PA Boys Visit the Shenandoah River
Prelude of our Shenandoah Adventure
Jeremy, Jeff and I met up with Mark while getting fishing licenses in Luray Virginia. After $80.00 worth of groceries and an additional 2 cases of beer we headed to the cabin on the South Fork of the Shenandoah River we rented for the weekend. Later on two former Pennsylvania residences, Giddeon and Jack would be joining us for a day or two of fishing also. A few of us fished here a couple of years ago and had such fun, for a get-a-way fishing for smallmouth trip, we decided to do it again. The main difference was we had a cabin on the river instead of a few miles away. With the cabin furnished with everything needed, except a portable dishwasher, we were more than equipped to take on fishing the Shenandoah and than being able to come back and relax in the confines of pure comfort.
Here’s my story of our adventure..
Settling in Along the South Fork
(Day 1, 6-24-11)
After settling in Jeff, Mark and I put out an assortment of smallmouth tied flies. From streamers to poppers as well as Hellgrammite, large tied Humpy’s and hopper patterns. They sat on the table all weekend like a buffet spread for smallmouth. In different shapes and colors there had to be a few patterns that the smallmouth would like to get their teeth into. We picked over them to fill our own fly boxes for an evening of fishing to see what might work for the oncoming days.
After a healthy lunch we collected our gear and spread out in the off color water of the river. Wading the South Branch can be treacherous if you don’t watch your step. With a dark lager color of water I didn’t stray too far out from shore. Mark eventually made the wade across the river and was rewarded with a big largemouth bass. Other than that we all caught a few small smallmouths and red breast sunfish in the slower flat water but it wasn’t worth spending the time for the infrequent hits. Downriver was a fishy looking section of riffles, protruding rocks and small flooded weedy islands. It looked more promising than what we had been fishing in and I headed to shore to engage in this fishier looking environment. Jeff had the same idea at the same time and started his way towards the shore also. It was near 5:00pm when I entered the new section of water so there was plenty of time to get acquainted with this section before nightfall.
I started wade fishing my way towards a long stretch of riffles mid river. As I was carefully maneuvering my way across the river I’d stop now and then and toss a Clouser out ahead of me in hopes of stirring up some action. I had a few bumps and caught a red breast sunfish in a slower tail out ahead of me. When it looked deeper and less manageable I positioned myself up river from a good stream of riffles that appeared to deepen into a slower pool before flowing over another subsurface rock ledge formation. I replaced my Clouser with a bead head weighted brown woolly bugger. Because of the fast current and discoloration of the water I figured a brown worm looking pattern was in order.
From upriver I cast out into the riffling water with lots of slack line. Holding the rod high I was letting the bugger tumble beneath the surface like an uncontrolled night crawler than a swinging bait fish. On the second time through, tumbling within the riffles, my slack line tightened as if I caught bottom. I knew better and pulled the slack line in with my line hand while pulling the rod back sharply to set the hook. Instantly I felt the weight on the other end and knew this wasn’t another 9” smallie or scrappy sunfish. I prepared myself for a good tussle with the heavier smallie in the current and surrounding obstructions.
He pulled down and away to my left on his first get away attempt. I was using 4X tippet on a 7 ½ foot 3X tapered leader. I’m sure I had enough line strength to bully him in like a bass pro does in a tournament but I’m a trout fisherman and enjoy a good wrestling match. I was standing on a rock ledge in about knee deep water. One or two steps off the ledge could have put me instantly in chest high water or deeper in the uneven depth of the river. Being above, such as now, was a good thing. I kept the rod tip high with most of the tensioned line off the water. This made it easier and safer to defend against the fish, keeping my line from hitting or rubbing against unforeseen obstacles beneath. I got the smallie to turn around and I wrestled him through the deep pool. He used his weight, against the undercurrent, trying to dislodge the stuck bugger. By now I had the butt of the 6wt Vapor rod in my gut and I swung him down below me in a riffle of current. He rose and I seen he was a nice size smallie. I moved my rod towards the surface while reeling in to keep the bass below from the pull of the top surface current. I managed to get him to me safely and lipped him up. I was going to show him off but didn’t see Jeff yet and the other two boys were too far upriver to give a shout out. I let the smallie swim out of my hand safely in the tinted water.
Two casts later, with the same presentation, a fish takes the bugger like a downtown purse snatcher. Instinctly I jerk back the rod to penetrate the hook. Almost instantly the slack line, on the water in front of me, disappears and shoots through my tensioned fingers. The spool spits out more line as the reel lively screams. By the time I get control the fish is across and down river about 25 yards away in a good channel of choppy quick current flow. The top section of my rod is flexing up and down with the tugging current holding fish. My rod is horizontal now facing downriver as I try to pry him out of the fast current but he refuses to give in with the constant slight angle pressure. I tighten up my grip as the cork handle gives from my pressuring fingers and thumb. I shift the rod up river and the fish swims upstream some beneath the strong current. With the rod bowed I shift the rod again across my body downriver and the fish follows, unexpectedly, out of the fast current into the slower current towards me. I keep pressure on him and carefully reel in when he gives me the opportunity as he draws closer. Now in the deeper pool, where the melee started, he tries to turn down river. The rod flexes more but the fish doesn’t have enough strength to overcome the bowed pressure, while my line hand is ready to feed him more line if need be. He struggles as if he has no energy left than to follow the rod pressure with occasional tugs still trying to free himself. He zigzags by my ankles until I get a lip hold of the fine fat smallie.
I cast a few more times into the pool but no other takes are felt. I reel in and light up a long Brickhouse cigar as a reward!
Looking around I see Jeff, downriver, slowly working the bank a few yards out. Mark is between me and the shoreline fishing around a flooded weedy island while Jeremy is just upriver from me.
The evening sun is in full view for now but moving down towards the horizon with the coming of evening.
It was about 7:00pm and the bite didn’t increase any more than the past few hours. I tried a few different patterns with limited success catching sunfish and small smallmouth. I was down river a bit now and decided to switch over to the brown bugger again. There was a deeper looking pool with an even flow of current out towards the middle of the river. I added a little more weight to my line and cast into the pool and hoped for the best without hanging up on the unseen riverbed. With long heavy casts the bugger plops into the upper part of the pool and I let it drift, with slack, towards the tail end before cresting over a shallow rocky ledge. I watched as my fly line sunk quickly and pulled in line and raised my rod trying to get enough tension on the long length of line and slack I had out to set the hook. When I felt the resistance I thought I had an underwater tree branch swaying in the current still attached to a log. When I pulled back on the rod further the caught object started to swim across the river below me. I kept enough tension on the fish until I got all the excess slack in my reel. I knew it wasn’t a smallie and it didn’t fight like a fallfish would have. I had no idea what I had but I knew it wasn’t little by a trout fishermen standards. When I got a good bow in the rod is when he decided to start a skirmish with bodily shrugs and propelling tail swats.
I looked up to let the others know I had something big on and seen Jeff, a few yards from shore, up to his chest in water. The water he was in looked to be a slow pool of deep water without much current flow to push him downriver to shallower water. He wasn’t in a panic and looked as if he had a toe hold on the bottom. I glanced over to Mark and asked if Jeff was alright. We were both far enough away that trying to hurriedly get to shore would be just as dangerous for us.
As I fought the fish I kept an eye on Jeff and watched him paddle his way to safety. When I got the fish nearer to me I saw a long whiskered channel cat with my brown bugger attached to his upper lip. I’m not used to picking up catfish in the middle of the water. Usually they are a bank side catches. I carefully grasped him around his body, avoiding his bony fins, and gently lifted him for a picture.
After releasing him I had enough fishing for the day and headed for shore.
Back at camp Jeff told me about his river plunge while I cut up and sautéed onions and peppers for venison chipped steaks on Philly style buns topped with Mozzarella cheese for the evening meal.
After a good meal, with the crew, and cold brews Giddeon showed up from his long drive from Asheville North Carolina. He finished off the chipped steak hoagies and engaged in the cold brews with us.
After cleaning up it was time for me to relax.
I poured myself a full glass of imported Italian Moscato wine, lit up a Fuente Rothchild stogie and relaxed in the hot tub! Mark joined me on the screened-in back porch and smoked his corncob pipe filled with black cherry tobacco. He sat in one of the chairs and we carried on with good conversation while the others stayed inside drinking micro-brews and carrying on as fishermen do…