Today was going to be the day I took my brand new Sage Z-Axis -- and some new techniques -- to the river to try for the first smallmouth of the season. But I woke up with a touch of that flu I always get the day after enjoying a wedding reception. The combination of that and the fact that it was really, really windy, almost caused me to bag it. But early afternoon rolled around and I just had to try this rod out, wind or not.
In addition to the new rod, which is much heavier than the 5 weight I've been fishing for smallies with (the Z-axis is a 7 weight), I am also trying a series of poly leaders I got from Cabelas. Seven different sink rates, they are five feet long and then the last 12 or 18 inches is just regular leader. In the interest in trying to preserve that leader end as long as possible, I decided to use a small barrel swivel at the end, then I tied about 18" of 3X tippet to the fly end.
The best way to test this new setup, I thought, was to fish where I am most familiar and comfortable. This meant the Shenandoah River near Harpers Ferry, WV. The WV fishing license, without a trout stamp, for a non-resident was $49! But I fish there a lot, so you gotta do what you gotta do. I parked, geared up, walked out to my first of several favorite spots, and waded out a ways.
I put on a white and red streamer my buddy Matt recently gave me, took some line out, and made a down and across cast into a seam that had produced fish for me before. I let the streamer swing at the end of its reach, began stripping it in and BAM! I caught the first smallmouth of the year on the very first cast with my new smallmouth weapon!! He wasn't that big, and the glare was in the camera so I couldn't see the display. Bottom line: I didn't get a good picture. But at that moment, that Sage rod caught a fish every single time it had been cast into water.
As you might have guessed, things cooled off a bit after that start. But I worked my way downstream to my other go-to spots, each of them giving me at least one fish. I got down to the downstream end of my tour, just short of where the Shenandoah dumps into the Potomac, an area with much deeper pools than the rest of the stretch I was fishing. I decided to try a leader that sank a little faster, so I made the switch, put the same fly back on made one cast and WHAM! Really nice fish took off running with that streamer, and made several acrobatic displays in the air before he was ready to come in. I didn't get a picture of him either, but he was really nice and meaty. He slipped away while I was fumbling with the camera.
Already I considered the day a huge success, but it kept getting better. Every hole I went to produced a fish, but none produced more than two. Finally got some photos, too. I changed flies many times but every one of the 7 or 8 fish I got today took this same streamer. I will be stocking up on those!
All in all, a really enjoyable afternoon. The rod worked great in the wind. I was worried that the 7 weight wouldn't be as much fun as the 5 with a fish on, but this 9'6" rod is quite sensitive, and these larger smallmouth were a LOT of fun with this rod. And the quality of fish that I caught today was remarkable. I don't catch huge 20" smallmouth like I've seen pictures of, fish like the one at the top of this post are as big as I've ever caught, and I caught three that size today. I am hopeful and optimistic this is going to be an exciting smallmouth season!