Our weekend trip two weeks ago to the magical Dragon yielded two days of great fishing thanks to two magical lures.
Here's what happened.
Four of us drove to Mike Starrett's family camp on the banks of the Piankatank River. Mike Seal and Joe Bruce fished with Mike in his 17-foot jon boat. Alan Feiken and I fished with Dave Snellings in his boat, similar to Mike's, a 17-foot Bass Tracker Grizzly powered by a 50-horsepower Mercury with a bow mount electric.
The Piankatank is a river feeding into Chesapeake Bay from Virginia's western shore. It's brackish most of its length, but its source is a Cyprus swamp formed by a series of fresh water streams known collectively as Dragon Run, or more simply, the Dragon.
The Dragon looks primordial, and its predominate species, bowfin, a Jurassic holdover, joined in recent years by snakeheads, an Ecocene holdover, only adds to the feeling of having retreated eons in to the past. Bass, pickerel, white and yellow perch, and various sunfishes as well as the occasional errant striper or redfish from the brackish sections are also caught in these waters.
We launched at the public ramp on the Pianakatank and headed several miles upriver toward the Dragon. Mike's boat was better set up to traverse the roughly half mile of shallows leading to the Dragon, so he and Joe and Mike Seal got to the fishing grounds first, a broad, semi-circular bay with a reedy shoreline, heavy weed fields, emergent in places, and scattered Cyprus with multiple Cyprus knees scattered along the banks. We arrived about five minutes later and then entered a similar bay further upriver.
At Dave's suggestion, Alan, in the bow seat, started with a Pop-R. "Throw it right up against the bank," Dave directed.
Considering the reedy banks and emergent weeds, I tied on a Booyah Pad Crasher, Jr., a hollow body weedless frog that has been very good to me. I began throwing the frog against and even onto the bank and retrieved it in a series of short hops. But I detected a distinct weed edge about 20 feet out from the bank, so I retrieved at an angle at least 45 degrees from the boat, to keep the frog was over this cover longer.
Sure enough, our first fish, a bowfin clobbered the frog just past the weed edge.
That set the pattern for the morning. We both took bass, bowfin and even one snakehead at a steady rate, but the frog out-fished the popper, and the weed edge was so productive I abandoned the bank and cast as far down the pad edge as I could.
When things slowed a bit, we moved further up river and tried the opposite bank. Alan switched to a fluke and caught more bowfin and a couple of bass by bouncing the fluke through Cyprus knees. I stuck with frog and weed edge strategy and was rewarded with a bass of 4¼ pounds along with smaller bass and more bowfin.
Late in the afternoon we entered the narrow, twisting channels of the Dragon. The surface bite dropped off, so Alan and I fished flukes and continued to take fish. Then I took one of Dave's rods rigged with a white spinnerbait and took several bowfin before it was time to go in.
Comparing notes back in camp, Joe and Mike had a similar good day fishing Hoppin' Frogs, spinnerbaits and Flukes. Joe Bruce took top bass honors with a 5¼-pound trophy on the Hoppin' Frog. That evening, Alan, Joe, and Mike Seal fished downstream in the brackish waters with Mike Starrrett to take white perch, croaker and small stripers, redfish and flounder.
As we marveled over a great day's fishing, Joe Bruce warned, "It's rare to have two days that good in a row."
Sunday started out as a continuation of Saturday. I took an 8-pound snakehead on the Pad Crasher, Jr. early, and we caught some more bass and bowfin. But by mid-morning, as the sun burned off the clouds, things slowed dramatically. So I dug out my favorite spinnerbait, a 3/8-ounce model with a pair of hammered copper Colorado blades and a chartreuse and variegated skirt.
Immediately it was game on, with a bass or bowfin on every third or fourth cast. Fishing this lure on braid I could feel the pulsing, thump-thump-thump of the blades. When this spinnerbait was sliced off, probably by a pickerel, I tied on the only one I had left. Finally the second spinnerbait was beat up by the fish to the point of falling apart.
So I tied on a heavier model I made for Louisiana redfish. It had a bright chartreuse skirt and a single #5 hammered copper Colorado blade that created almost as much thump as the commercial two-bladed models.
Alan switched to one of Dave's quieter spinnerbaits and added a chartreuse swimming grub. He caught fish but not nearly at the pace of my copper/chartreuse, big blade models. When we passed a duck blind far up the Dragon, my spinner produced three bass in the 2-3 pound range in four casts. The rest of the fish that day were three to 4-pound snakeheads and lots of them. Fittingly we ended the day with a double.
When we got in the evening, Mike and Joe found fishing shut down almost totally by late morning. Alan asked me why I tried those spinnerbaits. I mumbled something about working the weedline and covering water. But why did I pick the Pad Crasher, Jr, and then the big, copper-bladed spinnerbaits?