Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Pre-Migration, Pre-Spawn Fishing in the Chowan Headwaters

First fish of 2011 - he's not a giant, but catching & releasing him was the highlight of my week
It's no secret that I historically loathe the period between the end of duck season (around Feb 1) and the beginning of well, everything, around April 15th of every year.  This late winter has had all the necessary elements of a craptacular recordbreaker, as late February found me working my tail off at two jobs to pay for our new fancy gas furnace, worrying about spending too little time with my son, worrying about my dad's recent diagnosis of prostate cancer (he's doing fine now), and worrying about my dog, who I ultimately put to sleep. 
Maybe sometime this spring I will wax poetic about how I've kept my head together during this interesting period, but regardless, I kept it together and the wife and I suddenly thought it would be a good idea to head down to southern Virginia for the weekend to visit my recuperating Dad and also my brothers.   It was really, really hard not to call all of my hometown friends and announce my arrival, but I just had to keep it simple (rare that I ever invoke that phrase).  We arrived in town early saturday, and brother T already had the boat trailered and gased up.   Brother A and I followed him to his new favorite spot, a headwaters tributary of the Chowan River near the North Carolina border.  It was such a great time, in such great habitat, that I'm not going to even name the river here!
A & T, headed upriver in a cool March wind
T moved down to the area about six months ago and has been pretty thrilled with what he's seen - not necessarily rafts of dumb ducks and blind, hungry fish (his hope), but basically unfettered access to "potentially great" habitat surrounded by other relatively hospitable anglers and hunters (a truly endangered species east of I-95!).   Our plan was to target herring, shad, perch, and (fingers crossed) striped bass that we heard were slowly migrating up the Chowan to spawn.   We were as geared up as we could be to chase those species.  We failed horribly, maybe thanks to the 2" of rain that fell about 36 hours before my arrival
After about 90 minutes of putting "big plastic" very deep in the muddy, dark channel for striper, and very little shiny lures to work against structure for herring, shad, and perch, we gave up and started targeting pre-spawn largemouth bass and panfish.  We were primarily using white crappie jigs, white twister grubs, silver and white yo-zuri minnows, silver spoons, and gold spoons.   All three of us were fishing hard and we threw a lot of stuff at them.  T drew first blood, fishing a bridge piling current at 10-15' with a 3" white twister grub:

Pretty respectable crappie for 48 degree water!
We fished for another hour without a bite.  Other guys were on the river and nobody seemed to be having much luck.  Just a little too early in the spring, I guess.  We eventually moved to a second bridge, and after we thoroughly fished it over, putted into the backwater pool in the nearby swamp.   I was fishing a drop-off (from 10" to 60" - a nice ledge!) with a small golden spoon and suddenly hooked the very healthy little bass at the top of this post.  It was also the first fish I caught with the Shimano Stradic 2500 I agreed to review for the Outdoor Blogger Network.  I'll tell you right now -  that reel is silent and stout!  I do want to work it with a larger fish so I can really test out the drag.  My review will be done in a week or so.
We fished for another two hours or more without a single bite.  Upriver, downriver, upswamp, through the swamp. I honestly just think our timing was bad - too much floodwater and debris, too cool water temperatures, and a little too early on the calendar to hit the huge number of fish that should make it up the river.  That being said, the habitat is amazing and it was just awesome to spend the afternoon in it, after a really tough month at home.  It was also nice that we caught more fish on our aluminum duck boat than the guy on the river in a $60,000 bass boat with - get this - a 200hp outboard.  That glittery fiberglass boat won't look so cool dangling on the cypress stumps that are littered all over the swamp and river, but to each his own.   I am looking forward to getting back on the Chowan headwaters again when the bite picks up.  It's a beautiful place and we made some great memories with only two fish in the boat.

Cypress swamp - waiting to come back to life


TexWisGirl said...

Oooh. The photo of the cypress swamp is just beautiful. Came over from LB's spot to say hello. :)

LB @ Bullets And Biscuits said...

Dang Texwisgirl fast!

I left you an award over at my blog...hoping to drive visitors and followers to your blog...I guess it worked!

Unknown said...


I just have a quick question about your site. Would you mind emailing me back @ carlymiller687@gmail.com


Kirk Mantay said...

Carly - what's the nature of your question?

TWG - thanks for your visit. You're a long way south!

LB - thanks & I'll post up my own tomorrow when I get a chance to breathe :)

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