SPRING SMALLMOUTH FISHING IN FULL SWING
In the month since our last fishing report, in true spring-in-Virginia fashion, we've seen just about everything--high water, cold water, 80 degrees, 28 degrees, sunshine, and snow. But the year marches forward, still, and as I write this, our waters are as warm as they've been all year, and one of spring's most exciting events is peaking.
In late March, I finished up my musky and tailwater trout season, as the tailwaters began to see increased angler traffic as the primary fishing and guiding season started to get underway. We had some heavy rain events in the latter part of March that sent us shuffling through our fishery options, but nonetheless, we ended the month with a few more solid streamer trips under our belts.
Mountain stream fishing is great, right now, as it almost always is. Mid- to late-spring is prime time in our mountains, as bug activity is peaking, and opportunities to dry fly fish and increased fish activity combine to make for some excellent days on the creeks. Right now, March Browns, Yellow Sallies, Isos, Quill Gordons, and Cahills are emerging, from day to day, and we'll start to see Mother's Day Caddis and sulfurs, soon. All of this means that there is a lot of emergence and surface activity, these days, and our wild fish are liable to start eating regularly on the surface.
Smallmouth bass are my first love and priority, though, and so we've been hard after the pre-spawn bite for the last several weeks. Our big rivers have been high and bouncing higher with each rain event we've had, which is becoming the norm for our region's larger watersheds in the springtime. Windows of opportunity have presented themselves though, allowing me to get a few trips in on the big river. Though fly fishing is an effective method in the spring, when high, cold water is the opponent, conventional gear really shines. And since the spring, pre-spawn time period represents one of the best opportunities for the angler to catch a number of large, heavy fish as they stage in predictable locations near spawning areas, I have no problem putting the fly gear down for the efficiency of conventional gear, and it's paid off with several trophy fish over the 5 lb. mark, this year. Significant rain has been relatively absent for the past few weeks, and is fairly absent in the forecast.
This is a great thing, as our smallmouth have either just started, or will begin to spawn in the very near future in different waters in our region. The primary driver of smallmouth recruitment (the number of fry/juvenile fish that make it into the general population) and overall smallmouth numbers is streamflow in the springtime. For the past several years, we've had volatile streamflows and flooding events surrounding the spawn, and poor spawns, and thus, recruitment, has resulted. On our larger rivers, like the James and New Rivers, water temps are in the mid- to upper-50s, right now, and rather quickly making their way to the 60-degree mark, when the bulk of spawning activity begins. On our smaller rivers, tributaries to these dominant rivers, water temps are a few weeks ahead, and some spawning activity has already occurred. In recent days, I've seen temps in excess of 60 degrees, on one of these tributaries, which, coupled with the full moon, has kicked off the bulk of the spawn in these populations.
On the fishing front, things have been different, day to day, as they usually are in the spring. Successive cold fronts that have knocked water temps back down in the last few weeks have called for us to slow down in the morning, fishing closer to the bottom with crayfish flies, but most days have been ruled by streamer fishing mid-column, with the bulk of the activity, as is expected in the spring, coming in the afternoons and evenings as water temps peak. Big fish have been daily occurrences, and I expect the great fishing to keep on, given we don't get smacked with a bout of high water.
Our dates are exceptionally limited, at this point. The entirety of the spring is booked, as is most of the early summer. Right now, we're booking heavily for the peak of our summer season in August and early September, but we do have a few dates in July, left. If you'd like to get on the river and look for some big smallmouth on topwater flies, give us a shout and we'll set up a date! Mountain stream fishing remains awesome through the summer, too, with dry fly fishing being the rule, rather than the exception, and we'd be happy to show you why these small streams are so special, too.