Kings of the River


Years ago, when I was a child, there was a daytime television show directed at the average American housewife called “Queen for a Day”. It aired each afternoon just as I was arriving home from school. My Mom usually had the TV tuned in to that station, though she was busily ironing, cleaning, or carrying out some other domestic duty. Hosted by Jack Bailey, the program introduced Americans to the concept of the big money giveaway show. The winner was decided by the volume of audience applause after each contestant had spun her particular tale of woe to the drama loving crowd. Prizes were often extravagant and the object of every woman’s desire. It was so successful that advertising cost $4000 per minute in the fifties!

My friend George and I recently ventured north to Virginia to spend a day fishing the James River in Lynchburg, Virginia. Under the expert tutelage of our guide Matt, we became Kings for a Day on the James River- King George and King James, as it were. Our quest that day was the smallmouth bass, though the James is replete with other gamefish, notably the carp and the Mighty Musky. Yes, the Fish of Ten Thousand casts resides in these waters and Matt frequently seeks these fish exclusively for anglers with endless patience and equally tireless casting arms. King George and I however, were more easily satisfied. We had come to the Colonies in search of the more easily fooled smallmouth.

We set forth from a downtown ramp, to my dismay. I imagined spending our day drifting past factories, courthouses, and high end retail shops, but was very soon delighted to see all vestiges of civilization fade into the rearview mirror as we rounded the first bend in the broad expanse of the James. The James is a couple hundred yards wide. It’s clear waters are often quite shallow and peppered with boulders and rock outcroppings that keep most watercraft safely on its banks. Our polypropylene drift boat was impervious to these dangers and had been designed for use on the wild and bumpy waters of western trout rivers. No other boats incroached upon our watery kingdom that day.  Matt’s intimate knowledge of the river coupled with his impressive boat handling skills quickly put us on the most fish dense areas of the river, without wasting time in search mode.

The morning saw King James manning the bow, six weight in hand. King George took the after station, ready to pick off all the fish missed by the bow man. George drew first blood, landing a nice smallie on a surface fly. In fact, he brought several nice smallmouth to the boat, while I dredged the deeper waters with a larger minnow imitation. After some frustration, Matt switched my fly to highly impressionistic subsurface fly called a Tequeely. This copper colored flashy fly with three pairs of seductive undulating legs proved irresistible to the smallie. Soon, I had landed several lovely fish. I was particularly pleased as I had encountered but a single specimen of this gamefish prior to this outing. That one was accidentally caught while steelheading the Snake River in Idaho.


One of my captures had taken the fly unusually deeply, resulting in significant bleeding. To my shock, Matt demanded I relinquish the Coca Cola I was imbibing. He held the hemorrhaging fish by the lip and quickly poured the Coke down its open gullet. Naturally, I was quite amazed at this type of resuscitation. Matt informed me that pouring Coke over the gills and throat both aid in stopping the bleeding and also raises the fish’s oxygen level. I had no idea. Perhaps Coke’s 1906 slogan was accurate- “Coca Cola revives and sustains”.

smallmouth likes coke

George and I continued to work the overhangs and downed trees along the river, periodically switching to the opposite side as Matt’s experience dictated. We caught goodly numbers of smallmouth and a couple of larger ones. In Virginia, the angler who lands a 20 inch smallmouth gets a plaque and commendation letter from the Virginia DNR. George and I each came close to award size, but fell slightly short. George’s fish was 18 inches. Matt measured mine at 19 inches, but in the King James Version, it was really 20 ½ inches!

Soon, the day was ready to come to a close. As we approached the take out ramp, Matt commented that we could be lucky enough to catch one last smallmouth right at the ramp. As we neared the concrete pad, George threw his fly 2 or 3 feet short of it. Bam! He was rewarded with the final fish of the trip- a solid smallie of some 15 inches. As Matt loaded the boat for the trip back to town, George and I joined in a royal handshake and congratulated ourselves on our crowning achievement on the James- more smallmouth than either of us had ever caught.

( To enjoy a regal day of your own fishing for smallmouth or musky on the James, contact Matt Miles at Matt is an Orvis endorsed guide)





About castingawayblog

I am a retired orthopedic surgeon with fly fishing in my bones! Living in coastal South Carolina, saltwater fly fishing is my passion, though I also love to use the long rod in freshwater. I have been known to use conventional gear as well.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Kings of the River

  1. Michael Barnett says:

    Those were very nice smallmouths! Sounds like an enjoyable day. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Betty Martin says:

    Thanks James. This did brighten my sad day as I realize God has something good for those who rely on Him. Thanks fr your help this morning. You are one of a kind Betty

  3. james tergis says:

    For 6-months “Kings of the River” sat in my in-box… waiting… waiting for that right moment to be read. Well today (Dec. 20th), I finally succumbed to temptation & dove into “Kings of the River” from beginning to end as the cold rain pounded at my window. With it, I experienced another high of smallmouth bass fishing in Virginia just as I began planning my next father-son fishing trip come spring. No fish has given me more pleasurable moments than the Smallmouth Bass. Now that I have relocated to the S.C coast I miss those “Smallmouth moments” more than I imagined. Thank you, Mr. Yates. Now I must ready my fly-rod which has been sitting in the corner for far too long.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s