2002 reports (I can't sort out these hyperlinks...) back to Info page Home
cloudy days 7/-7/10
Summer Settling 6/20-7/1
Back to the present. . . 6/20/01
Winter in Octover 9/18-10/9
Yeah, I know--it's a long time for a report. Truth is we don't have much to report. For some reason--two theories below--fishing in our stretch of the river has been mediocre to poor this late summer. Cooler water has concentrated fish and made outings worthwile (details to follow) but it's altogether been a forgettable summer. This compounded by the fact that the rest of the river, especially the Shenandoah, has been fishing bonza.
Theory one: Maryland DNR wise men wondered aloud if we weren't in a bad-spawn groove. The '96 spawn was very strong, and 97 was a fabulous growth year, so perhaps the big slug of big fish in the pipeline is expended. After the warm and mellow winter of 00-01, those five-year-old fish would have trouble making it through to the next year. (counterintuitive, I know, but a warm winter makes more feeding demand on bass and leads to greater die-off). Seven years is the outside life expectancy for smallies. Makes you wonder about the few of the 96 year class that did make it through--they'd be humongous by April. That's one theory, courtesy of Mark Frondorf.
Another theory involves the character of the river where we fish. The water-gap between Harper's Ferry and the 340 bridge is a funnel that makes for some terrific summertime smallie habitat. It's also rather inhospitable water for fish to overwinter in, so every year we rely on an infusion of the notoriously mobile smallmouth into that water. It may be that fewer fish than usual made that trip this year, either because of the richness of habitat elsewhere, the surprisingly dingy but cool water temps over the summer, or some combination of these. That might account for the generally good fishing upriver and downriver but poor fishing in the gap this summer. We had periods of excellent fishing in the Needles of the Potomac and in the Brunswick area--the top and bottom margins of our float--but the usual "promised land" of the middle section was quite sparse.
In any event the fish have made their fall migration to deep water areas and are being quite cooperative within these areas. Trips in the past week found consistent fishing in some areas with some large to very large fish encountered. Walleyes have also arisen from their summer torpor and made an appearance. My last trip was Saturday and was notable for the astonishing winds which accompanied a sharp cold front. The front arrived with a freight-train roar as I enjoyed the pre-dawn moment on the ramp, bringing sporadic rain and sustained winds of 20-30 knots; as the sky cleared in the day we had some gusts of 40 and up. It was a tailwind or I'd still be out there. Very game anglers from California stuck out the poor weather to boat a respectable 25 fish or so, with a handful over 12 inches including one handsome sixteen inch largemouth and a close encounter with a 18" plus smallie that severed her relationship with our boat somewhat prematurely. This in a situation where a slightly elevated cast might blow into the next province. We fished heavy-headed tubes all the way downriver despite POR gauge readings of .5 much of the day, as low as I've fished in ten years--due partly to drought and partly to the fact that the wind was blowing the river dry. Luckily such a substantial tailwind allowed me to plow right over some obstacles that might normally have hung us up permanently. It's a good thing the clients mastered the bail-snap early or we'd have lost all of our lures by lunchtime. It was that shallow.
Fish are heavily concentrated in the good feeding areas that are proximal to deep wintering holes, especially the sharp rock faces that pillow current or are angled to it. Softly dropping tubes (and pig-and-jig, I'd guess) were the best bet, in browns and greens. We didn't try much else. I threw some zoom fluke and buzzbait casts but with temps in the 60's that's a longer shot. This week's warmth will likely perk them up a bit and perhaps lead to some topwater action. Grass beds--so tardy to grow this year--have died off early, so their oxygen contribution has now been replaced by the oxygen deprivation caused by their decay.
Summer in September Report for 9/2-9/10
The summer that was, well, wasn't. Our stretch never lit up as usual, though good fishing upriver and downriver balanced it and trips to the Susquehanna--when we had the energy--made the highlight reel.
Fastwater areas produced well on the Potomac, with good fishing in the moving water in the Needles, both upper and lower. White and chartreuse flies--clousers, woolly buggers with weight, CK baitfish, etc.--moved fish to 12 inches with a persistent dead-drift or steady strip through the deeper bellies. Cooller nights haven't yet translated into active fish movement throughout feeding areas in the middle Potomac, at least in the Harper's Ferry stretch, where fishing never really got going this summer.
The Shenandoah has been running clear now for three or four weeks and producing well all summer, with some very big fish and good numbers of medium to large fish as well. And with grass growth finally up in the Brunswick pool fishing there has exploded, with day-saving topwater bites in the afternoon and evening in that area (easily accessible to wading and paddling anglers out of Brunswick, incidentally.)
In the grass fish were willing on poppers and streamers, with top-of-the-water-column flexibility the only key so the lure can navigate the long streaks of grass. Good to excellent numbers of fish to 18" came there steadily throughout the week, even on the high-pressure and breezy Saturday. Energetic waders could access the area if they could stand the sensuous brush of water stargrass across their thighs. Most better fish were cruising or holding in the center of the river with the grasslines on either side of them. Most areas of the Brunswick pool are only about thirty inches deep, so few places are out of reach. Small light colored poppers worked best for my clients but I believe that most topwater tactics would work.
Cloudy months Report for 7/10-8/1
That slow clearing I reported to you? It's very slow. A confab of DNR, ICPRB, and other interested parties, with and without portfolii, are jawing about it and the general consensus is this:
Steady high water, with some peaks, suppressed grass growth in the key period from mid-May through mid June. Then water temperatures rose sharply, triggering the usual summertime routine of lower water and oxygen cycles that created a denser than usual growth of the usual algae in the river. Meanwhile flows remained steadily high and suspended silt from the various flood events didn't settle at all, either through lower water or the agency of grass mats or both. Result: cloudy water in the Potomac and main stem Shenandoah. Luke, the gage that's first after the Jennings Randolph reservoir, has been well above mean flows all summer.
Meanwhile the fish are eating well. Large fish have been tough to find, either because they're not feeding, not present (many of last year's large bass were certainly in their last year) or feeding well on other stuff. Smaller fish seem to be well fed, and immature smallmouth have been caught at well over ten inches--a surprising but not unprecedented thing. I have observed extraordinary hatches in the river, including a massive caddis hatch last week in the Needles, which might suggest a very heavy food chain anchor that could combine with limited cover for smaller fish and microfauna and result in happy, well-fed small and medium-sized smallies. All conjecture.
We have been catching fish only after hard work, with totals in the thirties or forties generally and lower on some days. Some larger fish have come in, including a 21" fish last week, but they've been rare. Many fish are stapled to deep "dormant" type cover, especially chunk-rock washouts and only the most prime of ledge holds. The most productive areas have been the lightly fished stretches below the 340 bridge, and the gravel flats around and below faster water stretches such as the large rock flat above the railroad bridges at Harper's Ferry, and the mid to lower Needles area.
Fly anglers have had a tough time of it, scoring only on the heavier offerings such as clouser minnows, weighted woolly buggers, zonkers, and so on. Dark colors have been most effective. Spin guys have had the upper hand. Tubes as always are most effective, with the heavily salted and scented varieties most productive, usually in dark colors. Grubs have also performed, from brown to white and chartreuse. Most effective presentations have been slow and deep, cross-current or downstream, and anglers who can work a grub deep have scored the most hits.
Oddly enough the fish that have been taking have been biting with authority, popping lures clearly and holding them. This results in a high mortality rate as anglers aren't sharp on the hits, having so few to practice on. Tubes are always good for finicky fish since they have a more lifelike feel and fish hold them well. Despite very low water one effective technique has been to use 3/8 or even 1/4 ounce heads, which give very definite bottom contact and a sharp, decisive drop to the bottom. Best cast in well back in a long current seam behind a rock in fast water--any full stop hold in swift water has served well, and if you know you're on a chunk rock flat a very deliberately worked tube will move fish even on the most finicky of days.
Buzzbaits, upper-water-column flies, topwater plugs, and zoom flukes--our usual summer staples--have been very poor producers except in the low-light fringes of the day. I broke off a hog on a buzzbait last Friday but it was the only real hit I had in thirty or forty casts. Even the cold-front standbys--senkos and other of the gold-impregnated Yamamoto products--have been of limited use. Brown power grubs and mizmo and nichols tubes have been the most effective spin lures so far.
Not much sign lately of whitefly hatches, though sulfurs and profuse midge hatches have taken up the slack. Weed mats in Brunswick are finally at midsummer density, and we can only hope that the same is happening upstream. This slug of water is passing today and I fish again Sunday, so I'll know more then.
Cloudy days Report for 7/1-7/10
That slow clearing I reported to you? It's very slow indeed. A lack of grass growth in the upper rivers, particularly the Potomac, and a steady heavy flow from the dam above Luke has kept us in a weird hot water cloudy condition over the past week. Fishing has been quite slow through this period, especially for flyrodders.
Feeding activity is strictly bottom oriented, with fish concentrated in deeper flats over only the best bottom cover. Deep, subtle presentations have been necessary to provoke hits, and most fish have been smallish though John Hayes' client took a 20" fish on Sunday. My trips on Friday, Saturday, and Monday struggled to put fish in the boat despite excellent anglers. Highlights tended to be other species--a nice walleye on Saturday and some largemouths and channel cats--two, on flyrod!--on Monday.
Each day the river has fallen and cleared slightly, but by midafternoon it has crept up again. The Shenandoah is browner in tint, suggesting agricultural runoff and silt still in suspension from the heavy boomers they had up there last week. The Potomac is a pea green, perhaps from algae or more likely just from heavy flows that don't have the usual cleansing effect from aquatic grass. The usual grass load is much reduced, probably because of higher water in May and June.
Good news is that the insects are prolific. We've already seen heavier concentrations of whiteflies this year than we saw all last year--great big lanky bugs zooming around the shorelines, beginning at about 8:30 at night. It's worth a look even if the feeding activity is slight. In fact, it may be that fish are sated on mayfly larvae and spinners over the full moon period. Why feed in daylight when you can belly up to the smorgasbord all night? With the dark of the moon coming up that trend may end this week.
Summer Settling Report for 6/20-7/1
The river is slowly--slowly--clearing after tremendous rains in the Potomac and Shenandoah watershed made for a strong rise but a very dirty one. Typical of an early summer deluge, the silt and fine organic material in the water remains longer than you would expect. This is also partly because the grass beds, which do so much to filter and clear water in both rivers, haven't fully emerged yet and have been limited by higher water in the springtime. Reports for Sunday suggest improving fishing with clearing water, and water already at good high-average summer pool levels and temperatures--that is, in the low 80's at a peak.
Saturday's trips enjoyed steady but not spectactular action, with the main stem below the shenandoah confluence producing the majority of memorable fish, though water clarity is still an issue. Fly trips had it somewhat tough, though fish were caught especially along the clearer Virginia shoreline below the 340 bridge and in the Brunswick section. Knoxville to Weverton continues to produce the largest fish.
Darker dahlberg divers had a renaissance in the latter part of last week though we haven't had a real clear sense of what flies were strongest so far this week. The "soggy dahlberg" effect in black and dark brown and olive moved a good number of fish, especially when fished in shoreline transition areas with good bottom. Dark tubes produced well--but when have they not? and dark and blue hula grubs also caught good numbers of fish.
More after my trips this week.
Up and Down Report for 6/10-6/20
Welcome rain in unwelcome amounts made late May and June a rollercoaster of changing conditions. Fishing was excellent in three windows of moderate water with moderate clarity, then washouts and slow trips predominated. Larkin and Motes even cancelled trips on the threat of rain last weekend, and though the rain didn't come in the forecast amounts the fishing was off enough to make us look smart.
Sunday--Father's Day--a lovely clear day brought murky, sharply rising water and few fish of note, though fun on the water as MKFS guides and friends floated Dam 3 to Brunswick and threw the fly and tackleboxes at them, with a few dinks and one handsome fly-caught carp to show for it. Extreme cold-front tight-mouthed fish techniques were the only ones to produce--bottom-hugging plastics such as tubes, hulas, senkos, and ikas. Deeper runs were the place to be. It doesn't matter, because those conditions are done--the river's down and (he said hopefully) going to stay that way long enough to clear and get those fish off their easy-living crayfish ways and make them look up at our poppers.
I'll get back to you on Monday with some better news!
Another Tweak of Fall Weather Report for 9/10-9/18
Well, part of it anyway. We had the hottest and the coolest week of the fishing season in the past eight days, it seems. Both extremes dampened the fishing a little or a lot, depending on whom you talk to. Fishing held up throughout, though numbers suffered this weekend in high blue skies and chilly, windy weather. Readings were in the mid-40's overnight in WV this weekend, taking water temps down into the low 60's at times and making the smallmouth as sluggish as the guides in the morning. Add to that a stiff tailwind and fishing was tough at times. Patience paid off, though, and the afternoon pattern prevailed again with better numbers and more big fish after lunch.
The Potomac remains dingy, perhaps from high winds and waves pounding on riverbanks thick with silt from the high flows this summer. Fish were only moderately interested in the visual lures, perhaps a combination of stained water, high pressure, and cool temps. Hits on spinnerbaits and buzzbaits complemented some fish that took jig-and-pig or dead drifted Zoom Salty Super Flukes and big streamers. Past the confluence and the addition of the clear Shenandoah, and past the meridian and with a ham sandwich under the belt, fish began to move more aggressively and frequently. Most were found in the long runs even with the tail-outs of large current obstructions--in the most prime spots but those not obvious to anglers who don't read the water and cast only at rock. Several fish were also taken near overhanging cover--any rock that afforded overhead shade was a good bet.
Of the three 18" fish taken Sunday, two were caught within ten minutes and 100 yards of each other and after 5:30 PM. This is the first significant evening action in a long while, though that's perhaps less attributable to a change in pattern as it is to a change in light and clarity--it was a lovely clear bright day. All three big fish were taken on light colored Zoom Salty Super Flukes--not the pearl white color that is my usual favorite, but a style that is rapidly becoming my High Pressure System Fluke of Choice. More about that in my space later, but it's interesting to note that it's a departure from my usual opinion that color generally doesn't matter much. Some fish came on topwaters and spinnerbaits, and as always the jig-and-pig was a steady producer though fish were light-biting and short-striking the jig all day.
The clarity is breaking up now and we're in for moderate temps and variable weather all week--a recipe for continued good fishing. Midge hatches over riffles were incredibly concentrated yesterday, and at least six ospreys have taken up residence in our stretch; one came overhead so close yesterday that I could clearly hear the sound of wings and (maybe my imagination) sharp, clicking talons.
A Tweak of Fall Weather Report for 9/1-9/9
After the weird east-wind and foggy squalls of August--a ton of rain but never so much that the river was shut down--we had a three-day bluebird this week, accompanied by a slug of nearly too-high water that made the toughest fishing conditions yet this summer. The Shenandoah clear water had been steady and reliable fishing with some very good fish in the middle river, but that bet was way off as of Friday. Now we look for more stained water and fairly high water, as John and Dave will find out on Saturday. The high pressure should be off a bit and the main thrust of the rise is through, but the fall is slower than I'd hoped so the river's character will be shifty and tricky. We'll see and I'll report when I can.
Before this change we had more steady fishing in improving water clarity, and the same odd daily pattern obtained. The Potomac was stingy but steady, with 10-20 fish and a few in the mid-teens each morning, with a marked improvement in action by midday as the Shenandoah's clear water took over. The stretch from the confluence on down was fishing very well with large white flies, Zoom Salty Super Flukes, and bottom-relating crayfish imitating lures and flies. Two trips on the weekend accounted for seven fish at or over 17 inches--not bad at all. The saving grace is the fading light and cooling water, which will signal winter to the smallmouth and their forage alike and begin the fall games. I always like to find the first blue crayfish of the late fall--usually an October surprise but in this quirky year who knows.
My only inside information: flukes of off-white and two-tone colors outperformed the old standard Pearl in a very distinct way on the weekend, and jig-and-pigs and Hula grubs worked well even when fish were picky. Which they really weren't; they were just located in specific places and stretches and we caught them freely in those places, sucked air in others. Cumulative effect: excellent.
Saturday morning I sat on the small bridge by the put-in and watched five baby minks and their mama cavort in the creek. Ospreys have been very active and I saw my first two cormorants since springtime. Last year there were dozens in residence around the Cabins. Also saw my first bird hunters on the river above Dam 3. Normally I have mixed emotions about gunners--that "shoot and release" movement hasn't really caught on yet--but the Canadas are so numerous that I guess I can live with a little "harvest." Just hope they know the difference between a goose and a guide, a fine distinction I've heard say.
Good luck and keep on keeping me posted.
It's about time. . . Report for 8/15-8/30
Summer pool has finally arrived, with about two weeks of summer and the Summer Bonus Month, September, to go. I was heading out to my trip last weekend when I realized that the daylight was late--go on vacation for a couple of weeks and the solar system continues to cycle. Fall is in the air, and in this cool summer it's tough to tell the difference. But with the water finally lower and clearer--we went as low as 1.7 on the POR gauge last week--we can do a bit of that summertime thing.
All that said, the Potomac still carries a stain from the high water two weeks ago; it's only unti the 340 bridge that things finally get to that bottom-visibility clarity that makes a fly guy's pulse race. First piece of advice: get to the main stem of the river. As of Sunday, the Potomac was still very stingy and a bit dingy, and the people who were availing themselves of the easy access to the Needles and Harper's Ferry portion of the river were not moving many good bass. The greyish blur they saw on the water was MKFS rafts racing through the unproductive water down to the Shenandoah, which has been running very clear lately. I take back all the bad things I've been saying about 'Doah water quality; it's been where it's been at.
In the dirty water jigs and other bottom-oriented lures performed best, though with little consistent success on anything but smaller bass and sunnies. Exceptions are the most prime feeding areas, particularly around good broken-up rock bottoms with good current flow--typical summer stuff. Buzzbaits, poppers, big dahlbergs, Zoom Flukes, and other typical lures took very light numbers of bass in that area.
From the gravel flat opposite Harper's Ferry on the Potomac down through the Confluence, though, it was a different story. The influence of the Shenandoah was clear, and better numbers and better fish prevailed all the way downriver (and on through the lower portions of the river to Great Falls). Even generally unproductive water, such as the very deep stretch above Whitehorse over bedrock ledges and the large, open flats below the big ledges below Harper's Ferry were very consistent. Visual lures, especially our staple Zoom Fluke, took a number of good fish including two 19" and one 20" fish on three trips in a week. The 20" was a beautifully marked, well-fed fish that topped four pounds by a hair, a very nice summertime fish.
The bottom relating pattern also worked well, suggesting that fish are still finding what they need in the lower half of the water column, and buzzbaits and topwater lures were generally ignored. Zooms had to be settled low and cast far to move the big fish. Flies that worked best included darker streamers, especially cone- or bead-head woolly buggers or zonkers in the larger sizes, though large baitfish patterns accounted for the largest fly-caught fish in this period.
The hot afternoon/weak evening pattern is still on, another hint that bottom oriented feeding is still the main order of the day. If you're going on the wade, get there earlier than you might usually do.
Trip on Wednesday had the thrill of seeing the immature bald eagle up close. We flushed him from a dead tree and marked where he came in again, then floated right under him ten minutes later. He's a big bird, I'm here to tell you. Large painted turtles and small snappers are visible in the pondweed in the main river now that the flow is low and clarity is good; minks are reported all along the Shenandoah and Potomac.
Those of you using the Brunswick ramp beware: the upstream canal is solidly blocked by downed cottonwoods two deep, too far down the channel to see from the main river. Paddlers can negotiate it but any larger vessel would be at least inconvenienced if not stopped. Anybody who notices a change in that situation please let me know; we don't like to row upstream from the cut any more than we have to. John and I hope to get up there with chainsaw in hand but time may not permit.
Keep me posted on success!
June through August, 2000 Two Week Intervals
2/27/00 Cold Water, Hot Fishing
3/30/00 Coming Down, Warming Up
4/03/00 Warming up, moving around
4/12/00 Chilly Pig Weather
4/28/00 Spawning Time--or is it?
05/04-15/00 Summer Patterns
Getting Out Early commentary on early spring river fishing
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