This river just keeps getting better and better. This year was the 22nd annual James river fish/float trip and it was honestly the best fishing year we have ever had. Sure, there have been years where I have caught more fish, but never has the quality of fish been as good as it was this year. Just how good was the quality you might ask? The 2nd day we had our annual fish fry and we keep a couple of fish to eat that night. Most years we set the minimum size for keepers at about 15” to start and see how we do in the morning to decide if we need to drop the minimum size to 13” or less at lunch. Occasionally we are keeping 12” by late afternoon. On a good year we don’t have to drop our minimum size and are able to get a good full stringer. Some years we are even able to fillet fish at lunch and throw everything we catch in the afternoon back into the river. This year we had our limit (and actually too many keepers as we ended up throwing away freshly cooked fish after dinner) by 9:15am. And for the first time in history of James River canoe trips, Jason didn’t catch any of the keepers for dinner. But that is day 2 and we’ll get to that later. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
This first day started with a 5am wake up to drive to Howardsville that went a little quicker than expected. It took just under 2 hours and after putting both canoes onto one car we met with our new shuttle driver this year, Carl. Carl was a local who lived just a mile or two away. He was very nice and polite and said yes sir or yes ma’am to just about everything. He was probably in his late 50s or so and was a disabled Navy man. He claimed to have moved to Howardsville when he was 6 and has lived here for most of his life. Judging from his strong accent I don’t think anybody would dispute it. He looked almost exactly like this guy in the movie John Q with Denzel Washington. In the movie, John Q’s best friend is a guy named Jimmy. Anyway, Carl our driver looked just like Jimmy in that movie. After a fairly uneventful drive up river we arrived at Bent Creek and loaded up the canoes. We got on the water a little after 9am.
The first day we were hoping to go as many miles as possible. The state park is just over 7 miles and has a really nice campground but makes for a really long 2nd day if you try to get all the way to Beauford and Sycamore to camp at the Chute. The Chute is about mile 22 so that makes for 15 miles the 2nd day. We ended passing the state park about 3pm and keep pushing a couple more miles until we found a really nice sandy camp spot on the left side of the river just a bit past where the Tye river comes in. It was about 10 miles in and just before Cunninghams Island.
Fishing the first day was really quite good. We caught lots of quality fish with daily totals at 19 for Jason, 9 for pops, and 6 for Kristen. Pops took big fish honors of the day was a nice bass just under 18” that went a bit over 2.5lbs. We caught a bunch of others that were from 15” to 17”, all strong and really good fighters.
I don’t really remember much else about the first day. It seems like so long ago even though it was just 2 days ago. The river was a good level. Although we hit a lot of rocks we also had consistently good fishing and it was moving fast enough to push us along at a slow rate. Three lessons learned from day one: First, it is almost as fun to paddle for Kristen and watch her hook into a big fish as it is to hook that fish myself. Second, 6” blow up mattress pads are awesome. Don’t bring those lightweight backpacking pads again. Bring some spare D batteries and the pump and enjoy a good nights sleep. Third, there is a lure better than double buzzbaits for the James. It’s a little 3.5” plastic called the Yum Buzz Frog. We need to bring more of those next year.
Tomorrow I’ll write about day two. Highlights include Kristen going off and catching 3 keepers in the first 30 minutes and Jason boating two 4-lbers on the buzz frog.