This past weekend I went on a long-anticipated fishing/camping trip with three of my sons (7, 5, and 1.5) and an adult friend. We floated down the Maury River (medium sized relatively swift river that flows into the James) here in Virginia for about 5 miles the first afternoon. I took my boys in my canoe and my friend floated in his own kayak. We chose the Maury based on reports that the Smallmouth population in the James is very limited presently due to multiple poor spawning years in a row. According to the Virgnia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries website,

"Fishing the Maury River in beautiful Rockbridge County is always a good choice. Fish populations are extremely consistent from year to year, and anglers should expect high catch rates of smallmouth bass, rock bass, and redbreast sunfish when fishing in 2014. ... Harboring high densities of scrappy fish, the Maury is a great place to take novice anglers or a child on their first fishing trip."

I visited the local fly shop, bought a couple of bass poppers, and asked for advice prior to the trip, and I fished the poppers exclusively while floating the Maury. My friend had two spinning rods, one rigged with an inline spinner, and the other with a rubber salamander. The water was very clear, with the bottom clearly visible in pools that must have been close to 10 feet deep, and spooked fish (mostly carp) were visible during almost the entire trip. Between the two of us, we didn't catch a single smallmouth or largemouth bass. The kids caught nothing, except a few leaves and sticks. My contribution consisted of one rock bass and one relatively large creek chub.

Maury Chub.jpg
Notice how my 18 month old son is literally petting the fish, like it's a cat or a dog.

The five of us then camped on National Forest land along the James River. The next morning, rather than continue bumping the canoe into rocks in the clear, shallow water of the bigger rivers, we decided to let my friend have his first try at fly fishing for wild trout. We went to a stream I've been to several times, and caught trout in before. This stream is along a dead-end Forest Road with numerous unofficial camping pullouts along it, and abundant empty beer cans plus a few empty worm containers. I gave my friend a few minutes of fly casting instruction and some general tips on catching the wary small-stream trout, and we spent several hours hopping pools up the stream. The older boys stayed a pool or two behind and caught crayfish, while I carried my 18 month old in an infant carrier.

lower creek resized.jpg
Picture of the same trout stream taken on a prior trip, when the water was noticeably higher.

Despite my best efforts to provide pointers, my friend was unable to catch any trout, and when I took the rod for a few minutes, I had no better success. We did see several spooked trout in the stream, mostly as we clamored over a pool trying to free a stuck fly after a poor cast.

So after a long-anticipated weekend of fishing, canoeing, and camping, I caught a total of two fish, neither of which were the target species. Sure we could have gone somewhere else, but would our results really have been any better? We all had a good time, a canoe float is fun even without fishing rods, and boulder hopping up a wild trout stream is great fun. But how can I take my boys places where Daddy isn't the only one who catches fish? Does anyone have any words of encouragement?