The “Dirty Jackson”
Saturday morning I awoke with more excitement than the day before. Downstairs, Wesley had coffee and egg frittata waiting for us. For a fishing lodge, the food was as good as a 5-star restaurant!
We loaded up the truck with our gear and followed Wesley to our take-out on the Jackson River. We left our truck there and hopped in with him to go to the put-in. We had more fog and cloud cover than the day before, and the temperature had dropped about 10 degrees. Water levels on the Jackson, or “Dirty Jackson” as Wesley coined it, were very low and slow. Wesley assured us that the deeper holes in between the slow shallow sections should produce fish.
The water was so low, we launched the boat off the bank beside the boat ramp because the ramp was dry into the river. The Jackson took me by surprise as it resembled more of a wade-in trout stream than a large bass river like the New. My setup was a full sinking line 8 weight with an unweighted streamer. With this river being more close quarters, I felt a little more in my element. I was able to cast up under overhanging branches, behind rocks, and strip through riffles much easier than the day before. Building on my confidence from the previous day, I was starting to get the hang of casting these fast-sinking lines.
We rounded a bend a few hundred yards below the put-in, and I cast into the slack water on the outside bend of the river. I let the fly sink for a few seconds and then started stripping the fly back to the boat. Long strips with a short pause in between. Strip, strip, then BOOM! My fly was slammed by a smallmouth. The fish ran down river as soon as I strip-set, and I could tell this one was much bigger than the fish from the day before. I was able to turn the fish and swim it back towards the boat. In the dark, almost coffee-stained water, I couldn’t see the fish until it was right next to the boat. Once in the net, I removed the fly and was able to admire the dark bronze color of the fish. This one was about 12-inches long, and I was amazed at the fight this size fish packed. I released it back into the water and within seconds, the fish disappeared into the dark water.
This float boasted Virginia’s wildlife. Mallard ducks, in groups of 20 or 30 were flocked up in the river bends. Geese and hawks flew overhead, while heron perched on the riverbanks catching minnows. Wesley told us stories about hiking in the mountain woods, hunting ruffed grouse and woodcock. The landscape of shoals, bluffs, and cliffs contrasted the orange sycamore leaves and dark water of the Jackson. It seemed like every turn and bend of the river painted a picture, better than the one before. This was one of the most beautiful places I have ever visited.
We caught a few more fish, then decided to break for lunch on a nearby gravel bar. Wondering how Wesley was going to upstage Preston’s riverside lunch the day before, I was excited! Wesley started preparing sandwiches, but then pulled out an MSR stove and warmed up a large bowl of cream of broccoli soup. The soup hit the spot, as the cloud cover and cool air over the water had not yet lifted. We ate our lunch, and a few sticks of my dad’s homemade beef jerky, and devised a plan for the last leg of the float. All the while telling stories, corny jokes and laughing.
Half an hour into the second leg of the float, the cloud cover and fog cleared and the temperature rose. Consequently, the fishing slowed. We were able to pick up a few more small fish, and even flush a group of 50-plus mallards, but we were starting to wind down. We had stopped fishing, completely content with the day.
We drifted around a few more bends as we neared the take-out. Our rods had been stored, flies secured in the eyes of the rods, and gear bags tucked away. We were leaning back in our chairs relaxing as the river carried us to our final destination. The bridge and take-out appeared down river, just as the sun was setting over the valley.
Our adventure had come to an end, but the memories remained. A smile still painted on my face as a result of the whole experience. After helping Wesley unload the boat, we headed back to the put-in for him to get his truck. We shook hands, said our goodbyes, and jovially made plans to fish together again when the weather warmed up in spring. I was content, knowing that this experience was more than just a guided fishing trip, or a river float. It changed how I viewed guiding, hospitality, and the Virginia fly fishing scene. Above all else, it was a core memory made in the outdoors with my dad. One that I will cherish for the rest of my life!
If you are interested in booking a trip with the great team over at Wesley Hodges Fly Fishing, visit their website at www.wesleyhodgesflyfishing.com, or on Instagram @wesley_hodges_fly_fishing