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10/01 - Destination File - Smith Mountain Lake & Clover Creek Farm

By: Tom Scanlan

The unstable weather this Spring has had an impact on my fishing trips. Ice flows on the Susquehanna, rain on Lake Anna, bitter cold on Lake Moomaw, and wind on the Chesapeake made conditions less than desirable. You can understand then, why an opportunity to float the James for smallmouth in May seemed ideal and why I jumped at the chance to fish with well known James River Hatchmatcher Guide L.E. Rhodes.

The chance to take a look at the James at Scottsville came with a three day stay at Holiday Lake State Park where I attended a course offered by the VA Department of Game and Inland Fisheries for outdoor writers. We crossed the James and to my concern it was high and very much off color. I was sure it would settle down by the end of the week, however, when crossing it on the way home there was no change, and darn it, I was to fish the next day.

When arriving home there was a call waiting from L.E. saying just what I didn't want to hear "the James is not very fishable with the high and muddy water". L.E. offered an alternative. He would check out a tributary and get back to me. Luckily the trip was on and at last I was going to get in a day of fishing not affected by the tricky weather.

First, a little background on the guide and how we were to fish the river. L.E. Rhodes, Jr. runs the Hatchmatcher Guide Service out of Scottsville, VA and is a smallmouth bass specialist. His motto "Your Smallmouth Connection" says it all. He is equipped with the ideal craft to make fishing the rivers comfortable and safe with a self-bailing raft with a comfortable seat forward for the client and plenty of room for gear. He provides dry bags for water-sensitive gear such as expensive cameras; excellent tackle should you prefer not to bring your own, and most of all the best advise on how to rig and how to fish the best producing baits at the time. L.E. caters to fly and spin fishermen on the James and its tributaries, and having grown up fishing these waters knows every rock, riffle and eddy.

The weather looked promising when I heard the alarm at 4:30 Friday, May 9th. I was to meet L.E. in Scottsville at 7:00 a.m. and figured two hours from home if all went well. I arrived a few minuets early and found the guide, his raft in tow, all ready to go. We drove a few miles to the "put in" point and L.E. left me with the raft and took the truck to the "take out" a few miles down river - it was to be about an eight mile float.

The river was tempting, and I had to break out the ultra-light and take a few casts from the bank while waiting. I hooked a 15-inch smally on a Zoom Super Fluke and figured this to be a good omen.

We put in and began fishing a Senko-like "do-nothing" bait and took a few fish but it was a bit slow. I always like craw-colored tube baits on the rivers and switched to a tube. Things began to change when after a few casts I was into a 16-inch smallmouth. The river current and fighting heart of those brown bass makes any angler's heart beat faster. There is no horsing in these fish like a tournament big mouth. They fight every second up to and after they are landed. Pick-ups and hook-ups came faster now and so did the adrenalin flow.

The morning was something I don't have the talent to properly describe. The air temp was in the low 70s; the water was crystal-clear and just the right flow to make fishing a lure around the rocks, and in the eddies and pools slow enough for the proper action. The mountain sides in some areas were covered from the top to the water line with purple rhododendron, some blooming laurel and other flowers of reds and blues that I can't name. Throughout the morning there were tiger swallowtails in pairs constantly flying over the river, and tom turkeys sounding off in the distance.

While the salt-impregnated, craw-colored tube baits continued to produce, I asked L.E. what other baits he preferred on the James and it's tributaries. Later in the year when the surface action begins, he throws Tiny Torpedoes, Pop-Rs, and for the fly fisherman, deer hair bugs and poppers. He likes the Senko-type lures and crankbaits that run no deeper than three feet and flukes of various hues. The most important lure is the one the angler has confidence in and can fish well. As to tackle, ultra-light spinning tackle with six or eight pound test line will fit the bill. The fly fisherman would do well to take a six or eight weight rod, heavy enough to handle a large bug or popper. In this river where a 16-inch fish is very good and an 18 is exceptional, I was wishing I had brought along my micro-spinning outfit with four pound test.

While L.E. has guided professionals such as Lefty Kreh, it was a pleasure to hear him say that he encourages parent and child trips. He recognizes the future of the sport to be with the youngsters - those who will be carrying on the sport in the next generation.

On this eight mile float to the James we had great fishing for five or six hours during which time I had taken about 30 bass from 12 to 16 inches. Then, before we knew it, black menacing clouds formed to the north and we heard the distant roll of thunder. That old weather bug-a-boo that had haunted me all spring was not going away. We continued to fish hoping the storm would follow the James and stay to the south or east. It was not to be. Soon the lightning was closer and the thunder louder and the rain started pelting us in sheets. That better part of valor, discretion, took over and we decided to tie the raft to a root and take off up the bank for a picnic shelter, open on four sides, but offering some overhead protection. After a half hour, the situation was no better. At that point L.E. took a look down river and was alarmed when he saw the raft down the river and on the opposite side. He left in a downpour with the idea of swimming the river and retrieving the raft. After some nearby lightning strikes, he decided to sit it out a while, when the raft began to turn in a circle and began to work it's way, helped by the wind, to his side of the river. Like a well behaved dog, it came to it's masters bidding.

We continued our way down towards the James and the take-out with the sky still menacing and thunder sounding, past what was some of the best fishing spots. We had completed perhaps five miles of the trip with no regrets. In many ways I was glad not to be on the main river; not only because of the weather, but to experience the beauty of great fishing to be had on the smaller tributary. We had not seen a soul or heard another human voice all day.

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