Saturday, July 25, 2015


That's how much our two coffees at the Shell station range up as at 3:30 a.m. this morning. The clerk laughed about the devil's number. Should we just buy something else? No, the die had been cast. I joked to Jeff that if we slammed the fish, I'd have to buy $6.66 worth of coffee every morning. We put in at Baldwin Bridge and I tied up as the place was empty, filling my live well and checking out some of the new lighting I had installed. After ten minutes, we began to motor slowly down river. Passing under the bridge, we headed towards North Cove to look for bunker.

I was running slow until the sky started to lighten more to the east and I could better see the water surface. Having had the worst luck this season with submerged objects in the river, I was in no hurry. By the time we were three quarters of a mile below the bridge, I throttled up with no response. My stern was sitting alarmingly low in the water. Had I put the two plugs in before we left? Yes, I had left them in after yesterday and seen both in before launching. I immediately turned on both bilges, the second having been installed earlier in the season as I was worried about just having one and a hand bilge. We were taking on water rapidly, and my fear was a blown connection in the live well system. Jeff started working the Whale Gusher hand bilge and I turned straight in to shore, praying we could make it up on the flats above North Cove and beach. We were holding our own against the water as we approached the flats. The tide was nearing the top of the flood and as we made the edge of the flats, I slammed a rock with my prop, shearing it off. I knew they were in the area, but it was dark and priority #1 had been to get to shallow water before swamping. I threw out the anchor and went overboard into the waist deep water. My prop was gone, and to my surprise, so was one of the rear plugs. We were at least making headway against the flooding, so I retrieved a spare plug and put it in place. The only explanation I can come up with is that I had unscrewed one of the two plugs yesterday to see if there was any water and perhaps didn't fully tighten it, allowing it to work loose and pop out as we motored down river. If we had been taking on water since the time we launched, I wouldn't have made it 100 yards off the dock.

We were dry again within a few minutes and sitting three hundred yards above North Cove. The tide was still moving in, but nearing slack. I dropped my stern mounted trolling motor and kept my fingers crossed that it could get us back up river before the tide started out. It was no small irony that this was the first time I had brought the trolling motor along in the last month or two. Slogging back up river was going to take forever, so I told Jeff to go ahead and fish. He did manage a schoolie and a few swirls on a top water plug. The Gemma Rose II avoided the skunk! It was touch and go getting past the railroad bridge and up towards Baldwin Bridge as the tide had started to flow out, but we eventually managed to get back to the dock without calling Boats US.

The lost prop was not a big deal, as it was dinged up and a replacement is already sitting in the garage. I get to fish quite a bit, so there's always next weekend. I feel terrible for Jeff, with whom I haven't been able to get out on the water all season as he's always working his ass off. I really hope we get a few more chances before the end of the season.

Obviously, I'll be checking not only that the plugs are in, but also double checking that they are tight. The second lesson is that a spare prop isn't very useful sitting in my garage. Finally, if the morning coffee rings up to $6.66, just turn around, go home and go back to sleep.

PS - Think of how much worse it could have been if there was a banana on board!

Monday, July 20, 2015

Take Me Home Country Road (or I81)

For the first time in nearly forty years, I wouldn't be returning "home" to Fredericksburg, VA. My mom sold her house and moved to Massanutten, a ski area in the Shenandoah Valley outside of Harrisonburg, VA. As we packed to make the drive From Connecticut down 81, my kids were excited to visit Nana's new home with pools, go carts, a waterpark and more to attract the summer crowds. I was thinking about fishing.

As luck would have it, Massanutten Mountain is tucked away amidst some of the best freshwater fishing in the Mid-Atlantic, if not the eastern seaboard.  The Shenandoah River and tributaries are home to large and smallmouth bass, musky, panfish and trout. Spring fed mountain creeks throughout the area offer trout fishing year round. Water from deep within a network of underground limestone aquifers ensure cool waters despite the hot summer days.  The state Department of Game and Inland Fisheries ( stock many accessible waterways, while other more remote areas hold populations of wild brook trout. I could reach any of these destinations within ten to thirty minutes of Massanutten.

My mind was on fishing long before reaching Virginia, as the Hamburg PA Cabela's is located just off interstate 78 at about the halfway point of the journey. A 5am departure from central Connecticut meant that we missed any potential rush hour traffic around the Tappan Zee Bridge and arrived in Hamburg around 8:30, half an hour before opening and in time for breakfast. Don't bother with any of the fast food options nearby, but head about 2 miles into the town itself to the Hamburg Diner ( The short drive between the diner and Cabela's takes you right along the upper Schuylkill River and a linear trail. It looked pretty fishy. As tempting as it was to wet a line, my ultimate destination was another four hours south in Virginia. We'd already crossed the Delaware and would later cross and run along the Susquehanna River and the Upper Potomac River separating Maryland and West Virginia.

The Shenandoah River is actually a tributary of the Potomac. The North Fork begins way up in the mountains near Bergton, VA, flowing east and then north east through the lush, rolling valley before joining Smith Creek in Mt. Jackson near the Shenandoah Caverns. The North River and South River join to form the South Fork of the Shenandoah in Port Republic. This branch flows north east parallel to the North Fork, separated by a small range including Massanutten. These two branches merge in Front Royal before joining the Potomac. The hundreds of smaller feeder creeks and streams present a lifetime of fishing possibilities.

The river meanders through rolling farmland, broken by the occasional set of riffles and class 1 rapids. Click the link for a list of put-ins and descriptions along the South Fork. 

The last stop on our road trip, and first of my fishing trip, was Mossy Creek Fly Fishing (, the go to fly shop in the area and an excellent source for local information. I picked up some beetle and emerger patterns that had been producing locally, as well as a few other odds and ends.  

Now, I've traveled up to this area countless times to visit friends, while my brother attended JMU (on the extended plan), and to visit my grandfather who lives in Bridgewater. I'd just never really had the opportunity to get in much fishing. This trip I would have five mornings to pack in as much as I could. I'd brought along my yak, a ton of both fly and spinning gear, anything I could think I might possibly need. The tough decisions were really going to be based around what to fish and how to fit in as much as possible around family commitments. The weather had been rather sketchy, with thunderstorms every afternoon and a lot of flooding in some of the smaller creeks.

Fifteen minutes after my 4:30am alarm, I hopped in my truck which was ready and waiting with my yak and gear, and was putting in on the South Fork in the town of Shenandoah above a small dam by the time the sky was getting light. Without a chase vehicle, I was limited by a return trip, so I set off up river casting at blow downs here and there along the way. I threw some big swim baits and spinners, hoping to attract a musky with no luck. I landed a few smaller largemouth on senkos. A mile or so up river I ran into the first set of rapids and decided to get out of the yak and fish for some smallmouth. Over the next hour I landed half a dozen small fish before needing to head back down to make a lunch gathering at my grandfather's in Bridgewater

The scenic Shenandoah River provides excellent paddling and fishing opportunities, particularly if you an arrange for a drop off. 

Bridgewater is a small college town located just 10-15 miles south of Harrisonburg, bordered by the Dry and North Rivers, and a few miles from Mossy Creek. After lunch and a few hours at my grandfather's, I decided to do a little scouting rather than head back to Massanutten. It was mid-afternoon on a hot day, so my expectations weren't high, but I wanted to get the lay of the land. To fish Mossy Creek, you have to get a special permit giving you "public" access to private property thanks to an agreement by the landowners and TU.  Anglers are limited to fly only, and this privilege is based on the continued respect for the rules shown by those who fish here. I scouted the more accessible lower meadows section as well as the upper access off Kyle's Mill Rd. While I did a bit of casting, I was mostly looking, taking in the scenery and well as a few photographs. My game plan was to return here Friday for a shot at some of the big browns and bows it is so well know for.  

Wednesday morning came, and I was up early again, grabbing coffee and ham biscuits at Sheetz, this time heading west on 33, past Harrisonburg and towards the West Virginia line to fish up in the Shenandoah National Forest and the Dry River for wild brook trout. According to the US Forest Service, the Dry River is one of the most densely populated brook trout rivers on the eastern seaboard, with your typical fish in the 8-10" range and some caught up to 14". There's a ton of access along 33 north of Rawley Springs, and most of the places that look fishy hold fish. Fishing a 2wt setup, I landed beautiful little brookies in most of the pools I fished and all types of top water presentations from ants, and beetles to emergers.   These little fish were super aggressive, slamming anything that came across them, regardless of size. What a fun morning!

Thursday was a trip I'd been looking forward to since earlier this spring. I would finally get an chance to take my 10 year old son Danny out on the James River with my friend Capt. Jim Garrett for a shot at some true river monsters. This meant a 4:00am departure from his marina in Hopewell, VA, and an even earlier 1:30 one from Massanutten. Danny shuffled to the truck and was soon back to sleep. My son loves fishing for channel cats in CT, having landed some nice double digit fish, and was super excited for this trip. When we arrived at four, he was ready to go. We made a run down river to a location that had yielded several citation fish for me on previous trips, and set up to fish. It wasn't too long before Danny was reeling in his first blue cat. By the time the sun was up over the horizon, he'd landed four fish, and the hours were taking a toll on him. I promised to wake him if anything exciting happened, and he was soon fast asleep on the couch seat. Those four fish were it. The bite just shut down. We tried several more locations over the next five hours with no luck. Danny just slept in the sun, not stirring much until we started back in.  I told him he didn't miss much, to which he replied that's Jim's couch was way more comfortable than the beanbag on the Gemma Rose II. We didn't land any river monsters, but in Danny's words, "This trip was awesome!" That's all I needed to hear.   

Friday morning was my final day to fish, and I was headed out to Mossy Creek. I was there before sunrise and had the entire place to myself. In fact, I had not fished any of the trout streams with another angler the entire trip. It was pretty obvious that all of the rain over the past several weeks had really raised and clouded the water from the previous Tuesday. Mossy Creek, fed by underground limestone streams, had turned a milky white. I fished the entire meadow sections for a few hours, seeing only two fish break the surface. Despite throwing everything in my arsenal, I had no takers. While it was disappointing not to land one of the trophy browns the creek is famous for, it was a beautiful morning none the less. You can be sure that I will be back up next spring. 

My dive back to Massanutten reminded me of some of the other things I love and miss so much living up in Connecticut. Of course I had to stop by Mossy Creek Fly Fishing again, and as I left driving east on 33, I stopped less than a mile up the road in front of the Tractor Supply to get some BBQ from Via & Via Catering, who are set up Fridays and Saturdays roadside. Now, you just don't see much good roadside BBQ up here in CT. If you are ever down fishing in the Valley and stopping by Mossy Creek, don't be tempted to eat in any of those nearby fast food joints. Get ya' some good BBQ!  I had a tender brisket sandwich with a nice bark on the outside of the meat. Mmmm. Bev and Herm "Bootie" Via  had sides including mac and cheese, collard greens, beans and more. The sandwich wouldn't be complete without some of Herm's Bootie Sauce. I could eat this stuff every day! What a way to finish up a week of fishing.

                                        Herm "Bootie" Via with his sauce and a happy customer.

My kids can't wait to get back down to Nana's new playground, and with hundreds of miles of streams left to fish and a trophy brown still to land, neither can I.

Via & Via Catering (Facebook)
Harrisonburg Tourism Department

If you're planning a trip down the fish this area, note that permits are available online from the DGIF. Not only will you need a freshwater license, but also a trout license for all stocked bodies of water between  October 1 and June 15. A further National Forest permit is needed to fish the federal lands in the Shenandoah National Park (which holds some of the best wild trout). Information can be found at Additionally, local access rules may vary from stream to stream, so check at Mossy Creek Fly Fishing. 

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Night Fishin' with the RedneckAngler

Fishin' with my Baby Bro'

I had the chance to take my brother Doug out today for some striper action. We get to fish together 3 to 4 times a year, planning trips to upstate NY for steelies, the James River in VA for blue catfish, down to Florida for a bit of everything, etc. These outings account for Doug's entire fishing season. His drive up from Philly followed an overnight flight in from London Heathrow, and I hit him with the idea of leaving at 12:30 am for what I hoped was a good night bite. Who needs sleep, right? After a four hour nap, we hit the road. The last time he came up to fish my boat was the summer before last, and we spent most of the day sitting in dense fog. After talking up my solid striper season thus far, the pressure was on to produce. My plan was to take advantage of the flood tide peaking around 4:00am, fishing eels against a breakwall. As we got to pre-dawn we would net some bunker and then head to a few more locations for the next tide cycle or two. My first cast at 2:20 am and I was tight! I get to do this all the time, so I handed off to Doug who brought in a nice 32" fish. Over the next hour and a half, we landed two more keepers in the low 30s, and a bunch of shorts. I wanted to have a loaded baitwell by the time the sun broke the horizon. We located a big school of bunker and I landed a nice pancake, drawing a blank. I have no idea how I missed every single fish. My next cast faired much better, filling my livewell to capacity. It didn't take Doug too long to land his next keeper at location #2, a beautiful 38" fish. While we didn't spend the day doubled up, we worked up a good bunch of fish, many hookups coming in spurts. Doug lost a few going Bassmaster with circle hooks, and I broke a pair off. Those always make you wonder. In all, I couldn't have asked for a better way to spend the day, and thank God I found some fish!

Quality Time

The good fishing continues. Got some quality father son time in with Danny, who left the house at 2:30 am with me. He's a real trooper and my first mate! I can't let him spend his entire summer playing Minecraft. Get you kids out of the house and on the water. Not sure how to get started? Send me a message. I'll help you out or put you in touch with folks who can. It doesn't matter whether you're chasing stripers in the salt or doing some urban angling. You will build a lifetime of memories, and pass the love along for another generation.