In June 2012, Diana and I went to visit her uncle in the western tip of Virginia. Uncle Jim is the owner/operator of AOA Fishing, a guide service for Smallmouth Bass on the New River.
We were lucky enough to go out with Jim for three days (we could have gone for a fourth day, but we wanted to see some other local sites as well). I believe I caught just shy of 100 fish evenly split between a spinning rod and a fly rod. I was pretty excited about the total, but Jim said 100 fish days were not uncommon ~10 years ago.
Jim is a Smallmouth guy, so that's what we targeted. All but two of the fish I caught were Smallmouth or Rock Bass! The other two fish were Redbreast Sunfish, which was a lifer (#26 at the time). After a few hours, it was very easy to correctly predict what kind of fish was on the end of the line. If it hit and quit, it was a Rock Bass. If it hit and fought, it was a Smallmouth Bass. I grew tired of all the Rock Bass after a day or so.
|The first fish of the trip for me was my lifer Redbreast Sunfish! On a fly!|
It also took me about three hours to finally catch a Smallmouth!
|Bask in her glory!|
|It took a lot of convincing, but we eventually got Diana to hold one of her fish!|
I was starting to feel shame when my line popped free! I was relieved I wasn't hung up...but then I said, "Nope, I'm snagged again."
I'm not sure why it took me so long to realize I had a decent sized fish on the end of my line! After a brief fight I ended up bringing in my personal best (at the time) Smallmouth Bass!
|This beauty was an even 18" long and weighed just over 3 lbs.|
The second day went much like the first.....except I was catching a lot more fish on the fly than the first day! The river was generally empty of other fishermen, but near the end of our second float we passed by a bustling campground. The campground had a pretty large weedbed along it, so I started casting along its edge....and I brought in my personal best Rock Bass!
|At 9 9/16", this was my largest Rock Bass of the trip by about 1/2".|
Still, I felt like the area might have some decent fish in it, so I threw the worm into a couple sheltered areas. I missed the bass on the first cast. She came out as I was pulling the worm out of the water. We were quickly moving away from her, so I threw a desperation cast....and got a hookup! There were some tense moments (for me), while I tried to keep her from the vegetation while we stair-stepped some rapids, but Uncle Jim eventually got us through the rapid and I was able to bring her to the net. She topped my previous best by 1/8" and ~1/2 lb.!
|I had never been more nervous about losing a fish until I had this one on my line in a rapid.|
I'd been following his advice the first two days with quite a bit of success.
Except this time, it wasn't a bass. The fish was headed straight toward me, and in the dingy water I thought it was a bass. I stopped reeling in, and the fish immediately turned to its left and shot off. Muskie! It wasn't a big Muskie, maybe 12"-15", but the snout was unmistakable as it cruised past. My first (and still only) Muskie follow! I spent the rest of the day 'playing' every Rock Bass I had on the hook just in case a Muskie was around and hungry (we'd find a ~36" Muskie rotting on some rocks later that day).
Uncle Jim sends me an email every time they catch a Muskie in that stretch of river (4 or 5 times since we were there).
Diana came out with us again on the last day. She caught her biggest Smallmouth ever!
|Debating whether or not she should hold it.|
|She held it! 13 1/4"|
Diana was hooking tons of fish....way more than I was....but she was slow on the hook set, so she didn't catch nearly as many as she should have.
I had caught the largest two Smallmouths of my life the previous two days, but they were both on the spinning rod. For whatever reason, I really prefer to catch my fish on the fly rod if at all possible. I spent our final day really trying for Smallmouths on the fly.
After a couple hours, I was getting pretty good at counting to two before setting the hook after watching the popper fly disappear below the surface. I'd brought in several 9"-12" Smallies, but nothing too exciting.
Then she hit.
At first, I thought it was just another Rock Bass. The water was shallow and rocky, and she was right up against the shore. Perfect Rock Bass habitat. The popper sank, I counted to two....and then she darn near ripped the rod out of my hands!
Thus began the toughest fight I've ever had with a fish on a fly rod. A couple of jumps scared me half to death. At one point I had the fly line in my teeth because I really needed a third hand! After what seemed like an hour, but was probably about 90 seconds, she was in the boat and I was able to breathe again. A new personal best!
|Still my best Smallie....19 1/8", just over 4 lbs. And on my beloved fly rod!|
Some shots of the New River: