Wednesday, September 1, 2010
Virginia Breakaway - Day Three
T-Bone doesn’t like me much.
He will, of course, deny it, but there can be no other explanation. How else can you interpret our spending nine hours together in a New River drift boat with nary a long, circuitous story told, rib-poking barb at my casting skills, or slightly off-kilter joke? All we did was fish. Nose to the grindstone, eye on the bug, minds on the water, fish.
Now, admitted, it took that, and more, especially knowing that every cast might yield a beast of a smallmouth in this unbelievable Virginia fishery. Our drifts had to be absolutely dead in the tricky currents and the smallmouth takes, when they occurred, were as dainty as a butterfly’s kiss, easily missed. Even our guide was all business, in a competent and collegial manner. It was all about the fishing...
...but still, I wonder...
Smallie Tip #1 – Smallmouth bass aren’t leader shy, but they are fly line shy, so a long leader is advisable. A 10ft, 10lb bonefish leader works perfectly.
We awoke to the final drips of a gentle overnight rain and pondered what it meant to our day’s New River float. The drive from Wythville to Pembroke was gray, brightened slightly by the fresh Krispy Crèmes we scored when stopping for gas and the engaging mountainside detour that our GPS inexplicably decided to direct us along. Despite the delays, we still managed to arrive on the New River Outdoor Company’s doorstep thirty minutes early, testament to our excitement to get started.
Smallie Tip #2 – Even though we were fishing poppers, they needed to be dead drifted. It seems oxymoronic, dead-drifting a popper, but any drag and the party’s over. We only “popped” them when a fish had looked and rejected, in a last ditch effort to keep his attention. Popping was not for attracting fish.
After two days on a racing bicycle seat, the prospect of sitting in a cushy float-boat chair sounded pretty good. Our guides, Britt and Greg, loaded up the craft, the gear, and us, and hit the road in the general direction of Radford University, accessing the river at a convenient overpass launch. We dropped into the New - Heffe and The Rog with Greg, T-Bone and I in the boat with Britt - and drifted downstream into some of the fishiest looking water imaginable. Lush banks, rock structure, slow flats and fast water greeted us around every bend. And Britt knew every inch.
Smallie Tip #3 – When it’s hot, smallmouth strikes can be so subtle that they are easy to miss. I’m certain I missed more than a few, and know I missed one good fish, not recognizing the strike quickly enough. It’s definitely different than the largemouth topwater explosions I’m used to. That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it.
We spent most of the day fishing topwater, Britt’s handmade poppers, with the big guns, our 8wts, but during some slow periods tried a couple of crayfish patterns, going deeper in the mid-day sun. The lengthy float was a blur, but a good one, and, while we found smallmouths in fair numbers, we never boated the lunker we had hoped for. Thankfully, Heffe and The Rog didn’t either or we would have never heard the end of it.
Smallie Tip #4 – Hooksets need to be high, 12:00 high, and hard. You’d think I’d know that. But we were making long casts and had lots of line on the water so, unless our hookset was high, pulling line off the surface, the drag delayed and diminished the set - and missed the fish.
I couldn’t tell you how many miles we floated but we put in a good long day on the water. The early drizzle burned off and gave us a bluebird day, hot and hazy. Fishing with T-Bone and Britt was an educational experience and I hope you find the tidbits I’ve shared here of some use, though you probably know them already.
Smallie Tip #5 – When a smallie does strike, his tendency is to run, or worse, jump, straight at you – especially disconcerting for fly fisherman trying to manage stripped line. Be ready for, and enjoy it.
So I’m learning every day and it’s a good thing because I have a long way to go. Now, I just have to figure out what I did to T-Bone and apologize.
It’s certain that I haven’t outfished him.
Day Four - heading home, with a little trout on the side - soon....