Leisurely fishing as cooler days make siren call to the river
The longest day of the summer is two-and-a-half months behind us.
Shorter days and less daylight just after 7 p.m. mean a return to standard time and troublesome winter months are just over the horizon.
But mid-September through the last days of October are often the best times to be outside of the entire year. Cooler mornings. Less humidity. Cooler late afternoons. Fewer bugs and whirling insects to get their “pound of flesh” or ounce of blood.
Some of the year’s best fishing days are upon us.
The river’s water is still warm, but by the second week of October its cooling ways can mean an uptick in the enthusiasm and interest of the bass, catfish and yellow-bellied sunnies that live just a few 100 feet off the shoreline at the end of North Princess Street in the Potomac.
The best fishing is still found in the deeper holes carved out by the high waters and historic floods that have visited Shepherdstown through the years. And some of those holes are hard by the old stone piers that once held bridges long since sent to watery graves by floods like the one that came in March of 1936.
Most of the enterprising fish are still craving the shade and the lower water temperatures near the bottoms of those deeper holes.
When we make our sketchy preparations to be on the Potomac, at the top of our hurriedly-made list will be to anchor our aging boat in the shade of one of those piers. Fish are not the only creatures seeking the comfort away from the direct sunlight.
Our energies are no longer channeled toward searching in moist ground for the live bait of earthworms. Or on paved surfaces after hard rains for nightcrawlers. But we can find cicadas, crickets, grasshoppers and seined minnows without too much effort.
Overturned rocks in the river’s shallows give us helgramites, considered a juicy morsel by any small gamefish.
Should our plans have been made on short notice and there is no live bait, our friends by the old piers might instead have to do with imitations like rubbery worms, minnows or tiny frogs with splayed legs enticing them from their cover and shadows.
Our senior citizen bones will be supported by seats with sturdy backs, the better to last longer while the fish take their time in stirring toward our baits.
Any hunger pangs should be chased off by carrot sticks, celery, peach halves, nectarines, pieces of apple and sliced pears (for the health-conscious) or the potato chips, corn chips, moon pies, and canned sodas for the rest of our small party.
Should we actually land a few of the unlucky fish that accept our bait, we will loose them back to the river. Nobody among us has the will to scale those unfortunate enough to be caught, so they will be given a longer lease on life and be around for other Shepherdstown folks that know about the holes that rest in the shadows of the gnarly piers of yesteryear.
Should we have our wanderlust get the best of us and want to see what’s happening a little farther down river, we can lift the anchor and go the short distance to the old railroad piers that are also reminders of what the long ago, record-setting floods did on the Potomac.
There are also deeper, fish-hiding holes by those piers. More shade awaits an anchored boat. The same species of fish, the same species of fishermen to seek their company.
Mid-September days, and mid-October days can be flush with temperatures in the 70s and much lower humidity levels. The breeze can be just sharp enough to keep away any late-summer, early-fall bugs, mosquitoes or flying vermin.
The river just offshore from North Princess Street can be a utopia of sorts on the right October day.
And the fish and their foraging habits only add to the pleasures found just before November’s usual winds and other harbingers of another nasty winter to come.