October 1, 2016…and just like that, summer’s gone and the cool months are ushered in. Here in the Shenandoah Valley it sure feels like summer is over. It’s only in the 60s, it’s been raining for the past 3 days. The river is up and stained and with another storm brewing up down in the Caribbean, It looks like we won’t be out there fishing until the week before Halloween…bummer. On the plus side, I have nice pot of my homemade Chili simmering on the stove for dinner and the time to make adjustments and changes for the upcoming fall feeding frenzy.


First on the list though, is getting ready for cooler weather and water out on the river. As water temperature falls, your chances of hypothermia go up. So proper clothing is always a required item in your fall tool bag. The day time temps may be in the 70s and even low 80s on occasion. But it’s those night time temperatures is what’s driving the water temperature. The day time temps may very well be in the mid 70s, but that water sure isn’t after 3 nights of temperatures down in the low 50s. Layer up when you go out with quick dry nylon and high performance clothing. You’ll be warm in the morning when you get out there, and you can pull off layers as the day warms up. And yes, I know that hi-tech fabric clothing is more expensive than jeans, t-shirt, and a hoodie. But I can guarantee you this: You will sink straight to the bottom in all that cotton should you take an unscheduled swim-call in 60 degree water. Your buddy in his light weight, quick drying, performance wear will be cursing the day you were born as he drags your third-again-as-heavy butt out of the water.


Start carrying a full set of rain gear with you. I know we all usually have a light rain jacket with us all year, but a lot of us just let it those popup thunderstorms drench us for a quick cool-off in the summer. But those storms are not that frequent here in the mid-Atlantic. June, July, and August tend to be our driest months of the year. When the summer begins to fade, storms and Nor’easters begin coming up from the south and can settle in over us and give us a good soaking, like today for instance. Then when the wind kicks up, and hypothermia can come crashing down on ya in a big hurry when you’re soaked to the skin in 70 degree weather.


About this time of year I start carrying my ‘bailout’ bag. This a 30 liter dry bag packed with a full change of clothing that’s warmer than what I just stripped off that was soaking wet. It also has a camp towel, a wool ‘beanie’ to cover my head and ears, and enough survival type gear to spend the night on the riverbank should it come to that. ‘Space’ blankets, a nylon tarp and rigging line with a single-width Eno hammock have recently been added to the mix. There’s a bag of Mountain House Chili-mac along with Coffee and my JetBoil back-packing stove as well. If the unthinkable should happen, I’m ready. I did a blog entry a couple of years ago on exactly what I carry in the bag if you care to go back and find it. The actual items have all been upgraded over the years to better preforming gear but the idea remains the same. Stack the items in the bag in order of what you will need first and then work your way down the stack.
So now let’s talk about the important stuff…tackle needed for the cooler months in the Shenandoah Valley.


This time of year, the jerk bait and the jig and pig boxes start going with me again. Rapala and Lucky Craft make up the majority of the waterproof jerkbait box. There are however a few Bomber ‘Long As’ and one or two Cordell and BPS brand as well. The jig and pigs are a mashup of homemade jigs from my friend George Thurston and some from Eric Treadway down in western NC. I also like Strike Kings and I have a few made by yours truly that follow a pattern I lifted from Jeff Kelble, the President of the Potomac RiverKeeper Network. Jeff and I use to fish about once a year, but less so as he’s become more and more critical in the fight for clean water in the Potomac/Shenandoah Watershed. But he still ties a killer jig.


I’m still carrying plastics, but mostly tubes, Ned Rigs, and standup jig-heads for use with floating tail lures. The small Senkos, lizards, creature baits, and stick baits stay home for now. I’ll use the plastics I do bring with a more and more dead-stick presentation as the year winds on down into the cold months. On those rare, somewhat warm winter days when *we* get out, I’ll use them almost like I’m catfishing with chicken livers or cut-bait; on the bottom: very still for minutes on end. Like Jeff Little says in his books and videos on winter presentation: the big fish saw and heard that bait hit the water. He turned and watched it fall, so he knows where it is. Give it time and he will slowly ease over to it to check it out…so patience is definitely a virtue this time of year.
And I said *we* back up there for a reason.
As the weather grows increasingly cooler, make sure you always go with a partner. This not the time for solo forays, or exploring new water. Stick to areas you know, using preferably short floats. You may also want to get rather exclusive about who you fish with. Make sure it’s somebody you trust and are sure in their skills on the river. And you’d be willing to trust them with your life. You may very well have to. Cool weather fishing is not for the faint of heart. But if you are properly prepared, geared up for bad weather and have a float partner you can count on, it can be an enjoyable experience. And by the way, you just may land that trophy fish you’ve been dreaming of. My largest Smallmouths on the Shenandoah have all come in January and February.

See ya on the river, -dressed properly in layers.. and with a float partner. (call me?)

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