For dedicated smallmouth anglers, last spring was an ordeal. But better angling has prevailed for those who can tolerate the torrid heat and thunderstorms for summer.
Last spring, thousands of gallons of kerosene were spilled into the Rapidan and Rappahannock, two of the area's better smallmouth streams. Then the rains came.
Just when a stretch of smallmouth water -- the Potomac, the Shenandoah, the James -- had flushed out the silt and debris and returned to normal, along came another torrent. But the monsoon-like weather did flush the kerosene from the fertile smallmouth waters of Rapidan and Rappahannock rivers. The telltale swirls of rainbow colors in backwater eddies and the acrid smell of fuel oil are gone.
From all indications, no serious damage was done to the fish. The shad run, which came only weeks after the spill, was one of the thickest in recent memory. Some anglers caught 50 shad in a morning.
Smallmouth catches have been good too, according to Game Warden J.J. Mason. The rivers have been running at moderate levels and range from crystalline to milky green. They should stay in this prime fishing shape for the rest of the summer, troubled only by fickle weather.
While largemouths often go on the sulk during these summer doldrums, smallmouth fishing winds into high gear. Flowing down from the Appalachians, local bronzeback waters will remain surprisingly cool even during this month. When air temperatures approach the 90s, the mercury reading in the smallmouth waters will hover in the 70s -- perfect range for fish to feed on insects, crayfish, frogs and other tidbits.
The river bronzebacks are not hard to catch, particularly the small and medium-size ones. The successful smallmouth angler uses thin lines and small, drab-colored lures.
For spinning gear, four- or six-pound test line is perfect. A light or light-medium action rod of 5 1/2 to 6 feet provides just enough backbone for setting hooks firmly.
Use small spinnerbaits in crayfish colors, smoke, white and black grubs, silver Rapalas and Rebels, Flatfish and Lazy Ikes, or midget crankbaits with natural finishes. Try a variety of retrieves and probe different water conditions until you find a fish tanking pattern.
Live bait is better than artificial flies and lures and is also an engaging form of angling, never mind what purists say. The same tackle used for lure fishing will serve well. Other items required are a few small split shot, bobbers and 1-4 fine-wire bait hooks. Hellgrammites, shiners, madtoms and crayfish all can produce big bass. Fly fishing usually won't work as well as bait, but with this refined tackle the sport is superb.
An eight- to nine-foot rod taking a six to eight weight, forward-floating line is perfect for smallmouth fishing. Tie on a leader of six to 10 feet, tapering to a four- to six- or marabou streamer, stonefly or damselfly nymph or small popper.