For Becky and Rachel it was a respite from the routine work week.
Cotton-candy clouds meandered across bright skies as we shoved the 12-foot johnboat into the clear waters of the Shenandoah. Our game would be a mixed bag of smallmouth bass, redbreasts, rockbass and, if luck was with us, perhaps a largemouth or two, bluegills, a handful of crappie.
It was the first full-fledged fishing trip for the two sisters, and their eyes sparkled at the sights and sounds along the spring-high river. Wood ducks erupted raucously before us, a snapping turtle bobbed like a massive brown cork, huge carp cruised the shallows and bobwhites whistled from the shoreline.
Neophyte anglers are quick to appreciate the ancillary joys of being outdoors in such handsome surroundings. But the fish also drew deep concentration.
At the first deep pool both their rods bowed sharply and there were smallmouths dancing across the surface, arching their bodies to throw the barbs. Luck was with us and the fish were reeled in until they were flopping inches from the end of the rod trips.
It was sheer chaos until the bass were "unreeled" back out srveral feet so they could be taken off the line and returned to the water.
For novices the women handled themselves sharply through the four-hour float trip. There were few tangled lines to undo and a minimum of lures hung up in trees. (Fewer, probably, than this veteran threw into the brush, if truth be known).
There were no cries of "I'm tired" of "This is boring." In fact, when our take-out point drew near, they sighed with regret, tossing feverish last casts at the shoreline to lure a final bass.
If you have a wife, daughter, niece, girl friend or, for that matter, a son, nephew or neighborhood friend that you'd like to introduce to fishing, I can think of no better approach than a short float trip down the Shenandoah River.
These waters are so fertile, so full of eager and willing fish, that success is almost guaranteed. Mimimal instructing is involved. Teach the novices the basics of casting and reeling in the lure, equip them properly and the bass and sunfish will do the rest.
A word of caution: There's no surer way to turn prospective anglers off than to criticize every mistake they make.
If you want to help the beginner learn to catch fish, the best way is to space your criticisms widely, throw in some praise, and draw attention only to errors that will significantly reduce the tyro's chances of catching fish.
Almost as important as careful instruction is tackle choice. Live bait will draw the biggest fish in the Shenandoah, and for the specialist fly rods offer the maximum sport. But ultralight spinning tackle and small artificial lures are the best tools for the newcomer. No messy and tedious baiting of hooks to fool with - simply toss out the clean plastic lure and reel it in.
Using a light-action rod of five to six feet and a tiny open-face spinning reel filled with four- or six-pound line makes this a breeze. The gear is heavy enough to handle most fish lurking in the river, and light enough to use for a full day without tiring wrist muscles and wearing down the fledgling angler.
Lures can be kept to a minimum. Half a dozen Beetle-spins, a few Mepps spinners, Panther Martins and Rapalas will turn the trick on the bass and sunfish. The artificials should be tossed out into the stream and retrieved at a slow, steady pace.
Both forks of the Shenandoah are good for float fishing. The South Fork is bigger and deeper water, but all fish must be known back here due to mercury contamination. The North Folk is clean and pure. If you don't have your own boat, the South Fork is best. There are many places to rent them along the river.
Keep the drift short, pack a picnic lunch to enjoy on a grassy stretchof shoreline and you'll have an angling convert on your hands for sure.