Fly Fishing on the Chesapeake Bay

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The passing of Labor Day marked the unofficial end of summer. School starts back up. The days are getting shorter, and the evenings are a little cooler. And they’re already calling for a long winter. So now, more than ever, is the best time to get out on the water.

The Chesapeake Bay is located about an hour-and-a-half drive away from Richmond. There’s a lot to do out there: boat, swim and enjoy some Rappahannock oysters on the water’s edge at Merroir. No stranger to spending some time on the water, our co-founder and New Orleans native Paul Watson had just returned from a guided weekend fly fishing trip on the Bay. He suggested that anyone interested in picking up this pastime should give it a shot. Rob and I thought that it sounded like a good opportunity to get away from our desks for an afternoon, so we took Paul’s advice and tracked down Captain Chris Newsome. Chris is one of the leading fly fishing guides in the region and an all around great dude. We all agreed on an afternoon to meet up, and it wasn’t long before Rob and I were on the road.

Chris has been taking people out on fly fishing trips for over a decade. Sounds like a nice way to spend your time, doesn’t it? So how does a person become a full-time angler charter? It happens gradually, and with a lot of passion. He was working at an outdoors store, and eventually one thing lead to another, and now he’s guiding for a living. For Chris, “These are the kind of things that you can’t plan. You just fall into them.”

You can tell that Chris is the kind of person who really loves his time on the water. He’s laid back and easygoing. He told me that when he was in high school, he purchased his first car from the sales of his hand-made lures. That’s a lot of lures going out the door.

Out on the boat, we watched Chris do a handful of casts. This may have been my first rodeo behind the fly rod, but I know a good cast when I see one. Chris’ range of movement seemed fluid and natural. Fishing isn’t exactly a spectator sport, but watching a pro execute a cast with such grace made me reconsider that assessment. This might be a stretch of a comparison, but watching Chris cast was like watching Jordan dunk from the free throw line. Or maybe it was like seeing a perfectly executed Federer backhand. It’s something that I could watch on repeat without getting bored. To see someone translate such complex and well-rehearsed motions into a thing of beauty never gets old. Sure, you can chalk it up to muscle memory and hours-and-hours of practice, but it feels like there’s more to it. You’re witnessing a level of commitment that goes beyond casual, and it’s damn impressive.

As with most sports, fly fishing looks easy, but the actual execution is anything but. Start low. Don’t pull back to quickly on the cast. Don’t use too much wrist. Make sure you’re using enough arm. There’s a lot to think about and the level of awareness that’s required is remarkable. Putting all of these factors together is what makes fly fishing a challenge. Normal fishing is a waiting game, but fly fishing is an active experience. You’re constantly moving. It takes a lot of work, but is rewarding when you get it right.

After a dozen practice casts, we motored away from Chapel Creek and into the Piankatank River, one of the main arteries of the Bay. After some careful patrolling, Chris threw a circle net onto a school of menhaden/alewives/peanut bunker fish. What you call them largely depends on where you’re from. The fish are no more than 6-inches in length, and it looked as if a hundred or more were caught when Chris pulled the net on board. He unloaded the fish into a couple of the boat’s wells. These fish were going to lure in the larger trouts and bass that we’d be catching later.

Chris maneuvered us closer to the shore, near private docks, and began tossing out the small fish by the handful. Within a few seconds, we began to see some activity on the surface of the water. The trouts and bass were feeding. That rush in surface activity was the cue for Rob and I to start casting our flies.

A few weeks ago, Chris hosted one of his most memorable clients on a trip. His angler caught 100 fish in two hours. That rate averages out to a fish nearly every cast. We didn’t have as much luck. Rob caught a 6-ish pounder. I wasn’t as fortunate. With the sun setting and one fish between us, we decided to head back to shore. It was dark by the time we got back to the dock. Chris invited us over to pick some crabs, but it was getting late and Rob and I needed to return inland. So we made our way back to Richmond thankful that they’re good folks like Chris Newsome out there, and that we got to spend some time out on the water during the final days of the summer.

I read that Tom Brokaw once said, “If fishing is a religion, fly fishing is high church.” Before this trip, I had always been curious about fly fishing’s draw. It may not be a sport for everyone, but it has a dedicated following. Now I see why people spend so much time with it. Out on the water with a fly rod in hand; it’s easy to go to a meditative place. With Captain Chris Newsome at the wheel, you’ll be heading to a place where you need to be. Where there are fish, lots of them.


To learn more about fly fishing charters on the Chesapeake Bay, visit Captain Chris Newsome’s website here.

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