Fairfax County, Virginia, August 10, 2012
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It was hot. The dog was cranky and nobody was interested in doing anything. So I went fishing.

It was late in the afternoon and I had commitments that night so I decided to fish a couple of ponds that were close to home. But as I loaded up with a 3 weight and a small box of terrestrial flies I was a bit resigned to not catching anything in any of those ponds. A few years ago these ponds produced fish. You could wet a line on the way to the office or stop and fish on the way home and land a couple of big bass or plate-sized crappie or sunfish.

But I haven’t been back in a few years because the last time I was there, it was being systematically fished out by anglers who had no concept of minimum size or bag limits. I always fish catch and release at the ponds, but what do you say when people are catching fish not as sport but as a meal for themselves and their kids? I tried telling them the fish might not be safe to eat since runoff from nearby parking lots empty into the pond but all I got was blank looks. It was a lost cause anyway--they had almost filled a 5 gallon bucket with fish and none of them were going to swim away if they decided to throw them back. I fished a weed bank on the shallower end and watched as every fish they caught was a keeper.

This same scenario began to happen at other ponds I fished and another particularly good one was totally destroyed when an office park was built nearby. A rainstorm overwhelmed a canvas dirt barrier and a thick stream of mud slowly filled the pond. I caught a huge largemouth there once, a real bucketmouth, on my way home from work. I waded into the water with my dress slacks and loafers to make sure I could land the fish since there was a weed bed lining the shore. The pond never recovered. After a few months I gave up fishing any of the ponds and moved on to other water.

I checked out the water before I began fishing. It looked good. There was no trash along the banks--no empty bait containers, plastic bottles, food containers, beer cans or tangles of used fishing line. The place was clean and it looked like nobody had been fishing the area in quite awhile because the grass around likely fishing spots were not beaten down, which indicates anglers have been there recently. This could mean that this place was either totally fished out and nobody comes here anymore or people THOUGHT this place was fished out and have moved on to pillage other locations and there might be some fish left. I rigged up slowly and watched the water. There were a lot of bugs flying about and after 10 minutes I saw the first soft splash on the surface as a fish grabbed a morsel floating in the film.

The fishing started off slow but as the shadows grew longer it really picked up. I had to change flies frequently because they became chewed up and slimy after a couple of hits. It was all dry fly action and the fish were eager. I tied a new fly on and dropped it into the water in front of me as I prepared to cast and got a take. I put a cast half way across the pond and had just enough time to tighten up the line when a fish crushed the fly. It was a grab bag--largemouth bass, bluegill, green sunfish, pumpkinseed, redear and a goldfish but they were a blast on a 3 weight.

I also got a pretty good shock when, standing at the edge of the water while laying out a long cast, the line wasn’t shooting well because I thought it was snagged on grass or a twig. I could lift the line and gave it a few tugs but it felt heavy, like it was tangled up in something. I looked down and I was correct, there was something laying across the line. Three feet of water moccasin. Triangular-shaped head, dark brown mottled body, thick midsection and he looked pissed. Two loops of line had caught him in the middle and I was holding him above the water, his body draped over the line like an upside down ‘U’. Lucky for me I was standing on a ledge about a foot above the waterline and the snake’s head was dangling in the water. I dropped the line, yanked it sideways to clear the snake and ran a couple yards up the trail. The snake sat in the shallows for a few seconds with its mouth open, probably more stunned about what happened that I was, then slowly swam off holding tight to the grassy bank. I thought it was a good time to reel up and go fish elsewhere.

I moved on to a few other ponds and had pretty good fishing at all of them. I also found almost no traces of other anglers or that anyone had been visiting these spots for quite awhile, which is good news at least for me.

EQUIPMENT: I used a medium action 3 weight rod with a floating line and a selection of terrestrial flies from size 8 to 12. Black stimulators, beetles, ants and small hoppers worked well. I did not try nymphing.
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