Friday, January 14, 2011

Winter Fly Fishing In Virginia | Mind The Litter

I have been putting in some hours over the past few weeks down on 4 Mile Run. The stream starts in the Virginia suburbs and gets bigger as it near the Potomac river. Sections of the stream are periodically stocked with trout. The last few mile of the stream have been modified to prevent flooding. Concrete walls line the water as it follows Glebe road through Alexandria. The tidal portion starts near the Mt. Vernon bridge. 4 Mile Run opens up from a narrow stream to a wide canal-like channel from the bridge to the Potomac.

A waste water treatment plant is located on the north side of the channel and dumps hot water into the stream. This hot water prevents the stream from freezing over. The heat allows the fish to warm up their body temperatures and feed enthusiastically if not aggressively during the cold winter.

To find fishing access, park either adjacent to the Toyota dealership on Rte 1 (Jefferson Davis Highway) or near the Pier 1 Imports which has a larger parking lot. Follow the foot trails down to the water and under the bridges. This is an industrial fishing area. Planes take off and land a few  hundred yards away. Amtrak and metro trains pass over head. Cars and pedestrians cross the additional bridges.

Anglers congregate below the bridges during tidal changes. A 45 degree angled slope of rubble covered with fence material is what you stand on. Wear shoes that you can get a good traction. You don't want to slip and land in the water. This environment will destroy your gear so don't bring your best lines. The lines get caught up in the fencing and can easily get nicked. You will need to hop over or through the fences/rail so wear clothing that will allow you some flexibility. Most of the guys down there are wearing Dickies one piece coveralls for warmth.

Watch your back cast to avoid trees and the bridges overhead. In addition, avoid the following:
  • piles of pigeon excrement
  • broken bottles
  • homeless people blankets
  • piles of mono
  • litter (cans of corn, beer, soda, liquor bottles)
  • paint cans from the graffiti people
  • cigarette boxes
  • underwear (there is an unusually strange amount of underwear stuck in the tree branches. From leopard print funderwear to tighty whities.
  • Random shoes (that's a shout out to Trent Jones)
This is an urban fishery. There is unfortunately all sorts of litter that anglers leave behind or is washed down from the gutters upstream.

Targeted fish species: largemouth bass, crappie, sunfish, carp.

How to fish the area:

Watch the water stains on the bridge pilings. That will tell  you if the tide is high or low or going out vs. coming in. Throw a stick into the water to find the direction of the water and its speed.

The fish congregate along the bridge pilings. The water is 3'-6' and the fish stack up. They also line up along the shore where the rubble and fencing drops off. Polarized glasses don't work under here as its all shade (thus its dark and cold, and don't forget the wind coming down from the west). Anglers move up and down the shore to different spots based on the tides.

Get  your flies deep. A sink tip or split shot help. I fish a 9' rod and an 11' rod. You can get some decent rolls casts when the tide is low. Fish between bridges for more clearance overhead.

I prefer a 2 fly rig. A white marabou spey pattern with a dropper of either a damsel nymph or a bead head, soft hackle pheasant tail. The bass and crappie will chase the lead fly. Subtle tugs will alert you to the slower fish. The bass and sunfish will chase your fly right to your feet. 

Fishing with a strike indicator and dead drifting the flies has only produced sunfish. Stripping in the flies will get crappie and bass. Nothing huge so far but its nice to be able to catch fish when its 25 degrees.

The spin guys are using a similar set up, a small float with a jig suspended below. They cast and let the tide move the jig up or down the stream.

Walk from the Toyota dealership down toward the Potomac. The carp will roll and jump in the gaps between bridges. I have tried several tactics to get the carp but none has worked yet. Nymphing, dead drifting, and stripping several types of flies from nymphs to crayfish.

The best area to get a long roll cast is where the sewers dump into the stream. Large concrete drains come out of a wall and allow  you to get a few feet of debris and tree free areas to your left and right.  I always fear someone will jump out of the scary drain each time I  hope over the fence.

If  you don't want to drive to the mountains to fish for trout in spring creeks or below tailwaters, this is your best option for wetting a line during the winter.

Any questions, send me an e-mail to


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