If I’ve learned anything over the past few years, it’s the true value of time spent with friends and family, and the privilege that travel and adventure are part of our daily lives. At the start of 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic effectively put the kibosh on both of these things, and it wasn’t until the last year that they have, for the most part, returned to the realm of responsible possibility. At least half the value of these gifts lies in the ability to reflect on them and appreciate time and experiences for what they were. So, as our outdoor lives slow down to perhaps their most lethargic during this mid-January deep freeze, I’m going to try just that.
2021 has been the year I feel like I hit my stride as a business owner and fishing guide. And since one of my greatest joys in life is being on the water and getting a feel for the unfolding natural events, it was also one of my best years fishing, despite some challenges. .
There has been a significant reduction in seasonal rainfall in 2021, and this has posed pros and cons. First, the lack of flooding in the spring has created exceptional smallmouth spawning, which we as a region badly need. The average flow throughout the spring also allowed for some fantastic pre-spawn smallmouth fishing – a full and fishable season, the likes of which we haven’t seen in a few years. And the big fish kept coming. If I remember correctly, we were lucky enough to have at least one fish over 18 inches a day on the river in the spring.
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We have also pushed the limits of spring surface fishing. Thanks to warm low water and a few smaller rivers, my good friend William Heresniak put the first surface fly rod fish in the boat on April 15th. 2020 was a cooler spring, but our first surface fish arrived on May 18 of that year.
The flip side of the lack of precipitation in 2021 has been the challenge of very low water all summer. Low flows required us to stand and keep an eye out for floating water. As a result, we did some exploring and some risk taking paid off. One of the best smallmouth days I’ve seen in the last year happened on a day when my fishing partners were ready to “try something”. We cruised fish after fish, all day, with multiple trophies mixed in, and spent most of our time sight fishing for big fish on the cruise.
I was also able to share some of these new discoveries with some good friends of mine. On one particular day, I saw a good pal, Jacob, catch his first two little mouths at 20 inches, and another good friend, Bailey, catch his biggest little mouth ever at 22 inches. We put the hot summer day to bed eating chicken sandwiches in the boat and waving to passing motorists in the Chick-fil-A parking lot.
2021 also saw the arrival of the largest periodic cicada hatch in the mid-Atlantic, Brood X. Carp fishing during periodic cicada hatches with surface cicada flies has become a real passion for me. , and this outbreak happened right in our backyard. I was obsessed with the planning and logistics of living on the road and finding fishable scenarios all winter, and when the bugs started to hatch, we took full advantage.
In northern Virginia and Maryland we have caught grass carp on fly rods up to 50 pounds and hundreds of common carp ranging from 1-20 pounds. Sailing to the shore of a wooded reservoir and watching thousands of carp cruise the surface and suck in buzzing cicadas stuck in the surface film is a sight to behold and a warm water fly fisherman‘s wet dream. On my last day in Maryland, friends and clients Jim and Malcolm caught over 40 carp and we fished for the sun to just below the horizon.
Two days later, I packed my bags, took a shower, and married my best friend of many years. Ali and I then spent a week road tripping around central and coastal Oregon, and another week battling Hurricane Elsa, catching tarpon in a canoe, and sight-fishing for crabs. with a spinning rod and cut mullet.
Ali and I also spent time mushroom hunting, a practice we picked up in the spring of 2020 when we were trying to stay away from people. Summer foraging didn’t go as it had in previous years due to the general lack of rainfall all summer, but we encountered a giant chicken of the woods and had a fantastic coleslaw and mushroom salad, which I spoke in this column in September.
The rest of the year was filled with happiness in the form of daily smallmouth fishing, several days spent hunting brown trout and stripers, and a fair amount of musk hunting, and enough spotting and exploring to fueling the desire for more adventures in 2022.
I hope every reader here has had a fantastic 2021. Continue to live an outdoor life. Good year!