Voices from the river Fishing

Think it's going to be a great day? Think again.

An angler fishes Virginia's Smith River tailwater.

There is a risk to presuming that the first few minutes of a fishing outing will portend how the entire day will unfold. 

How often do we struggle early, and then rally? 

How often do we dominate early and then fade? 

But we often can’t help ourselves, which is part of why I got a little cocky the other day when it took just a few casts to connect with my first wild Smith River brown trout. 

I’d gotten a late start and the sun was already pretty high by the time I had rigged up and walked into the semi-remote stretch of the tailwater in Western Virginia.  

The stream there was still shaded. Cicadas hummed loudly in the riverside canopy so I had chosen a large, dark terrestrial as my primary fly. Hedging my bets I had dropped a small nymph a few feet under the big dry. 

The first fish hit the nymph, as did a second that came a few minutes later. A few casts later I third rose deliberately to follow the big dry. It eventually snubbed the fly, but couldn’t resist the trailing nymph. 

It was hard not be giddy. Another reason for that confidence was how things had gone on my previous trip to the river, a month prior. That day a similar hopper-dropper rig had produced steadily for a few hours until a raging thunderstorm had forced me from the water. 

On this recent trip, after working the first stretch pretty well, I slogged through a short section of shallow, slow water to the next run and riffle. My first cast was perfect. 

“Here we go,” I said to myself as the big bug danced downstream on a sweet, drag-free drift. 

But there was no “go.” 

Another good cast. Nothing. 

Ten more good casts. Nothing. 

A slight move to reach the upper section of the riffle. 

Ten more casts. Nothing. 

Time to try something new? 

The Smith can be tricky, but in 21 years of fishing it I’ve rarely had things turn around simply by switching flies, at least not when there isn’t an actual hatch. If the fish are on, they’re on. If they’re not, changing flies just means you’re spending less time making fruitless casts. 

They had been on. Nothing had changed except I was 100 yards upriver. So I stuck to my guns. 

An hour later I had worked the entire section and caught nothing else. Time to move. I headed a few miles downstream to another stretch I know pretty well. It’s usually good for at least a few fish. 


Always take a picture of your first fish of the day, because it could be your last fish of the day.

Interestingly, earlier this summer a trip to a different river had started equally as well and turned equally as dreadful. 

At the last pool I’d made a half-hearted “one last cast” with a big streamer and promptly hooked a 17-inch wild brown. 

That had been one of those important never-give-up lessons. But, at some point, you have to give up.  

So, eventually on that recent day on the Smith, I did. 

I’d like to think next time I won’t get too excited or too disappointed no matter how my day starts. 

I doubt I’ll be able to help myself. 

By Mark Taylor. A native of rural southern Oregon, Mark Taylor has lived in Virginia since serving a stint as a ship-based naval officer in Norfolk. He joined the TU staff in 2014 after a 20-year run as a newspaper journalist, the final 16 as the outdoors editor of the Roanoke Times. A graduate of Northwestern University, he lives in Roanoke with his wife and, when they're home from college, his twin daughters.