Just got back from Dragon Run Swamp. What a trip! While it was not the best trip in the 19 years I have been going, it was an extremely satisfying experience.
To set the stage, this has been an extremely wet Spring and Summer. It rained heavily on Monday and Tuesday of last week, followed by a sunny Wednesday and part of Thursday. Thursday night showed the rains
from the low pressure system off the East Coast. I left for Dragon Run on Friday morning about 11:30 a.m. At 1:00, the rains from Harvey started coming down. This continued until Saturday evening about 5 p.m. and
then a thunderstorm came through about 6 p.m. Obviously, this caused the water level in the swamp to be extremely high.
The evening socializing on Friday evening after dinner was excellent. Everyone took part and the stories were humorous, educational, ridiculous and downright fabricated. All were given the same attention and a decent response, with accompanied ribbing where deserved.
Since both bass and bowfin (our targeted species) like low outgoing tides and the tide on Saturday morning was incoming, we considered targeting pelagic species in the saltwater Piankatank River. Since we did not completely trust the weather man, we also opted to stay somewhat near the boat ramp in the event of thunderstorms or extremely heavy rain. Given this decision, we launched the boat and started fishing the rock jetties upriver of the boat ramp. We were fishing 1/4 oz. Super Rooster Tail spinnerbaits in white and firetiger and catching fish on almost every cast. While the fish were not giant, there was plenty of action and quite a few fish worthy of using a fillet knife. My partner had promised some fish to one of his acquaintances, so we kept a good number of fish to be filleted. We ended up with over 100 white perch, with 14 of them over one pound, a number of red drum with the largest one just under the 18" minimum, a number of speckled trout with the largest one at 19 inches, one striper at 22 inches, plenty of Norfolk Spot, some small mullet and a couple of small croaker. We also had a number of #1 Jimmies (Blue Crabs) take our spinnerbaits, oysters, a glass bottle and a sea gull. Very interesting day. After dinner, we headed out to the cleaning station to clean the fish, but were interrupted by the thunderstorm. Back to the socializing until the storm passed over and then back to finishing up the cleaning of the fish.
Sunday was a completely different day. We had overcast skies, a decent breeze and by the time we got the boat in the water, the tide had started going out. This day, we opted to head for Dragon Run Swamp and do battle with bowfin and bass. After the leisurely 5 mile run up to the Swamp, we stopped, dropped the trolling motor and started fishing the marsh banks covered with reeds and bullrushes. We fished them with small 1/4 oz. tandem spinnerbaits, small swimbaits and swim jigs, tossing the baits into the little guts in the marsh banks and bringing them back to the dropoff. On the first bank, we managed to catch a few small red drum, including one with 15 spots (We normally have a spot contest for each trip and my partner's 14 year old son had this one wrapped up), six small bowfin, about 25 white perch and about a dozen bass. Most of the bass were smaller than we were interested in cleaning, so they went back, along with the perch and drum. We continued back in the Swamp, hitting a number of spots where we normally catch large bowfin and snakeheads, with no success. After about 3 hours, we just canned this procedure and headed back to an area we call "The Cathedral". This is a long straight stretch with overhanging brush on the left side and standing cypress trees, interspersed with small reeds on the right. Numerous coves and guts appear on the right as well. We worked topwater baits in the guts and coves and spinnerbaits and Senkos in the brush and around the trees. Over the span of two hours, we picked up over 20 1.5-4# bass, a couple of 5-7# bowfin and I broke off a pickerel we estimated at about 4#. In addition to the bass over the limit, we also threw back a large number of undersized bass. Since we had fish to clean again, we opted to head back to the house early to get a good start on them before dark.
H O W E V E R, when we reached the boat ramp, we noticed huge schools of bait being marauded by fish on the Jetties. We just could not stand it. We each put on drop-shot rigs, tipped with small Gulp minnows and proceeded to catch white perch, spot, speckled trout, puppy drum, striper, mullet and crabs. We had an absolute ball. You would have thought we had never caught a fish before as we were competing for the largest number of fish caught. In just about 2 hours, we caught over 50 saltwater panfish, returning all of them to the water.
Back to the house we went where dinner was steamed crabs and fried fish, accompanied by homemade cole slaw, homemade fresh cut French Fries and fresh baked cookies. What a feast! And then to the cleaning station. It was after dark before we finished up cleaning the fish, but the job got done. Then it was time for relaxing on the deck with adult beverages, more fresh baked cookies and lots of stimulating conversation and laughter.
As is usual with Labor Day, we try to head out, fish a few hours and then head back home about 1 p.m., as we have to buck the beach traffic for the first 100 miles of our return trip. We launched the boat and instead of running up to the Swamp, the tide favored the saltwater species, so we just relaxed and started fishing the Super Rooster Tails around the jetties. In the 3.5 hours we fished, we managed to catch over 80 fish with most of them being white perch. A few puppy drum, some spot, a couple of trout and one mullet made up the balance. The competition between my partner's son and I is always a treat as he loves to tell everyone how he outfishes me. He does so on a regular basis and I have no problem admitting it. This day belonged to me however, as I managed to amass over 40 fish before laying down my rod and letting him see if he could catch up.
Loaded the boat and truck and headed up the road, hitting the beach traffic in full stride. Within 15 miles, it was bumper to bumper and down to 15 miles per hour. Then it stopped dead. We talked about it for a few minutes and opted to head out overland and run the back roads to keep moving and get home at a reasonable time. I pulled out the Tom-Tom and had Zachary program it for the trip. At the same time, I pulled a old Virginia paper map and checked the route. I just do not trust the Tom-Tom. It always wants to route me via interstate routes regardless of how I program it. Sure enough, it did the same thing this time, trying to get us to make a U turn and go back to US 360 instead to using US54 which is a direct route to where we were going. In the end, the Tom-Tom provided entertainment as we all yelled No! each time it issued directions. The paper map got us where we wanted to go with no traffic, moving at the speed limit all the way and pleasant scenery throughout the trip. Had we continued on the Interstate with normal traffic, we would not have gotten there any faster than by taking the backroads that we traveled.
One more excellent Labor Day Weekend fishing expedition, compliments of Captain Mike Starrett. Hope I am able to take part in many more of them.