Bass on the Shenandoah

by Robert D.
(Woodbridge, VA)

South fork of the Shenandoah

South fork of the Shenandoah

About five weeks ago, my wife and I took a drive out to the Shenandoah Valley, mainly to kill a Saturday, but also because I wanted to check out Mossy Creek Fly Shop. Aside from being one of the better-known shops in the area, I was looking forward to going to a shop that actually knows what tenkara is.

As we were walking around the shop, talking to the clerk, I asked about their float trips for smallmouth bass, mainly making conversation. At that point my wife pointed out that she’d be travelling for work the second week in September, and if I wanted to fish, I should go for it. Yes, I married well.

September 11th found me up at 5 to make the two-hour drive out to the valley, where I met up with my guide, Wayne. After some vehicle jockeying, we had the drift raft at the start of the float and the tow vehicle at the take-out.

I’d brought two rods for the trip; my Kurenai Long 61 and my Kyogi 21. I’d brought mainly level lines for the Kurenai, and stout PVC lines for the Kyogi. The plan was to stick with the Kurenai for streamers and such and save the Kyogi for trying to turn over the big bass bugs that we were likely to be using later in the day. The Kurenai will cast bugs, but it’s like watching a drunk throw a wiffle ball in slow motion.

The river is entirely capable of 100-fish days, so I was hopeful as we set out. Sadly, that was not to be. It’s not that it was a bad day, it’s just that the fish seemed to be picky. The first stretch turned up nothing, so we moved a bit further downstream. Here, in a bit faster water, I finally hooked my first smallmouth – all 6” or 7” of it. It spit the hook as I was reaching for it, but a fish is a fish.

A bit further down I saw my white Zonker disappear again and set the hook. This fish proved quite a bit feistier than the first and chased me back and forth for quite a while before coming to hand. At 13.5” it wasn’t huge, but it put a good bend in the Kurenai and got it singing. After that, the streamer bite seemed to turn off, and since the sun was starting to climb, Wayne suggested we switch over to bugs. I collapsed the Kurenai, leaned it against the rigid seat frame next to me, and opened the Kyogi.

Which brings us to the educational portion of this article. Any boat set up for fishing is going to have rod storage. Use it! If you rest your rod on the deck in any fashion, the following will happen:
1) Drift rafts have quite a bit of movement between the inflatable sides and the plywood bottom.
2) At some point, there will be a gap that will open up between the bottom and sides, enough to allow the rod to slide down.
3) Immediately thereafter, the boat will flex in a different direction and quickly and forcefully close the gap.
4) There will be a sickening crunch.
5) You get to send Chris an email with the title, “So I’m an idiot…” and find out how much a #6 section is going to set you back.*

So now it was just me and the Kyogi. I had a #2 sized Boogle Bug already tied on, so I began casting that. The water was crystal clear, and it was easy to see every piece of structure that was worth casting to. Also easy to see the bass rise, look at the bug, and turn away. Eventually I got a hit or two, but it was rough going.

And so went the day. Change patterns, catch a bass or two, and watch things dry up. This continued until nearly the end of the day, when we hit a section with a number of riffles and runs feeding into deeper pools. We seemed to have found a pattern that the fish were interested in, and I was fishing deep, ticking the bottom in upwards of 15’ of water. Here I was really impressed with the Kyogi. As deep as I was, I could still feel the fly bumping the bottom, and I still had all the power I needed to set the hook.

The weather may have also been helping the fishing. As we rounded a bend, we noticed that the sky had grown quite a bit darker. The typical 30% chance of afternoon thunderstorms had come to pass. They never got really close, but as they built to the south it was enough to chase us north and downstream. It may have been that the overcast skies and pressure drop were getting the fish moving.

Something interesting I noticed about the Kyogi. There were times where I’d be sitting with the rod pointed straight up, whether it was tying something on, riding out a riffle, or just shoveling in a sandwich. Seven or eight times with the rod pointed in this position it spontaneously had a section or two collapse. At first I thought it was from my haste to get the rod redeployed after collapsing to deal with a snagged fly, but then I realized that most of the collapses happened at two times; when the sun was climbing and the day was heating up, and when we lost the sun and the temperature dropped as the afternoon storms started popping up. I think it was being caused by the expansion and contraction of the sections as the black rod adjusted to the temperature. It’s not something I’d ever experienced before, but I think it’s impressive that the tolerances on these rods are so tight that they’re affected by temperature this way. It definitely makes me leery of leaving a rod in a hot car.

Despite the rod’s stoutness, it was still fun with smaller fish. About the last fish of the day was a little rock bass. When I set the hook it just stopped, to the point where I wondered if I’d snagged the bottom. Even once it started moving it fought me pretty well.

This was the first time I’d ever spent any real length of time with the Kyogi. I’d expected that casting the heavy two-hander would have worn me out, but I was surprised. For the next day or two I felt a bit of soreness in my hands and forearms, but that was it. I was more sore from sitting in the boat’s seat most of the day.

*As a follow up, I wrote Chris with my tale of woe on Friday. He had the replacement piece in the mail that day, and I received it Monday. Unlike every other box I’ve gotten from Chris, this one looked like someone had attempted some kind of origami with it. Fearing the worst, I took photographs as I opened it and, yep, the piece was snapped in half. I wrote Chris with the bad news, and within 20 minutes he wrote me back to apologize and say that he’d already ordered the new part. You can’t ask for better customer service than that.

Comments for Bass on the Shenandoah

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Sep 17, 2019
The North Branch
by: Herb S.

Robert, I believe you’ll have better fishing on the North Branch which is loaded with bluegills, rock bass and others of the sunfish family besides smallmouth bass. No boat needed, just waders or wade wet in good weather. No guide needed, just a good map like the De Lorme Virginia map book. I fished the North Branch off and on for years during trips to visit my brother-in-law who lives just outside of Winchester. Back then I mostly used a light spinning rod with 2" curly tails on 1/32 to 1/8 oz. jig heads. Brown with orange or chartreuse tails worked well as did other solid colors. On our next trip I’m planning on taking keiru rods with plenty of size 10 and 8 beadhead woolly buggers as well as a selection of beadhead nymphs and size 8 Muddler Minnows (doped to float or with a split shot). The north branch is beautiful water with giant sycamores lining the banks. Have fun and
Happy fishing,
Herb

Sep 18, 2019
Thanks!
by: Robert D.

Great to know about the north fork; I'll have to start scouting out locations. It seems that all of the attention paid the Shenandoah is on the south.

Sep 18, 2019
PS
by: Herb S.

Apparently things have changed since I last fished the North Fork and private property has become more of an issue. I googled:

north fork shenandoah river fishing access points

and came up with a lot of information on official places to get in the river. Good luck Robert and

Happy fishing,
Herb

Sep 19, 2019
Access...
by: Robert D.

Herb,

Isn't it always the way. I imagine if we did some digging, we'd find that a couple of people insisted on being as destructive and obnoxious as possible until the landowners had had enough, and now everyone suffers. Best of luck to you when you finally get back this way.

-Robert

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