Fairfax County, Virginia, March 16, 2013
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I usually fish a lot during the winter but this year the weather seemed to take special glee in being bright, warm and sunny during the weekdays but turning dark and ugly as the weekend arrived. A couple of times I was ready to head out the door when, taking a look at the pounding rain or driveway slick with ice, decided that maybe going back to bed was a better idea than being miserable on Beaver Creek, the Yellow Breeches or Holmes Run. My wife says it’s old age. I like to think that it’s because I’ve become a lot wiser about what the fishing conditions would be once I got to the water and was being realistic about things.

But I still want to fish so rather than a road trip to known fisheries I’ve been sampling spots that are closer to home. Hidden ponds and streams that aren’t on the cover of
Fly Fisherman magazine or mentioned on MidCurrent or TidalFish. These waters don’t hold 20-plus inch trout. You won’t find the 10-pound bass hiding under a log. There are no Muskies ready to ambush your lure. This is the realm of small water and the tiny fish that call it their home. Maybe, once in a while, you’ll catch something close to a pound but most of the time the fish is weighed in ounces and if you break the six inch barrier you consider it a great victory that should be celebrated after a proper release by sitting on a rock and consuming a stick of Girl Scout Thin Mints or a 7-11 pepperoni stick. Wash it down with a semi-cold Diet Coke and suddenly the world is not such a terrible place.

Some of the water is pretty small. I fished one pond that you could almost touch the opposite bank with the tip of a 9 foot fly rod. There wasn’t much in this pond--a couple of sunfish and a really skinny bass that must have measured out to be all of six inches long. But in another tiny pond I caught a huge goldfish that must have weighed close to a pound. Someone’s aquarium cast-off that has found a pretty good life living in a pothole pond not far off Route 28.
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And although most of the fish caught in these waters have been small, there are exceptions. People have taken me fishing to some of their “secret spots” in the county and I had to swear a blood oath and leave the camera behind before we left. Some of these areas are in plain sight but folks don’t see them because they’re too busy blabbering away on their cellphones or, in one of the most dangerous behaviors I’ve seen, texting with both hands while driving at hight speed. Other small ponds and streams are well hidden behind a forest of trees and thorny shrubs that are so thick, they don’t show up on Google Earth maps unless you know where to look. At one particular pond we caught and released several trophy sized bass. There is no feeder stream into or out of this pond so I wondered how the fish came to reside here. My fishing host told me a friend catches small bass and brings them home to live in a pond next to his patio. When they get too big, they’re returned to the wild--to this unknown, unmarked pond. Its location is only known to a few anglers who abide by a strict catch and release rule (
later I was told a “friend of a friend of a friend” who was taken to fish this spot returned with someone who did not abide by the catch and release rule--a 10 pound, five pound and 3 pound bass were taken).

A bunch of kids asking permission to cut through my yard to reach a fishing hole tipped me off to an old dam on a small stream where you could catch smallish sunfish and an occasional small catfish. Up until this point I had known about the stream, but didn’t know about the location of the dam until the kids mentioned it. It’s not much, but it does hold fish and that’s enough to keep me occupied until spring arrives.
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