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

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

An October River Trip

(click on pictures to enlarge)

October is a favorite month for many...the air is crisp, the weather mild, the forest explodes with a palette of colors we see no other time of year....and the river, oh the river takes on a whole new character.

 The water reflects the golden colors of  change and the sky could not be a more vibrant shade of blue.
One Saturday in October, Lisa Hall and I decided to take advantage of a perfect day try for some “smallies” on one of my favorite sections of the Smith.  We had a great day of fishing and a fabulous variety of wildlife sightings, and even a few surprises along the way.
 The river was unusually low but we decided to go ahead with a 7 mile downstream trip, even if we had to jump out of the boat a few times to drag over the shallow spots.  I really like this under-used section of the Smith as it is quite remote and very scenic for much of the way, bordered by fields and open woods on one side while rock cliffs loom far up the ridge on the other.  
Deer seemed to be in abundance this day and we spotted  2 bucks, one a spike horn and another that was a 4 or 6 pointer and then the big doe grazing in the water downstream, oblivious to our approach as the wind was blowing upstream and masking our scent. With the water extremely low we were going to have to concentrate on the deeper holes and rapids.  Just downstream from the put it Lisa surprised us with the first hook-up of the day and I was excited because I thought we had our first smallie…only it wasn’t a smallie, and as it repeatedly jumped clear of the water we could both see it was a nice fat brownie.
After a couple of pics Lisa slipped him back in to the water and he quickly blasted back into the deep hole from where he had been fooled by the old reliable Fox spinner.
 A bit further downstream we finally hooked up with what turned out to be the only smallmouth of the day, just a little guy but they always put up such a fight.  Going 7 miles against the wind in low water takes some time so we kept up the pace and only stopped briefly to cast some of the better looking holes.  The smallmouths seemed to have lock-jaw or were at least just holding tight under their rock ledge hideouts, but we picked up an occasional sucker and bream to keep things interesting.  Just downstream a flock of turkey crossed the stream one by one to land on the other side and shuffle off into the think rhododendrons.  The river continued to mesmerize and I could not take enough pictures of the sunlight through the golden leaves.
 Around each bend was a new surprise as we jumped a nice flock of Canada Geese several times, squawking and flapping, splashing the water on take-off like 20 motorboats starting at the same time.  Wood ducks flushed from cover and whistled downstream to disappear again somewhere along the banks.  An otter popped up at one point, splashing near the surface but just as quickly disappeared and the ever familiar chattering call of the kingfisher kept us entertained as they rocketed past the canoe heading upstream to more productive fishing grounds maybe. What a relaxing trip enjoying the changing season and the peaceful river.
About half way through the trip another nice surprise.  Lisa called out as a shadow darted from the deep water and just missed her jig,  I tossed a beetle spin in the same spot and was rewarded with a hook-up from a big fat rainbow ! "Now how did he get here" , we wondered. . I'm constantly amazed at the resource we have in the Smith River and its always a pleasant surprise whenever a trout, be it brownie or bow, ends up on the line. This guy would have been a nice meal but we still had a long way to go so back into the river he went awaiting the unlucky day when he bites the wrong hook !
Heading downstream we enjoyed more of the rivers wonders in the beauty of the surrounding forest. Around each bend the blue sky, the angle of the sun and the dance of light on the water made a breathtaking pallet of gold and red and blue.
So get out and enjoy the river.  Don't hang up that paddle gear...Winter is just around and the corner and the river will be changing again with new surprises, new sights and new wonders to explore.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Smith River Sampling Report

Notes From Al Kitterage:
I linked up with the DGIF sampling crew on the last morning they were on the Smith River for their annual sampling of the fishery which normally occurs the first week of August. DGIF Fisheries Biologist Scott Smith always welcomes volunteers to come by, observe and help out with the "fish count". Many of us have been involved since the Virginia Tech Study back in the late 1990's  The last site where I found them was just downstream of the "Lemon Hole" on the road going to the base of Philpott Dam - Lots of State trucks so you could not miss them
We set up the fish processing station and then proceeded downstream for about 100 yards - Water was real chilly and gave off so much fog that we lost site of our "put in" point.

 The scenario was for two barges containing a generator and voltage conversion machine and large aerator tank to be pulled upstream with four hand held electronic probes on each barge fanning out abreast up the river. Each probe handler also had a net and he or she was backed up by other net handlers who helped transfer the fish from the probe handlers. The probe handlers  usually scooped up the fish but if they missed someone else got them. The fish were then transferred from net to net until they were in the holding tank. Not many fish escaped this onslaught. You could see fish shooting ahead but they would come up against a ledge where the current would momentarily stun them so they could be scooped up.
Lots of fish in this section. My guess is more then last year and that figure was about 800. They sample 10-12 sites along the river each year and it is humbling to see how many fish are in a section where we fishermen would be happy to catch a few out of each run. I can tell you that most of these runs hold hundreds of fish. (Now if only someone would come up with a fly rod and line that included an electronic probe)

The fish are all processed by measurement and weight. This data will be compared to prior years so DGIF can assess the health of the fishery.

Before I left I spoke with the DGIF biologist Scott Smith who is responsible for monitoring the Smith and was told he is cautiously optimistic that things are improving. It is impossible to tell until they get back to the office to compare data but it looks like the average size has grown about an inch in the past year and more 12-14 inch fish are seen in the sample. No doubt there are a ton of fish in the river. We just need to figure how to make them grow. One thing they did was move approximately 150, nine and ten inch brown trout from the Bassett area of the river to below the Martinsville Dam. This section below the Martinsville Dam will be included as designated trout water under a proposed regulation change which will protect all Brown Trout from 10-24 inches. This proposed change is available for public comment at the DGIF website http://www.dgif.virginia.gov/regulations/comment2010/display.asp (You don't need to be a resident of Virginia to comment. Non-residents have a strong voice because they are trying to promote tourism in the region).  The fish they moved were carefully weighed, measured and their adipose fin (behind dorsal fin on top of fish) was removed so they can be identified and followed in future studies. If the regulation change is placed into effect they will move more fish to below the Martinsville Dam where there is an abundance of food which will allow them to grow to trophy size.

Scott said he would be be interested to hear if anybody has noticed a change in the insect hatches over the last 8-10 years, and what those changes might've been.  In theory, the turbine ramping (starting generation with one turbine followed one hour later with the second turbine) should lead to better hatches, but he doesn't  know if that's the case or not.  Any impressions from folks that keep track of these things would be useful. You can contact Scott at Scott.Smith@dgif.virginia.gov

DGIF asked me to pass on their thanks to all who helped with the sampling this week. Never think you're in the way or intruding on their work. They welcome your help and are always eager to answer questions.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Coastal Canoeist Visit the Smith River

Scott Broddus and Tom Cole of Richmond had heard about the Smith River and the Dan River Basin through a presentation given by the Dan River Basin Association.  They purchased both the Insiders Guide to the Dan and the Smith Rivers and headed down to Southern Virginia for a few days of exploration .

Scott and Tom at camp at Indian Heritage RV Park

Camping at Indian Heritage RV Park they had found a convenient base camp for their river excursions.  They paddled much of the lower Smith below Martinsville Dam and by the third day they had covered the entire river from South Martinsville access all the way to the confluence with the Dan River in Eden, NC. They even set their own shuttle on most with a bicycle.

On Friday July 2, I hooked up with Scott and Tom for a river ride on the water release from Philpott Dam to the Bassett access ramp.  What a great way to cool off on a hot day as the 45 degree temps of the river and the strong current act like natures on air conditioning.
 Scott and Tom make their way down the Smith

Scott Broddus on "Fish Camp Rapids"
Tom Cole negotiates "Fish Camp Rapids"

Another fine day on the Smith !

"I think I speak for Scott also, when I say we had a great time exploring the Smith last  week.  It was a real pleasure to meet up with the two of you and we certainly do appreciate the information about the river levels and conditions, accesses, the opportunity to paddle with Brian and of course the shuttle help from Katherine on our last day.

We look forward to getting back down your way and exploring the Dan next."


Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Sunday, June 27, 2010

River Rescue Class- June 20 2010

Members of local area paddling clubs converged on the Smith River below Martinsville Dam on a Sunday June 20 2010 for an all day River Rescue class.  The class was lead by Swift Water Rescue Instructor  Edgar Peck who teaches through Get Outdoors in Greensboro.

I want to thank Edgar Peck and Eric Stuart for taking their time to come to the Smith and teach the skills that will benefit both the experienced and novice area paddlers. At least 16 local paddlers took the course and spent the entire day honing skills and learning new techniques that could eventually save a life on the river.

Most river rescues classes are held in North Carolina on classic white water runs but with some prompting by Delane Heath and Smith River Valley Canoe Club along with other members of the local paddling clubs, Edgar was persuaded to come to the Smith to provide the much sought after instruction.

The ACA River Safety and Rescue (Level 3) was extensive training in general river rescue and many local area paddlers appreciate the chance to participate in the training .

“Not only was I glad to finally take a class from Edgar yesterday, I thought
it was really cool that so many of the participants were folks that I paddle
with. It not only made it an enjoyable day, but I think it will pay
dividends if we ever need to work together on a rescue in the future”- Delane Heath
The rescue class lasted 11 hours and went from dry land rope practice to in-water skills including:  Rescue Philosophy/ Scene Management, equipment, medical and legal considerations, hazards-hydrology (reading water signs),throw ropes, pins, entrapment, Snag and Tag Lines, swift water swimming techniques, swift water wading, and boat based rescue and recovery.  The last 2 hours of class were used to put in to practice all that was learned by participating in a variety of scenarios.
“There were so many important topics covered that I had been looking forward to
learning more about, like vertical pins, strainer drills, etc.  But I was really surprised at how many simple tools and tricks I picked up that I will be able to use ALL the time. Edgar had tricks to use for boat
rescues that were so simple I can't believe I have not seen someone use them before. And we all know how often we have to wrangle lost boats. He had a trick for retrieving paddles that, again, was so simple that I seriously don't know why I hadn't thought of it before. His method for making a quick
second and third throw after a rope is already extended in the river was simple and super effective. Just lots and lots of cool things like that. So thanks to Edgar and Eric and thanks to all the folks that took the class with me. Thanks to Brian Williams and Eric Juday for working with Edgar to find a suitable
location and for Edgar investing the time during the week to scout the Smith.  And I have to say, if you want to beat the heat, standing in the Smith for about 6 hours certainly does the trick.” Delane Heath

It was a long day but well worth it !  We all needed rescue rope throwing practice and this really helped.  Everyone that participated was out there because they care about their fellow paddlers and want to be able to respond effectively to someone in trouble on the river. It was awesome to see all the paddlers out there who cared enough to be out there learning as much as they could.  Edgar kept throwing out new things for us and everyone kept coming back for more.  Just about 11 hours later we were cold exhausted but still excited about our new found skills” Brian Williams

The previous week, Edgar had come to the Smith River to scout out a suitable location for the Class, he had never paddled the Smith and knew little about the locations, water temperatures, and access points.  He called for some help and I was able to take him to several locations until we found one with the right conditions, deep enough and swift enough for training.  Even below the Martinsville Dam, 5 or 6 hours n the water and you start to really understand the effects of hypothermia. 

“I learned I could do things well that I didn't think I could do at all. I still have a long way to go to be
truly as safe as possible but I loved every long minute of the class . I was very proud of our group when Edgar said that he had to change his usual advice of communication at the end of the class because we already worked together so well. I will also say that I learned the different techniques for taking a long swim to protect your energy levels but reach the shore safely.” – Traci Petty

 To see all of the days pictures go here:

Monday, May 17, 2010

A Sunday Afternoon Paddle

We met at the Smith River Sports complex for a nice Sunday afternoon paddle, May 16, 2010.  The early morning weather was threatening  skies but we decided it would probably clear off a bit by noon and it was worth taking a shot at getting on the river.  Arriving at the sports complex boat ramp I was met by Marsha, Marsha and Elizabeth.  We off-loaded the boats and were getting ready to set shuttle to the Mitchell Bridge Canoe Access when more paddlers arrived with the same idea.

First, Martin Gardner and his two boys would be heading down in their canoe and sit on top kayak, while the next group to arrive included Jody and April Ferguson and their friends. 
It was really great to see so many people utilizing the new access made possible by the Harvest Foundation, Henry County, The Smith River Sports Authority and Dan River basin Association.

After setting shuttle down at Mitchell Bridge we hit the river about 2 pm.  Its a short 1/2 mile to the first little riffle where you can get your "river legs" and any beginners can test there skills at going through simple class 1 rapids.  They need to get warmed up quick because coming up in another 1.5 miles would be Eggleston Falls, a class 2+ rapid with a series of drops and maneuvers.

You can portage here or go river left to avoid the falls and the drops but the adventuresome will want to run the best of the white water on this section.