, but at least I was outside and relaxing. The morning grew older, and I still hadn’t gotten a strike. Trying to find something that would work, Scott found a nice feeder creek, and anchored us up at the confluence. It had everything we could want – clearer water, an eddy, and some dead water too. Scott pointed out exactly where to toss my fly, but my luck still didn’t change.

Largemouth Bass

We spent a good 10 minutes on this spot changing out flies, but I just couldn’t convince the fish I’d give them another day to live if they just bit my fly. Scott was certain this was the spot though. He picked up his rod, rigged up with a Kreelex, and tossed it out as well to double our odds and find what the fish were biting. A couple casts later, and he connects! He quickly hands the rod over to me, and I pull in a BIG sunfish. It wasn’t a smallmouth, but at least we got the skunk off the boat. He tells me to keep fishing that fly now that we got a bite. I make my next cast, and WHAM! Another hit – this one a lot stronger. After a nice battle, Scott netted a great size largemouth bass!

Shenandoah Smallmouth BassWe kept on that spot for another 20 minutes or so. I ended up connecting with our first smallmouth of the trip, and a second one shortly thereafter. We left the confluence shortly after I nailed another big sunfish. Armed with our knowledge of the recipe for success, we moved on for some new water. It wasn’t too long before I felt that tug and set the hook on another smallmouth. This guy struggled, danced, and tried to jump his way off the hook, but he was no match for us. A few photo ops, and he was off to swim another day. I was really hoping he’d tell his buddies to come play.

Scott and I started to feel our stomachs grumble a bit, so we pulled over for lunch – which was included in the cost of the trip. Scott brought the coolers on shore broke out some chips, and opened the cooler. I expected something nice and simple, like a deli sandwich. Next thing I know, Scott is breaking out a portable gas grill! The menu was not ham sandwiches today. We were talking gourmet, freshly grilled burgers topped with cheese, bacon, sauteed onions and sauteed mushrooms on ciabatta! It tasted just as great as it sounds, too. Normally, I wouldn’t even write a sentence about the lunch on a one-day fishing trip, let alone a whole paragraph, but I felt it was important. It can often be difficult to differentiate good guide services from great ones, or great ones from the best – but to me, such a specialized touch makes it tough to parallel. Sorry, Scott, hopefully I didn’t set the bar too high for you for the future!

Shenandoah SmallmouthAfter lunch, we set off for more battles. We kept the Kreelex on the line, and that kept the smallmouths on the line. Scott did great work constantly picking out the eddies and pockets he wanted me to fish. Each time, I would drop a fly in and get a hit. Scott even put up with me occasionally casting into the trees. He’d dutifully row the boat over for me to free up my fly. Of course, I would always pick my opportunity to get the fly caught up when we were in the fastest water and it was toughest for Scott to row. Our fears of a slow day turned into Scott commenting on the great numbers we put up – at least for the conditions. I didn’t really count, but I would guess we had at least 15 smallies to the raft by the end of the float. Add those on to several bruiser sunfish and the largemouth, and it was plenty to keep me entertained! I had a great experience with Scott. He has quite the fishing background having spent a significant time both out west and in the Shenandoah area. I’m already determined to get out with Scott and Albemarle Angler for another float this summer, and am looking forward to giving them a try when the trout start biting again.

View on the ShenandoahShenandoah Redbreast Sunfish

Ready to book with Albemarle Angler? Be sure to leave a review if you try them out! They can be reached at albemarleangler@gmail.com 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 wasn’t enough, they also coordinate fly fishing trips across the globe.

Native Mountain Stream Brook Trout Trip with Page Valley Fly Fishing

A few weeks ago, I did a smallmouth bass float trip with CT Campbell of Page Valley Fly Fishing. I was so impressed with his friendliness and skill as a guide, I decided to look him up again to go on a trip for wild brook trout in the Shenandoah mountains. The Shenandoahs haven’t received a lot of rain lately, so many of the brook trout streams had very low water levels. CT decided our best bet was the Rapidan.

The Rapidan

I met up with CT around 9 AM (the great thing about brook trout is they aren’t very active early in the morning, so you get to sleep in!), and he took me into the Shenandoah National Park. With his previous experience as a back-country ranger in the area, he pointed out different landmarks, features, and even environmental challenges the forest is having during our ascent up the mountain in his truck. We got to our fishing spot, geared up – CT uses 3 and 4 weight fly rods for these mountain streams. CT brought me to the edge of the river to review the tactics we’d be using for this trip. Looking at the stream, I had my doubts there were even fish there – the stream was hardly more than a trickle with constant “waterfalls” between pools. The biggest pool wasn’t more than about 15 feet wide and 30 feet long, and that was rare. CT assured me that the fish were there. As if on cue, I spot a brook trout holding under a tree limb in the pool CT was using to explain our tactics. From our perch on the rock about 15 feet above the pool, we could see it was pretty good size – about 10 inches. Fishing for these brook trout isn’t about catching a big fish. It’s catching a beautiful, wily, native fish. It’s actually pretty challenging fishing too, especially with the water so clear and levels so low. These fish are very spooky!

Seeing the first brookie, we sneak our way down to the tail of the pool to try to entice the fish to take our fly without spooking him first. CT tied on a Royal Wulff onto some 6x tippet. I strip out some line and make my first cast and…. BOOM! I catch the tree behind me. In the excitement, I forgot I was fishing a tight mountain stream rather than a open river. CT frees my line, and I cast again, this time paying attention to the trees behind me.

Brook Trout

My first cast was slightly off target and missed the drift I needed. For a lot of these fish, casting 6 inches to the right puts the fly out of it’s feeding path. My second cast was right on target, but I let it drag. No bite. My third cast was to the same spot. This time, no drag. Seconds later, the brookie came up and slammed the fly! I watched in awe. Unfortunately, watching was all I did, and I didn’t set the hook. Luckily, I fared a bit better on the next pool and actually reacted to the strike. A beautiful 8 inch brook trout took my fly.

 

 

Brook Trout

The next several pools elicited a few missed strikes and a couple “young of the year” brookies (brook trout that were born this past February and are only a couple inches). CT was getting a little confused, and thought the pools were fishing a little weird. We tried a couple other dry flies, but had the same results. Finally, CT figured it out. He noticed a wet spot on top of a rock that wouldn’t be exposed to  the running water, and it hadn’t rained recently. Sure enough, we found fresh footprints – someone was fishing right ahead of us. We packed it in, and moved a ways upstream. CT was right – at our next spot, it took me two casts before I hooked another 8 inch brookie. The day continued on with lots more strikes and more hooked fish. It was a double digit day for me (without counting the young of the year), with 4 solid fish over 8 inches, and quite a few more 4-6 inch fish.

Rapidan River

If you’ve never fished for native brook trout, it is a must-do experience for the fly fisherman. The scenery alone is enough to make one want to take the trip, let alone the beauty of the fish. You’ll see unspoiled nature, peaceful streams, and lots of wildlife. If you make the trip in the fall, you get the added bonus of seeing the leaves change colors, plus the brook trout will be even more beautiful with their spawning colors!

 

 

 

 

Ready to book a trip with C.T. Campbell / Page Valley Fly Fishing? You can contact C.T. via email at marcycampbell@embarqmail.com or call him at (540) 743-7952. Visit his website at www.pagevalleyflyfishing.com for more information. C.T. offers full day smallmouth float trips plus full and half day wade trips for either smallmouths or brook trout. His 2012 rates begin at $150 for a half day wading trip. Quite a deal for such a skilled guide!

Page Valley Fly FishingBrook Trout

Float Trip with Page Valley Fly Fishing

I caught the itch a little while ago for some smallmouth bass fishing. I had caught plenty of smallmouth bass from ponds and lakes, but had never really targeted them in rivers. The Shenandoah River is well known for its smallmouth bass fishery, so I figured there was no better place to start. I booked a full day float trip on the South Fork of the Shenandoah with C.T. Campbell of Page Valley Fly Fishing for this past Saturday to get my line wet.

Page Valley Fly Fishing Float

C.T. is a retired back country ranger who now operates a guide service based out of his hometown of Luray, Virginia. He’s been guiding for 15 years, and has a great knowledge of the local rivers and area – and it sure shows in his in depth knowledge of the river. Even his boat is ideal for the river. It’s a big, self bailing inflatable craft that comfortably seats two anglers. The seats swivel 360 degrees so you’re always able to get yourself into position. The front seat also has a platform on which you can stand and fish. Even after 8 hours on the river, I never got wet, felt fatigued (from the boat, anyway) or uncomfortable.

We were blessed with an absolutely gorgeous day. Mid-high 70’s and sunny all day. Unfortunately, the sunny conditions combined crystal clear water made for a technically difficult day of fishing. We soon found out the fish would be incredibly spooky and we’d need to make minimum 30-40 foot casts to avoid spooking the bass. We saw tons of fish, including some pretty big ones, but with water clarity letting us see the bottom in 10-15 feet of water, the fish would tend to see us first. If that didn’t alone scare them, the motion of the cast or the fly line landing anywhere nearby sure would.

In the morning, we started with some poppers on the surface. Regardless of how “fishy” a section looked, we couldn’t even get a smallmouth to follow a fly if it was in the sun. The shade line was where the fish were biting, so we stuck to anywhere we could find some shade. We were catching a few smallmouths mixed in with tons of sunfish – or as C.T. calls them, “Fish Tacos.” While the sunfish are fun, they weren’t what we were after. We were abiding by the “big fly, big fish” theory in hopes to avoid some of the sunfish, but that seemed to attract only the big sunfish. Not the worst problem in the world!

Page Valley Fly Fishing Smallmouth

With the smallies seeming to be a little slow on the bite, we switched over to some streamers. My second cast with an olive and white clouser elicited a vicious bite from a smallmouth. A few casts later and BAM! Another smallmouth. The clouser was getting plenty of strikes from the smallmouths, but still couldn’t draw anything out from anywhere sunny. At this point, we broke for lunch. C.T. brought us lunch on the river, and we made our own sandwiches, snacked on some chips, and followed it up with his wife’s phenomenal homemade brownies. C.T. includes all this on his full day float trips, along with plenty of water and gatorade. Being a environmentally conscious guide, C.T. ensured all the trash we brought in was taken out.

Page Valley Fly Fishing SmallmouthAfter lunch, one of the first sections we hit was where C.T. knew there would be some big fish. It was a deep cut right along the edge of a river where it runs against a cliff. He tied on one of his local favorites, a “Magnum Hog Sucker,” and told me he was guaranteeing I’d catch a fish on it in that cut. Sure enough, I got hit and there was his promised fish. Smallmouths are known for their strength and great fight, especially compared to their bigger Largemouth cousins. If you’re used to fishing for smallies in lakes, what you may not realize is how much stronger the ones that live in rivers fight. This guy we picked off from the deep cut was no exception.

The bite in the shade stayed consisted for the next 30 minutes or so, when suddenly the fish turned on in the sun. Nearly every cast to anything “fishy” looking would at least produce a follow, if not a strike. I had long ago stopped counting how many smallmouths I had caught, and the fishing was faster than ever. Every place C.T. would tell me to cast would bring us a fish. This continued on until the sun was low in the sky. The bite slowed a little, but I slowed even more. The last hour still produced plenty of strikes, but my reflexes slowed down too much to get a good hookset on anything.

The day’s catch totaled well over 30 smallmouth bass with plenty in the 12+ inch range, close to as many sunfish, and a nice largemouth bass. We also spotted several big catfish – probably 20-30 pounds – along with a few large carp. As if the fishing isn’t enough to make a run down the Shenandoah, the wildlife and scenery is a bonus. There are gorgeous views everywhere, and we saw tons of great blue herons, hawks, and even a bald eagle. There was even a raccoon cleaning himself off in front of his riverfront hole. The worst part about the trip is how desperately it makes me want to go back out. With the season winding down, it’s going to be tough to sneak in one final trip!

Ready to book a trip with C.T. Campbell / Page Valley Fly Fishing? You can contact C.T. via email at marcycampbell@embarqmail.com or call him at (540) 743-7952. Visit his website at www.pagevalleyflyfishing.com for more information. C.T. offers full day smallmouth float trips plus full and half day wade trips for either smallmouths or brook trout. His 2012 rates begin at $150 for a half day wading trip. Quite a deal for such a skilled guide!