For the fish-heads out there. This smallmouth measured approximately 24”, and is among the very longest smallmouth my friend and veteran guide John Hayes has ever laid eyes on. Caught on Ashby Gap’s home stretch of water and is the second 22” plus fish caught here that we know of in the past two weeks.
This is worth posting because Smallmouth populations are suffering on all mid Atlantic rivers (Pennsylvania to North Carolina) due to years of unusually high spring water levels, compounded by 2018’s highest rain totals in recorded history.
During extreme conditions like we had in 2018 the river truly becomes a “survival of the fittest”. Smallmouth Bass, for example, are sight feeders, meaning they chase and catch their prey relying primarily on vision. During years like 2018 the river literally only saw about 4 total weeks out of 52 where visibility was what we consider normal. Translated into fish terms, smallmouth could only feed normally for 1/12 of the year.
To compound matters, juvenile smallmouth are born in our rivers between the end of April and mid June. In normal years this two month period usually enjoys falling water levels and clearing conditions and that’s why smallmouth spawn then.
But during extreme wet years like we’ve had, the river stays high and muddy. Juvenile smallmouth have about a five day grace period when they can survive by feeding off their yolk sac, Five days! Then, it’s right to a dog eat dog scenerio where they must find and compete for their food. When it’s muddy, especially for extended periods, they perish in the system from starvation and stress.
These last two monster smallmouth are the very definition of the apex predator in the system and the biggest and strongest of the species. These are the smallmouth which year after year (if properly released by fishermen) will know how to properly locate and build nests, attract females to spawn, and have the endurance to protect their young until they reach the self supported feeding stage of their life. And so while the fish-heads are crying the blues with slower than usual fishing, these massive mature fish represent hope.