Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Morning Hike - Seneca Tract, Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail

In late November I had three hours to kill one saturday and decided to test out some new hiking gear and enjoy the Fall leaves before the Winter weather rolled in.  About a 20 minute drive from the house is a trail head (Seneca Tract) for the Potomac River Heritage National Scenic Trail.  This tract borders some BIG houses in Great Falls, VA.  It is an easy hike to be sure with little bits of elevation changes here and there and is used by a lot of folks - especially on weekends.  Dog owners love it as there is a lot of areas for pets to roam and not get in trouble with wildlife or deadfalls.  It is also a favorite with several horse owners for the trail is well maintained with little to no underbrush and firm trail footing.

Once you get past the Seneca Tract area and get on the Heritage Trail it gets a bit more rugged as the trail is now at the mercy of the Potomac River flood plain.  This portion has a lot of fun little areas with little bits of the old canal system that George Washington tried to create shortly before his death in the late 18th century.  All-in-all a nice little outing and good gear "shake out" for some Spring hiking on the big trails.
Easy walking but pretty scenery.
The area I hiked.  Easy access from the parking lot to the trail - very kid and pet friendly.
Large map of the Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail.
Trail blazes to help navigation.
Making my way down elevation away from the Seneca Tract towards the Potomac River.
Feeder creek off of the Potomac.  Still saw lots of little fishes in these waters and with the sun out it got over 55 degrees.
Had some fun climbing up this sucker.
Did not see a lot of wildlife this trip but there were signs everywhere.  Looks like some beaver were definitely at work along the trail.
Coffee break.
View from my coffee perch.  This is the Potomac River (what looks like the far bank is actually a large island).  On the other side of the island is the heart of the river which is several hundred yards wide and very swift.
The remnants of Washington's canal system.
Another shot of the canal.
A plaque off the trail showing Washington's canal as it looked in the 1800's.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Old Man and the Sea

Ocean City, Maryland
September 12, 2011

The following photos were taken of my father and I fishing early one morning during our family beach trip to Ocean City.  Normally we cast live bait into the surf using various rigs but we heard that due to the recent hurricanes plaguing the Atlantic we might have some luck with blitzing Bluefish in the surf.
Dawn breaks in Ocean City, MD
A "blitz" is when predator fish ball up a pod of baitfish and gorge on the biomass.  Bluefish tend to travel in large schools along the coast following vast schools of Finger Mullet.  When the moving mass of Blue Fish surround and ball up the mullet biomass they then attack it and feed - almost in a frenzied state.  A tell-tale sign of a bait ball is when you see a lot of birds on the water diving and gorging the unlucky fish on top of the bait biomass.  This scenario tends to happen at sun up and sun down - morning like September 12th.
Dad using a department store standard Shakespeare Ugly Stick bass rod with 10lb mono and a silver Gotcha Plug.
First Fish of the trip.  It was a smalley but at least he did not get skunked.
The Old Man back at it.  In New York and New Jersey, where Fall blitzes are legendary, fisherman will go as far as donning wet suits to get out farther in the crashing surf to get longer casts for the big boys.
Dad with a Striped Bass.  This one is a baby, in about a month you'll see Stripers in these same waters that are in the 40lb class that are as long as Dad's leg.
My turn.  Caught a few this size on Gotchas and Atom plugs.  They are small but fun to catch with light tackle.
View of a small "chopper" Blue and the type of Gotcha lure that worked best for us.
The three lures that produced in the surf.  L to R: Silver Gotcha, Spotted Gotcha and Atoms top water plug.
After taking a break and getting breakfast, hanging out with the family and spending a little beach time with the kids we were back at it in the evening with the big guns and live bait... but I'll save that for another entry.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

In Gary I Trust

One of my first casts using a Yamamoto Senko worm.
I have written on here about a few “go-to” lures such as Zoom lizards and Zoom brush hogs.  Both are great lures that have worked very well for me in a variety of local watering holes, farm ponds and rivers.  I stand by my past entries praising them and still have them in my tackle box.  That being said… I have not used either in 2 months and it all started with a little stream magic and a local named Hank.

I still cannot remember his exact name (I am horrible at that) so I’ll call him ‘Hank.’  I was fishing a local hot spot; a medium sized drainage pond in a local Home Depot shopping center and was having no luck with the fish.  After about an hour’s worth of work with only a little nibble I started thinking about bugging out to grab a beer and enjoy the rest of the short weekend.  Before I could turn around and step out of the lake (I was wadding about ten feet from the bank) I noticed someone walking down from the parking lot towards me.

Hank seemed like any other average Joe armed with a spinning rod except he did not have a tackle box with him.  Aside from his keys all he had was a bag of worms sticking out of his pocket.  "OK I thought - this guy just hit the local sporting goods store and got roped into buying a $10 bag of super worms.  Better steer clear as he'll be asking me in about five minutes about all of the tackle I have in my bag and what works." After saying brief hellos Hank made a left and setup about 20 feet down the bank from me fishing right in front of a storm culvert that fed into the lake.  Now I knew this guy was amateur hour as that area was shallow as hell with zero cover and a lot of floating junk from the recent rain storm.

As I turned around and tried a few more casts before bugging out and giving Hank the lake to himself I heard a loud splash.  OK - Hank got lucky with a smalley I thought.  Yah... I was dead wrong.  He just landed a 5 lb large mouth bass, a monster fish for this suburban drainage lake.  Hank caught me staring as he was freeing the hook, smiled and cast again.  BOOM.... another fish.  This one was smaller but around 3 lbs.  OK I thought, no way he can get a hat trick....BOOM.  This guy caught three fish, all over 3 lbs on three casts in an area I covered previously and never caught jack shit.

I couldn't help it - I HAD TO KNOW.  After swallowing my pride I walked over to Hank and asked him what in the world he was using.  This is when I was introduced to Gary Yamamoto... and I haven't fished anything since.

Gary has been a leader in the fishing industry for years.  If you want the full skinny on his incredible story check out his website.  Just Google his name and you'll get thousands of hits including testimonials from fishing pro's how they never compete without his products in the boat.  This guy is the shit and his Senko worm does a day's work.  The 3 inch Senko is what Hank was using the day our paths crossed.  

Back to the story - after talking for about 10 minutes I learned that Hank is a retired pro bass fisherman who now works as a federal contractor.  A few years back on the tour he discovered the Gary Yamamoto Senko worm and he rarley used anything else.  Once he handed me a few plus some of the hooks he used on his particular rig I too agree this lure is the new "go-to" for me.  When fished right it is deadly on fish, all kinds of fish - not just large mouth bass.

Below is a quick timeline of one particular cast when Hank was showing me how he fished the 3" Senko.  According to Hank this particular size and color Senko is THE BEST bass lure for East coast freshwater.  After using it for two months I beleive him.

STEP 1:  Worm selection.  Use the 3" Senko worm in Watermelon Seed (top) or Watermelon Magic (below).  The Watermelon Seed has little black flakes in it while the Watermelon Magic has little black and silver flakes in it.  Both mimic a variety of forage that all fish eat. 

STEP 2: Hook selection.  Hank's recipe calls for a Size 1, G-Lock worm hook from Gamakatsu.  This is the PERFECT size which allows the lure to fall horizontally like wounded prey.  THIS IS KEY!  Do not use anything bigger with the 3" Senko worm.  Believe me - this hook has caught all sizes and its chemically sharpened so be careful with the pointy end as it'll stick real good.
STEP 3: Attach the worm to hook.  I use a Carolina Rig with no weight.  Although you can use split shot weight when casting out from shore I prefer the weightless rig as the worm falls better (a key for fishing this rig).
STEP 4: Presentation.  When presenting a weightless Senko shoot for a zone between the bank and about 10 - 12 feet out (area circled in red above).  It really helps if there is high cover like the trees above as this will help shield the sun and cool the water.  This zone is great.  Above Hank is on his 9th fish in as many casts. 
STEP 4: Presentation (Continued).  When you cast out the worm, as soon as it hits the water have the rod at the 10 o'clock position and let the worm fall naturally (don't work the lure or start the retrieve - just let it fall).  During this initial fall is when a majority of the hits occur.  Having the rod tip at 10 o'clock gives you the best chance to set the hook. 

STEP 4: Presentation (Continued).  After the initial fall if you do not get a strike, gently lift the rod to get the worm off bottom, slowly crank the reel a few turns and let it fall.  Again, you do not want to work the lure, jig it, etc.  It's all about the fall.
Not bad Hank!  He was working fish this size all day - I've never seen anything like it.
Now it was my turn with the Senko.  After catching 12 fish in 40 minutes I ran out of Senko worms and had to bug out.  That is the one draw back to using these guys.  The plastic component they are made out of is super soft which helps the swim/ fall action in the water.  The problem is that fish tear them up really quickly.  When they hit these things they hit hard - I mean really hard.  Its very easy to go through a pack of 10 in a few hours - even more so when you loan a few out to jealous anglers like me.  If you get a chance, get your self a pack with the hooks described above and see for yourself.  I have steered four people to these lures, all with different fishing skill sets and the results have all been the same - outstanding!

After a brief stop by Dicks Sporting Goods on the way home.  I have gone through about 9 of these packs in the last 2 months. To be fair I have loaned out a few to friends and family.
All sizes of fish love these things.  It is a great lure to use when teaching young kids how to bass fish as the chances they'll catch something is almost a given.
Next cast after catching the baby bass.


Monday, June 20, 2011

Bug Chuck'n on the Susie Q

In honor of Father's Day I'd thought I would post some pics on one of the best gifts my wife ever gave... a guided fishing trip though Mossy Creek Fly Fishing back in 2007.  Before the birth of our daughter my wife surprised me with a gift certificate for a full day guided outing with one of the best outfitters on the East Coast. After arranging the date in late August, the guys at Mossy Creek decided that their private stretch of water on Smith Creek, a one mile stream called "The Susie Q," would offer the best chance for some trout fishing.

Dawn breaks on the Susie Q (photo courtesy of Mossy Creek Fly Fishing)
The Susie Q portion of Smith Creek is a mile long, limestone bottomed stream that is fed by several underground springs.  The water is mostly shallow with several riffles and pools that meanders through local farm pastures.  The underground springs that feed the creek help the Susie Q maintain a constant temperature throughout the year which makes it an ideal trout stream.  The stream is private and fish-able only by appointment through Mossy Creek Fly Fishing (both guided and unguided trips are available).  If you go by yourself there is a $70.00 all day fee per angler.

The management of the stream is overseen by Mossy Creek and local landowners.  It is a gorgeous trout habitat that supports very large brown and rainbow trout.  It lies in the heart of the Northern Shenandoah Valley and is surrounded by farmland so the scenery adds to the whole experience.  There are all kinds of aquatic bug hatches in the warmer months and it is an awesome stream to chuck beetle and grasshopper patterns late in the summer.

The Susie Q lies on Smith Creek about a mile south of Lacey Springs, VA.  To get from DC to the water is about a 2 hour drive. (Photo courtesy of Google Maps)
My guide for the day was Curt, a student at the local college (James Madison University).  If there is such a thing as reincarnation I wanna come back as this guy.  College student by day, fly tying bum after class and trout guide on weekends.  Aside from being an expert fly angler Curt was a very patient and knowledgeable teacher.  I lost more than a fair share of his flies to snags and tree limbs but he was OK with it. I learned a lot through his teaching and we had a blast yucking it up between bites.
My guide Curt showing off a nice rainbow that was parked under a willow tree slurping on beetles.
As for rods Curt provided two for me to use.  One was rigged for top water action with floating 5 wt line, 5x tippet and a black Crowe beetle.  The other was the same rod type and line but was rigged for getting lower in the water column with a slip shot weight and a streamer.  We would actually be trying several flies throughout the course of the day but the Crowe beetle and various streamers like the golden retriever seemed to get the best results.  The water was stained due to an evening rain storm but that only added to the fishing as trout are weary in low water and hot August heat.  A little rain can trigger the feeding as a lot of bugs fall into the water or are dredged from the stream bed.  It can really be hit or miss but fortunately for this trip it was all hits. 

Regarding the the Crowe beetle fly that we used, its a custom pattern developed by the owners and operators of Mossy Creek, Colby and Brian Trow.  These guys grew up in the area and are die hard fisherman.  They have experience going after all kinds of trout plus bass and musky.  These guys are constantly guiding people on great water and are also well known for their custom tied flies.  One of their best bugs, the Crowe beetle, is a trout slayer that also does a number on small mouth bass.  Its made mostly of black deer hair on a black hook.  There are over 200+ beetle species in Virginia alone and they are a major diet for fish, especially trout.  The Crowe beetle is a fat little guy that makes a unique sound when slapped on the water - for fish its like a dinner bell.    These guys never seem to have enough in the store because they sell out so fast.
A brown trout that devoured a Crowe beetle. 
What makes Mossy Creek stand out is that they are very professional but also very laid back.  Some fly shops are good on the water but then try and sell you everything in the shop after you shelled out big bucks for the trip.  These guys stand out by providing excellent guide services but also make everyone welcome in the store.  It truly is a hang out spot for fish-heads and newbies alike.  They even have free open houses throughout the year to show off new gear and raffle away tackle.  During these open houses they welcome folks to hang out around the shop, drink a few cold ones and enjoy local BBQ.  They also give free clinics on fly casting and tying flies.  I attended a tying clinic this past winter on tying flies with deer hair - below is one of the bass flies they showed us how to tie. 
This is a Trow custom frog pattern.  It is made from dyed deer hair that is spun onto the hook and trimmed with a razor.  This bad boy takes a pro several hours to make - amazing!

If you would like to visit the guys at Mossy Creek or book one of the guided trips check out their website and Facebook page.  They also have several You Tube videos on fishing trip highlights and tie flying. 
Mossy Creek Fly Fishing
1790-92 East Market Street
Harrisonburg, VA 22801  
Phone: 540.434.2444
Fax: 540.434.2555
E-mail: store@mossycreekflyfishing.com

As the day was getting warmer so was the bite.
Another nice sized rainbow trout.  The fish on this stream can get about 4 times bigger by the end of the summer.
Yep... is starting to get about 98 degrees with 80 percent humidity at this point.  Gotta love August in VA!
Good release.
A look at Curt's dry fly arsenal.
Trying to be graceful and look cool.... and failing.  Almost fell in trying to net this guy.
A nice rainbow trout.
A pretty bend in the stream.  The foliage on the banks will get to about 4 feet tall by the end of the summer.  Perfect bug habitat for hungry fish.  These guys did a great job turning this farm stream into a trout creek!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

ROADTRIP ! ! ! !

We were fortunate to be able to stay at a friend of the family's cabin in Timberline Resort in Canaan Valley, West Virginia a few weeks back.  This place has been a favorite summer time destination for several years as it is a major fishing location that gets little to no pressure from other weekend warriors.  What made it an even better trip was the weather.  Three straight days of sunny, 80 degree temps with zero humidity.  I was also fortunate to be able to take my brother and some buddies to enjoy the fishing, local hiking trails and the cabin.

Below are some of the photos from the 2011 Kachung Invitational Fishing Tourney.  It was a close race but I was able to pull out the skills to kick butt... that is until a newbie caught a 10 lb monster bass.  The problem was that he was on the other side of the lake alone with no camera so without tangible proof it doesn't count.  :)  I love making up rules as I go along.

For lures we used Zoom brush hogs and baby brush hogs in watermelon candy and watermelon seed colors using red EWG worms hooks in sizes 2/0 & 3/0.  I like red hooks when using creature baits like the brush hog because I believe it looks like a blood trail.  I tend to get better strikes with them as the fish think the lure is wounded and easy prey.  Rods were all medium spinners with 6lb test monofilament line.  For better presentation we used YUM bait attractant.  This is good when you are using sunscreen as the attractant will help mask any unnatural oils from your fingers that might make its way on the lure when rigging.

Here are the different types of brush hogs we used.  They do not mimic anything specific in nature - they are more of a cross between a lizard, frog and crawfish.  For some reason the fish love them and tore them up so much we almost ran out.
This is the baby brush hog.  Notice the wear and tear - this was my last one out of a pack of 12.
Red EWG worm hooks (size 3/0).  The fish hit so hard and frequently they stripped the red paint off the hooks.
My brother catching the first fish of the trip.
My first catch of the trip.  Notice the jealous look coming from my brother.
Boom!  This guy fought for 8 minutes and even rammed me underwater.  He was not happy!
My brother with a yellow perch.
My school buddy 'The General' showing off one of his many fish.  
The General's brother Zack.  He had a great trip but learned quickly to wear a hat when you spend 8+ hours a day on the water!
Captain Kenny showing off.  He caught the monster 10lb bass and discovered the awesome fishing spot across the lake.
My brother tearing up the yellow perch.  Lots of fish in those grass beds.
Timberline Ski Resort in the background.