Smallmouth Bass in Mountains of Virginia

Photograph by: Jameson Redding, Anger: Aaron Rubel

My roots in fly fishing go back to days wading within well-structured banks swept with cool flowing water. I have no idea why rivers energize me, but even after a week of only 20 hours of sleep, a day on a mountain river in Virginia expunged every bit of stress in my body.

I have learned that some of the very best days of fishing on a river nearly always occur on cloudy days. I have also learned that there is something about friendships introduced around water and fish. The morning started early as Jameson and I met at 5:30AM for a day of fishing. When we arrived at the river, there were fish actively feeding, and the sunrise combined with just the right amount of fog reminded me of why the Blue Ridge Mountains are so appropriately named.

If there’s one thing that is the same about every fishing trip, there’s always a surprise that ends up making the day memorable. After casting from a bolder into a promising corner structure, we decided to move on after only catching one small spotted bass. Moving on gracefully in a kayak sometimes turns into begging for some mercy. After placing my fly rod in the kayak, I leaned over to sit on the water craft, but my foot was not firmly planted as moss was growing on the aggressively angled rock ledge. In certain circumstances, there comes a point when time stands still and you know there’s no going back. A choice must be made and made in that moment with no hesitation. I only had one option to keep from swimming, and that was to lunge for my kayak as it slid away from the bank. When I lunged off the ledge, I was certain the kayak would capsize and my fly rods would be at the bottom of the river (seven feet deep at this point). Well, thank the Lord I didn’t lose a single piece of gear, wasn’t impaled by a hook, and I stayed on top of the kayak albeit refreshingly wet!

The fishing picked up around 9:00AM, maybe not so coincidently in sync with clouds that moved in. I’ve learned that smallmouth like top water flies, and big ones. This knowledge is thanks to a guide I’ve spent some time on the water with in Michigan named Jon Ray as well as reading the book, “Smallmouth Fly Fishing”, written by well-known author Tim Holschlag. I came armed with an 8wt and 10wt rod. The ten weight might seem overkill, but I subscribe to selecting a rod for the day that efficiently casts the size of flies I intend to throw rather than choosing a rod solely for the size of fish I am targeting.  Anyway, smallmouth fight hard which raises the bar compared to any other freshwater fish of the same size.

Smallmouth Virginia 2Smallmouth bass flies of choice for the day

On our way upstream earlier in the morning, I noticed a deep trough on the inside of the river that spanned thirty yards across by one hundred yards long. My Maui Jim Ho’okipa’s with rose lenses enabled me to see detail that consisted of a deep and relatively narrow finger within the width of the river and adjacent shallows on all sides. On my second or third cast into the head of the pool as I drifted downstream, a smallmouth rolled my fly but the hook set wasn’t successful. I didn’t have to wait long for another chance as about ten casts later, another smallmouth rolled on the black and red popper fly and this time my rod bowed and it was game on! During the fight, the three plus pound smallmouth leaped out of the water, exposing just how fat he was and made some strong runs. I knew I needed to get downstream of him if I had a chance to land him. Well, as soon as I successfully negotiated getting downstream to gain leverage, the bronzeback ran under a rock ledge and anchored in with current pushing between him and the underside of the large rock structure. I was able to reel down to where the leader and fly line met my rod, and Jameson came over to lend assistance by sliding his hand down the leader and bringing to hand the 18 inch Virginia smallmouth bass.

Smallmouth Virginia 3Aaron Rubel with an 18 inch Virginia smallmouth bass

Photography: Jameson Redding of http://www.anglershare.com/

I so enjoyed the day, both fishing in the river and at a pond that was literally on top of a mountain. In addition to the smallmouth we caught on the river, we landed ridiculously large bluegill that afternoon on the pond and some largemouth bass too. In all, we caught and released four species of fish and I look forward to hosting Jameson to some coastal Alabama fishing in the future.

Smallmouth Virginia 4Smallmouth being released, Photography: Jameson Redding

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