The Northern Snakehead Fish, subject of much discussion and debate among anglers and conservationists, seems here to stay. And while certainly invasive, the nightmare predicted by some who thought they would eat everything in the river doesn’t seem to be playing out. And in the middle section of the Potomac River, their numbers, size and fierce fight have attracted countless anglers. When my friend Kodi, who recently caught a 30-incher from his kayak, invited mutual friend and guide Harold Harsh of Spring Creek Outfitters and I to join him for some kayak largemouth bass and snakehead fishing, I had to go.
We went down the Maryland side to Mallows Bay and met at sunrise. At one point in the planning process I wondered if it would be easier for me to take the shorter drive down the Virginia side and just paddle across from Quantico. This picture shows what a stupid idea that was. The Potomac is wide where I live, maybe 800 yards or so. But down here, it’s got to be at least five miles across. I couldn’t understand how all the muddy water from the Upper Potomac from recent downpours wasn’t turning the Middle section just as brown. To quote the old Saturday Night Live skit about how the National Change Bank can make a profit just offering change for various denominations, “The answer? Volume.”
This is Harold, one of the best people you’ll ever meet. I met Harold many years ago when I first started fly fishing and booked a float with him on the North Branch of the Potomac. It’s worth noting that the farthest upstream and the farthest downstream I have fished the waters of the Potomac (over 200 miles between), I fished both with Harold.
The picture above looking out past the shipwreck across to Virginia is out in the main stem of the river. Mallows Bay looks more like this, with weeds and grasses providing lots of cover for bass and snakehead. It’s tidal here, so at low tide normally the fish that seek cover in the taller weeds you see here get forced back into a position where they are more exposed and, presumably, easier to catch. But the rain pushed the water levels up a bit. For whatever reason, the fishing was extremely tough.
My very first Snakehead encounter happened in a little cove. You see Harold’s kayak in the distance, he’s at the opening of the cove there. I was paddling quietly back there in maybe twelve inches of water, the bottom eleven of which was all grass or Hydrilla or whatever it is. I heard a noise to my left and saw large, black fins weaving and splashing between the tall weeds. Snakehead. I threw the popper tight against the weeds but could not entice him out. When I had exhausted that option, I decided to paddle over and just see if I could get a closer look. I drifted silently to the weeds, peering over the edge of my kayak, looking for movement. Then the water exploded next to me in a violent burst as the Snakehead bolted to safety. Not gonna lie here, it scared the shit out of me. But I immediately knew I just had to get one of those fish on my line!
The fishing did not improve. Harold caught a decent largemouth and hooked a Snakehead but lost it. And I missed a few bass and that was it. So we left Mallows Bay and headed to a pond that Kodi knew about which held a lot of Snakehead. It was a little tricky too, as you had to cast out beyond the lily pads, which left you very little room to strip in a top water fly before you had to pick it up and recast. But I got lucky and fooled this little one right as my fly reached the lily pads. People asked me how the fight was. He was overmatched with my 7-weight Sage, and I had to basically horse him over the pads, if he went down in there I never could have gotten him out. Even a small one, though, is pretty intimidating. Slimy, more beautiful in color and more hideous in form than I expected. They look equal parts ancient, evil and angry.
It was a tiring day of not catching many fish in the hot sun, but it is always a pleasure to be among good friends, and the challenge of catching fish who don’t want to be caught is a character builder. Sometimes the fish win. Regardless, if you’re only going to catch one fish all day, let it be something new and exciting!
Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing utilizes fly fishing and fly tying in the rehabilitation of disabled servicemen and women in Military Hospitals, VA Medical Centers and Warrior Transition Units all across the country. Their premier fundraising event is the 2-Fly Tournament held each year at Rose River Farm in Madison County, Virginia. The farm, dedicated as PHW’s Home Waters, is owned by PHW Chairman of the Board Douglas Dear. Douglas, who also serves as the chair of the 2-Fly committee, graciously offers the use of this special property to numerous charitable organizations throughout the year.
This year was the seventh annual event and it was a huge success by any measure. Everyone had a fantastic time, many fish were caught, and over $220,000 was raised to keep programs running across the nation. The 2-Fly has grown from humble beginnings seven years ago to a full weekend of activities. Things kick off Saturday with a casual pond bass and bluegill tournament in the afternoon, followed by a riverside cocktail party and dinner with a full program of special guests and inspiring speakers. Then the 2-Fly Tournament follows on Sunday, followed by an awards ceremony. Below are some of my favorite photos from the weekend that I hope convey a bit of the heart of this wonderful event…
A great addition to our Saturday evening festivities the last couple years has been the Virginia Patriot Guard Riders. Each year more and more patriotic motorcyclists ride in behind the colors, and it is a sight – and sound! – to behold. As for the parking violation? Well I’m certainly not going to tell them!
Another tradition has been great music from the Gold Top County Ramblers.
It was an absolutely perfect evening for an outdoor cocktail hour along the Rose River, with dinner supplied by Gentry’s Catering.
Co-chair of the tournament (and bamboo rod maker extraordinaire) Jerry Nonnemacher worked tirelessly to pull together staff, volunteers, sponsors and other contributors to make this the smoothest running event yet.
Former Miss Virginia Tara Wheeler is Co-anchor of the Fox 21 27 in Morning News in Roanoke, VA. Tara has been the MC for our evening program for three years now and is a cherished friend of Project Healing Waters.
The only way to truly know how this program changes lives is to listen to the words of those whose lives have been directly impacted. Each year a handful of participants take the podium to share their deeply personal and sometimes painful experiences. CPT Eivind Forseth, US Army (Retired) is one of the first participants of the program. Eivind is a good friend and a powerful speaker. I know his story well, but hearing it again after not seeing him for a few years was quite emotional for me as well as the rest of the audience.
After a special evening program and a silent auction that raised over $34,000 thanks to the generosity of those in attendance, and perhaps a little sleep, it was time for the Sunday tournament to begin! Ed Nicholson and Douglas Dear go over the rules.
I love this shot for one reason: Hats. Despite the fact that everyone has a hat in their possession, you won’t find a single hat being worn during Lisa Mei Norton’s beautiful rendition of the National Anthem. A wonderful display of shared respect and patriotism.
Alright, let’s get to some fishing! Thanks for hanging in this long if you have. Kiki Galvin was named PHW’s National Capital Region Volunteer of the Year this year. Here Kiki nets a nice rainbow caught by SFC Aaron Morse, US Army.
Long time supporter Harold Harsh oversees a drift from fellow Marine LCpl Ryan Wightman, USMC. Douglas Dear’s son Kyle built two of these ramps as an Eagle Scout project, and they help many wounded servicemen and women access water they would have difficulty reaching otherwise.
…as bright as the smile on the face of the man who caught it. Josh Williams, along with his wife Lisa, have become great friends of mine over the years, and I always look forward to seeing them. Josh gets a hand here from guide Phil Gay.
SPC (ret.) Andrew Pike, US Army, who claims to have never fly fished before this week, fights one of many, many fish during the tournament under the guidance of pro guide Brian Wilson. Andrew is a great guy, I enjoyed spending some time with him and hope to see him back next year.
During lunch on Sunday, PHW President Ed Nicholson asked everyone in attendance who has ever served in uniform to gather around for a special presentation. Lefty Kreh served this country with honor from 1942 to 1947 and is a combat veteran from the Battle of the Bulge. He continues his service today as a generous supporter of Project Healing Waters, selflessly giving his time and sharing his talents and knowledge with our disabled active military and veterans. Thank you Lefty, what a great American.
Having experts like Lefty and Ed Jaworowski on hand all day to instruct participants is an invaluable service. I watched Ed teaching casting to this group and others in a steady rain for hours, never once suggesting they take a break or wait till things cleared up.
Washington Redskins safety Reed Doughty (#37) was on hand all weekend spending time with the participants, signing autographs and even catching a few trout. Reed, originally from Colorado, is a passionate fly fisherman. He’s also as friendly and down to earth as you can imagine. I’m a huge Skins fan anyway, but meeting someone you admire as a fan and finding out they’re a great person too, makes it even easier to root for them on the field.
You remember Andy Pike from a few photos ago, the one who had never fly fished before? Well not only did he and his teammate SGT (ret.) Michael Davis, US Army win the Pro/Vet category of the tournament, Andy picked up this trophy for the biggest fish of the day, a 19″ rainbow. Congratulations Andy on a great tournament!
As successful as this event was, Project Healing Waters needs the support of donors and volunteers throughout the year to continue healing those who serve. Visit the PHW web site here to find out more about how you can help.
Project Healing Waters held its sixth annual 2-Fly Tournament this past weekend and it was, as it always is, an amazing experience for all involved. Rose River Farm was declared PHW’s national home waters at last year’s event, and it’s a perfect venue for this quickly growing tradition.
Project Healing Waters “is dedicated to the physical and emotional rehabilitation of disabled active military service personnel and veterans through fly fishing and fly tying education and outings,” says their mission statement. An unquestionably noble mission it is, and founder Ed Nicholson’s vision is made possible because countless volunteers and donors and corporations generously give time and money and equipment to support it.
This year’s event was the biggest and best yet! Please visit the PHW web site for more information or to make a donation to this cause that has changed the lives of so many men and women who have sacrificed so much. I hope you enjoy some of the sights from this year’s event…
A time lapse film of all the volunteers and anglers arriving early Sunday morning.
One of the participants’ daughters helping out.
The healing power of simply being in nature can not be understated.
I’ve met many great people through my involvement with PHW. Josh is a friend, a new doting father and one hell of a fly fisherman. You can read more about him and purchase amazing flies from him on his Dead Drift Flies web site.
Douglas Dear, in the foreground here welcoming the participants, works tirelessly all year long on this event and as Chairman of PHW’s board.
It’s hard to find anyone not in a great mood at this event!
Guides like Harold from Spring Creek Outfitters give freely of their time and expertise year after year to make sure the wounded servicemen and women get the very most from their experience.
Oh yeah, there are also some huge trout in the Rose River!
Sometimes captions just aren’t needed.
Choosing the right fly is tough when you only get to choose two for the entire day!
Measuring a catch.
Entertainment, food, logistics…so many people come through to put on an event like this.
Everywhere you turn, moments like this are unfolding. Josh used to play guitar before he lost his arm. So he and Russ teamed up to play a few songs.
We focus a lot on the wounded, and sometimes overlook the sacrifices, the painful adjustments the families of those wounded have to endure. God bless them all.