August 12, 2014. Day Three, Tuesday.
I woke to the sounds of water rushing over and through the class II rapids just upriver of our second campsite. After two days of paddling and a tough first night’s sleep, last night’s deep sleep is just what the doctor ordered. Again, fishing was the first thing on my mind … as it was every morning and this one proved to be special.
Walking down to the river, I noticed a bald eagle flying along the opposite shore, traveling in the same direction we were to take in the next hour or two. I marveled as our Nation’s symbol flew downriver, through the mist, turned with the natural bend of the river and slid out of sight. “Silent and on a mission”, I thought, “Just like me.” It was the first eagle sighting of the trip. Not a bad way to start the day.
After a few moments of taking the sights and sounds in I made a cast in the same area I caught six fish the evening before. On my first cast, the great topwater fishing continued … I caught another smallmouth bass … a 12-inch fish. “How can this morning get any better?” I wondered. I made a few more casts with no strikes, so I walked down the shore to the end of a grass bed. With my feet at the edge of the water, I made a cast downriver close to the bank, and as soon as my buzzbait hit the surface I began to reel it back in, but something held onto the end of the line so I pulled back and ‘set the hook’ in case it was a fish. For a moment, I thought I had snagged the branch of a submerged log until my rod bent further and line peeled from my reel. A huge smallmouth bass engulfed the lure as it hit the water and after an incredible battle and lots of leaping from the river, I grabbed onto a wonderful smallmouth bass at the river’s edge. I scooped her up in my hands and asked Warren to take a quick photo so I could release her back to the river. The 19-inch fish was the finest bass I had seen on the trip.
“WOW! How could this day start any better!” again I thought.
I fished for a little while longer from shore, then changed into my wet clothes (again) and waded out to the rocky island. I fished all around it, including the deep water on the other side, the fast water upriver of it, but below the class II rapid. Surprisingly I didn’t catch a thing, but I did hook a few. The river looked so good, that I wished we could have stayed there all day but I knew we had to move on.
I waded back to shore and saw that Warren had water boiling for coffee and we would soon be breaking down camp.
While sipping hot camp coffee, we began hearing this high-pitched “WHOOP … WHOOP … WHOOP”. I assumed it was a bird of some sort, one I had never heard before. The sound seemed to emanate from a couple of different locations across the river. After coffee I went down to the shore to make a few more casts when I noticed something milling around just behind the rocky island. It shot behind the grass and came up about 20 yards away and called out again …. “WHOOP … WHOOP … WHOOP.”
It was a river otter! We watched and listened for ten minutes or so, and then it was gone.
Eventually the Tripper was loaded and we began to paddle down river. This day would lead us though Springwood, Buchanan, Arcadia and a mile from Alpine.
This entire area was incredibly beautiful and mountains shot up from every angle all around us. The railroad followed the river at times leaving to trace its way around some impasse, but eventually rounding back right next to the river. The old canal system also followed the river hiding many stone walls lining the shoreline of James. Incredible feats of man and machine back in time when the river and its usages were very different.
For as beautiful as the river was this day, my highlight was watching Warren fishing. He started fishing about five years ago and has slowly but surely become a great fisherman.
During a period of slower fishing, I heard Warren say, “I’m going to tie on my favorite lure. Yes, it’s a special one!” A few minutes later, he had an oversized, blue spinnerbait attached to the end of his line. He then said, “This is it. My favorite lure, but I have never caught a fish on it.” On his first cast, the big, shiny, blue spinner bait flew further than I have ever seen a lure cast as his big blue lure suddenly became unattached from the end of his line. He then said, "Well I guess I'll never catch a fish on that lure." All Warren was left with was a 'Mr. Squiggly'.
A 'Mr. Squiggly' is when your fishing knot comes untied and you lose your lure, leaving you with a short kinked and squiggly little part of line, right at the end … right at the end where the knot came untied. No fisherman that I know likes 'Mr. Squiggly' but we ALL know him. Being the guy he is, Warren then said, “That’s all right, I have another one.” So he tied on another blue spinnerbait.
The next thing that happened is why Warren's persistence was my personal highlight of the day. On his first cast with the new shiny spinnerbait he caught a bass ... a 10 incher. One his very next cast he hooked into another smallmouth bass, a bigger and meatier bass ... perfect for the grill! It was awesome.
Over the course of the trip, I saw Warren become a great fisherman. His casting became more accurate and he learned when to stop a lure in flight when it was cast to hard and going into the trees. We both got snagged below the surface and in trees, but not many times. Trying to turn a canoe loaded with about 900 pounds of man and gear to chase down a lure in a tree was a chore, so we both became better casters.
We paddled and fished to a point near Alpine, VA, where we found a great campsite on river right. A small rapid ran the entire width of the river just above our campsite ... offering great wade fishing. The base of a mountain lined the opposite shore. We ate bass, potatoes and onions cooked over the fire again, and aftwerwards enjoyed a couple of cold PBR's as a couple of unexpected rain storms formed. We saw flashes of light and heard thunder, but didn't get any rain. The first storm had somehow missed us, but the second one hit us pretty hard forcing us to our tents and keeping everything wet we set out to try and dry for the night. Even though it rained again, I think we both slept pretty good. I know I did.
Photos Stories ... Top Left: Early morning 19" bass caught on a buzzbait.
Middle Left: Paddling downriver somewhere near Buchanan, VA. Buchanan is a quaint little town with a great livery called Twin River Outfitters. Click here for more info on Twin Rivers.
Middle Right: Warren's bass he caught on the first cast after changing to a new lure due to a Mr. Squiggly.
Lower Left: Warren's bass he caught on his second cast after the Mr. Squiggly incident. Good fish!!!
Bottom Right: Some of the gear and clothing we continued to try and dry. The late rains came in and we moved everything we could under the tarp. All the clothing remained as wet as it was when it was hung up.