Day 2 was overall the best day of fishing we have ever had on the James. We didn’t’ catch the most fish but the quality was the best we have ever caught. The day started out with an early alarm clock. We needed to make about 11.5 miles today to reach our usual camp spot so we set the alarm clock for 6:00am. We were hoping to be on the water by 7am but didn’t actually get launched until a few minutes after 7:30am. We started floating and the fishing was good right away. Within the first ½ mile Kristen had 2 good keepers into the boat—a nice 16” and another 16.5”. As we approached Cunninghams Island we saw pops cross to the left side of the island and so we crossed over to float that same side. Fishing on the backside of the island was very good but the water was pretty quick in there so mostly Kristen fished and I steered and paddled to ensure the canoe was in good position. Kristen caught a really nice 17” within the first couple hundred yards of the island that made for 3 keepers. A couple minutes later she landed a 14” that was just barely too small to keep. I believe at this point Pops also had 1 keeper on his stringer so we had 4 out of the 5 keepers we were looking to catch for tonight’s dinner. The fish tally at 8:30am as we exited the backside of Cunninghams Island was 6 to 1 in favor of Kristen. She was killing them. A couple hundred yards after the Island pops radioed over to us that he had another 15” to add to his other keeper so that was all we needed to keep. It was probably about 9am at this point.
The next couple of miles things slowed drown for Kristen a little bit as I started fishing more and she had a lot of bites but missed most of them for a while. Pretty soon I had rattled off 4 in a row to bring the count in our boat to Kristen-6, Jason-5. As we neared the town of Wingina we pretty consistent good fishing on the left side of the river but Pops was doing even better on the right side of the river. We reached the Wingina boat ramp about 11am which was on time or even just a bit of what we were hoping. The river was flowing pretty good in this section and we didn’t need to do much paddling except to keep the canoe straight and a good distance from shore. We were a bit ahead of Pops at this point so we pulled into the boat ramp to give him time to catch up. We debated eating lunch at this point but decided to push on and maybe eat lunch at swift island which was just a couple miles down river. The left side provided good fishing as we floated toward Swift Island. As we approached Swift we found that the water was lower than it often is and many rocks were exposed. We got stuck a few times before finding a good channel near the island to float through. We pulled in to the backside of Swift island and decided this was a good spot for lunch. At this point Kristen and I were tied with about 9 fish each. Kristen had probably had over 30 or 40 good solid hits on her frog before lunch.
The fishing after swift Island was still excellent. The right bank was a bit shallow but had some occasional deep holes that provided good current, shade, structure and often held fish. About a mile after Swift Island I threw my frog out into another good-looking hole and had a nice bass grab it as soon as it hit the water. I set the hook and the fish immediately took out drag and went to the air. It was huge. On his next jump my frog went flying out of his mouth, however, the hook stayed in. He took a few more good hard runs before I finally got him to the boat and was able to grab his bottom lip. We tried to radio ahead to dad that we needed his weigher and tape measure but our battery was dead. We put the fish on the stringer and both Kristen and I paddled hard to try to catch up to Pops. About 15 minutes of paddling and we were even with Pops. We put the fish on the scales it flashed 4.1 then 3.7 and finally settled at 3.9lbs. We tape measured his and measured him at 20.5” long. Not a bad fish. Not bad at all. We returned to the right bank and continued casting our plastic frogs up along the shore. We caught another couple smaller fish and then Kristen hooked into a good one. It didn’t jump but it made some hard runs and pulled out drag. She fought it for a while and finally got it up next to the boat. Then it made 1 more run and somehow the hook pulled out of the fishes mouth. By the looks of it in the water it was probably also close to 4lbs maybe a little less. I’d say 3.5-4lbs judging from how big it looked in the water. Kristen was a little upset but she didn’t do anything wrong and there really was nothing she could have done. Sometimes things like that just happen.
Around the next bend, the slow water began and we reached the rope swing. This meant that it was about 3.5 miles to go until the camp spot for the night. It was about 3pm at this point but we a had a small head wind that had just started to lightly blow. We stopped at the rope swing and it looked nearly brand new. The top of the rope was up about 50 feet and had a chain that was around a huge tree. The chain was then connected to a very large rope that had a rubber/plastic black piece on the end, maybe where you are suppose to put your feet?!? Up on the bank somebody had built steps by nailing 1x2” planks to the side of the tree. Up about 25 feet above the water was a small platform with a small yellow rope attached to it that dangled down into the edge of the water. I grabbed the small yellow rope that was at the bottom and swam out to the big rope that was just about 2” above the water. The little yellow rope had a nice clip on the end so I wrapped it around the big rope and then clipped it to itself and swam back to shore. Nice—now I could climb the platform without having to worry about the rope and then just pull up the yellow rope when I got to the top of the platform. Once back on shore I started to climb up the tree. The planks kind of curved their way up the tree and were not very big. Climbing up the tree felt like a mix of rock climbing and climbing a ladder. Probably a bit more like the former. Once on the platform I looked down to see I was about 25 above edge of the shore line. I hauled in the big rope by pulling on the small yellow rope until I reached the clip. It worked perfectly. The end of the big rope was just long enough to reach. Somebody had done a great deal of work to build this rope swing. It was definitely not an amateur’s job. Once on top I wavered a couple of seconds. This was definitely the biggest rope swing I had ever done and I’ve done some pretty big ones. A few years back somebody had built a huge platform at this location but this new design was bigger. Kristen and I also did a huge swing into a river in Hawaii a few years back. Well, there was no way I was going to climb back down those skinny planks nailed to the side of this tree. I grabbed the rope as far up as I could and pulled my legs up to my chest. On the swing down toward the bottom the force was so strong that I could barely hold onto the rope. By the time I reached the bottom I was moving really really fast. As I started to swing up into the air I started to wonder when I should let go. If I let go too soon my momentum would carry me way out into the river and since I was going so fast I probably would have no control and end up on my face of back or something crazy. If I held on too long I would end up dropping all the way from the top of my swing and that was going to be really really high up. Everything happened so fast I’m not exactly sure where I let go. Then when I was in the air it seemed like time froze. I dropped and dropped and dropped and wondered, where the water was. While in the air I thought to myself:
- "Better point your toes or this might hurt the bottom of your feet."
- "I hope the water is really really deep here."
- "If I do hit the bottom then I hope there isn’t sticky mud down there. What if I hit the bottom and stuck into the mud?"
- "Breathe! Don’t forget to breathe…."
And then I finally hit the water. It was really dark and really deep and I didn’t touch the bottom. I swam up for a while and finally broke the surface. Whoa that was crazy. I swam back to shore and the adrenaline was flowing. The rush was kinda like catching that 4lb smallmouth, except, catching another 4lb smallmouth I like to do again. When I got back to shore Kristen asked me if it was scary. I said yes. She asked me if I was going again. You know how there are some things in life where are just happy to have survived them and get them behind you. This was one of them. I just decided to just answer her with a polite “no.” She then asked, “Should I go or do you think I would be too scared?” I told her that it was pretty scary and I think we should move on. She didn’t argue.
After the rope swing we switched it up and Pops came in the front of my canoe and Kristen went solo for the last 3.5 miles of the day. Usually the next few miles until you get within sight of the Beauford and Sycamore Islands aren’t very good fishing. It is usually very slow and flat water and very deep. Often times we just paddle through it to get to the Chute and set up camp. This year it was not as deep and probably averaged 3-6 feet by shore. It was moving a little bit but was slower than the rest of the river. We decided to fish it. Pops was up front and I did most of the paddling for us. He hit most of the spots but I would hit anything he missed or if he got a backlash or a tangle or something. I think he caught one or two small ones as we worked the left shore. About ½ way through there was an area with some rocks sticking out by shore. We paddled around them and then went back to shore. There was a nice little tree that was over hanging the water and pops didn’t cast for it. I grabbed my pole and backhanded my little frog to within six inches of shore. I gave it a few turns, just enough to get the little legs kicking and it got inhaled. I set the hook and a nice hog took me for a ride. He pulled my drag out a few times but before long I had him up along the boat. I grabbed his bottom lip and lifted my 2nd 4-lber in less than three hours into the boat. It was every bit as chunky as my previous fish and about the same length. We didn’t measure or weigh him but he was pretty much a mirror image of the monster I had caught just a few hours ago. That pretty much topped it off. This was the best day of James river fishing we had ever had. Our stringer of 5 solid keepers by 9:30am. Two 4-lbers landed by Jason and another lost at the boat by Kristen. Total for the day was something like 18 for Jason, 13 for Pops, 13 for Kristen but just about everything was a good quality fish. If it was a bass tournament, our 5 fish limit would have weighed about 15 lbs. And we probably had 100 or more good solid hits on the day. It is a day that won’t soon be topped.
The rest of the way to the chute was pretty uneventful. We got passed by a group of 5 canoes and a kayak. We paddled the rest of the flat water to beat the other group and ensure we got the good camping spot at the Chute. It turns out they took the left side of the island anyway. We set up camp about 4:30 or 5pm at a nice sandy spot about 100 yards downstream from our usual Chute camping spot. The river was nice there this year and we did some wading and swimming, fishing, floating in lifejackets and pops even fell asleep in his chair. We set up camp, cooked the fish, built a fire and roasted s’mores until the wee hours of the night, about 10pm.
Things to remember for next year:
- Can opener. It’s not on the list but you really need one.
- Camp chairs for everybody. Worth their weight and space and then some for dinners and sitting around the fire.
- 6” blow up mattresses with pumps are awesome. Bring some for everybody.
- Two way radios with batteries that last all 3 days are a must. Waterproof would be nice too.
- Get a waterproof camera. We dropped ours in the water again this year. Good thing it was shallow and its only been 2 months and it is still covered by costco’s warranty.
- 1 fish per person is plenty if they are big, 15-17”.
- The slot limit is 14-22 and only 1 can be kept over 22. Oppps.