April showers bring May flowers, vibrant and colorful, and of course fragrant. The scent of blossoming gardens wafting through the air of a warm spring day is a common and memorable event in Old Town, and will sometimes trigger a memory of times long gone, and places of our past. Your sense of smell is one of your senses most closely associated with memory. Each person’s memory and sense of smell are unique, which is why someone smelling homemade chocolate chip cookies baking can trigger fond memories of their childhood while someone else might be turned off thinking about a past job working long hours at a bakery. Popular fly fishing author John Gierach explains that any real fly fisherman worth his salt should be able to identify his or her home waters based solely by the smell wafting through the air. And so it is in every area I’ve fished, I note that there are different smells that I find making me associate a specific feeling of fondness about that place; floral, pleasant, and unpleasant, it is all welcomed and kept in some secret place in mybrain to be recalled again at a later date.
I spent most of my childhood in the Bronx in New York City, a product of an Italian-American household where smells wafting through the house let me know that grandma was making meatballs and Sunday gravy. When I didn’t smell the city air, we spent a good amount of time in Pennsylvania enjoying our time in the Poconos Mountains. It’s in these same mountains that I first learned how to catch trout, immersed in and surrounded by pine and hemlock trees, all with a unique and magnificent odor that will never be duplicated by car fresheners and cleaning products. It’s this smell that reminds me of my early discovery of the sport, learning what fish responded to, and my first trout caught on a fly I tied.
I find my visits to the Great Lakes for steelhead and lake-run brown trout are also “tainted” by fond memories of rusting metal and decomposing carcasses of salmon along the banks of a few rivers. As unpleasant as that sounds, catching and landing fish ten pounds and larger tended to offset the odor. Additionally, my fishing buddy Tony (who had a penchant for chewing tobacco) drove a small pickup that smelled of nothing but wintergreen scent from all the spilled tobacco. It’s been a long time since we’ve fished together in that truck, but the smell of chewing gum and toothpaste evokes memories of cold, sleeting days in December trying to land these giants.
Alternatively, it’s not always these organic smells that make my mind conjure up images of fishing’s past. When tying flies for saltwater fish like striped bass, bluefish, and false albacore, we use a 5-minute epoxy to toughen up the heads and also create the appearance of small translucent baitfish. The smell of this epoxy is appalling to some, but to me, it reminds me of dark basements after hours, trying to create that fly that would catch me the speed demon later in the week. I find that it’s this smell that evokes the fondest of fishing memories since moving to the D.C. area has curtailed my ability to fish the waters of my college years around eastern Long Island in NY, a place I only get to visit yearly now instead of several times a month.
Despite all the fond memories of times past, of my growth as an angler back home in New York and in Pennsylvania, I find the same smells here in our area now. Spending time fishing in the springtime around Fletcher’s Boathouse for shad will have you showing up early during a frosty morning, smelling the outgoing tide, breathing in deep the cold, moist air that is undoubtedly the Potomac. As the days begin to warm, the scent of early blooming flowers, the pollen in the air, the moisture of the next rainstorm approaching, one starts to make new associations between new fishing places and experiences, all of which continue to make us complete anglers.
Spring trout fishing has arrived much earlier than expected due to warmer weather and low water levels and precipitation. Virginia mayfly and caddis hatches are 2-3 weeks early, as well as all the central PA spring and limestone creeks. Sulphurs, a summer bug, are already appearing. Expect the big Green Drake hatch that normally happens after Memorial Day to show up before you break out the grills and beach chairs.
Smallmouth bass have been able to focus on spawning upriver and fishing for them with 6 and 7 weight rods will start to become more and more accessible as the river continues to drop. As a reference, take a look at the USGS site for the Potomac River at Little Falls and when the gauge height in feet drops below the 3 foot mark, the entire river system will be low and clear. Don’t forget that if you’re not sure where to fish or access the river, the C&O Canal is part of the National Park Service and provides you with 184.5 miles of access along the Potomac from Georgetown to Cumberland, MD – just pick a place and go!