ANOTHER SUMMER GONE BY (SUMMER FISHING RECAP)
It's that time of year, again. We're in full-on fall transition, complete with the usual identifiers--leaves beginning to change and drop; low, cooling water; shortening days; and changing fishing patterns. It's always a bit bittersweet. Warm, comfortable days are numbered, as are the opportunities for viable topwater smallmouth fishing, but we're looking forward to the incredible diversity of fishing opportunities that fall and winter bring. Here's a look back on some of this past summer's highlights.
My summer fishing began around the second week of July following a month-land-a-half-long stint of paternity leave. The first several weeks were marked by recurring storms and rain showers that kept me guessing day in and day out. That's not particularly abnormal for the month of July, but our region continued to see regular rainfall and cooler temps well into August that kept portions of our watersheds somewhat turbid and cooler than average for the season. Meanwhile, our neighbors to the north in central and northern Virginia experienced dry and hot weather for most of the early- to mid-summer.
Such a weather pattern conspired to hold our peak bug fishing for the year off until later in the summer. We still had great topwater opportunities throughout the season, but it was different. Last season, we were cranking full-tilt on a bug pattern by the middle of July, while this year it seemed to get really good later (almost mid-August). Thankfully, we have options, and chasing low and clear water allowed us to stay on a hot bite most days.
The cooler water temperature variable is an interesting one, and one that I feel is often overlooked when people start talking about "bug fishing." Part of the reason that bugs put so many large fish in the boat during the summer is the need for top-end smallmouth to feed efficiently in bathwater-warm water. The more energy they invest in capturing prey and feeding, the more calories they have to consume. That is true always, but when water temps soar, because all fish are cold-blooded and their body temperatures and metabolic rate increase with water temps, the need to budget feeding energy is paramount, and easy-to-capture foodstuffs become incredibly valuable. So when water temps plateau in the summertime just below peak (say, 72 - 78 degrees, as opposed to 78 - 84 degrees), the fish have the room in their metabolic budget to pursue more mobile food items, and the bug pattern is not as strong. This was the case for us early in the summer.
Things did get kicked off, though, just a few weeks later than usual. And interestingly, the paw paws--a native fruit that lines our riverbanks and usually becomes ripe around the first of September--were also a few weeks behind, this summer. Even more interestingly, the cicada die-off, which usually begins around the third week in August and continues into September, and is typically made incredibly obvious by the sight of cicadas floating and twitching down the river, and the smallmouth puking dead cicadas up as they fight against you, was very late and nebulous. I saw exactly one cicada in a fish's mouth, and one floating down the river, during the second week of September (two weeks later than usual, as well). But cicadas could still be heard buzzing in the trees well into the month of October. It is safe to say, though, that they are mostly gone at this point, thanks to a few weeks of overnights in the 40s.
In terms of our fishing results, we had a great summer! Lots of big smallmouth hit the net, and lots of personal best fish were caught, with some incredible experiences flowing each day. A couple of highlights include watching my buddy Sam catch his first 20"+ smallmouth (a 21" fish we sight fished) on a bug he made himself, and then smoke another (bigger) 21" later that day. My calendar, these days, is, very thankfully, full of some of my favorite people to fish with--folks I've fished with for several years. However, I did have the opportunity to fish with new friends Ray and Sid from Georgia and North Carolina, and despite some tough conditions, made some great memories, including the truly epic memory of Ray sight fishing a 22" beast just 25 feet from the boat. Another new friend was made in Rich from New Jersey, who informed me during our first day of fishing that his personal biggest smallmouth was 18.5", which is a very respectable fish. Our second day of fishing together, Rich gained some confidence in a new technique, and put three fish over 20" in the boat.
We also spent some time on our tailwaters this summer when conditions pushed us off the smallmouth campaign. One incredible opportunity that exists on those rivers in the summertime is the river-run striper fishery that exists there. Using certain approaches, it's possible to fish for trophy brown trout and striped bass in the same day, and we saw some great results pursuing these windows of opportunity, as well.
I say it quite regularly, but still not often enough--spending time with great people, in special places, in pursuit of memorable fish and experiences is one of the greatest blessings of my life, and I'm eternally grateful to everyone that allows me to support my family while doing this on a daily basis.
From this point on till March or so, we'll be shifting our primary focus from pursing smallmouth bass to chasing musky, brown trout, and our incredible winter smallmouth fishery. I'm looking forward to another great fall/winter season to come, and to all the great memories to be made in the boat in the coming months. If you'd like to get on the water, give me a shout!