March 29, 2013

Grinding it out in Virginia (Day 2)

Friday morning, I woke up a bit groggy and I think everyone was still suffering from some residual alcohol haziness. It took a while until we were out the door motoring toward Richmond. About 1.5 hours drive later we arrived in a wilderness area beside a small river. Somewhere deeper along the trail are shallow ponds that may not look much more than a duck pond to the unacquainted. In Ontario, I have often passed by these shallow looking swamps without ever thinking our scaled friends could survive in them. Perhaps the southerly longitude offered a warmer clime where shallow ponds rarely freeze solid, thus allowing the denizens of these dark waters to proliferate in such shallow habitat.

Dressed in waders, our trio started casting little spinners into the dark ruby waters of these blackwater swamps. The water is acidic and dark from tannin. This unique water quality is ideal habitat for some unique species such as Chain Pickerel and the Flier Sunfish. It also prevents invasive species such as Largemouth Bass and Bluegill Sunfish from establishing a stronghold in these little ruby gems.

Chain Pickerel fishing is best during the cold months from December to March. However, on this cool morning our main targets were likely inactive. It was about 30 minutes into fishing when I finally saw a fish ambushed the spinner. However, it was one of these unwanted non-natives.

Pat had already fished on entire side of the swamp and now he was directly across from us. As I was wading to the next casting position, I heard Pat’s excited voice as he hooked and landed the first Chain Pickerel of the day. He was too far away for pictures.
Soon, Pat and Michael moved into a back bay to sightfish for some sunfish species. As I arrived in the same area where Pat caught his Chain Pickerel, I saw a swirl of mud and debris about 15 feet from shore. My approach had likely spooked a fish, perhaps one of the elusive bowfin in this swamp. I worked my spinner with a fan cast pattern and about 10 minutes later, a flash of green erupted behind my spinner but missed the lure. I thought the bowfin had come back to the area. To my amazement, my spinner was ripped hard a few casts later and the fish took a couple of strong runs on my ultralight gear. Shaking with excitement, I fought to maintain my composure as a large Chain Pickerel twisted and turned at the end of the line. Finally, I scooped the fish into my little trout net and Pat rushed over to offer some cameraman support. Target species accomplished! It was an awesome Chain Pickerel if I must say so! Chain Pickerel (Esox niger) - species #302

Once I’ve checked off the new species, it was time to switched gear to target the Flier Sunfish. Pat and Michael had already caught some, so I thought it would be an easy feat. Little had I known that these fish were more challenging than expected. Pat suggested to fish a small jighead and Gulp! plastic with a lift-drop cadence. Of course, he didn’t mention that you needed to drop the lure into the weed pockets in order to get bit. This little swamp had a healthy weed growth and we were trying to avoid snagging any weeds for most part. So here I was fishing beside Pat, working the little lure over the tops of weeds and not catching fish, while Pat was teasingly saying “Have you caught a Flier before?”

Finally, I had my chance spotted a Flier swimming in the shallow. The tricky fish gently nipped and spat my jig twice before finally committing on the third try. I had the fish hooked and was just lifting the fish to hand when it shook off in mid air!!! Argh!!!

Meanwhile, Michael was fishing across from us and caught his first Chain Pickerel.

Pat caught a few more Fliers and Bluegill Sunfish plus a couple of Black Crappie before the bite died. At that point, we decided to move onto another swamp to see what it could deliver.

At the end of the swamp, I found a beaver dam with some deeper water immediately upstream of the dam. Perhaps the woodwork would provide good habitat for Flier Sunfish. However, the only inhabitants were a largemouth Bass and three Chain Pickerel.

It was now getting toward 3pm. Pat suggested that he and Michael should try the stream for a Redbreast Sunfish while I spend more time in the first swamp to catch a Flier Sunfish. So we broke off to find our separate species.

Armed with a few nightcrawlers, I tie on a Thill Shy Bite float and a 1/32oz jighead. The chunk of wriggly goodness was irresistible to the sunfish species, but these were initially represented by Bluegill Sunfish. I had to sort through a few Bluegills before something different came on my line. Surprisingly, it was a Warmouth Sunfish! It was not an anticipated target species…but it was definitely a species I had hunt intently in Florida and failed…so it was extremely nice to finally found one! Warmouth (Lepomis gulosus) - species #303

After the Warmouth, a cast toward a pile of fallen branches eventually resulted in my first Flier Sunfish! It was nice to check off another target species! Flier (Centrarchus macropterus) - species #304

There was also a very beautiful Black Crappie with shades of violet, sapphire, emerald and gold.

I fished this area until the bite stopped, at which point there was a good catch of 7 Bluegills, 3 Flier, 3 Crappies and the bonus Warmouth. I walked back to the car anticipating that Michael and Pat had already worked their way downstream back to the car. However, they were nowhere to be seen. During the winter, my wader had developed leaks on both ankles and just under the crotch area…so after a full day of fishing, I was completely soaked below the belt and now water was working up the backside of my T-shirt. Seeing it was about 5pm, I decided to take off the waders, dry off and take a nap in the car to reenergize for the drive back.

I woke up at 7pm and just moments before Pat and Michael returned to the car. They had fished the stream where Michael lost a Redbreast Sunfish at hand. Then they fish another pond for bowfin but found none. We left the area just before dusk and if it wasn’t for a couple of accidents, we would have made it back in time to grab some BBQ. Since we were late, we instead ordered a couple of whole roasted chicken from Su Pollo. That was some of the best roast chicken I’ve ever had. I would highly recommend it if you’re in Alexandria, VA!

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