Explore, Experience and Enjoy the Beautiful Smith River in Southern Virginia

Friday, September 25, 2009

The Golden Hour

The nights come quicker in September, the crisp air brings shorter days, and you know autumn is closing fast. The damp air hangs a little heavier when it rains, and blankets of fog sink a little closer to the river, growing thicker with moisture inhaled from thunderstorms rumbling across the Blueridge.

Rain means clouds...and thunderstorms bring the backdrops crucial to incredible sunsets.
Wednesday afternoon brought these conditions to bear on the Smith. The air was saturated with moisture and new storms threatened to the west. Whether photographing floating or fishing, this combination of moisture and light unite, providing for the perfect evening on the river.
Sunlight streaks through the sycamores along the Smith. Last night was one of those nights. The light was right, the clouds were there and the ever present Smith River fog was rolling in.
It wasn't....perfect, but almost. The mist was almost too think for photos or fishing but there is always that "golden hour" which may end up being just a few "golden minutes", where the light is right to photograph or the fog lifts just enough to see your fly get sipped from the surface by a hungry brown.
Darrin called the office about 5 pm and said he was going to be at the river when they stopped generating at 6 pm. That's the excuse I needed to keep from being glued to the computer all night, so I left the office about 5:30 and headed up to the tailrace.

We met up at one of my favorite spots close to the dam. I love this short section of calm water for the nice browns I have caught here in the past. Maybe not as many as in other sections, but definitely a few that you don't mind photographing. We eased into the water as it was dropping and slipped upstream. It wasn't long before the fist "rings of the rise" indicated the feeding had begun. We worked out and way upstream toward the feast unfolding under the overhanging sycamores as the browns sometimes exploded and sometimes just quietly nipped the surface, taking down unsuspecting midges, mosquitoes and flying ants. It didn't take long for the famous "allie worm" to work its magic on a hungry brownie.
(Thanks Al, for tying me up a few new ones of these "fish magnets" at last Saturdays Eden River Fest.) Although the browns were rising, I stuck with the allie worm while Darrin worked although several variations of a dry with a nymph dropper.

I got a shot of this guy, them he bolted from my hand and I felt the line snap as I watched my indicator zipping along the bottom, no longer attached to my leader....oh well, if somebody catches that guy again before he spits it out...bring me back my allie worm !
I also wanted to get some short video footage of flyfishing in the fog for an upcoming project so this was the perfect opportunity as I had Darrin close by. Several video clips latter, I found the time to start casting again and this time hooked up with a little nicer-sized brown. This guy had that nose hook going on and its obvious they are getting close to breeding season again. I was "tippet shy" after the last break-off so I took my time getting this one in. Some razor sharp teeth reminded me why these guys can snap a line so very quickly.
Releasing this guy back to the river I looked up to notice the golden hour of light was only going to be about 10 minutes today.
Darrin was silhouetted against the western clouds and I could see the perfect shot but was just wishing I had the perfect camera
instead of my point and shoot.
For the past couple of weeks, the trout feeding has only lasted about 30 minutes right near sunset.
Not much time, but sometimes even 30 minutes of good fishing competes well with a whole day on the river.

One more fish was it all the failing light allowed and then we worked our way upstream looking for the exit
The sun finally left us, sinking behind the ridge, just enough light for one more shot then out of the river and back to the truck
That was almost a perfect evening on the river. It was dark as we packed up and headed back down the road. I was just thinking, wow, that was almost too good, 3 nice browns and a perfect sunset, what more could you wish for. How about seeing a nice copperhead crossing the road on the way home? I'm always on the look out as they are really moving around this time of year and especially after the rains. Rounding the bend I slammed on the brakes and both Darrin and I hopped out to take a quick look at a very nice specimen laying in the middle of the dirt road. Lucky guy ! He met us and not someone else that would not may not have been quite as considerate. Ok, now the night is complete !
Hey, this all seems a bit too lucky....maybe I should stop and buy a lotto ticket !!!!

Contributed by: Brian Williams

Monday, September 21, 2009

20 Inch Brown Trout on Ben's Beetle

On Friday evening, September 18, 2009, I headed to the Dam Area of the Smith River to fish "the falling water" which occurs right after they shut off generation for the day. Friday's shut off was at six o'clock which did not leave much time for fishing but I was determined to make the most of it.

I elected to start fishing about a third of a mile downstream from the dam so I really couldn't safely step in the water until about six thirty. I sat on the bank and stuck my wading staff in the water's edge as a gauge of how far or how fast the water was receding. I mentally told myself that when it reached a certain point I would venture in. After a short while I realized I was burning daylight so stepped in up to my knees and worked my way downstream to a point where I knew a good run was located.

I had no more then moved off the steep path to the river when I heard a splash where I had just been sitting and saw a doe deer paddling for the opposite shore - This section is a favorite deer crossing as it is normally shallow but it was till well over the does leg length and she was bravely swimming straight across less then 20 feet away. I reached for my camera and realized I had left it in the bed of my truck. Oh well, so much for taking pictures. The deer was pushed about 10 feet downstream by the current but bravely swam to the other shore, climbed out, shook herself off and wandered into the woods. Just another day in the wilds for a deer.

I figured if the deer could brave the current, so could I. I carefully worked out into the river and started casting Ben's Beetle which has been a great "falling water" fly. It was an overcast day with night coming early. Combine that with the foggy surface of the river and it was impossible to tell where the fly was. After a few futile casts I pulled in and slipped a non- discript white hackle fly which I tie as a strike indictor on my leader just above the knot before the final section of tippet. (I have found this is easier then tying the fly to the leader then tying another knot for the tippet - it also floats the fly more naturally) - So I ended up with a white fly indicator and Ben's Beetle about 3 feet below that.

About 3 casts later I saw a big splash just upstream of my white indicator and raised the rod to set the hook and the fight was on. From the bend in my rod I knew I either had a good fish or he was making maximum use of the still very strong current. It took some skill and a little bit of luck to finally bring the fish to where I could get a look at him. It was then that I realized I had not one but two fish on the line. The original splash was a fish which had firmly grasped Ben's Beetle and pulled the white indicator fly under the surface. Another fish of equal size could not help himself and grabbed the indicator. I worked them both to the bank and unhooked a matched pair of very chunky 10 inch browns. They were caught on a single cast, played to submission in the same epic battle of man versus fish so in my mind Ben's Beetle accounted for 20 inches of brown trout.

I caught a few more before darkness drove me off the water.

The following day Paul Fogle a fellow Smith River TU member and I joined Brian Williams of the Dan River Basin Association to set up a booth at the Eden NC River Festival. Paul and I tied flies and talked fishing while Brian gave casting instruction with both fly and spinning rods.
After the Eden River Fest Paul and I hot footed it up to the "hay field section" of the Smith and tied our luck. We only had about an hour of fishing light but were determined to make the most of it. I turned out our luck was not that great. We did not get skunked but "Honest Al" has to report that we each brought only one fish to hand. Not to fear, we had a good time, told some good stories and enjoyed being out there. What more could you ask?

Contributed by: Albert Kittredge

Friday, September 18, 2009

A Smith for All Seasons

When is the best to time to enjoy the Smith River?

Whenever you get a chance to get out there..

Every season has something new to offer on the Smith and even the time of day reveals the rivers character in different ways. Fog rises off the river below the Philpott Dam in the late evening.

Cardinal flower and wingstem are the late summer blooming wildflowers on the Smith
They seem to be making their final stand with a late season burst of color before the inevitable arrival of fall. The generation schedule for the last couple for weeks has been from 1 pm till 6 pm.
During the falling water after the generation cycle, the trout begin to feed, sometimes only for an hour sometimes even less. If you are on the river at the golden hour, you have a few moments of productive strikes as the trout begin to rise to the grasshoppers, beetles and insects shaken loose from the overhanging trees. They are attracted as well to the metamorphosis of benthic aquatics in larval stage, drifting toward the surface to begin their brief life above the water before returning to the river once again completing the cycle. It's impossible to wade the river during generation so one must wait till the water levels drop and the speed of the water slows to allow wading. This is usually accomplished by arriving at your favorite spot when you know the river will be dropping, then waiting for just the right levels to slip in for a few moments of quiet casting. Since the cut-off point for generation has been 6 pm the past few days, and sunset is at 7:20, that does not allow much time for fishing. But that's the cool thing about the Smith, especially if you live close by. You can pop out there and get in an hour of fishing, enjoy the scenery, take some photos and be rewarded with incredible sites and quiet relaxation as you enter another world where the troubles of the day slip beneath the surface of the stream and drift away with the current. Even if the trout do not cooperate, there is still the beauty of the Smith in all its fog-shrouded mystery.Of course it's always nice to pick up a brownie or two as well. Enhanced colors on the browns will be the indication they will soon be breeding again. Yet another harbinger of fall. This is a great time of year to get out and enjoy the beginning of the changing of the seasons on the Smith. Contributed by: Brian M. Williams

Friday, September 11, 2009


Announcing Friday Floats-$10 OFF WITH A FREE GUIDE
Kayaks for $30 and Canoes for $40. Take advantage of the warm fall weekdays and Martinsville City Dam releases. Paddle the Smith River from South Martinsville to the Sports Complex.

Suitable for beginners, four miles of Class II paddling. Call ahead for reservations as there are limited number of rentals and so that we can have your equipment ready.
Boats, paddles and life jackets, and shuttle included.

Launch time will be approximately 4:00 please arrive at least 30minutes early to get fitted for equipment.

Look for our booth at the Basset Festival this Sat Sept 12th.We will be offering short fun paddles on the Smith River at discount pricing.

Sat Sept 26th On the lake behind Matinsville City Dam at Doe Run Park, you will learn basic paddling strokes and techniques 12pm to 4pm.

Sun Sept 27th
Learn techniques for traveling safely paddling Class II rivers 12pm to 4pm

Contact: Eric Juday, Smith River Adventure Outfitters

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Fishing With Ben's Beetle-The Sequel

On Friday evening I met a fellow SRTU member up near the dam to fish the "falling water" when they turned the turbines off at six o'clock. I still had "Ben's Beetle" tied on from a previous trip. It has lost one leg and was looking a bit ragged but I was hopeful as I stepped into some very chilly and fairly swift fog obscured water. A few casts later in that foggy cloud bank I had a rise and temporary hook up. This repeated itself three times in a row. I could see the rise, the line would straighten out and my rod with give a good bend but I could not close the deal. Some of you folks who are devote catch and release fishermen might have been tempted to count these but personally I don't do a mental tally until I place my hands on the fish. No matter, at least I knew my three legged beetle was still drawing attention

My first stop had been right near the dam but after a half hour I moved downstream
to another spot. This one was the ticket because I was soon tight to a pretty brown which finally stayed on long enough for it's "Kodak moment". This repeated itself a half dozen more times until dark, which came early due to heavy cloud cover. Ben's beetle ended the evening very much the cripple with only one leg

I had planned to try the beetle down in the Hay Field area Saturday morning but heavy rain during the past two days had turned the entire Smith River below Town Creek the color of well creamed coffee. The only game left in town was up near the dam. I was out of beetles but a call to the "Beetle Man" revealed he was on his way up for a day of fishing. I worked on deer stands in the morning and made a date to meet my beetle distributor near the dam at 4pm. At the appointed hour I spied Ben in a long stretch of water working his way to our predetermined link up point. Not five minutes later the sky opened up in one of those torrential rains with sun shining all around. I ran for the cover of my truck but poor Ben was stuck in the middle of the river with steep banks on both sides. It lasted just long enough to thoroughly soak the unfortunate Beetle Man. With a handful of authentic beetles I went to the same area I had slain them the night before. The water was clear, low and with very little current. The night before it had been much deeper with a current that made you think twice before stepping in. I went a long way before catching one with a blind strike, i.e. started to pick up for a new cast and he was on without my seeing the strike. I caught one more on the beetle. I even tied on a different color which Ben was experimenting with but could not draw another fish. I finally arrived at a good "get out" point which I took advantage of. I walked back to my truck, switched rods and started doing what I do best, which is fish a nymph. I fished up through the same section I had earlier fished with a beetle.

On my 2nd cast I hooked up with a rainbow which would push the 20 inch mark. It was definitely the biggest trout I have caught this year. It had fallen for a Zebra Midge hung below an Allieworm. As luck would have it the battery on my camera had died. I love this Pentax Optio W30 but if you fail to shut it off after taking a photo it will drain the battery in short order. (My previous camera used to shut itself off if there was no activity in about a minute - if this one has that feature I have not figured it out) - After a nice fight I released the rainbow and promptly caught it's 12 inch sibling on the next cast.

It wasn't exactly a fish on every cast but I did catch an even dozen in the short run where I had previously fished the beetle. Could I have done the same thing with a nymph the night before when the beetle had been so effective? I don't know and don't really care. It was fun fishing both ways. It certainly shows that you need to have more then one trick up your sleeve. If one method is not working you can continue to beat the water to a froth or you can change tactics and just maybe catch a few fish.

Best part of the whole weekend was fishing with a couple of good friends.

Contributed by: Albert Kittredge